All posts by Jeremy Schultz

REVIEW: Adobe Acrobat XI

Adobe is promoting Acrobat XI as a productivity enhancer for a variety of markets:

  • Increased editability and cloud service integration for business professionals
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint, and increased efficiency for IT departments
  • Much easier text and image editability for content creators and designers
  • Security measures and PDF protection is now easier to apply, for data security personnel

One new feature in Acrobat XI is a complete sea change from previous versions and something I personally would never have expected to see—full PDF editability. From the reviewer’s guide: “Professionals frequently need to edit content from existing PDF files without wasting precious time locating and revising source files.” This is very true. As a designer, I’ve asked for native files a hundred times from clients who delivered PDF files and then needed changes (and didn’t want to pay the original designer). There have always been tools to make PDF edits and Acrobat has had ways to revise certain elements such as images, but the PDF format has never been conducive to editing. That has changed in Acrobat XI.

Edit Image

Edit Text

This new editability is handled by the new Edit Text and Images tool. When it’s active, text and image elements can be scaled, rotated and edited. Text will usually reflow during editing, which cures a major pain point for designers editing PDFs. Images can still be sent to Photoshop or Illustrator and back again. And you can execute find/replace commands to make text changes across an entire PDF. Acrobat XI’s new editing tools are an improvement but I see some problems with it:

  • PDF pages are treated as individual documents, so changes on one page will not cause text to reflow across pages. In fact, if you add enough text to a block on the bottom of a page, it will flow beneath the next page.
  • Acrobat XI segments a PDF into text and image blocks during editing. Each one will reflow but they are not aware of each other, and this causes problems. For example, each bullet and item in a bulleted list is its own text block, and editing one will not cause layout changes for the other items. Paragraphs are separate text blocks and will not move up or down due to text changes around them.
  • For some reason, I have also seen single paragraphs and captions composed of multiple text blocks. Editing these would be tedious.
  • As with any document, missing fonts will be replaced with a default font. It looks like images are embedded, so they don’t need to be linked with native files.

I think Edit Text & Images is a decent improvement but it doesn’t replace native files. You can edit pretty much anything in a PDF with Acrobat XI, but it is not easy unless revisions are small. It’s great for typos, but major edits causing page reflow would be a nightmare to deal with strictly in Acrobat XI.

Moving files with drag-and-drop merge

Drag-and-drop merge is another major feature in Acrobat XI. Recent versions of Acrobat have provided ways to build large PDFs (PDF Portfolio comes to mind) and the “Combine Files in a Single PDF” command is buried in the File > Create menu and in other places including the Welcome dialog box. Acrobat has a lot of features nowadays and this one can be hard to find. When you do invoke the command, a dialog box is provided to add, reorder and remove files.

PowerPoint Export

Corporate users will appreciate Acrobat XI’s new Export to Microsoft PowerPoint feature. Entire PDFs or text selections can be exported as PowerPoint documents, and Acrobat XI does a great job preserving formatting and document structure (including master layouts). I see fewer PowerPoint presentations nowadays—Apple’s Keynote actually shows up quite a bit in my work—but PowerPoint is still the industry standard in corporate environments. Along with PowerPoint, PDFs can also be exported in Word, Excel or HTML file formats. I can’t think of any export formats missing now in Acrobat except for Keynote, although Acrobat can export a PPTX file that Keynote can work with.

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint now also integrate Acrobat XI’s enhancements in PDF security. Protect PDF is an option available when saving PDFs that will basically restrict copying, editing and printing. These restrictions are themselves not new but Acrobat XI makes it easier and faster to deploy these options. Along with Protect PDF, Restrict Editing in the Protection menu quickly password-protects PDFs from editing. This happens to be the restriction I apply the most, and it is an easy thing to do now. My only complaint—and it’s one that has been around for many versions of Acrobat—is that I have to apply the security to a copy of the PDF, not the same one I’m working on.

FormsCentral integration

This is the first version of Acrobat that really integrates with the Acrobat.com online applications and leverages those services. Acrobat XI ships with a desktop app for FormsCentral, the online form builder and response analytics service. FormsCentral is quite useful and I have used it for more than one project; it makes building robust forms easier and presents complete analytics. The Forms > Create menu item launches the FormsCentral desktop app, a portal to the online app, and from there you can command all FormsCentral features. One of the benefits of working with an online app is you can manage forms and analytics even if you’re away from Acrobat XI.

EchoSign integration

Another online application that Acrobat XI integrates with is EchoSign, the digital signature service. Acrobat has relied on digital signatures in PDF forms for years, and EchoSign provides another layer of features including online distribution and tracking, delivery confirmation with Adobe Certified Document Services, and hand-signed electronic signatures applied via touchscreen devices. Over the years, Acrobat’s electronic signature features have not changed much and I have found them to be confusing. EchoSign helps relieve the confusion, but what really clarifies things is the Place Signature option in the Sign panel. The Place Signature dialog box provides four options for electronically signing a document and it’s pretty easy to use. EchoSign’s real benefits come with document distribution.

One more feature that I think is really useful: Custom tool sets. Acrobat XI is a quite mature app and it has grown a long list of tools and toolbars. It has been particular long since the sidebar tool panel was released a couple versions back. There are almost too many tools, and definitely too many toolbars to be useful at once. Custom toolbars allow users to remove, add or move tools around in existing tool sets or create new tool sets. Tool sets are included on top of the sidebar panel. I don’t know how useful this is in the creative professional market: Adobe creative products have used task-specific workspaces for years now, but customizing tool panels have typically not done well. In this case, Acrobat XI might have a good use for custom tool sets in the corporate market, where there’s time, resources and motivation to build custom tool sets for department tasks. Another use for this could be in prepress and print production, where users work with PDFs regularly but have no need for Acrobat’s collaboration and commenting tool panels.

Acrobat XI provides several new features that really stand out, and it’s part of the Creative Cloud so it’s available to many users without extra cost. The standalone product costs US$449/$199 full/upgrade. FormsCentral and EchoSign are both services with monthly costs—both are just under $15 per month.

Acrobat XI
Adobe Systems
US$449/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10

Adobe Releases Dreamweaver, Edge Updates for Web Developers

Adobe today announced some new features for Dreamweaver CS6, Edge Animate and Edge Code preview, which are available today for Creative Cloud subscribers. Several of the new features are integrations of technology and services that we’ve seen before, such as web fonts via Typekit, the type service Adobe bought late in 2011.

The other major news is the first public preview of Adobe Edge Reflow, a tool for building responsive website layouts. “Responsive” layouts flex and change depending on what device you are on, ensuring a good user experience across personal computers, mobile devices and tablets.

I’ve seen the product before today in demos and it is geared toward web designers more than developers—the user interface is polished and designed to build the code. There is no expansive code view, although you can read the generated CSS in some places. That code can then be exported and used in programs like Dreamweaver or Edge Code.

The release is a public preview and Adobe welcomes feedback at https://github.com/edge-reflow/issues.

The update to Adobe Edge Code includes a Live Development preview which pushes changes to a web browser immediately for testing. I like this new feature quite a bit. There’s also now a “Quick Edit” option to edit code in context rather than moving to the original file. Code hinting for HTML and CSS, a longtime feature in Dreamweaver and other mature code editors, is now in Edge Code.

Adobe Edge Animate’s new features include support for some CSS3 technology including gradients (radial and linear) and CSS filters. The addition of CSS filters is particularly interesting because they promise amazing control over HTML elements, including the ability to apply drop shadow, brightness/contrast changes, blurring, color saturation and other functions you normally associate with Photoshop. The spec for CSS filters was created by Adobe, so it makes sense they would pursue this. Unfortunately, CSS filters are supported only by Webkit browsers at this time, excluding Internet Explorer and Gecko browsers such as Firefox—but I bet they will build in support soon.

The other major enhancement added to Edge Animate is a user interface for previewing web fonts from Adobe’s Edge Web Fonts service. This free service is powered by Typekit. This is a nice improvement for web designers but most web developers have no trouble integrating Typekit fonts by adding the code snippets and setting up kits on the Typekit website. This kind of change, like several others in today’s announcements, serve creative professionals more than web developers.

The Edge Web Fonts interface is also new in an update to Dreamweaver CS6 going live today. The Dreamweaver update does have a few new features for web developers, including the option to apply fluid grid layouts to elements by class as well as ID attributes. The interface for working with fluid grid layouts has also been improved. These are the kinds of things that can really make a developer’s life easier.

There aren’t many new updates today, but the Creative Cloud paradigm drives more updates than we’re used to but with fewer features. Most new features I’ve seen today are improvements and they fit with Adobe’s goal of providing tools for the latest web technology (web fonts, responsive web design) for creative professionals. Web developers and programmers will probably be less excited by today’s announcements, but there’s some goodies for them too.

Adobe’s CreateNow Event: New Photoshop 13.1, Muse, Creative Cloud For Teams

Apparently, the new Retina versions of Photoshop and Illustrator were just the tip of the iceberg. Besides announcing those, Adobe is announcing major updates to the Creative Cloud service and upgrades to Photoshop (besides the Retina enhancement) and Muse, Adobe’s webpage builder for non-coders. The biggest announcements have to be multi-seat Creative Cloud subscriptions for enterprise teams and Creative Cloud Connection for synching the 20GB+ of cloud storage with users’ desktops. Click here to see the CreateNow announcement live this morning.

Photoshop 13.1: Conditional actions, CSS output and more

For whatever reason, Adobe opted to announce Photoshop’s new Retina display support last night at midnight—before the CreateNow event. It ends up that Photoshop 13.1 has many more new features available today:

  • Blur Gallery and Liquify filters can now be saved as non-destructive Smart Objects. Non-destructive edits are wonderful time-savers and I recommend using them whenever possible.
  • Conditional Actions: Insert if-else logic that executes one of two actions depending on set criteria.
  • Layers can now be exported as CSS code for web developers to apply to their projects.
  • Improvements to the Crop tool.
  • Better OpenGL 3D shadow previews and better lighting controls.
  • Note that 512MB video RAM is now required for 13.1. Moreover, Windows XP is no longer supported.

Out of all the new features, the CSS export baffles me the most—Adobe had moved away from outputting code with their creative applications, perhaps because the code has never been very clean. I got my hands on the 13.1 build a week ago and have been looking at the CSS code produced by the new Photoshop (see below). It’s much improved. Photoshop generates CSS class rules for one or more layers that are absolutely positioned, z-indexed for the correct layering, and given background-image rules referring to PNG files for each layer (“images/Layer 1 copy.png”). I do not see a method for extracting those PNGs, which is strange. It’s also strange that the CSS uses inches instead of pixels for measurements, but my document is using inches so that makes sense.

.Group_1 {
position: absolute;
left: 0.767in;
top: 0.26in;
width: 6.753in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 6;
}
.Layer_3 {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 3.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0in;
top: 0.107in;
width: 4.87in;
height: 4.877in;
z-index: 5;
}
.Layer_1_copy {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 1 copy.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0.477in;
top: 0in;
width: 6.277in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 4;
}

Also, Photoshop can generate CSS code for single layers or a single layer group but not the entire document. This makes sense because developers often want just snippets for specific elements, but if the CSS output is all about positioning and specific measurements then I’d want code for all the elements so I don’t have to figure out how they line up.

My pick for the new features that’s great but could be a lot better is the Conditional Actions. In theory, they should be great: the action can execute one of two things depending on a condition in the document. However, two things hamper its usefulness:

Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
  • You can’t specify one of two commands to be executed—only actions. So if you want an image cropped a certain way if it’s landscape but another crop if it’s portrait, you have to save both crops as actions and apply them that way.
  • The conditions to be met are hard-coded into Photoshop and there’s 24 total. Most are based on the document’s status (color mode, pixel depth) or layer’s status (mask, adjustment layer, effects).

It’s obvious that overcoming these two points would require a very robust interface for selecting commands and creating conditions, so I am cool with not having it in 13.1. I would love to see this be developed further in version 14 (CS7?).

Creative Cloud: New teams, training service and desktop sync

Creative Cloud has some major momentum—200,000 members have joined in the last four months and most of them select an annual plan. I see this growing as Adobe continues to add value to the subscription and legacy users decide to stop purchasing standalone software. The new Creative Cloud for teams is going to accelerate the process.

David Wadhwani, senior vice president, Digital Media, Adobe, says, “Our goal is to make Creative Cloud the ultimate hub for creatives, where they can access the world’s best creative tools, store and collaborate around their work and ultimately showcase their creations. Now with the availability of the new Creative Cloud offering for teams, we’re making it easier for workgroups to create and collaborate.”

Creative Cloud for teams has some features that you find in subscription-based enterprise services:

  • Virtual workgroup management
  • 100GB of cloud storage per user (up from 20GB)
  • Expert support services
  • An admin interface for adding/removing seats
  • Easy migration from individual to team memberships
  • Annual contract is billed $69.99/month or $49.99/month for first year for users of CS3 or newer

I am really digging the Creative Cloud Connection, Adobe’s new desktop synchronization service for Creative Cloud. There are several cloud services out there now—Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Box and more—and they all provide some space for free, but it is not a lot. SkyDrive offers the most at 7GB. Creative Cloud isn’t free but subscribers do get a good 20GB along with all the Adobe programs. Some cloud services can sync files to users’ computers but not all; Creative Cloud can do so now today. Note that folder sharing is coming soon.

Adobe is also announcing today the new Creative Cloud Training service for subscribers. It’s a collection of training videos from various providers available free to subscribers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many customers already have subscriptions to these video providers such as Kelby Training and Lynda.com (who isn’t listed on the press release, so I don’t think they are participating) but it’s a good added value for those who don’t.

Muse: Better for tablet and mobile web layouts

Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse
Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse

Adobe Muse gets one major updates but it’s quite major: it can now create web layouts for the desktop, iPhone, iPad and other devices. Designers can work with all views within Muse, which is handy. I haven’t seen the new Muse so I don’t know whether it is generating a responsive website or just building multiple versions of a site—if it’s the latter, it’s unclear if Muse provides the code for device detection and serving up the correct version.

Availability

Tune in to see the full details unveiled at the Create Now online event at 10am PT with new Creative Cloud capabilities, including Creative Cloud for teams, available for download and purchase starting at 11am PT/1pm CT. Unless specified, everything announced today is available to users at that time.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 Now HiDPI Retina Display-Enabled

The rumor is true: Adobe has updated two flagship products for the ultra-high-resolution Retina Display screens. Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 is now capable of high-resolution graphics on Retina displays (such as those on the newest MacBook Pro models); Creative Cloud subscribers can log in and grab the update immediately as of 9PM PST/12AM EST, yet another bonus for users who subscribe through the Creative Cloud.

I’ve been running the Retina-capable Photoshop CS6 for several days now and the product works well–the user interface is sharp and clear, and views at various zoom settings work as expected. I wish Adobe was able to push this update sooner than this–the Retina models have been on the market for almost six months now–but I’m happy to see it here now.

More news?

Adobe probably has more in store for us today: their “Create Now” event to be broadcasted live on December 11 at noon CST says we’ll “explore what’s next in Creative Cloud.” I bet we will see more new features, or perhaps a Creative Cloud offering for enterprise clients (which has been often requested.) Click here to see the “Create Now” livecast on Facebook.

Global Publishing Platform Blurb Expands High-Quality Print Options to Include Magazines and Brochures

The online publishing platform Blurb has expanded their digital publishing products to include magazines and brochures. Online publishing has greatly changed the publishing industry—I think it’s the greatest industry change since desktop publishing in the 1980s and 1990s—and Blurb’s new brochure product in particular turns the entire printing process on its head. Who would have thought you could have a print run of one ten years ago?

I might be able to arrange an interview with CEO Eileen Gittins in the near future, but until then here is the press release with links to Blurb’s magazine and brochure pages.


PRESS RELEASE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Blurb, the global creative publishing platform, today released two additions to its on-demand print products—Magazines and Brochures. These new products, available via an Adobe® InDesign® plug-in, combine print-on-demand flexibility with quality and design capabilities to meet the individual needs of consumers and businesses, regardless of how big or small the job.

Until now, those looking to create high-quality product catalogs, promotional collateral, look books, brand presentations and brochures in small quantities were limited by minimum order requirements, resulting in high, unattainable costs. Blurb’s new on-demand offering allows consumers and businesses to print low-volume orders in one week, which can be easily updated and reprinted. This results in lower development costs, no inventory management or storage costs, and much less waste.

“Creating a distinctive print marketing piece used to mean printing thousands of copies and weeks to turnaround,” said Eileen Gittins, Blurb’s CEO and founder. “With our new brochure offering, the minimum order is one copy, the turnaround time is a few days and multiple options are available for cover finishes. Our new magazine offering is perfect for the short, ‘bursty’ way that people create and consume content today. Who doesn’t want to see their work published in a magazine?”

High-Quality Printing Meets Ease of Design

Blurb Magazines and Brochures, both of which are made using Blurb’s platform and its plug-in for Adobe® InDesign®, let anyone create customized publications that push the creative edge. Both products are printed on HP Indigo presses – the industry’s leading printer for on-demand publishing.

Blurb Magazines are affordable, lighter-weight, perfect-bound, 20- to 240- page publications ideal for creative and editorial content. Blurb Brochures, perfect for creating customized business collateral, range from 4 to 48 pages and offer saddle-stitched binding and a selection of cover finishes. Both Magazines and Brochures are U.S. industry standard 8.5 x 11-inch formats.

Customers can easily convert their Blurb Magazines or Brochures to digital versions as ebooks for the iPad® or as PDFs for easy sharing and dissemination. No minimum orders are required to create Blurb Magazines or Brochures, but customers creating publications in bulk can take advantage of Blurb’s volume orders discounts.

“With both of these new products, we are leveling the playing field; now individuals and businesses can look as impressive as their much larger competitors,” Gittins said.

Like Blurb on Facebook, and follow on Twitter. For more information on how you can get started creating your own Blurb magazine or brochure booklet, please visit http://www.blurb.com/.

About Blurb®

Blurb® is a creative publishing platform that unleashes the creative genius inside everyone. Blurb’s platform makes it easy to design, publish, market and sell professional-quality print books, magazines and ebooks. Blurb’s bookstore and online marketing tools enable customers to sell their work, and keep 100% of their profit for print books and 80% of their sales price for ebooks. Blurb’s social and community features allow customers to create and share Blurb books across social channels with ease.

Blurb was founded by Eileen Gittins in 2005, and includes a team of design, Internet and media veterans who share a passion for helping people bring their stories to life. In 2010, Blurb shipped over 1.4 million books to 69 countries. In 2010, Blurb was ranked the fastest growing media company on the Inc. 500. Blurb is based in San Francisco with offices in London.

Alien Skin’s Eye Candy 7 Plugin Released

Eye Candy 7 interface

Alien Skin has announced that version 7 of their popular Eye Candy plugin for Photoshop will be released next month. Eye Candy has always had some spectacular effects, but what I’m most excited about in this version is a new modern user interface that looks like a big improvement. (You can see some images of this UI on Alien Skin’s blog post here.)


PRESS RELEASE

Alien Skin Software Announces Eye Candy 7 Graphic Design Effects Plug-In for Photoshop

Realistic effects look natural, including the new Lightning, Electrify, and Clouds. All effects are now in one user interface, making experimentation easy.

Raleigh, North Carolina – November 14, 2012 – Alien Skin Software today announced Eye Candy® 7, the new version of its graphic design effects plug-in for Adobe® Photoshop® and Photoshop Elements. Eye Candy 7 renders realistic effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve in Photoshop alone, such as Fire, Chrome, and the new Lightning. The completely redesigned user interface lets you quickly browse all of Eye Candy’s effects through icons and instant previews.

Eye Candy 7 contains the spectacular new Lightning, Electrify, and Cloud effects. There are over 1,000 presets that handle every design situation elegantly, from slick Web interfaces (Chrome, Glass, Perspective Shadow) to tasteful logos (Bevel, Brushed Metal, Extrude) to spectacular titles (Chrome, Corona, Fire). Realism sets Eye Candy effects apart from the generic filters built into Photoshop. Effects like Animal Fur, Smoke, and Reptile Skin are rendered in exquisite detail down to individual hairs, turbulent wisps, and shiny scales. Eye Candy helps designs look more natural and organic.

Eye Candy’s new, modern user interface makes it easy to explore and design looks. In Eye Candy 7, the effects are chosen through easy to recognize icons rather than text menus. As users move their mouse over presets, the thumbnail preview instantly shows how they will look within the design. Effects adapt to the size of artwork, so preset can be used without any modification.

“I’m proud of our big simplification of the Eye Candy 7 user interface,” said Terence Tay, the designer of Eye Candy. “Now you can browse effects visually, which is how designers naturally work.”

Eye Candy is made for professionals in demanding production environments who need support for 16-bit/channel images and CMYK mode. Eye Candy provides multiple techniques for non-destructive editing in Photoshop, including Smart Filter support and rendering effects on a new layer.

Pricing and Availability

Eye Candy 7 will be available in December 2012 through www.alienskin.com for $199 USD. Owners of any previous version of Eye Candy may upgrade for $99 USD. Free upgrades will be automatically sent to all users who purchased Eye Candy 6 directly from Alien Skin Software in September 2012 or later.

Host Requirements

Eye Candy 7 is a plug-in and requires one of the following host applications:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 or later
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 or later

System Requirements

Microsoft Windows users need Windows 7 or later.
Apple Macintosh users need Mac OS X 10.7 or later.
An Intel Core 2 processor or compatible is required.
A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Anime Studio Pro 9 Released

Anime Studio 9 Pro box

Today, SmithMicro announced the release of Anime Studio 9 for Mac and PC. Anime Studio is an animation application that emphasizes frame-based cartoon animation and illustration, 3D character and scene animation, and animating bone rigging. According to the press release, “Anime Studio 9 boasts a dramatically revamped timeline, 64-bit architecture and GPU acceleration for increased speed and memory, with new advanced features that make it easier than ever to create quality 2D animations.”

I think Anime Studio 9 fills the frame-based animation niche that used to be serviced by Adobe Flash until that application began to focus on its ActionScript programming language and developer community. Adobe Edge Animate and Anime Studio are the applications that now remind me most of the old Flash, but Anime Studio also emphasizes rigging, 3D animation on a 2D stage, and cartoon-style animation.

Version 9 of Anime Studio Pro has some welcome improvements:

  • Performance enhancements such as 64-bit architecture and acceleration through Graphics Processing Units (GPUs).
  • Motion graphs are now editable in the Timeline, which means animations can be tweaked with Bézier curves for precise control.
  • Multi-touch tablet support for the latest generation of Wacom multi-touch tablets like the Bamboo, Cintiq and the latest Intuos tablets.
  • Smart Bones, which is the most visible improvement of the bunch. Smart Bones maintain object forms while being manipulated, avoiding bizarre distortions around joints.
  • An updated Character Wizard for creating and customizing characters, including riggings and walk cycles.
  • A Smart Tool Palette for improved tool organization.
  • Enhanced Drawing Tools for smarter drawing and less need to draw precisely.
  • The Texture Budget memory management tool, which downsizes images if your computer runs out of resources.
  • You can now stop an animation on a specific keyframe for a specified time.
  • Built-in word balloons.

Motion paths

The Timeline’s Motion Graphs are editable with Bézier curves, making transitions and easing a lot more precise. This is a feature that has been in Flash for two or three versions now.

Smart Bones can also work as “master” objects that can animate other objects, which allows for intriguing possibilities. In the demo, my SmithMicro contact showed a character that was given multiple animated characteristics (blinking eyes, jumping legs, moving arms). Each animated element was paired with a Smart Bone off the stage, which itself could be animated to make the character elements animate. The end result was an off-stage user interface for animating the character, which can be a great time-saver in complex animations. It made me think how a future Anime Studio might weave this technology into an “animation wizard” in a future version.

Smart bones

New in version 9: Smart Bones can be rigged up with animated elements in other characters, producing a simple user interface for animating the object.

Anime Studio 9 also works pretty well with other applications. My contact at SmithMicro commented that many pro users bring their Anime Studio renders into Adobe’s After Effects or Premiere Pro for extra effects like motion blur. Conversely, Anime Studio Pro 9 also imports 3D scenes and characters from Poser, another SmithMicro app devoted to creating 3D elements, and layered Photoshop files. But even though Anime Studio Pro can use 3D assets, the application does not support depth (z-axis), lighting or shading. Drop shadows and other effects can mimic 3D effects.

Art

The quality of artwork coming out of Anime Studio Pro 9 projects is impressive.

As with previous versions, Anime Studio 9 is available in the entry-level Debut package or the Pro package for professionals. Debut users can open files created in Pro but won’t have some Pro features such as actions, Smart Bones and 3D capabilities. Debut also has a maximum render resolution of 720×720 pixels and a maximum video length of two minutes.

I received my copy of Anime Studio Pro 9 just recently so a review of the product will be published in a few weeks. In particular, I want to test how the Anime Studio works with the multi-touch Wacom Bamboo tablet. Keep reading for more news!

How Adobe FormsCentral Saved My Project

Adobe FormsCentral, one of their growing number of apps at Acrobat.com, has been on my review list for some time but didn’t have a great angle to write about until recently. Adobe FormsCentral literally saved a recent project of mine, and I was surprised how its strengths dovetailed with the technical issues I was facing.

The project objective was straightforward:

  • Build an online registration form
  • Include payment integration with PayPal
  • Send email notification to the user and the client on submission
  • Store registration data or send it via email to the client

The client’s website is constructed with Ning, which made its name as a social community builder but now is a blend of that and a typical content management system. Unfortunately, Ning’s backend is fairly difficult to work with unless you are doing basic CSS or HTML changes. The Perl script that we used last year to submit the form data was not allowed by Ning, effectively scuttling our existing solution. I was worried that Ning would force the form to be hosted elsewhere until I thought about FormsCentral, which has a few characteristics that made it ideal for this job:

  • A robust set of form elements covered all the inputs I needed.
  • The ability to embed my form on any webpage with an iframe let me put this form on a Ning page with no problem.
  • The FormsCentral service handles all the notifications and submission data storage, so I didn’t have to write code to handle it myself.
  • Multiple user accounts through FormsCentral meant that my client could run reports and check registrant data as easily as I could.

FormsCentral comes loaded with 50 templates for various industries, but I only needed five text fields so a blank template was adequate. In the Design tab, I was able to make fields required, limit the total characters, include help popups and restrict input to certain types like text, number or email. These are all typically included with forms services like FormsCentral. The one design feature that is completely absent is the ability to dictate design with CSS, which I’d normally use to design a web form. I understand Adobe’s focus on non-programmers, but CSS could really make it easier to apply design elements throughout forms.

The Options tab pretty much covered the rest of my project requirements. I created a Submission Receipt that is sent to all users after they complete the form. I also set up a notification to be sent to the client and myself after every submission, though I was a bit disappointed my client had to create an Adobe ID and log into FormsCentral in order to be added to the notifications list. I also noted that I couldn’t create my own HTML email template to be used for notifications or receipts.

Payment processing is also set up in FormsCentral’s Options tab. Configuring PayPal payments with this form was the most difficult step to master. Registering the PayPal account with the form is easy enough but connecting the form fields to the purchase functionality can be confusing. In the Payment Processing settings, I had to specify the purchase field, quantity field, price and description. The user selected their quantity in a particular field on the form, so that was used for the quantity field. (I also could have set it for exactly one item, which is helpful in some situations.) The purchase field is what confused me because, in this case, the form’s Submit button is also considered a valid purchase field. It was what I needed for this project.

FormsCentral forms can be distributed up to three ways:

  • An HTML page hosted at FormsCentral. An example is https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ.
  • A PDF form with interactive form fields. This can be submitted by the user when offline, and the data is stored locally until an Internet connection can be made.
  • Embedded via iframe into an HTML page. The embed code looks like this:


script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://formscentral.acrobat.com/Clients/Current/FormsCentral/htmlClient/scripts/adobe.form.embed.min.js”>
script type="text/javascript">
var fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ = new ADOBEFORMS.EmbedForm({formId:"zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ", server:"https://adobeformscentral.com/", width:640, showHeader:false, transparent:true, widthAfterRedirect:640, heightAfterRedirect:400});
fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ.display();

You can see some embedded parameters, such as background color, form width and the iframe size after the form is submitted and a redirect URL is specified. (I didn't use this because FormsCentral lets you show a confirmation message after submission.)

The View Responses tab is where the client and I could see the submitted data. Everything is stored, and PayPal even returns the transaction ID and total dollar amount to FormsCentral so the payment data is complete. A report can be exported from the File menu within FormsCentral, or you can view the Summary Report tab to see some charts based on your data. These did not help me much because most of my data was non-numerical, and the charts can only display data as a full count or an average. My client and I focused on the View Responses tab, which had all the data we required.

The Ning platform could accept FormsCentral's embed code since it's pure HTML, and the form itself worked perfectly. This got us around the limitations imposed by Ning and also provided me the data handling that I normally would have executed with my own scripts. Ultimately, FormsCentral gave me more tools with less work and helped both me and my client be more efficient. FormsCentral does have its limitations, mostly imposed by the product's emphasis on the non-programming user. However, FormsCentral is designed for projects like this one and I was lucky to consider it!

FormsCentral can be run as a 30-day trial for 99 cents or paid monthly for $14.99 per month. This allows up to five forms and up to 500 responses. An annual rate of $143.88, recently reduced, provides 5,000 responses per form with unlimited data storage and unlimited forms. Note that the Acrobat.com apps, including FormsCentral, are not included in Adobe's Creative Cloud product.

Updates to Adobe Touch Apps: Photoshop Touch 1.3 and Proto 1.5

Adobe Photoshop Touch and Adobe Proto, two of Adobe’s Touch Apps designed for tablets, were updated in the past month. Today, Photoshop Touch was updated to version 1.3 with a few new features designed for iPad users with Retina screens. Last month, the web design app Proto was updated to version 1.5 with more integration between desktop and cloud applications.

Photoshop Touch 1.3: High-resolution improvements

Adobe Photoshop Touch

According to Adobe’s blog post, Photoshop Touch 1.3′s primary goal is to support the new batch of high-resolution Retina screens being used by Apple in their new iPads (3rd generation). The app also supports images up to 12 megapixels, including print-quality resolutions. (The blog post makes it sound like you have to sacrifice the number of layers you can work with in order to gain the extra pixels.)

Other improvements include:

  • Two new Effects: Shred and Colorize
  • Smoother animation and scrolling in the organizer, tutorial browser and file picker
  • New three-finger tap gesture to toggle 100 percent view and fit screen
  • New pixel-nudging mode for precise movements
  • Support for Apple Photo Stream on the iPad

Adobe Proto 1.5: Little improvements can mean a lot

Adobe Proto Logo

Proto is one of my favorite Adobe Touch Apps (see my review of it here), but Proto 1.5 provides some very useful improvements that should have been in the original release. The more comprehensive list of improvements is here on John Nack’s blog, and here’s a selection of that list:

  • Email interactive wireframe as attachment or share via Dropbox and other Adobe Touch Apps
  • Copy and paste objects to different pages
  • Share common objects across pages
  • Navigations can now be pinned on all pages
  • Z-index (stacking over) can be changed via Context Menu
  • Show undo/redo count
  • Objects snap to both CSS Column and Design Grid
  • Code generated is now ordered according to the appearance in the page
  • All pinned objects generate a separate common CSS file (common.css)

Generally, the improvements provide a more productive workflow within Proto, a more efficient use of materials like common navigation elements, and more useful code outside of the Proto environment. Dreamweaver users should watch this Adobe TV clip to learn how to bring native Proto files into Dreamweaver CS6.

For more information, check out the product pages for Photoshop Touch and Proto or the Adobe Touch Apps homepage.

BOOK REVIEW: Node Up and Running

Front-end web developers everywhere know JavaScript and use it for everything from DOM manipulation to Ajax applications. That’s why I am really excited that Node.js exists—JavaScript running on the server side, running applications from the server rather than the browser. The exciting aspect of it is it opens up server-side programming to front-end developers who until now have focused on the browser.

Node Up and Running by Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson provides a primer on Node that I really enjoyed. I have not worked with Node before but I’m experienced with JavaScript—in other words, I’m the ideal reader for an introductory book such as this. The most useful chapter for me was actually the first, which introduces Node and—most importantly—explains the scalability of Node and its ability to handle large applications. I wasn’t sure it was suitable for these things compared to Java or other server-side languages. I wish the book dived deeper into these questions, but the chapter was enough to make me feel comfortable using Node in these situations.

The rest of the book covers basic Node concepts like loops, error handling, APIs and data handling. All the basics you will need are here, but there’s more to Node and I will be looking forward to a more extensive Node “cookbook” from O’Reilly in the future. (Tom Hughes-Croucher said on Amazon.com that it is in the works.) Node Up and Running is short so you don’t get into all the details, but I was impressed it packed in as much useful details as it did. I also liked that the very first project code in the second chapter consisted of a chat server and a Twitter service—both look impressive and show off Node functionality.

One complaint about Node Up and Running is that the book covers a quickly-changing framework and some parts of the book are outdated at this point. Another criticism is that the book is too short—it’s not even 200 pages, so it’s really just an introduction to Node. But as an introduction it serves its purpose very well and entices front-end developers with some great server-side code that can be built with their JavaScript skills. It’s an exciting time to be a JavaScript developer!

Node Up and Running
Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson
Published by O’Reilly
US $34.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Joe McNally’s Sketching Light

Sketching Light cover

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash is the third of photographer Joe McNally’s books that I’ve reviewed, and I never really grow tired of reading his stories. The quality of his storytelling and the depth of knowledge he has gained from years in the field is what makes his books so interesting, and Sketching Light is no different.

As you can gather from the title, Sketching Light focuses on using flash in photography and there are a variety of stories about the topic. Unlike The Art of Photographic Lighting, which I just reviewed, Joe’s chapters are full of text, intriguing and imaginative photography, and a lot of storytelling. All this is on top of technical details supported by first-hand field experience. The book really is an awesome read, and I’d recommend it to any professional photographer. (Amateurs and prosumers will enjoy it too, but Joe’s writing as a professional and some material just doesn’t apply to what they are shooting.)

I was also inspired by some of Sketching Light that did not really pertain to lighting. Joe works with a lot of models and subjects and he writes quite a bit about working with people. There’s also a section, “How Do You Get Fired from LIFE?”, that I was particularly interested in because I grew up reading LIFE magazine in the 1990s and surely saw Joe’s work without knowing it. He doesn’t even mention lighting in this section; instead, the section is about the actual value of accolades and how temporary the perfect gig can be.

There’s a couple criticisms I want to make about Sketching Light. Joe has published three highly-regarded books now, and I think the content is starting to sound the same. The previous book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, is also about lighting and I’m not sure another book about lighting was the best idea. The content is appealing but it also seems too similar to the other two books. I’ve also noticed that Joe’s writing style is very conversational, which I usually enjoy, but it makes for longer books. Sketching Light is over 400 pages long, and I think some editing could pare that down to 350 or even 325. Some of the verbiage in Sketching Light is not necessary. I criticized Eib Eibelhaeuser for an unusually dry writing style in The Art of Photographic Lighting, but I’d say Joe McNally’s writing style could be more streamlined and direct without losing its impact.

Despite this, Sketching Light is a wonderful book and any pro photographer would do well to have it on his or her shelf. I’m putting my copy next to Joe’s other two books, which I refer to regularly.

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Photographic Lighting

Art of Photographic Lighting cover

Eib Eibelhaeuser’s The Art of Photographic Lighting is an interesting book and not the typical book that I see written for photographers. Many books about photo lighting focus on the fieldwork—lighting setups, equipment, handling natural light and other details. The Art of Photographic Lighting is part history book, part art theory book and part photo lighting book. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Eib’s writing style is clean and clear, which I appreciate. There aren’t many anecdotes or stories from the field, so the writing is not very vivid or interesting like other photographers’ books. (Joe McNally’s books on lighting are practically the opposite.) I also was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more actual writing in the book: subjects are sometimes given just a few pages, and the pages often have plenty of white space and photography. The book design is nice and clean, but there is not as much content as I’m used to.

The content is solid. Eib is knowledgeable about many different aspects of photography lighting, including light bulb structure and history, flash configurations, color temperature, and quality of natural light at different times of day. I liked the chapters on natural light the best, and sections were well-defined (“Day,” “Night,” “Indoors” and more). As mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting does not dive deep and these subjects aren’t always covered in detail.

Many pages in The Art of Photographic Lighting are devoted to photography, but quite a bit of it is bland and not very memorable. They do a good job of illustrating the lighting principles described in the text, and the images are technically good, but they are really just not too imaginative, exciting or artistic. I’m not sure how I feel about this because The Art of Photographic Lighting seems more of a textbook and the images do their job. Maybe Eib should strive to find or make images that do more than that.

Ultimately, like I mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting is a good example of a textbook on photographic lighting. Its spare, clean style and comprehensive survey of lighting history and composition make it a very useful guide. However, I think the artfulness of lighting is lost and there’s very little text that sparks the imagination. That should be added to this book if it is ever given a second edition.

The Art of Photographic Lighting
Eib Eibelhaeuser
Published by Rocky Nook
US $44.95
Rating: 6/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I enjoy David duChemin’s books because he speaks about artistry and philosophy, and not just about the technical details in his photography. Many photographers do the same thing and talk about composition, light and other aspects of photography beyond the camera, but David really brings his thoughtfulness into his writing.

duChemin book cover

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images is David’s latest book and one more example of his inward-looking style. The book considers what makes a photograph successful and how to apply these qualities of visual storytelling to future images. There are many techniques illustrated here that you can get in many other books—the rule of thirds and the golden spiral come to mind—but the real takeaway is how David explains these concepts and examines them at their most philosophical level.

For example, there’s a small sidebar on “reading” versus “viewing” photographs where David describes the difference between passive viewers and active “readers” of images. I learned a similar concept when I was studying music history: to really understand a work of art, you have to go beyond your superficial reaction to it. In today’s saturated world of images, it’s easy to jump at first impressions when viewing photography, but David is wise enough to avoid that and frame the discussion with that single word.

The last section of the book—almost 100 pages—is devoted to 20 of David’s photographs. Those are a lot of pages to devote to just 20 images, but I appreciate the focus. In this section, Photographically Speaking applies the concepts of visual language that were developed in the previous section, such as orientation and the rule of thirds. I enjoy the philosophical aspects of the first section more than the technical focus in the second, but it does help make the book well-rounded.

Photographically Speaking is a very enjoyable book with beautiful images and very thoughtful writing from David. Photographers who have a firm grasp of their craft and want to really think through the images they produce can’t go wrong with this book.

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images
David duChemin
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy from Amazon.com

Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things You Need to Know About People Books

Designer book cover

Three years ago, I highly rated Susan Weinschenk‘s book Neuro Web Design, which explained how to apply psychology principles to web design and build websites that are more appealing, easier to use and more memorable. Susan has written two more books that continue to apply psychology to technology and appeal to designers and presenters. Both follow a similar format: 100 Things Every ____ Needs to Know About People, with 100 ideas grounded in psychology and applicable to designers’ and presenters’ projects.

As with Neuro Web Design, both 100 Things books are well-researched. Susan has a deep knowledge of various studies and psychological findings and explains them without being too technical. The studies are also quite interesting and revealing in themselves, and I liked reading those before anything else. The book designer also did a good job building charts when needed to illustrate psychological concepts. The rest of the books’ design is colorful, incorporates useful sidebars, and provides a “takeaways” callout at the end of each section to communicate the most essential points.

Presenter book cover

Susan also does a good job connecting psychological truisms with scenarios in the design and presentation worlds. The “completeness” ratings you see on online profiles—such as a LinkedIn or Dropbox account—plays into the fact that “people are more motivated as they get closer to a goal.” “People read in a certain direction,” so be sure to stand beside your presentation so you can be the point of entry in how attendees “read” the stage. Rule 18 in the designer’s book—”People read faster with a longer line length, but prefer a shorter line length”—even explains the differences between text on a webpage and text in print, and it’s all based on recent research. These books are based on evidence and tied directly to our industries.

However, Susan doesn’t always do a good job connecting the rules specifically to the designer’s or presenter’s world and some don’t apply to our work as well as others. “People can be in a flow state” and work with focused attention, but this applies to any work—not just designers’ work. Same thing with “people can’t multitask.” I think the book for presenters is more focused on aspects of presentation than the designers’ book is focused on design. Ultimately, I think every point Susan makes is useful but some are more useful than others.

Still, both books are great material and a good value. Designers and presenters sometimes build their products by the book and don’t always think about why some approaches might work better than others. Susan’s books help you understand the “why.”

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Published by New Riders
US $34.99 for Presenters, US $29.99 for Designers
Rating: 9/10
Buy Designer and Presenter from Amazon.com

Adobe Launches eLearning Suite 6, Presenter 8

Adobe has released the newest version of the eLearning Suite of products. eLearning Suite 6 includes Adobe Captivate 6, Adobe Presenter 8 and the CS6 versions of Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Photoshop Extended and Acrobat X Pro. More details can be found in the press release below.


Adobe Launches eLearning Suite 6, Presenter 8
Industry-Leading Authoring Suite Introduces HTML5-Based mLearning Support, Presenter Compatible with Microsoft® PowerPoint

SAN JOSE, Calif. –July 18, 2012 – Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of Adobe eLearning Suite 6, the company’s tightly integrated toolbox for rapidly creating professional-grade eLearning and HTML5-based mLearning content. The suite enables eLearning professionals, educators and trainers to create immersive, interactive eLearning courses complete with simulations, product demos, digital imaging, rich animations and audio production. Anchored by Adobe® Captivate 6 and the new Adobe Presenter 8, Adobe eLearning Suite 6 includes several industry-leading titles including Adobe Flash® Professional CS6, Adobe Dreamweaver® CS6, Adobe Photoshop® CS6 Extended, and Adobe Acrobat® X Pro.

“Today’s eLearning professionals, educators and trainers are dealing with a growing mobile population, platform fragmentation and the need to communicate through video.” said Naresh Gupta, senior vice president, Print and Publishing at Adobe. “As a result, efficiency in mobile authoring and delivery, and ease in video creation are among the top considerations when they select an authoring solution. Adobe eLearning Suite 6 delivers on both.”

Adobe eLearning Suite 6 enhances productivity with robust roundtripping workflows between Adobe Captivate and Adobe Audition® CS6, Adobe Flash Professional CS6, Adobe Photoshop Extended CS6 and Acrobat X Pro. For example, users can open Adobe Captivate files in Adobe Audition CS6 to quickly adjust speech pitch and alignment or Adobe Photoshop Extended CS6 to retouch images and create 3D graphics. Prebuilt native extensions with Adobe Flash Professional CS6 enable users to generate sprite sheets and more. With Acrobat X Pro users can embed Adobe Captivate movies into PDF documents and PDF portfolios, bringing text-based learning materials to life, and make the finished project accessible via Adobe Reader®.

Adobe Presenter 8

The new Adobe Presenter 8 empowers business professionals, trainers and educators to create video presentations right from the desktop, without the need for specialized equipment or training. With Adobe Presenter 8, users can streamline projects and lower costs of producing and editing videos with a single desktop solution. In addition, they are able to simultaneously capture slide presentations, webcam video and audio and dynamically mix components without a separate video editor. The intuitive interface makes it easy to edit and trim video, pan and zoom, adjust brightness and sharpness levels and enhance audio quality by reducing background noise. A host of video add-ons, including the ability to highlight select portions of a screen, insert annotations and apply text overlays, makes it easy to polish a presentation while the “Adobe Presenter to YouTube” feature allows users to publish a completed project with one click.

Adobe Captivate 6

Adobe Captivate 6 enhancements improve mobile access and boost learner engagement while ensuring effortless publishing to leading SCORM- and AICC-compliant Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba and SumTotal. It introduces the ability to publish content as both SWF and HTML5, enabling learners to begin a course on their desktop, pause and later resume on a mobile device, including iOS and Android™ based tablets and smartphones. Users can also quickly create and edit HD-quality demos within the new “capture-as-a-video” workflow, insert videos in a picture-in-picture format and publish projects to YouTube – all within the same UI. A full library of out-of-the-box assets, improved Microsoft PowerPoint integration and enhanced quizzing capabilities complete the top new features in Adobe Captivate 6. For more information, refer to the Adobe Captivate 6 announcement and product page.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe eLearning Suite 6 is immediately available through Adobe authorized resellers and the Adobe Store for an estimated street price of US$1,799. Users of eLearning Suite 2 and 2.5 can upgrade at a discounted price of US$599. Upgrade pricing from Adobe Captivate 5.5, 5 or 4 to Adobe eLearning Suite 6 is US$1,199. Qualified education users can purchase eLearning Suite 6 for US$599. For a complimentary trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/try.

Adobe Presenter 8 is also immediately available as a standalone product for an estimated street price of US$499, with US$299 US$199 education and upgrade pricing from Adobe Presenter 7. For a free trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/try.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

MotionArtist Announced, Beta Release for Producing Interactive Graphic Novels

Last week, Smith Micro announced the release of MotionArtist, an application designed for creating interative graphic novels and comic books for online, mobile and tablet readers. MotionArtist is available now as a beta release, and in about a year it will retail for approximately $50. The press release is below.


PRESS RELEASE

Introducing the Easiest Way to Create Digital Comics and Interactive Graphic Novels – MotionArtist by Smith Micro

  • For graphic novelists, comic creators, or anyone wishing to create animated presentations and photo shows
  • Offers truly simple animation, panel creation tools and HTML5 export
  • Download free Beta version at motionartist.smithmicro.com

SAN DIEGO, CA – July 11, 2012 – Smith Micro Software, Inc. (NASDAQ: SMSI) Productivity and Graphics Group today announced the beta release of MotionArtist®, a new version that bridges the gap between comic creators and their readers. With the MotionArtist version users can add motion to their comics, create interactive HTML5 presentations as well as uniquely styled photo-shows. International Comic-Con 2012 attendees will be the first to see MotionArtist’s new approach to layout, animation and adding interactivity at Smith Micro’s booth #5353.

MotionArtist is a composition and presentation application unlike anything that exists in the world of digital comic creation,” said Steve Yatson, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Smith Micro Software, Inc. “It’s a simple solution to a very complicated set of problems that introduces a new approach to animation. We provide the platform – from there, professional artists or everyday users can really let their creativity run wild.”

The MotionArtist version combines cutting-edge tools with a truly simple user experience, creating a highly versatile solution that appeals to a wide range of users, from hardcore comic creators to anyone who loves to share their favorite photos, including:

  • Graphic novelists – Create amazing interactive animated comics and presentations with state-of-the-art technology, such as GPU acceleration for a lightning fast work environment and 3D layering for that cool parallax effect
  • Traditional comic creators – Artists of any skill-level can quickly convert their work into digital comics with panel creation, layout tools and the ability to add motion
  • Web developers – Export projects to HTML5 and deploy on your favorite website or save as standard movie formats and share your comics and presentations directly to Facebook or YouTube
  • Photographers – Create fun, animated “photo shows” by dropping in a folder of images; MotionArtist will automatically place the images on the stage and animate the camera

Poser capture in MotionArtist

MotionArtist is an awesome animation and interactivity product that was clearly conceived with comic creators in mind,” said Brian Haberlin, co-artist and co-writer of the multi-media sci-fi adventure saga Anomaly. “With MotionArtist you can create panel-based comics, add animation and export in common file formats without being locked into a specific format or being required to use a particular service. You can even export as a common video format or, more importantly, HTML5.”

Key MotionArtist version Features:

  • HTML5 export – Save out as HTML5 with interactive navigation or export as standard video files and share on YouTube and Facebook.
  • Comic style panel creation – Create panels of just about any shape. Go back and resize, duplicate, rotate, align and cut at any time.
  • Word balloons & dynamic text – Vector based balloons, thought bubbles, dialogue boxes and text can easily be added and edited at any time
  • Arrange in 3D – add layered 3D depth to your panels and presentations for that cool parallax effect
  • Motion – A new approach to animation for non-animators. We’ve hidden the technical stuff and brought the animation process forward in an intuitive visual manner
  • Photo shows – Simple creation of photo presentations through automated object placement and camera movement
  • Working modes and views – Creation and animation workflow is laid out with comic creators in mind

Pricing and Availability:

Download MotionArtist for free during its beta availability direct from the Smith Micro online store at: motionartist.smithmicro.com.

Comic composition in MotionArtist

About Smith Micro Software, Inc. – Productivity and Graphics Group:

Based in Santa Cruz, Calif., the Smith Micro Software Productivity and Graphics Group produces award-winning software that inspires consumer creativity and enables efficiency. The group’s creative suite of programs provides artists of all skill levels – from novice to professional – with the tools to illustrate, animate and create 2D and 3D art. Some of the Productivity and Graphics Group’s award-winning creative and utilities products include Poser, Anime Studio, Manga Studio and StuffIt. For more information, please visit: www.smithmicro.com.

Safe Harbor Statement:

This release contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties, including without limitation, forward-looking statements relating to the company’s financial prospects and other projections of its performance, the existence of new market opportunities and interest in the company’s products and solutions, and the company’s ability to increase its revenue and regain profitability by capitalizing on these new market opportunities and interest and introducing new products and solutions. Among the important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements are changes in demand for the company’s products from its customers and their end-users, new and changing technologies, customer acceptance and timing of deployment of those technologies, new and continuing adverse economic conditions, and the company’s ability to compete effectively with other software companies. These and other factors discussed in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its filings on Forms 10-K and 10-Q, could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied in any forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements contained in this release are made on the basis of the views and assumptions of management regarding future events and business performance as of the date of this release, and the company does not undertake any obligation to update these statements to reflect events or circumstances occurring after the date of this release.

Smith Micro, the Smith Micro logo and MotionArtist are trademarks or registered trademarks of Smith Micro Software, Inc. All other trademarks and product names are the property of their respective companies.

REVIEW: Lightroom 4 Prepares For The Future

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has been available a few months but only in the last week Adobe has included Lightroom in Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, which is potentially even bigger news than the new version 4. Photographers who have purchased Creative Cloud subscriptions now get Lightroom whenever and wherever they want it, and that makes Lightroom even more relevant than before. I’ve been working with Lightroom 4 since it was released and Adobe has made some smart improvements to the application that embrace new digital technology.

I believe the most vital improvements in Lightroom 4 happen in the new adjustment brush features. Lightroom became much more useful when the adjustment brush was added a couple years ago, but Lightroom 4 lets photographers make spot adjustments to counter moiré, reduce noise or adjust white balance. The white balance adjustment is very useful and I was surprised no one thought to spot-adjust white balance before. I was so surprised I actually launched Lightroom 3 to confirm it!

Lightroom 4 white balance adjustments

Basically, the Temp and Tint sliders in the Develop module can now be adjusted within a single adjustment brush point on the photo or as a general adjustment across the photo. My color correction techniques have always emphasized correction across entire images—color casts and white balance mistakes will almost always affect everything the camera sees. However, there are a few times when multiple light sources can skew results in a part of an image. There are also many photographers today who want to be more creative with their images than just getting the color correct. These photographers will really enjoy the new controls available in Lightroom 4.

I am also really excited that Lightroom 4 now supports video formats. Prosumer cameras have been shooting video for a few years now and it’s becoming mainstream—some photographers like Vincent Laforet are experimenting with the art form while wedding and event photographers are supplementing their income shooting video as well as their usual photos. Adobe worked to make Lightroom 4 provide a complete video workflow. I don’t think Lightroom 4 provides a complete workflow—it’s missing basic features like sound editing, though Creative Cloud users will have all the software they need for video editing. But Lightroom 4 does provide easy importing and exporting to Facebook and Flickr as well as to your hard drive. I think exporting to YouTube is essential though.

Lightroom 4 does provide Quick Develop module tools for video editing, which is where workflow comes in. Photographers can change exposure, white balance and all the tone controls used for images. You can also trim clips and capture a poster frame for presenting the video. This is the extent of video editing in Lightroom 4, and I think it’s a decent enough editing suite for photographers in the field but a photographer who wants to sell his video footage should invest in Creative Cloud, CS6 Production Premium or Adobe Premiere Elements. Amateur videographers should really consider Premiere Elements, though serious photographers might want to invest in CS6 Production Premium (or, better yet, hire someone who already has mastered Adobe’s video applications.)

Lightroom 4 map module

One of the most visually spectacular new features in Lightroom 4 is the Map module, powered by Google Maps, that lets photographers place their photos in specific locations. It’s a thrill to navigate the world in Lightroom 4 and see exactly where your photographic journeys have taken you, but I have a feeling Adobe will have to constantly play catch-up with advances in GPS and mapping technology. 3D mapping is starting to emerge and I think tagging photos by building floor as well as GPS location would be useful. I also thought the process of matching photos up with their locations was tedious (except when the photo already had location metadata). If there’s no location data, you can drag-and-drop photos onto the map to set their location. This is probably as good of a manual system as you can get, but it’s still a slog.

Lightroom 4 boasts improved shadow and highlight recovery, and you’ll have to learn some new sliders in the Develop module to master this. In Lightroom 3, the Basic sliders in the Develop module included exposure, recovery, fill light and blacks along with brightness and contrast. (Brightness and contrast have been together in Adobe’s settings lineup since the early days of Photoshop.) In Lightroom 4, exposure and contrast are together and the other four sliders are highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. It’s confusing to consider whites and highlights two separate things (same with shadows and blacks) and there aren’t many differences between the two that I can see. Generally, the Highlights and Shadows sliders will affect darks or lights without ruining the other and will avoid excessive contrast. I still prefer working with the Tone Curve settings to pinpoint the tone regions I want to work on, though I like how fast and easy I can produce results with the Highlights and Shadows sliders. If you don’t have time to work with the curves, try the new sliders.

Lightroom 4 soft proofing

For photographers who make prints of their work, the new soft proofing in Lightroom 4 might be useful. A “soft proof” is an on-screen representation of the final printed product, and it’s often hard to get a precise soft proof since a screen and a sheet of paper are two totally different substrates. I’ve relied on hard proofs on paper since the beginning of my career. Lightroom 4′s soft proofs look like they might be helpful but I still don’t trust them completely—there are too many factors in printing that can skew the results. But what I do find really useful in Lightroom 4 are the new gamut warnings which will show regions that are too bright or too dark to display any detail. Lightroom 4 will provide not only printer gamut warnings but monitor gamut warnings too, which I’ve not seen before.

Lightroom 4 book module

Lightroom has always had a fairly robust set of output modules (Slideshow, Print and Web) but in version 4 there is a new Book module for creating photo books. I have seen photo books offered by several photo production websites but I usually like to design my own in InDesign. I wondered if Lightroom’s Book module would be easy to use as well as robust, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s a balance between software-generated layouts (see the Auto Layout panel in the sidebar) and fine controls. The Cell panel lets you put white space around images on all sides or each side separately. I found the caption and type tools very intuitive—text was overlaid on images right where I wanted them to be and I didn’t need to handle text frame corners. Everything is done inside the Book module sidebar. I found one user interface element to be particularly annoying: the inability to add photo cells on my own. The pages’ photo layouts are determined by the Auto Layout presets; you can make your own presets but they still adhere to predetermined layouts. You cannot simply drag and drop new images onto the page either, unless a photo cell already exists. The only real way to tweak photo placement is to add padding to photo cells, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

Lightroom has had integrated social sharing for awhile now, but it’s been improved in Lightroom 4 in a way I didn’t really expect. If you share to comment-capable albums (a Facebook album, for example), photos’ comments will be shown in Lightroom 4′s sidebar and you can write your own there as well. Your comments will then appear on the Facebook album entry. I thought this was a really neat way to leverage Facebook’s API and integrate social comments directly into Lightroom. I also love how you can include your Facebook albums in the Publish Services panel and push photos up to it just by dragging them onto the album name.

Lightroom 4 is another quality upgrade for a quality product, and its inclusion into Adobe Creative Cloud makes it available to even more people. On the other hand, I feel Lightroom is a mature application now and some of the features are not so exciting or unique. Other mature applications, including Photoshop and Illustrator, deal with the same problem sometimes. But the improvements in spot adjustments, shadows and highlights, and photo book layout in particular make me say Lightroom 4 is an upgrade worth buying.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe Systems
US $149 full/$79 upgrade
Included with Adobe Creative Cloud
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

Adobe Unveils Captivate 6 with HTML5 Support

Last week, Adobe announced the release of Adobe Captivate 6, which is their application for building electronic learning projects like quizzes, tests and teaching tools. HTML5 programming, HD video capture and some PowerPoint and quiz enhancements are added in the new version.


Captivate 6 box

PRESS RELEASE

SAN JOSE, Calif. — June, 15 2012 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the immediate availability of Adobe® Captivate® 6, a significant upgrade to its industry-leading eLearning authoring software for rapidly creating a wide range of interactive eLearning and HTML5-based mobile Learning content. Designed with today’s mobile learners in mind, Captivate 6 enables eLearning developers, corporate trainers, educators and other business users to help deliver dynamic, SCORM- and AICC-compliant course content that is accessible anytime, anywhere.

“Today, learners expect engaging eLearning options on their iOS and Android devices – static presentations shrunk to fit mobile screens aren’t enough,” said Naresh Gupta, senior vice president, Print and Publishing, Adobe. “Captivate 6 gives subject matter experts and content creators the ability to deliver eLearning content to mobile devices that is as robust and interactive as the content delivered to desktops.”

Captivate 6 enhancements improve mobile access and boost learner’s engagement – top features include:

  • HTML5 Publishing with Pause and Resume Capabilities: Publish interactive HTML5 eLearning content that is accessible from both iOS and Android devices and leverage mobile presets to help ensure seamless mobile distribution. By publishing eLearning content as both SWF and HTML5, learners can begin a course on their desktop, pause and later resume on a different device.
  • HD Screencast: Quickly create HD-quality demos within the new “capture-as-a-video” workflow. Edit video and add transitions, smart shapes, audio and captions. Insert another video in a picture-in-picture format and publish it to YouTube – all within the same UI.
  • Attractive Out-of-the-Box Assets: Select from a wide range of preloaded actors and set them against customizable backdrops to give content a more personal touch. Include additional interactivity by inserting smart learning interactions, such as widgets, animated rollovers and more, with just a few clicks.
  • Enhanced PowerPoint Roundtripping: Import PowerPoint 2010 slides along with objects, animations and multimedia into eLearning projects with better fidelity conversation workflow. Easily update pre-existing PowerPoint content, which will be automatically synced via the dynamically linked import feature.
  • Enhanced Quizzing: Utilize pre-tests to assess the knowledge, skill level or training needs of individual learners. Based on results, direct learners to the appropriate section and use post-tests to gauge what resonates. Allow learners to revisit a relevant section after answering a quiz question incorrectly and, if necessary, discourage guesswork by penalizing for wrong answers.

With Captivate 6, trainers and educators can individualize eLearning modules by recording voiceovers and other sounds that automatically play back when a learner clicks on a specified object. Course designers can also ensure that eLearning content maintains a consistent look and feel using customizable, professionally designed themes. Improved LMS integration helps eLearning developers effortlessly publish content to leading learning management systems, including Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba and SumTotal.

Quotes

Dustin Tauer, vice president, Training and Development, Easel Solutions

“Many of our customers want to access eLearning content on mobile devices but getting content there has been a challenge. Now, HTML5 publishing with Captivate 6 makes it easy to extend eLearning to mobile devices without forcing the author to learn new programming code.”

Eric Fields, senior eLearning consultant, Learning and Development, Coventry Health Care Workers’ Comp Services

“Adobe Captivate 6 HD screencasting provides a seamless workflow for all my video capture and editing needs. I no longer need additional software, which means no more incompatibility breakdowns and procurement delays working with multiple software packages.”

Damien Bruyndonckx, multimedia assistant, IHECS, Haute Ecole Gallilee

“Advanced interactions and the new collection of characters in Adobe Captivate 6 streamline how I develop interactive, fun, and engaging content that humanizes eLearning, and energizes learners to improve their scores.”

Helpful Links

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Captivate 6 is immediately available through Adobe authorized resellers and the Adobe Store for an estimated street price of US$899. Captivate 5.5 and Captivate 4 users can upgrade at a discounted price of US$359 and US$539, respectively. Qualified education users can purchase Captivate 6 for US$299. For a free trial, visit www.adobe.com/go/trycaptivate.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

BOOK REVIEW: Visual Stories by Vincent Laforet

Visual Stories cover

I wrote in my recent review of Jerod Foster’s Storytellers that the best storytelling techniques seem to span across art forms and can be applied to writing, composing and design as well as photography. I think that is one reason I really love Visual Stories: Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet—the storytelling comes through not just in the pictures but in the words and the storytelling in the book itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Vincent is a top-notch photographer with a diverse portfolio—he shoots landscapes, people and nature equally well (though I think his people shots are the best). He’s also shot for a variety of publications and has lived and worked in many different locales around the world, so his subject matter and light are always changing and providing opportunities. The breadth of material makes Visual Stories a great resource for photographic storytellers.

The real gems of storytelling in Visual Stories come through in the writing. I’m not sure what makes Vincent’s stories compelling, but I think it’s through experience. Vincent writes about shooting in a Pakistan refugee camp; catching match point in an Olympic fencing match; making only two decent shots at a Super Bowl; and many more exotic situations. Vincent is lucky—not many photographers get such juicy assignments. His lucky break with the fencing match, described on page 91, just might make you sick with envy. (Don’t worry, I’m sure there are five failures for every success in Vincent’s career.)

Fortunately, Vincent’s luck and his ability to write stories have given Visual Stories beautiful writing to go with the photography. His stories are vivid and sometimes fairly personal, which I also like—this is a book about a photographer as much as it is a book about photographs. Visual Stories does provide some good details on lenses and camera settings, but they are not emphasized often.

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Visual Stories. I enjoyed reading it and photographers of all kinds will find it fascinating. All photographers have some stories to share, but Vincent seems to have more than most and they paint a vivid picture. The book’s price is a little high but it’s worth purchasing.

Visual Stories; Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet
Vincent Laforet
Published by New Riders
US $54.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Jerod Foster’s Storytellers

Storytellers cover

There are two types of photography books: the nuts-and-bolts variety with detail on apertures, lenses and lighting setups, and the artistic variety that attempts to explain the ephemeral aspects of photography like creativity, inspiration and storytelling. Storytellers by Jerod Foster is in the second category and the book contains almost 300 pages devoted to the art of photographic storytelling.

There’s lots of beautiful photography in Storytellers and I found myself enjoying the pictures as well as the writing. The photographs are not just Jerod’s either but other photographers who are profiled and interviewed in the book. Note that Jerod and several other photographers in the book are based in Texas, so there is a noticeable emphasis on Texas photography in Storytellers.

The test with any artistic photography book is to transcend the mundane aspects of photography and describe the creative photographic process in a way that rings true. Storytellers doesn’t always pass the test—it’s a fun read and I learned some things, but some of the processes Jerod describes in the book are typical things like shot selection, composition and the use of light. These are all important topics and certainly related to storytelling, but I felt that it danced around the heart of the art of storytelling.

I studied and wrote on creativity back in my college days and I’m convinced the most illuminating writing on creativity can be applied to all creative art forms and be made to “fit” with minimal changes. Storytelling techniques apply to writing and music as well as photography. While reading Storytellers, I had a hard time applying some of its lessons to those other art forms and so the lessons appealed to photographers and not always to storytellers.

Storytellers is still a very fine book and fine art photographers will certainly enjoy it. It’s well-written and contains some very nice shots. I think the book will also help photographers understand how their craft builds stories and how to hone their storytelling craft. My main complaint is the lack of focus on storytelling and overemphasis on nuts-and-bolts photography topics that are probably covered in more detail in other books.

Storytellers
Jerod Foster
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy on Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements 10

Elements 10 box

The Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements bundle version 10 has been on the market for several months now but I wanted to review the product and give my impressions of it. Ironically, it has been just a couple weeks since Adobe released the Adobe Creative Cloud, which delivers their Creative Suite applications via a subscription. This is pertinent to the Elements products because, out of all Adobe’s products, they probably have the highest hurdles to overcome in order to convince home users to upgrade.

Photoshop Elements 10

The most game-changing and impressive new feature in Photoshop Elements 10 is the Smart Brush and its variety of effects and pattern overlays. The Smart Brush is comparable to Photoshop’s Adjustment Brush, but instead of adjustments you can apply one of almost 100 artistic effects, filters, adjustments, patterns and color fills. These are applied with a mask based on where you brush with the Smart Brush.

Smart Brush

The Smart Brush does a good job detecting boundaries for masking, similar to the quality masks produced by Photoshop Touch (though not as good as ones you can create in Photoshop). The Smart Brush effects are layer-based, so you can revise your work in the Layers panel or just click on other effects in the drop-down menu to apply them. This is a feature that seems simple but has a lot of usefulness, especially if you enjoy creating fun and interesting images. Users who just want to color correct and polish up their family photos might want to browse the Portrait subset of Smart Brush effects but otherwise won’t have too much use for this feature. There are better tools for color correction, such as Levels and Curves.

Elements’ Organizer has become smarter in version 10 and offers a few new features based on detection algorithms. Duplicate Photo Search, for example, uses a simple algorithm to detect and warn users about duplicate images. The Visual Search algorithm—which is new to Mac users in version 10—is integral to the new Object Search feature, which runs Visual Search on selections of photos in order to detect and display photos with a common object like a building or animal. It does a remarkably good job but the results depend on the clarity of the photos it’s given. Typical tourist photos and photos with a clearly defined foreground are great candidates. There’s not much control over Object Search: you can refine your search to focus on color or shape just like Visual Search.

Visual Search

People Recognition, which has been in Elements Organizer for some time, is still your best option for facial recognition. Adobe has integrated Facebook data with People Recognition to enable users to tag photos with Facebook friends. I think this is a really smart use of Facebook’s API to make photo tagging more fun and less hassle. It’s particularly cool for users moving a lot of photos from Photoshop Elements 10 to Facebook albums.

Photoshop Elements 10 also has three new Guided Edits to steer users through complex effects:

  • Orton Effect provides a soft, dreamy look for portraits and glamour shots
  • Picture Stack will segment an image into individual layered images suitable for a collage
  • Depth of Field produces a bokeh-like blurring of image backgrounds
  • depth of field

    Guided Edits have been a part of Photoshop Elements for a few versions and with each upgrade they release a few new ones. These are fun to use and I am glad two of them are for more professional-looking images—bokeh is a professional term for basically what the Depth of Field edit provides. However, the new features are not groundbreaking. The same can be said for Photoshop Elements’ new “Text on a Path” features, which insert text on a path, shape edge or selection.

    Photoshop Elements 10 Plus hasn’t changed from earlier versions and still provides 20GB of storage—the regular product provides only 2GB—as well as some tutorials and the ability to share photos on iOS and Android devices. Other than the Smart Brush, most of Photoshop Elements 10′s new features are nips and tucks, extensions of existing features or additions that should have been in place already (such as the ability to save JPEG and PDF files).

    Premiere Elements 10

    Premiere Elements 10′s most exciting new feature is the Pan & Zoom Tool, which lets users put together movie clips based on photos and animated with pan and zoom implemented by a framed interface. To use the Pan & Zoom Tool, you use rectangular frames to define where the shot should focus, the duration of the pan/zoom and how long it should hold at each frame position. Animators and anyone who has dabbled with Flash, Edge or web animations will be familiar with the approach. I’m frankly surprised the Premiere Elements team would have considered an animation paradigm to build a video production feature, but it is intuitive and makes sense. I think the user interface might be a little clunky and it can be hard to revise frame durations after the fact, but it’s a powerful little tool as is and I think it’s a nice addition.

    Pan and Zoom

    The Pan & Zoom Tool might be the most exciting new feature in Premiere Elements 10 but the AutoTone & Vibrance effect might be the most useful. This effect applies high-quality color correction to clips and I know from my experience in color correction with Photoshop that quality color really makes both videos and images look their best. I think color correction is given less attention in home video production so AutoTone & Vibrance is sorely needed. And since the Elements Organizer integrates with Premiere Elements 10 now, the application uses a Project Bin to provide file management for projects.

    AutoTone

    AutoTone & Vibrance’s primary benefit is to punch up color saturation without making skin tones look excessive. I tried this effect on a few clips and generally the performance is very good—colors look snappy but faces and hair remain natural. The effect also makes the shadows darker and richer, which generally improves the contrast. To maximize what you get out of AutoTone & Vibrance, be sure to click Edit Effects after applying it, uncheck Auto under AutoTone and edit the settings manually. There are five settings: Brightness, Contrast, Exposure, Black (shadows) and White (highlights). There’s also a single Vibrance slider to manage color saturation. These settings provide a simple but powerful way to color correct your clips.

    3 Way Color

    Adobe also added one more color correction effect: the Three-Way Color Corrector. Unfortunately, this effect is very complicated compared to the simple AutoTone & Vibrance effect. The Three-Way Color Corrector basically provides a large interface for changing the saturation and balance of highlights, shadows and midtones. You can use an eyedropper to set the balance or drag an anchor point on a color wheel in the effect settings. The results are effective but the user interface is complex, perhaps too complex for average users. The good news is the Three-Way Color Corrector encapsulates aspects of Curves and Levels, the two most important color correction procedures, which AutoTone & Vibrance does not do (that effect is more closely related to Camera Raw). However, I think the Three-Way Color Corrector can be made more efficient and easier to use.

    Premiere Elements 10 has been able to import AVCHD video since last version but now the application can also export and share movies in the native AVCHD format. You can also burn AVCHD footage to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for playback on a DVD or Blu-ray player. And one more note for Mac users: Premiere Elements 10 now includes the SmartSound feature which will let them add music to movie and dynamically adjust the length to match the movie length. This is a really nice feature I like to use, and I’m happy to see it now on the Mac.

    Users who like to post their movies on Facebook and YouTube will be happy to learn version 10 of the Elements Organizer has an interface for posting videos to both social media sites. The uploading process to YouTube is easy and clean but doesn’t leverage all of YouTube’s settings, such as tags. You also can set a video to be public or private (restricted to specific YouTube users) but not unlisted, which I think is more useful in several situations. The interface for sharing to Facebook is more robust but Facebook actually has fewer settings to manage anyway.

    Conclusion

    Adobe deserves praise for staying on top of the photo/video industry’s changes—their support of AVCHD and social media sharing are all important features that needed to be in this release. Both applications have received a worthy upgrade in version 10 but, as with many software upgrades, the necessity of upgrading depends on the user and I think the Photoshop/Premiere Elements 10 bundle has wide appeal but isn’t for everyone. I think many would make the switch just to work with AVCHD footage. Photoshop Elements 10 doesn’t have a new killer feature like Premiere Elements 10 has, but the Smart Brush is quite useful.

    Users should look at the upgrade price, look at their existing and future cameras and camcorders, and make the decision. Upgrading to version 10 offers a lot of new features—particularly for prosumers—but not everyone needs them.

    Photoshop Elements 10 / Premiere Elements 10
    Adobe Systems
    US $149.99 full, $119.99 upgrade
    Rating: 8/10
    Buy from Amazon.com

Adobe Releases Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud

Adobe announced today the release of Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and the Adobe Creative Cloud, representing the latest in the company’s lineup of applications for creative professionals. They will be available for purchase in May.

Both products had been previously announced—Creative Cloud was first announced back in October at Adobe MAX—and there are many official and unofficial “sneak peek” videos online of new CS6 features. Some applications have also been available as public betas, including Photoshop CS6 (1 million downloads as of this writing), Edge and Muse (over 1 million downloads each). Despite this early exposure, the creative community seems more excited over this release than some previous Creative Suite releases and the response to the public betas have been very positive. The Photoshop CS6 beta has been downloaded more than any in Adobe’s history.

The Creative Cloud structure

Adobe Creative Cloud is a response by Adobe to the changing nature of software and online services. It’s become clear that large version releases every 18 to 24 months is an anachronism compared to bug fixes pushed over the Internet or online apps handled by many hands across Github. Most of the CS6 products are the same familiar ones we’ve used for years, but Creative Cloud provides a new pricing model, online services and a new activation/updating system.

Adobe Creative Cloud includes:

Lightroom 4 and the Digital Publishing Suite will not be included until the summer. Adobe Touch applications for iOS are planned for release before the summer, particularly Photoshop Touch which my source says will be available in May.

Adobe Creative Cloud is not dependent on an Internet connection; software is downloaded to the user’s computer and can run without a connection. The installed software does check Adobe’s servers once a month to ensure a valid Creative Cloud license exists for the user based on his/her Adobe ID. Software updates can be pushed directly to the user’s computer and content will be available on all devices through Creative Cloud synchronization.

Purchasing software through a Creative Cloud subscription has some advantages. Typically, a Creative Suite customer gets a boxed product that can be installed on two machines—typically a desktop and laptop computer—but the box contains either Mac or Windows versions. Creative Cloud users are still restricted to two machines but one can be a Mac and the other Windows. This is a sweet deal for Mac users who happen to use a PC laptop.

There is also a free subscription available for prospective Creative Cloud customers. The free subscription includes 2GB of cloud storage for projects and trials of all available software. Note that if you buy into Creative Cloud and then cancel at some point, the software will stop working (after it pings the server) but your cloud storage space remains for several months.

Creative Cloud Pricing

Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99 per month annually or $74.99 per month, paid monthly. There’s also an introductory rate of $29.99 per month for users of CS3, CS4, CS5 or CS5.5. A version of Creative Cloud optimized for teams will cost $69.99 per person per month. This team-optimized product will include expert services and support, company IT tools and workstation synchronization, but it’s buried deep in Adobe’s development timeline and a fall release would not surprise me.

What if I don’t want Creative Cloud?

Adobe expects many users to create on tablets and mobile devices first, then polish their creations with CS6 and eventually “publish anywhere” with software like Edge—which converts animations to HTML5—and services like Business Catalyst. I reviewed the Adobe Touch apps and I thought they were not robust enough as a whole to bring more than a kernel of a final product back to the desktop, so I’m glad to see a typical Creative Suite workflow—without most of the Creative Cloud-specific features—is still possible.

CS6 icons

There are four Creative Suite 6 suites:

  • Design Standard includes:
    • Acrobat X Pro
    • InDesign CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6
  • Design Premium and Web Premium have been combined into one suite that includes:
    • All Design Standard products
    • Dreamweaver CS6
    • Fireworks CS6
    • Flash Professional CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended replaces Photoshop CS6
  • Production Premium includes:
    • After Effects CS6
    • Audition CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended
    • Premiere Pro CS6
    • Encore CS6
    • Prelude CS6 (new)
    • SpeedGrade CS6 (new)
  • Master Collection includes all CS6 applications.

Adobe Edge, Muse and Lightroom 4 are not CS6 applications and aren’t available in any CS6 suite, though they are included in Creative Cloud.

Prices are:

  • CS6 Design Standard: $1,299 full, $299 upgrade
  • CS6 Design & Web Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Production Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Master Collection: $2,599 full, $549 upgrade

Flash Builder 4.6 and Acrobat X will not see an update, but Creative Cloud users will get their updates automatically when they are available. CS5.5 single-product subscribers will be able to continue their subscriptions at $19.99 per month per product, and they will also score 10GB of Creative Cloud space. However, CS5.5 suite subscribers will need to transition to Creative Cloud.

What’s in Creative Suite 6?

A lot of readers will really just want to know what’s in the newest versions of the Creative Suite products. There are two new CS6 applications, both in the video category:

  • SpeedGrade CS6, for color grading and color-correcting video
  • Prelude CS6, for adding metadata to clips on import and handling shoot data

There are a huge number of new features for CS6, particularly for some of the flagship products like Photoshop. I think this is why so many public beta users are getting excited for the launch. I am using a few prerelease betas of CS6 software but I prefer to work with the shipping product before I write a review, so those will be forthcoming.

Conclusion

Adobe is naturally excited about the CS6 and Creative Cloud launch, which Scott Morris—Senior Marketing Director for Creative Pros—said might be the most important launch in Adobe’s history. The Creative Cloud product is what makes it so important—it’s a rethinking of the way Adobe delivers products, and it’s the first single product that puts the entire creative workflow in the user’s hands.

BOOK REVIEW: Trevor Burnham’s CoffeeScript For Pragmatic Programmers

CoffeeScript cover

CoffeeScript, a programming language that lets you output JavaScript with cleaner code, is barely two years old but it’s already exciting developers. I hadn’t heard of it until I got a copy of CoffeeScript: Accelerated JavaScript Development by Trevor Burnham, from The Pragmatic Programmers line of books “by developers for developers.” I could tell right away that Trevor is a decent developer and has the chops to write a book like this—his grasp of JavaScript, JavaScript frameworks and of course CoffeeScript is solid. His writing style is also fairly clean and easy to follow, which is important for a book like this that covers a language not everyone has experienced.

CoffeeScript is basically a primer for the CoffeeScript language: you’ll learn the basics of the language and also dive into some very basic chapters on jQuery and Node.js, but there’s a lot more to learn that you will have to find on your own. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—some of my best learning experiences have been spurred by small, lean books—but this is probably not the complete reference on CoffeeScript.

I also should point out that CoffeeScript is not JavaScript. CoffeeScript is compiled and translated into JavaScript after the coding process, which lets you work with the cleaner CoffeeScript syntax throughout your project. Ruby and Python programmers will appreciate CoffeeScript more than the typical JavaScript and jQuery programmer. I happen to be one of the latter more than the former, so I read this book from that perspective. Fortunately, CoffeeScript clearly explains how to work with CoffeeScript from the initial installation, which some books sometimes fail to do.

The hands-on work done in CoffeeScript comes from a game project that Trevor builds and improves from chapter to chapter. I like smaller, in-chapter projects as well as larger projects that span over multiple chapters, but sometimes the code didn’t seem very clean or easy to follow. Maybe some more pages devoted to writing and explaining the code would have helped, or perhaps the larger project could have been replaced with some smaller ones. There’s a few ways Trevor could rework the code and make it easier to learn.

I really enjoyed reading CoffeeScript and would like to branch out into using CoffeeScript more to improve my code production. I’m looking for other books to take me further down the learning path, but the book has provided me a fine head start.

CoffeeScript: Accelerated JavaScript Development
Trevor Burnham
Published by Pragmatic Bookshelf
US $29
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Twitter Book, 2nd Edition

The Twitter Book cover

Back in 2009, Twitter was relatively new: celebrities were picking up their first million followers, businesspeople wondered how it could make money and everyone seemed to ask why anyone would care to “tweet” their mundane activities. Tim O’Reilly—the founder of the O’Reilly publishing company and a devoted Twitter user—and Sarah Milstein—an early Twitter user and speaker—wrote The Twitter Book, one of the first comprehensive books about Twitter in 2009. I reviewed the book then and thought it was “the definitive resource for Twitter users,” though I noted a book—ink on paper—could never stay current. Be sure to read my review of the first edition, if only for the dated comments about Twitter’s “arcane technology” and “a lot of people don’t actually know what [Twitter] really is.”

Late last year, Tim and Sarah published the second edition of The Twitter Book. It looks very much like the first edition: the cover image is practically the same and you’ll find images on the verso pages and text on the recto pages, exactly like before. Since the book covers topics for beginners as well as advanced users, a lot of the early chapters haven’t changed much. They are still well-written and useful to grasping the concept of Twitter and how to use its basic features. I’ve always been impressed by Tim and Sarah’s evangelism of the Twitter platform—they are passionate about its various uses and try hard to dispel the notion that it’s a niche media for tech geeks or those glued to mobile devices. This notion was more prevalent in 2009 than it is now.

My main criticism against the first edition of The Twitter Book still stands in the second edition: the book fails to catch all the great tools being created around Twitter, and can’t cover the ones created after publication. Interestingly, when the first edition was published, desktop Twitter apps like Tweetie and Twhirl were popular; today, Twitter’s own app has supplanted those and I find more growth in online analytics services (like Twittercounter) and online apps built on the API (like fllwrs.com). Neither Twittercounter nor fllwrs.com are in The Twitter Book, and more tools will be released in the future.

One suggestion from my review that Sarah Milstein actually commented on was the number of long, full URLs in The Twitter Book. Shortened URLs make perfect sense in a book like The Twitter Book, and the first edition did not take advantage of them. In the second edition, most URLs are actually still full URLs but almost all of them are not long anyway. URLs like http://business.twitter.com/ are not hard to remember or type. There are some bit.ly’d links throughout the book, such as http://bit.ly/dooce-maytag, which show that the suggestion was indeed used for the longer URLs.

The second edition of The Twitter Book is an updated resource on Twitter and most of what I send about the first edition applies to the second. I think the book has more competition from online news sources in 2012 compared to 2009, but if you want to read about Twitter and it needs to be ink on paper, pick this book up and enjoy.

The Twitter Book, Second Edition
Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Published by O’Reilly
US $19.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Tangled Web And Untangling Web Security

Tangled Web book cover

Front-end developers are being assigned more and more projects that require cross-domain communication with data services via JavaScript, and so web security and handling cross-domain applications has become more important. I find that many developers don’t want to handle such mundane details—they simply want their app to work like it should—but they have to learn these things in order to accomplish their task.

Michal Zalewski, who has a strong pedigree in web security circles and wrote Google’s own Browser Security Handbook, has a really excellent book out called The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications. I am really impressed by how thorough and comprehensive the book is—it’s 300 pages, quite dense and covers all the major topics on web security I can think of. It’s also very technical, so much so that I think its target audience is back-end developers and system administrators more than front-end developers. I’m not sure yet if front-end developers need to know everything in The Tangled Web or should worry more about the bits that they can do something about and leave the rest for their colleagues on the back end.

Fortunately, most of the early chapters cover familiar front-end topics such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript and I really recommend those for front-end developers. They will really open your eyes to all the little security imperfections in the code we write every day, a lot of which seem safe but can cause big problems. The Tangled Web really opened my eyes on the subject, and I’m looking forward to making my code more airtight.

There’s not much I can say against The Tangled Web: it is comprehensive, clearly written, and technically accurate. I think front-end developers can definitely get a lot of use out of it but some chapters cover topics they can’t always do anything about, such as server connections. Back-end developers, database programmers and system admins will probably have the same reaction to those early chapters on front-end programming. Before you buy, read the outline of The Tangled Web’s chapters and see if the book is a good fit for you.

a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593273886/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwjeremyschu-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593273886″>The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications
Michal Zalewski
Published by No Starch Press
US $49.95
Rating: 10/10
Buy from Amazon.com