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Adobe CS5 Web Premium Part Three: Dreamweaver, Fireworks, and the Rest

The three-part review concludes with two old Macromedia programs and one near hissy fit

The Bottom Line

See, I was all prepared to issue some sort of "nice effort, but we're just playing catchup" verdict here, but the addition of the HTML5 pack is a nice first step towards Dreamweaver evolving as fast as the spec does, and that's an important development. However, someone's going to have some splainin' to do if this is the only HTML5 update for a while -- I'll definitely be watching. (As an aside, why is the HTML5 pack not available for CS4?) In any event, the new HTML5 capabilities, coupled with the PHP/CMS additions and the visual CSS editing, make Dreamweaver CS5 a worthy upgrade even from CS4, and definitely from CS3. As a new purchase, the last two versions of Dreamweaver have definitely broken the mold of earlier Dreamweaver versions simply holding serve, so I give it good marks even if you have never purchased Dreamweaver before. Lastly, as part of the Web Premium bundle, Dreamweaver CS5 is a positive addition. Speaking of holding serve...

Fireworks holds serve

There isn't much of a feature set to speak of when discussing Fireworks CS5. In fact, I can't remember a full version release from any program where the thrust of the improvements are pretty much solely relegated to the category of bug fixes, stability, tweaks, performance, and any other word you can think of other than "feature." Adobe claims over 900 (that's a nine followed by two zeros) bugs were fixed in Fireworks CS5, which may explain why Fireworks CS4 was generally regarded as buggy. I know... shocking, right? Now, for whatever reason, I never experienced the type of instability in CS4 many others did, so for me, CS5 isn't much of a difference. There are, however, a handful of things of note that I particularly like, and while none are Earth-shattering, they are nice tweaks:

  • Fireworks now reads and writes ASE swatch files, enabling palette sharing with Kuler, InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop.
  • The Properties panel now boasts compound shape tools (fig. 10), which keep the source vector objects used in the operation intact and editable.
  • Fireworks finally has a constrain proportions toggle in the width and height fields in the Properties panel.
  • Gradient dithering has been added to help smooth out those awkward transitions (fig. 11).

Figure 10

Figure 11: The dithered version is on the right. It's a little smoother during the change to blue.

Exciting stuff, right? I'm not sure what to say about this, because it depends on your situation and prior relationship with Fireworks. If you are going to upgrade the Web Premium bundle anyway, you probably won't mind having a more stable Fireworks along for the ride. However, if you just have a standalone version of Fireworks CS4, you may be a little peeved that 1) CS4 was so buggy and 2) CS5 is a paid upgrade to fix it. If you skipped CS4, you'll likely be thrilled (again, that's the general theme of all these reviews). In any event, if I had to grade Fireworks CS5, it gets an incomplete, because while stability and performance are great things, a complete version upgrade containing nothing else might leave a large segment of users feeling a little flat. And no, this short missive on Fireworks CS5 isn't a copout -- there genuinely isn't much to say about it.

Nitpicks, rants, and what I'm not talking about

OK, time for the irksome. I usually try to call out any negative points as I go, but I thought we'd wrap this up with a rambling list of things across the CS5 programs that rubbed me the wrong way. Here goes:

What I'm not talking about, Part One. Since Adobe seems to be ignoring it from a marketing standpoint, I purposely skipped Contribute this time around, mostly because I'm not sure why it's still being updated, other than for legacy reasons -- my apologies if it's a part of the suite you care about.

What I'm not talking about, Part Two. Let's talk (or not talk) services. Adobe has been working towards the moment, which is apparently here in CS5, when they can offer an integrated suite of services built into every program. Those services, collectively known as CSLive, are comprised of BrowserLab, CS Review, SiteCatalyst, Adobe Story, and You can find out more on Adobe's site, but I want to mention that I have no interest in these services, don't want them, and am certainly not willing to pay for them, as is the plan at some point (beyond your complimentary one-year introductory period). The problem I have is that most of the CS5 programs have no way to turn off the CSLive badge that's baked into the top of every application frame (fig. 12). Photoshop is a good citizen in this regard, but you're stuck with it just about everywhere else.

Figure 12

Three tries now... still inconsistent. The CSLive thing is indicative of a larger issue, and one that I think is getting worse with each release. I'm talking about the inconsistencies between programs that, despite all the talk of integration between programs for the last three releases, still reigns supreme. I understand how many of these programs have legacy users who expect things never to change, but when everything but Dreamweaver has the Application Frame, the shortcut for Preferences is different across programs, some workspaces need to be explicitly reset and some auto-reset when selecting them, and universal host OS shortcuts (like Command+H on the Mac) are not respected, it starts to get a little tiresome after three versions of a supposedly highly integrated suite. Fortunately, there's already a model for how things should be done. The Photoshop team has been very aggressive and, even more importantly, smart about pruning legacy features (while offering some as downloadable extras in the case of file formats) and offering intelligent paths forward for things like keyboard shortcut changes. Other product teams would do well to emulate what the Photoshop folks are doing on this front, and hopefully tighten things up across the suite.

As an aside, I will say that in general, things have definitely been getting better on the document fidelity front, and I know that's not an easy task to pull off.

The UI trend is disturbing. I mentioned this a couple of times in the Flash portion of the review, but the move towards what can only be called an Adobe UI is a distressing one. The worst offender is Flash Catalyst, but you can see it in Photoshop, Flash Professional, and utilities like the Installer and the new Adobe Help app (more on that in a minute). I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, as the products that ship as part of Production Premium (After Effects, Premiere, etc.) have had some of these non-native UI elements for years. And I guess it's good that Adobe is eating their own dog food through the use of Flash panels and AIR apps. But it is kind of sad to see what used to be the quintessential Mac program, Photoshop, approximate Mac widgets (fig. 13). I'll repeat that I hope users on Mac and Windows alike complain about this trend, as Adobe, to their credit, does have a track record of listening to their customers (imagine that).

Figure 13: It's close, but it's just... off.

Help. No, really -- help. I'm an offline help kind of guy. I don't mind browser-based help systems, but only if they're referencing local help content and augmented by Web-based extras. I liked the move to browser-based help in CS4 after I tracked down the obscure setting to use it in offline mode, but Adobe's new dedicated help app introduced in CS5 is basically nothing I want in a help system. Instead of each program shipping with its own help pages, you have to dig into Adobe Help and find the offline setting, which only works if you've thought to manually download the help files for each program you want offline help for. There's also a setting to use the help files in your regular browser, which is a big plus, because the thought of having to run an AIR app just to look at help files is not a pleasant one. In short, I have my offline, browser-based help back, but the process of getting there is not for the faint of heart. I'd love to see this re-thought for CS6.

Look at this mess. I'm not going to harp on a running complaint that goes back to the original Creative Suite, but the junk CS5 scatters around your system is completely out of control, as is the phone home factor. To the latter point, my trusty companion Little Snitch is constantly alerting me to some Adobe program or other trying to access the Web, and often it's not obvious why. As for the mess, when you're partially installing programs like Soundbooth and Premiere even when neither program was selected for install, as well as putting a third-party utility like Growl on the system for no apparent reason, things need to be tightened up.

The Bottom Bottom Line

OK, so that was a heavy dose of negative, but it's stuff that needed sayin'. Here's the part where we get to the Web Premium suite as a whole, and in keeping with the tone of this entire three-part review, I'm going to issue the same verdict for the entire bundle as I did for many of its individual programs: Web Premium CS5 is really a pretty solid release on its own, so if you're a new user, chances are you're going to get your money's worth. After all, we're talking serious, industry-standard, professional-grade products, which should make you your money back when used in pro settings. I'm also bullish on the suite as an upgrade from CS3. If you were one of the legion of users who skipped CS4, I'm confident you'll be pleased with the two version jump. However, while there are some individual standouts (I particularly like what's going on in Illustrator as well as the potential for Dreamweaver to rapidly evolve alongside HTML5), if you're a CS4 user, CS5 may just be one to skip. Your mileage may vary, of course, so I hope I've covered enough of the new and notable to help make an informed decision. There are always downloadable trials, so I'm guessing that should help too. At any rate, as publishing evolves, Flash comes under attack, and Adobe continues along the path of monolithic bundles, CS5 is kind of a mixed bag. Plenty to like, but also plenty to worry about, and while, overall, I consider the Web Premium bundle to be a solid product, I can also feel momentum exerting its pull. To where is unknown, but I'm definitely interested to see how the creative industry goes in the next year or so and how Adobe responds to the inevitable change.

Adobe CS5 Web Premium is shipping now, with full versions available for $1,799 and upgrades starting from $599. Check out the Web Premium page on Adobe's site for more information.

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Though the fame, riches, and notoriety of being a DMN contributor are both tantalizing and substantial, Kevin Schmitt still stubbornly insists on continuing his work as the Director of Interactive Services at EFX Media, a production house located just outside of Washington, D.C. Feel free to follow his updates and contact him through Twitter if you have something to share - he's ready to believe you!
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