What's the point of fussing about a point release for the Adobe Creative Suite, from version 2 to version 2.3? There are only two changes to the suite, but they're very much worthy of a fuss: Dreamweaver 8 and Acrobat 8. Both are available separately, but only in the premium version of Suite, offering more than enough reason to upgrade from the CS Standard, or from earlier versions of CS Premium.
I spoke with Lonn Lorenz, the Creative Suite's product manager, and I tiptoed around why Adobe added Dreamweaver to a suite that already includes the competitive GoLive. He didn't hesitate to answer, "Dreamweaver is the industry standard, and we've had a lot of requests to include it in the Suite at our next release."
He also didn't hesitate to answer the obvious follow-up question: "GoLive will continue as a standalone product, but won't be integrated into the suite from here."
Web design professionals already know enough about Dreamweaver's advantages to give it a market share somewhere north of 80%, a level at which "industry standard" isn't hype it's fact. There's no question that some of why they want it in the Creative Suite is that their favorite web design tool will only get better through its integration with Adobe tools whose names you know better than the names of your own children.
This integration is of course among the chief reasons why much of GoLive's small but devoted following chose it in the first place. Another is the familiar Adobe interface.
Both of those are entirely valid reasons, which is why it's worth remembering that Adobe bought GoLive CyberStudio, adding the Adobe interface and integration later. They notably did the same with After Effects, bought from Aldus, who'd previously bought it from The Company of Science and Art (CoSA). Adobe is well up to the task of doing it again with Dreamweaver.
Another reason why the customers of GoLive and Dreamweaver have fallen where they have is that GoLive's target audience has been designers for whom websites are only one design deliverable among others, whereas Dreamweaver has been aimed directly at web professionals.
So for design professionals who aren't web professionals, what's there to look forward to in Dreamweaver today? Most obviously, Dreamweaver features drag-and-drop integration with Flash. Not just adding finished, flattened Flash movies to individual pages which are easy enough to place and preview with other web design tools but also the creation of fully dynamic web experiences built on Flash. Even tapping into live databases to create continuously updated sites is painless. Well, as painless as anything with "database" in its name can be.
Dreamweaver also features much stronger support for Cascading Style Sheets, which allow designers to make a change in one place that's automatically updated everywhere it needs to be. Dreamweaver easily handles creating and viewing multiple CSS layouts on a single page, and effortlessly toggles previews of specific style sheets in multiple browsers, in print and on handheld devices.
Unless you've tried using CSS tools at this level, this doesn't sound like all that big a deal. But if you have, it does. And if you haven't, Dreamweaver will make it easier for you to start.
One of Dreamweaver's most distinct advantages comes specifically from its massive user base: over 800 free (yes, free), designer-created extensions to help add virtually any feature you need for even the most specific tasks. Imagine the power of plug-ins, multiplied exponentially.
Adding the world's most popular web design tool is the biggest news in a story about a point release for CS Premium, right? Surely bigger than just an update to an existing application, right?
When we're talking about Acrobat 8, maybe not.
Even if you're used to thinking about it as far more than just a free reader, or a handy tool for turning things like Microsoft Word documents into PDFs, Acrobat has learned a few new tricks.
(This now fulfills my obligation to make at least one circus-related pun regarding Acrobat. We now return you to your reading.)
"In Acrobat 7, a designer could create documents that allowed people to make comments in the free Acrobat reader," says Lonn. But as collaboration starts to expand beyond the sender and receiver it becomes significantly more difficult. "The problem is shared review of comments. You could send out 10 copies, but the receivers couldn't see each other's comments.
"With Acrobat 8, you can post a server for shared comments. It can be anything, really a company server, a dot Mac account, anything. Anyone makes a change and it updates for everyone in darn near real time.
"You can also work offline, and when you log back in, it all syncs. It's a much more dynamic way of collaborating on files."
Not to gloss over Acrobat 8's new tools for good ol' PDF creation, though. I'm amazed at how easy it is to take documents from Photoshop, Illustrator, and other CS tools; combine them with very different documents from Word, Excel and PowerPoint; all of these in different sizes and resolutions; and in a single stroke, convert them, scale them, and combine them in a single PDF document.
Windows users can add Flash to that scenario as well. Smaller but no less interesting for Windows users: archiving email from both Microsoft Outlook and Lotus notes directly to PDF.
Collaboration, the next generation
When I ask Lonn about his priorities for the Creative Suite, he once again doesn't hesitate. "I look to the integration, on top of the individual tools themselves." Of course, that's the most obvious answer. Adobe's suites are all about integration.
But he means far more than that. "Most often, customers and designers use tools together," he says, as the picture comes into view. We typically think of collaboration as something that takes place between multiple creators, certainly a benefit to those groups of creators. Lonn points instead to the collaboration between creators and the people who'll pay them once the job is finished.
Since the customers themselves are often the biggest obstacle standing in the way of completing the job, the potential here is virtually endless.
"You want to go to the next level of Acrobat?" Lonn asks, a smile in his voice. "Say one person wants the logo red and another blue, and it's time sensitive. In Acrobat 8, you can press the Start Meeting button to create an online ‘room' in Acrobat Connect, where you can see my desktop simply by typing a URL into a browser. They can see it online and say ‘ooooh, I like it, just move it a little."
I observe that this looks a lot like Macromedia Breeze, a tool for desktop sharing, multimedia presentations, teleconferencing, whiteboarding and more, all deployed in the Flash player for both live viewing and archived playback.
"The technology formerly known as Breeze is now Breeze built into Acrobat," says Lonn. "You can quickly, easily, inexpensively, get online into this shared, collaborative environment, starting with a free trial."
While Acrobat and Breeze are applications, one of the things I find most interesting about Acrobat Connect is that it's among the first integrations of technologies from Adobe and Macromedia, notably Flash and PDF, to create kinds of collaboration that simply weren't possible before.
"What does a real-time online collaboration tool have to do with PDF? It has to do with getting the job done and getting it out," says Lonn. "We said, let's take the technology we have and make it more functional and valuable for users."
The fact is that I could write a ton of stories about Acrobat's place in Adobe's Big Picture. A speedy hint for now: when you go to the Adobe product page there's a looong list of products, but only one Family. You guessed it: The Acrobat Family. Stay tuned.
Integration, the next generation
Collaborating with customers is massive, but before you're ready to show something to the customer for feedback--you have to actually have something to show. And for creative professionals, integration among CS elements remains the main draw.
Perhaps my favorite part of the conversation with Lonn begins when he says, "I know the tools. I use the tools." You expect product managers to know the tools. But I can tell you from my own experience being around product managers, and being one myself, that product managers who use their own tools is another matter altogether.
Lonn's basic use of PDF isn't unexpected: he creates a monthly magazine in InDesign, and uses PDF to send it to the printer. However, the new preflight features in Acrobat 8 aren't just for print professionals, but for more general creative professionals as well. Acrobat 8 handles many of the most annoying pre-print tasks for you.
A typical spec from a printer might include directions like a specific resolution, CMYK color only, and only 6 of them. "But imagine that you've got mixed resolutions, RGB colors, and CMYK files with 9 colors. Acrobat handles all of those conversions."
Acrobat also makes it easier for you to get the rest of the information to the printer, using the Job Definition Format (JDF). "Every month you do a 16-page newsletter," says Lonn. "You can create a template that embeds the job information this color here, this paper for the pages, this paper for the cover. All I have to do is provide the JDF, the InDesign files, and Acrobat 8 automates the entire workflow from there. It keeps track of all the steps, too." This is the kind of power that both print professionals and creative professionals who sometimes have to do print have been waiting for.
Lonn uses the Creative Suite for some other tasks that are a bit more unexpected. "I have a hobby of designing furniture, and use the Creative Suite all the time. I've used the 3D tools in Illustrator to design pieces, and map how they'll look in different lighting conditions.
"I use Illustrator's layers to let customers, say, take the top off a cabinet, and see how the piece looks inside. It's sort of like those exploded views of engines. It looks cool, but it also fills a need in the design process, for everyone to get an idea of how all the pieces fit together. Once you see it all on the screen, it's a very powerful experience."
What the customer receives, though, isn't an Illustrator file it's a PDF, with the dynamic views built in, and easily accessible to people who may not have or know how to use Illustrator.
I mention that I've always been impressed with Acrobat's interactivity, and surprised that more people don't use it. "People are using it, in a couple of different ways," says Lonn. "One example is newspapers and magazines. They build their publication in InDesign, and rather than building an HTML version of it from scratch, they can take the same PDF layouts they send to the printer, and add interactivity in ways that also add value. The reader gets added value through interactive tables of contents, for example. Or click a photo in a story and a movie plays. Advertisers get added value by having the ads expand, and send people directly their websites.
"If all you're creating is web content, you're using CSS and all that, but if you're looking at repurposing your existing content, and make it more powerful, more useful and more interactive, this is the way to go."
Once again, he surprises me using an example of his own. "Maybe 6, 7 years ago, I used Acrobat's interactivity to get my job at Adobe," he laughs. "I created an interactive resume using Acrobat. Instead of just a flat PDF, when you opened it, a movie of me popped up. ‘Hi, what's your name,' it said. You type in a name, and I'd say, ‘Hello Tim. Would you like to see my CV or examples of my work?' If they chose CV, it showed a more traditional kind of resume, and if they chose to see examples, they got an interactive gallery of my work.
"They said they'd hire me, but I had to tell them how I did it," he laughs. "Now Acrobat's interactivity is more scalable and has more features."
When I ask him where the Creative Suite goes from here, Lonn says, "I'm especially interested in the broad areas of automation and finding efficiency. I've been hearing this more and more: how do we make the things we do easier, more effective, more consistent?
"We've gotten a start of this, but I this as a big, important focus no matter what kind of work we're talking about."
Version 2.3 of the Adobe Creative Suite premium edition is shipping now. A point release very much worth the fuss.
-- Tim Wilson
Tim Wilson is the Associate Publisher of Creative COW Magazine and Associate Director of the CreativeCow.net website.
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