Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
Adobe CS: Conceptually Stagnant.

(Note: after writing this, I realized it's actually more in line with a Critique than a blog post, so I might actually rework it for our Winter issue. We'll see.)

Adobe Creative SuiteA short time ago, creative gotta-have-it software company Adobe announced a sweeping overhaul to pretty much their entire software collection. Photoshop, ImageReady, Illustrator, GoLive were all going to be upgraded from their previous incarnations to one giant collection, the new Adobe Creative Suite. Now, I'm usually the first on my block to upgrade my software. Hell, I'm usually waving my credit card in the air and speed-dialing my local Apple Store to see if copies have arrived. This is because Adobe's normally pretty good about offering significant new features with each new version. However, that was then and this is now: everything I've read so far about Adobe CS has left me yawning and left my wallet solidly in my pocket.

One big change, no big deal

As near as I can tell, all of the changes in this "upgrade" are more philosophical than functional. With the Creative Suite, Adobe is trying to convince designers to start thinking of their software not as a handful of independent programs but as one enormous application that exists as several components.

The first change is a new version control system called Adobe Cue, which is designed to help keep all your files from all your apps under control. This is nice for workgroups, but only minimally useful for solo designers and small shops like mine.

The second change is the always-asinine shift from numbered systems to a nonsensical lettered system (Windows XP, Macromedia Studio MX, and now Adobe CS), which is, I guess, what necessarily happens when you abandon differently-numbered versions and try to roll your software into one big digital burrito.

Third is tightened integration between the different applications, such as the ability to place native layered Photoshop files in InDesign without flattening them first. Again, a nice feature, but not a gotta-have-it addition.

In fact, all of these things are nice, but they don't offer any new and revolutionary features. It feels like Adobe knows that they didn't have any good ideas this time around, so they instead opted to play the "me-too" game, followed Macromedia's lead and simply revamped their numbering scheme and redesigned their packaging. (A redesign, I might add, which has many designers up in arms. For reference, see the illustrious Todd Dominey and his dead-on kvetching about the app's obnoxious, nonsensical new icons.)

Anything worth doing is worth doing all the way

Perhaps the worst thing about the new Adobe Creative Suite is its failure to address the simple fact that designers already have their own workflow. Yes, it's nice that Adobe is trying to make their stuff more cohesive, but in my opinion they shouldn't bother until they can go all the way. Imagine a Dock with only one Adobe application, called the Adobe Studio Suite. When you launch this app, at the top of your screen you see multiple tabs, one for a work area editing vector graphics, one for images, one for doing layout, and one for doing web sites. Forget all this nonsense about trumpeting the same key commands in each app, forget the "edit in native app" crap. Instead, imagine one honking huge application that I only need to open once and has one big toolbar for the global tools and a subset of that toolbar for the tools only needed in the area in which you are currently working. If you're going to be marketing an entire studio's worth of tools and encourage designers to be fluent in all of them, why not go all the way and fuse them into one enormous beast?

Does this idea seem ludicrous? Maybe. The concept of one do-it-all application is like a gag kitchen appliance that does a million things, none of them very well. But this should demonstrate, via the ridiculousness of this illogical extension, that the whole Adobe CS concept isn't enough to warrant an upgrade. Should the applications be as cross-functional as possible, i.e. offer the same key commands in every app? Absolutely – but that's not something we should be expected to pay for, that's something the company itself should offer to promote using its own applications instead of their competitors. Adobe was already doing this, to convince designers who use Photoshop to use Illustrator instead of Macromedia's Freehand, ImageReady instead of Fireworks, LiveMotion instead of Flash, and so on and so forth. That's great, that's logical, and it occasionally leads to really cool additional functionality, such as LiveMotion's support for importing layered Photoshop graphics. But telling the market, "Look! We just made things work the way they should have if we'd done it right the first time and adopted a moronic new numbering scheme, fork over half a grand!" is downright Microsoftian.

You'll get my money the old-fashioned way: you'll earn it

In time, I expect Adobe will offer some truly useful additional features – it might take a little while, but I'm sure they're coming. Apple has been devouring Adobe's lunch in the motion graphics front, and Macromedia has been thoroughly trouncing Adobe in the motion graphics and web application development front. Quark recently released the Mac OS X version of their software, so Adobe has lost one of InDesign's leading edges. The only thing left for Adobe to do is innovate or die. The Creative Suite feels like a retrenching more than a revolution, and I'm hoping that their next release emerges with enough new stuff under the hood to blow the doors off of an increasingly stagnant industry.

For now, though, I have a workflow that functions just fine on my computer, my clients aren't complaining because I can't yet do X, Y or Z, and none of the design sites or magazines are raving about some cool new bell or whistle that the Creative Suite offers that I'm going to be able to turn around and sell to my clients. Sorry, Adobe, but until your product truly offers me some way of making more money, you haven't earned any more of mine.

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