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• Dreamweaver CS4
• Flash CS4 Professional
• Photoshop CS4 Extended
• Illustrator CS4
• Fireworks CS4
• Acrobat 9 Pro
• Soundbooth CS4
• Contribute CS4
• Adobe Bridge CS4
• Adobe Device Central CS4
• Version Cue CS4
Due to the sheer volume of text I would need to include, in order to make a comprehensive review of the applications in this, and CS4 suites, I will review the key applications in each suite based on their target market. For a fuller picture of the various applications, it is advised you read all three reviews.
I have been a Dreamweaver user for a couple of years now, since just before Adobe took it under it's corporate wing, and I started playing with PHP. It has progressed quite a bit, as is to be expected with it passing to a new regime of excellence. DW now auto-opens all linked and related files, and displays them up top of the working window. I *love* the way it displays them right there in the tab subheader, making it very easy to see where dependancies are and ensure no updates are left out or omitted, and also allowing you to jump around between them making sure you have all the bits right before they get slapped upline to the server. Speaking of getting thigs right, a new feature you'll encounter, if you are smart, is the Code Navigator icon. It takes a bit of getting used to at first, as it has a nasty habit of popping up right in front of where you are looking, but with practice you soon learn to appreciate its good-intentioned invasiveness. If you are in design view, or the design portion of split-mode, you'll see the little ship-streering-wheel icon appear whenever you hover over a CSS-affected element. Clicking on the icon will immediately jump you to the relevant CSS code, whether it's inline or in an external stylesheet. Great for fixing those little embarassing mistakes that can catch you unawares and make you look a right charlie when your client spots them first.
Bridge is now faster, smoother, and far more customisable in terms of features, including how it generates thumbnails. Want to tune it for performance? Why not tell it to skip decoding the final image and building a thumbnail from that, but instead use the embedded thumbnail. It's a great way to spot those older files that have embedded thumbnails missing, but beweare... some corrupted Jpegs have perfectly formed and readable embedded thumbs, but the main data is stuffed... so the slower way gives you more notice of issues and wasted files. Bit of a mixed bag this feature.
Bridge also carries a Breadcrumbs bar... this is a feature becoming more common in the suite and I must say I like it. All too often I have wondered just which directory I am looking in, especially when I am buried up to 12 subdirectories deep in a portable hard-drive. For those who want to use Bridge for more than just a glorified file browser, you can quikly convert it to a presentation tool. This is a feature I can see being used a lot... simply press 'L' to tell Bridge to slideshow all the files in the selected directory! Want something really funky though? Bridge also gives addition features when on a system with a supported GPU... Try 'Control + B' for a carousel preview mode! How very iPod...
I am not really much of a 'Fireworks' user, simply because I am too stuck in my ways and happy with the results from the applications I am comfortable with... but that is now changing. Though Fireworks is, by all accounts, an amazing tool, it's not one I have dug into much... too busy exploring the new features of the apps I *do* use. However, there are a couple of little features that have become obvious to me during my browse through it... Probably the biggest 'hot new thing' in FW is the Export options. Build a website in Photoshop... section it up, using the Sliced tool, into the basic elements of your intended website, then open the file up in Fireworks. From here, you can simply tell FW to Export as CSS and Images... it will analyse the slices, decide what to make them into for best results, and drop out a swadge of images to be used as backgrounds and tiles, and a fully CSS-compliant stylesheet and HTML file, ready to open in Dreamweaver and fill in the data!
If that isn't the simplest way to build a site, I don't know what is! I have tried it myself a few times, and though the results were less than perfect, I put that down to my inexperience with this workflow more than any fault in Fireworks. A few practice runs had me generating better results, but I think I need to work more on my Slice techniques.
The other feature that I was made aware of by a mate was that Fireworks has a far superior "Export for Web" engine. Take an image, run it through the 'Export for Web' feature of Photoshop... you'll get a pretty lean file indeed. Now, take the same original image, run it through Fireworks and for the same level of compression you get a MUCH smaller file... this is partly due to Fireworks not including much in the way of metadata, but is also due to a much more advanced compression engine. I am HOPING that CS5 (or whatever it gets called) carries this hyper-squeezer over into Photoshop, giving us the best of both worlds there too!
What can I say... FINALLY, Flash *doesn't* suk! I recall with cold tremors my days trying to learn Flash back when it was competing with applications such as 'Opus' and 'Illuminatus'... horrific time-leech that it was, it was also a nightmare to deal with. Now, it's amazing! Animating an object is more like working in "After Effects" than anything else! Actually, to be brutally honest, it actually reminds me of a hybrid of the better aspects of "After Effects" and "Liquid Media". Here's why...
In this version there is a new Project Library functionality. Now, instead of laboriously dragging each and every file over into the Assets window, you can simply point it at a directory and it will do all the grunt for you, importing and assessing every usable file it finds. To top it off, you can now search through loaded assets! (Requires suitable embedded metadata to search on though, so for those of us too lazy to spend a few years adding metadata to old files, this may be a bit of an overkill feature.)
Animation is so simple! Paths are freely-editable bezier curves, with keyframe markers placed automatically or manually, or both! Paths are fully interactive throughout design, and easy to go back and tweak later if required. Drag tension handles to enhance curves, shove timelines around like they were sliders on a mixing board... it really is so intuitive now I wonder why they never went down this track before! Now if only they could simplify ActionScript... Oh yeah... they have. But back to the editing of paths etc... The new Motion Editor will be instantly familiar to "After Effects" users, but there are still some new features that are well worth checking out. You can now convert keyframe markers to 'Roving' to ensure that motiuons are smooth and free from 'jumpies', even when you adjust the path. This is great for those who want to have the freedom to make object start and finish exactly on cue, in place, but be bale to freeform adjust the various flightpaths and make them flow smoothly no matter what. Nothing worse than having something leaping around the screen like it's on 'P'... unless that is your desire effect, of course.
Object properties are now adjustable independant of each other... change the scale and position and rotation as easily as shoving a slider around... again, *very* 'After Effects'... you can even fire up the wonderful new 'Dynamic Filters' and apply them as widely or as narrowly as you wish, in the absolute knowledge that you aren't improving one object's performance, but totally destroying half a dozen others.
A user of Photoshop and Illustrator? You'll understand Image Styles then... well, Flash has "Motion Styles". Yup, save your motion tracks, spacings, filters, adjustments... all in one little swatch-type doohikee... and apply it to as many other objects as you like. I tell you, it's getting scary how they are making it so easy for even beginners to be astounding!
Probably one of the most clever tools to be introduced is the Spray Brush... basically, you could think of it like a picture-tube tool, but instead of spraying down pre-defined, rigid images, it sprays down dynamically-adjusted movie clips... one demonstration I saw was a guy sprayed falling snowflakes on a background. The movie clips were tall, thin columns with 1 or 2 flakes falling down in semi-random staggers... by dynamically adjusting the scale and opacity, as it sprayed, the Spray Brush did all the really hard work for him, and he was left with the most amazing animated Christmas Card I have ever seen. Took him less than 20 minutes from start to finish... where as to do it all manually would have easily taken me 7-8 days!
For those who enjoy the extra dimensionality coming into media these days... yes, Flash has a 3d workspace too... so you can enjoy all the benefits of camera tracking as well... and yup, it's just as easy to use as the rest of the bundle.
Oh, and for those who really enjoy the 'funky' potential of Flash, you may wish to know that Flash now has Inverse Kinematics. A translation for the non-technicals amongst you... Kinematics is using the Bone Tool to define a skeleton for an object, in much the same way we ourselves have one and it controls our limits. It's physically impossible for you, if you are healthy, to lick your own elbow... in the same way, you can define parts of an image or object that are inflexible and won't bend, and thus also define the bendy bits and their limits. Inverse Kinematics is the process of defining the start and finish positions of the now-defined skeleton, and leaving Flash to work out how to get the bits to the right places. Darned clever, I tell you. More 'Orbital Mechanics' than 'Media Design' if you ask me.
Overall, this is an excellent upgrade in all but the smallest of ways. My one and only gripe is that for those stuck on dial-up speeds, or with data-caps on their broadband connections, having all the resource, training and most importantly, manuals, online is just frustrating!
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