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Adobe CS5: Five Things to Keep in Mind

Some thoughts beyond the press releases to tide you over until ship time By Kevin Schmitt

Eighteen months, seemingly like clockwork. A mere year-and-a-half after CS4 was released (which itself was a mere year-and-a-half after the release of CS3), Adobe has unveiled the CS5 lineup. Having had a chance to see and try the new versions for myself over the past several weeks, here are some general observations about the latest versions of Adobe's software uberbundles.

1) There are a bunch of useful features in a lot of places, but is it enough?

Quite frankly, I'm of the mindset that the whole "eighteen months, big pricetag, everything is updated" unified release schedule makes it really easy to skip versions, an opinion which may have been shared by enough people to explain lagging CS4 sales in the face of a terrible recession. Said recession may be easing a little, depending on where you are and what you do, so if you did happen to skip CS4, it's likely you're going to get your money's worth this time around. For those looking to upgrade from CS4, however, the decision may not be so obvious. Features like Photoshop's astounding content-aware fill (fig. 1), Illustrator's new vanishing point tools, After Effects' Rotobrush, and Dreamweaver's CMS integration are really, really nice, and that's even before mentioning two new Flash tools on the menu (Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder, which we'll get to). The problem is that many of the programs in the CS5 lineup are beyond mature (some would be of voting or even drinking age, were they people), and while there are the usual solid features and unsexy-but-vital performance and stability enhancements, when software is sold as part of a package deal you really have to weigh how necessary any new feature is against the cost of upgrading -- even as most of the CS5 programs contain at least one jaw-dropping, "gotta have" addition. This is not exactly a new dilemma, however. For its part, Adobe has not made cost a "feature," opting to keep the new and upgrade pricing in the same ballpark as CS4, a strategy which reflects the belief that their customers have pent-up demand for new software and hardware as the recession shows signs of letting up. Only time will tell whether this strategy proves correct, but in the meantime, at least take "comfort" in the fact that the pricing that you may very well be griping about is part of the grand scheme, as it were.

Figure 1: Content-aware fill is as close to magic as a Photoshop feature has been for a long time.

2) Adobe is doubling down on Flash, while HTML5 is not exactly front-and-center.

As soon as Apple announced a Flash-less iPad back in January, the IntarWebs have absolutely erupted with a (very silly, shortsighted, and quasi-religious, in my opinion) flame war between Flash haters and defenders. Whatever the relative merits of each side of the debate happen to be, one thing is pretty clear in CS5: Adobe isn't terribly concerned about HTML5 displacing Flash anytime soon. For example, take that demo video shot back in October at Adobe's MAX conference (fig. 2), highlighting a potential Dreamweaver feature that takes vector content and transforms it to HTML5 Canvas code:

Figure 2

One wonders wonders why a feature like that didn't make it into Dreamweaver CS5. I got a question through to Scott Fegette, Technical Product Manager for Dreamweaver, asking what his take on that was, as well as HTML5 in general. His response, verbatim:

"For what it's worth, even Dreamweaver CS4 is somewhat HTML5 aware -- we use WebKit as our Live View, so HTML5 and CSS3 constructs will render just fine in DW CS5's Live View. We also regularly show sneak peeks of technology in progress -- such as the Smart Paste to Canvas demo we showed at MAX 2009 -- but they don't always suggest a specific release date or version. The demo you're referring to shows the Dreamweaver team looking at solutions around the emerging new standards that leverage existing skillsets and products, of course.

For some of the advanced HTML 5 authoring workflows however, designer/developer best practices and clear authoring patterns haven't yet emerged, so although we're aggressively pursuing paths forward in the short-term, we'll also be watching carefully how HTML 5/CSS 3 is adopted to make sure when we do implement specific, targeted authoring features around the new capabilities in both HTML5/CSS3 standards, that they truly make sense to our customers and their workflows."

Scott is right -- the HTML5 spec is kind of a mess right now, and a lot of the HTML5 hype is directed solely at the video aspect, but there's nothing stopping you from implementing whatever new technology you want in Dreamweaver anyway, because WebKit is right there under the hood to display everything correctly. Clearly, there are people at Adobe looking much further down the road, but I'm a little disappointed that features such as Smart Paste to Canvas didn't make it in, and judging from Adobe's release pattern, it will be at least eighteen more months before we see some of these features as part of the overall Creative Suite. Who knows where things will stand by then?

As for Flash, I'll mention more in upcoming points. For now, however, let me lead with this: between the addition of the two new Flash apps I alluded to earlier to the lineup, Adobe's ongoing efforts at establishing the Open Screen Project (which aims to bring Flash Player 10.1 to mobile and set-top devices), and the implementation of an XML-based format for Flash documents, Adobe is shrugging off all the flak the Flash platform has taken in recent months and is proceeding under the assumption that there is still a lot of life left in the ol' girl yet. The feeling I get overall is that in natural places where an HTML5 feature could have been implemented (e.g., a Canvas project type in Flash), Adobe has chosen not to do so (which is not to say that steps aren't being taken -- I don't know either way, but whatever may or may not be going on isn't public-facing anyway).

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