Adobe creates a suite launch with CS4

[ME's NOTE: Today, we welcome into the BetaNews family of journalists the former USA Today correspondent and Tech_Space blogger, and the former co-host of public television's Digital Duo...and more importantly, someone I've been proud for years to call my friend and colleague: Angela Gunn.]

In what CEO Shantaru Narayan describes as his company's largest-ever product launch, Adobe on Tuesday formally unveiled all six flavors of version 4 of its Creative Suite, ranging in price from $999 to $2499 and slated to ship next month.

In an online presentation that went live this morning, John Loiacano, senior VP for the Creative Solutions Business Unit, divided Adobe Creative Suite 4's improvements into three categories: increased speed and efficiency, better Macromedia integration, and new "wow factor" features. Improved asset management is one of CS4's emphases, as are mobile application development and project collaborations, and Loiacano briefly touched on Adobe's trend toward hosted services such as Acrobat Connect.

The CS4 interface is newly tab-centric, and files and objects can be shared across suite components' various tabs. Behind the curtain, there's improved GPU support for faster rendering. Out in front wowing the crowds, the new Content-Aware Scaling functionality can intelligently re-scale portions of an image without distorting the important parts (e.g., stretching background scenery without distorting the human standing in the foreground). And with an eye toward the upcoming Version 10, Flash developers get new animation capabilities including inverse kinematics -- the ability to animate still images by building jointed, moveable "Bones" skeleton overlays.

The six CS4 flavors range in price and complexity from the $999 Web Standard edition, which comprises Adobe Flash CS4 Professional, Adobe Dreamweaver Professional, Adobe Fireworks CS4, and Adobe Contribute CS4; through a premium Web edition ($1699); standard ($1399) and premium ($1799) design editions; the Production Premium edition ($1699); and to the 13-product, $2499 Master Collection. All versions include Adobe's Bridge media manager and Device Central software for testing mobile apps, and all versions but Production Premium include Adobe's Cue file-management system.

One of the more intriguing special file-management capabilities turns up in the Production Premium edition, which is aimed at video folk. In that edition, Adobe partnered with Autonomy to add that firm's Intelligent Data Operating Layer (IDOL) -- rich-media management tech familiar to users of such products as SharePoint and the iPhone -- in a new tool called "Speech Search," which transcribes audio (including video audio), making it indexable and quickly searchable.

Beta versions of the bundled Dreamweaver, Soundbooth, and Fireworks software have been available in beta form since late May 2008, and BitTorrent users were reporting allegedly leaked CS4 code as early as March. Anticipation for the product appears to be running moderately high in the blogosphere, though there are scattered concerns that Adobe has yet to clean up various glitches in CS3. In addition, some development partners say they haven't had sufficient time to get CS3 extensions in fighting trim for CS4.

Loiacano responded on Tuesday with a bit of heat to claims that CS4 is merely a dot-release of CS3, saying that he estimates that "over 1700 person-years" went into CS4's development.

CS4 comes relatively hot on the heels of Version 3, which Adobe started shipping in April 2007, releasing final versions of the spendy Production Premium and Master Edition versions just 14 months ago. The relative rush means that only Windows Vista and XP users -- not Mac users -- will be getting 64-bit Photoshop in CS4, since in June 2007 Apple announced that it was stopping support of 64-bit development for the Carbon architecture, switching instead to Cocoa. CS3 was built on Carbon.

In April of this year, John Nack, Adobe's product manager for Photoshop, explained in his blog, "We'll need to rewrite large parts of Photoshop and its plug-ins (potentially affecting over a million lines of code) to move it from Carbon to Cocoa." 64-bit support for Mac (as illustrated by this PDF available here) is therefore not expected until perhaps CS5, the release date of which is currently unknown. Nack's blog on Tuesday reflected palpable relief at CS4's launch.

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