Tag Archives: Creative

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.

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.

Day 1 Announcements From Adobe MAX: Adobe Creative Cloud And Adobe Touch Apps

Today Adobe announced a variety of newsworthy items, mostly acquisitions and new products that will greatly impact creative professionals. Ironically, “Flash Platform” was not mentioned once at this event, traditionally Adobe’s largest for Flash developers, but I and other press colleagues think more developer news will be announced at tomorrow’s keynote.

Adobe Creative Cloud Combines Apps, Services and Community

This was the big-picture announcement: Adobe has a new service called Adobe Creative Cloud that combines their desktop products, tablet and touch applications, a community website with cloud storage, and a variety of services. The Adobe Creative Cloud’s discrete components will be detailed separately below, but the outline includes:

General pricing and availability of the Adobe Creative Cloud will not be announced until November 2011. The product itself looks absolutely beautiful, and is what I expected from a company like Adobe responding to huge changes in mobile computing and data distribution. Apple and Amazon are doing the same thing in the cloud computing landscape. However, right now we don’t know what a service like Adobe Creative Cloud will cost, so until then we can’t judge how successful it might be.

Another complication is the fact that the Creative Suite 5.5 products have been available with a subscription since May. Will that option go away now that users can subscribe to those and more through the Adobe Creative Cloud? I doubt it will—I know the CS5.5 apps and suites will still be available as standalone products and for sale through the conventional way, and I expect Creative Suite subscriptions will also continue. I also think you can look at the prices of those CS subscriptions, add a bit more money, and have an idea what the Adobe Creative Cloud will cost.

Adobe Touch Apps Released, Includes Photoshop Touch

Adobe has been investing considerable resources into tablet and mobile applications, first with Adobe Ideas and then with Photoshop Touch SDK apps like Eazel and Nav, and the iOS-only Carousel. Today Adobe announced six new “touch apps” currently on Android, which will all be available to Adobe Creative Cloud subscribers.

  • Adobe Photoshop Touch brings basic Photoshop features to tablets, including layers, adjustments, selection and background extraction among other features. Out of all the apps this is the only one to be named after an existing desktop product, and I predicted a “Photoshop on the iPad” product at some point. However, Adobe has made a strategic decision not to put too many Photoshop features into Photoshop Touch and so the app is nowhere near as powerful as its namesake. This was out of both necessity and UX considerations, but I think it will hurt its reception by users.
  • Adobe Collage helps creative people combine imagery, drawing and text to create storyboards and basic layouts. I see this being more useful in the conceptual phase of a creative project, and it doesn’t take the place of Illustrator or InDesign.
  • Adobe Debut is a client presentation application for displaying project materials in meeting situations. Photoshop and Illustrator files can be displayed, among other Creative Suite file formats.
  • Adobe Ideas is a vector drawing application whose files can be opened in Illustrator or Photoshop for refinement. As with Collage, it can’t take the place of Illustrator and it’s useful for off-site work when a laptop isn’t an option.
  • Adobe Kuler is a tablet-based version of Adobe’s existing kuler application, previously just a web and AIR application. Users can build and share color palettes.
  • Adobe Proto builds wireframes and prototypes for websites. It’s the only app that incorporates gestures in a major way: users can draw an “x” to insert an image, or squiggly lines to create headlines and text. There are roughly 16 different gestures already created for Proto.

All the touch apps integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud and share projects and assets in the cloud, so projects can be touched by multiple apps. For example, a project can be conceived by a project manager in Collage, passed on to a designer who builds the color palette in Kuler, then to a web developer who wireframes the product in Proto, and approved by the client in Debut before moving on to final production in Creative Suite. All these apps are also built with Adobe AIR, so they could technically be deployed on the desktop, but the apps’ user interface is designed for small devices and touch screens.

All apps will be available separately for $9.99 each.

Conclusion

After all these announcements, I wasn’t sure if life will be easier or harder now for the traditional creative professional—those who design or develop with Adobe products and have been using the Creative Suite products for years. The Adobe Creative Cloud moves resources to everyone, not just the creative professionals, and the touch apps seem like they are designed for creative users who aren’t necessarily the ones putting publications to bed or deploying code to the web. Even Photoshop Touch, whose namesake is Adobe’s flagship product, feels lightweight and lean. Adobe seems to be focusing on a larger creative audience, and it could complicate things for creative professionals.

However, I like the direction Adobe is taking in marrying everything through the cloud—it had to happen eventually, and the opportunity is huge for business and also for creative productivity. The notion of web fonts being available in the cloud via TypeKit makes sense not only for web fonts but for all fonts—imagine being able to license the entire Adobe type library without installing files on your own network. Out of all this news, the Adobe Creative Cloud has the most implications for Adobe and for consumers.

Photoshop Extended CS5 First Impressions

ps_box

Today Adobe announced the upcoming release of Creative Suite 5 (CS5) and its vast array of applications for creative professionals. Photoshop upgrades to CS5 along with the rest of the applications and I’ve been working with Photoshop Extended CS5 for several months now as a beta tester and reviewer. I believe Photoshop CS5 is a more compelling upgrade than Photoshop CS4 was and there are some very smart new features coming to Photoshop users everywhere.

Why Photoshop without Extended?

Before I go into Photoshop CS5′s new features, I should point out the are still two version of Photoshop:

  • Photoshop Extended CS5, which has special features for certain professionals and is included in all CS5 suites except Design Standard, and
  • Photoshop CS5, which has a smaller feature set and is included only with CS5 Design Standard.

I don’t know why Adobe continues to sell Photoshop CS5. Every professional I know uses Photoshop Extended CS5, though that may change with this new configuration of suites: the difference between Design Standard and Design Premium is only the addition of four web design applications, and print designers can easily do their work with Design Standard. But so far there’s no compelling reason to use anything other than Photoshop Extended CS5 so that’s what this article and my upcoming review will cover.

The File Browser is back

It’s true: the File Browser, that handy little asset management tool from way back in Photoshop CS, is back and I think it’s better than before! Adobe had moved digital asset management from File Browser to Bridge but that application turned out to be too cumbersome and overpowered for some users. Bridge has improved over the years but the Photoshop team has an extension called Mini Bridge that provides a leaner and more useful experience.

Mini Bridge provides only a few features from Bridge including file preview, filmstrip/thumbnail views and access to image processing functions such as Photomerge or the new Merge to HDR Pro. It’s not very powerful but it’s very accessible and easy to work with, and I like docking Mini Bridge to the bottom of my screen so I can access the filmstrip. Bridge’s Compact and Ultra-Compact modes come closest to Mini Bridge’s ease of use but Compact mode can still get in my way and Ultra-Compact mode is not really useful enough for me. I think users who loved the old File Browser will love Mini Bridge.

HDR reclaims its old intentions

Merge to HDR was introduced in Photoshop CS2 as a tool to boost photography’s tonal range, but it was used and overused by some professionals to produce work that is close to surreal. Overdone HDR photography is usually easy to spot with its extreme range of highlight and shadow as well as oversaturated colors. I personally like the artistic expression in such HDR photography but I don’t use it in my own work.

Merge to HDR has been augmented in Photoshop CS5 to “Merge to HDR Pro,” and I think it comes closer to making HDR photography a useful tool for everyday professionals. One simple example is the new Remove Ghosts feature that eliminates ghosting caused by misaligned shots: it works great and will probably salvage a lot of work. Previously, such ghosting was sometimes removed by exaggerating HDR effects, making the “surreal” HDR style more common.

ps_hdrproThe Merge to HDR interface is more useful and detailed now with Merge to HDR Pro.

There’s a lot more to Merge to HDR Pro, including settings for precise control of edges, glows, tonal settings and color. Things that were done before in Photoshop can be done in Merge to HDR Pro. There’s also a preset menu available that gives you 14 custom settings for everything from photorealistic to surreal imagery. Photographers who haven’t been comfortable with HDR photography in the past due to its lack of control should look at the new features in Photoshop CS5.

ps_hdrpresetsThe HDR presets that will ship with Photoshop CS5.

If you like the wild colors in HDR photos but actually don’t care to shoot multiple exposures and do the work with Merge to HDR Pro, Photoshop CS5 has a new HDR Toning feature in the Adjustments menu that recreates the HDR look for 8-bit images. Unfortunately it’s not available as an adjustment layer, but it’s available in Image > Adjustments and it does a good job of recreating that HDR look. I’m curious to see if any color correction gurus will consider it as a color correction tool, because at first glance it produces colors close to the Lab color space, which has been proven to be a useful colorspace for corrections.

Refine Edge: Still not Extract

ps_refineedgeThe Refine Edge dialog box in CS4 (left) and CS5 (right). Click the image for a better view.

I lamented when the Extract filter was removed from Photoshop CS4 because it was the best background-removal tool Photoshop had. The Background Eraser and Magic Eraser tools were just not as good. In Photoshop CS5, the Refine Edge has been rebuilt with much-improved edge detection and interpretation that almost makes it a replacement for the Extract filter. This would be a phenomenal addition, since the Extract filter was a very difficult feature to use, but so far I don’t think Refine Edge duplicates Extract’s results. It was hard for me to retouch edges despite Refine Edge’s new Refine Radius and Erase Refinements brush tools. I am still working with a beta copy of Photoshop Extended CS5 so I am not passing judgment on Refine Edge yet, but so far it’s a fair improvement but not a replacement for the Extract filter.

More 3D improvements in CS5

I keep waiting for Adobe to produce a standalone 3D application, but for some reason they continue to load Photoshop Extended with more and more 3D tools. In CS5 we have a new 2D>3D extrusion feature with its own name—oddly enough, “Adobe Repoussé.” When I saw this name appear in the Photoshop prerelease beta program I hoped it would be temporary, but it looks like it will be a permanent addition to the product. I don’t have a problem with the name myself but I can see how it would be confusing. Repoussé basically extrudes 2D shapes into 3D shapes, the same way Illustrator has been for years with its 3D filters. Repoussé is more powerful than Illustrator’s filters and finally gives Photoshop a method to produce its own 3D objects.

There’s also some improvements to the current 3D tools in Photoshop Extended, including support for 3D materials and a new ray-tracing engine for handling lights, reflections and refractions. Photoshop Extended CS5 can also produce cast shadows with the Shadow Catcher feature. This all helps to make Photoshop Extended CS5 a better producer of realistic 3D objects.

Better brushes

Photoshop has always prided itself on its brush engine, but I’ve preferred Painter to Photoshop any day for digital painting. Photoshop CS5 introduces a new Mixer Brush that behaves like Painter’s brushes—responding to canvas wetness, “paint” load, mixing and flow—and a Bristle Tips feature that delivers conventional fine art brushes—such as fan brushes—to the Brushes panel.

I had a really fun time testing these new painting features out. Some brushes feel a little stiff but some fiddling with the settings can make these brushes work very much like real paint brushes. Right now I prefer working with paint on a blank canvas rather than an existing photograph, because photos tend to dominate any color on your brush, but with some practice and more tweaking of the settings I hope to improve my results.

Nips and tucks

Photoshop Product Manager John Nack seems to mention the “nips and tucks” every time a new version of Photoshop is released. With CS4 it seemed like these small improvements actually outnumbered the big new features, but this time around they do not. I think this bodes well for Photoshop CS5. However, these small productivity enhancements really do make Photoshop CS5 a more valuable tool. Here’s a list of my current favorites:

  • Perhaps the most well-known Photoshop tip is using the Ruler tool and Rotate Canvas to straighten an image. Now the Ruler tool has a Straighten button in its toolbar that will straighten an image for you. However, the button actually executes a Rotate Canvas and Crop at the same time, so undoing this requires two undos.
  • The Gradient tool now has a neutral-density preset.
  • The Zoom tool now zooms in and out gradually if you hold the mouse button.
  • 16-bit photos can be saved as 8-bit JPEGs in one step.
  • Lens Correction is in the Filter menu and does much more auto-correction. This filter has been much improved and I’ll cover it in more detail in my review.
  • Default values for layer styles can now be modified and saved.
  • A new on-screen heads-up display (HUD) lets you select colors without going to the color well on the toolbar.
  • A Paste Special menu item in the Edit menu lets you paste inside and outside elements.
  • Workspaces will now remember any changes made to it, so if you move a panel or change a keyboard shortcut it will stay that way. You can reset workspaces as always.

The big one: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing

I wanted to save what might be the most jaw-dropping surprise until last: Content-Aware Fill and Spot Healing. Photoshop CS4 impressed many with its Content-Aware Scaling, which can accurately judge how to scale an image and scrap or create detail without losing important elements. Photoshop CS5 takes it a step further with Content-Aware Fill—available with the long-standing Edit > Fill command—and the Spot Healing Brush tool, which now has Content-Aware as an available mode. These two new features have made the rounds on YouTube, having been demoed at some events such as Adobe MAX’s Sneak Peeks, and elicited oohs and ahhs from the crowds.

ps_cafContent-Aware Fill before (left) and after (right). Ironically, the new Content-Aware technology in Photoshop CS5 works better as a fill than as a brush.

I’ve been using Content-Aware Fill and the Spot Healing Brush tool for my retouching and they have performed well in the past few months I’ve used them. Content-Aware Fill performs the best: it is very smart about figuring out what is subject and what is background in an image selection and recreating the background to cover up the subject. The Content-Aware mode of the Spot Healing Brush performs well too but less so—sometimes it will pull detail from unrelated areas to replace brushed areas, which is the problem I’ve had with the Spot Healing Brush in general. But I am only working with a beta version so I’m withholding judgment until I get the final product to test.

My first impression

Photoshop Extended CS5 could generate excitement like I haven’t seen since Photoshop CS first hit the market. The Content-Aware features by themselves make this an upgrade worth considering, but for me it’s Mini Bridge and the improved Refine Edge that make Photoshop Extended CS5 far more useful. There’s many more new features besides these that I will look at in my full review.

Dreamweaver CS5 First Impressions

dw_box

Dreamweaver CS5, just announced today as part of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (CS5), has actually been doing duty in my web design business for several months now—I’m a beta tester for several Adobe products including Dreamweaver. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Dreamweaver CS5 is that it has performed like a shipping product from the first day I got it. Dreamweaver CS4 users will not find too many differences between that application and Dreamweaver CS5, but there are some major improvements in handling CSS and working with dynamically-generated webpages, such as those created by PHP-based content management systems (CMS).

Dreamweaver CS5 is included with the Design Premium, Web Premium and Master Collection suites as well as a standalone product.

Improvements for CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) have been the primary method for controlling websites’ designs and Dreamweaver has emphasized it for a few years now. The application gets a few new CSS-related features with every release, and Dreamweaver CS5 is no different:

  • A new Inspect button produces colored overlays that help visualize the margins, widths, padding and other properties of the CSS box model. If your paragraphs or divs have any of these properties, click Inspect and then hover over the elements with your mouse to reveal these properties. The CSS Styles panel will also highlight the particular rules you are hovering over, which is handy.
  • CSS styles can now be disabled or enabled in the CSS Styles panel—hover over a property in the panel and click the icon, and Dreamweaver CS5 will comment out the rule in the CSS code. I find this to be more useful than the Inspect feature, because you can toggle properties and get immediate feedback on what they do. Designers who constantly check their CSS changes in browsers or Live View can now disable CSS properties and see the results in Design view or Live View.
  • The CSS-based starter layouts have been redesigned to use simpler CSS classes and include more comments in the code and the actual page text. Ironically, there are significantly fewer layout templates in Dreamweaver CS5 than in its predecessor. I don’t use these canned layouts myself because I prefer to build mine from scratch, but intermediate and beginner CSS users will benefit from their educational value and even expert CSS users can get a jump-start on a project with these layouts.

dw_cssenableYou can click the “no-smoking” icon in the CSS Styles panel to enable and disable styles. The colored overlay on the paragraph shows the width, padding and margins for that element.

Improvements for PHP-based CMSes

The most game-changing improvement in Dreamweaver CS5 is its support for PHP-based content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. The new Dynamically Related Files feature basically compiles all the CMS-related PHP files and use them and Live View to generate dynamic pages just like the CMS would. You can navigate pages like you would in any other browser, work with JavaScript-powered navigations and move from page to page on internal and external servers. Dreamweaver CS5 even can bring data into pages from external databases.

dw_cmsThis image shows the prompt to “discover” dynamic files (inset left), the list of files after discovery (inset right) and Dreamweaver CS5′s ability to render a dynamic page (background). Click the image for a better view.

I tested these new CMS-related features at Adobe in January and they work very well for the common PHP-based CMSes like WordPress. I want to do some further testing for my upcoming review because I actually prefer to use a paid PHP-based CMS called ExpressionEngine and my first attempt to use Dynamically Related Files with an EE-based website did not work. I will figure out what I did wrong and report back in my full review.

PHP coders will enjoy the new custom class code hinting and site-specific code hinting available in Dreamweaver CS5. Dreamweaver now provides hinting—even for code that hasn’t been saved yet—for PHP core functions, objects and site-specific hints for customized code like those for blog themes and content management systems.

dw_sshintsYou can get code hinting on a site-specific basis, based on its CMS…

dw_phphints…and you can also get PHP code hinting.

Other than that…

…there aren’t a lot of major features beyond those for CSS and CMS handling:

  • Those who read and liked my piece on Adobe BrowserLab will be glad to hear Dreamweaver CS5 has an integrated BrowserLab preview. BrowserLab, like similar services, will take a snapshot of a webpage previewed with one of a variety of web browsers. The service is now improved because there are more browsers available and you can also freeze JavaScript interactions in Live View and preview them with BrowserLab.
  • New support for the open-source version-control application Subversion lets users move files and synchronize changes with the remote depository. You can also revert to previous versions of a file.
  • One change that I particularly appreciate is a redesigned Site Definition dialog box. Every website designed with Dreamweaver is first set up in this dialog box and it hasn’t always been user-friendly. There’s not really many improvements to this other than a new look and feel, but some new prompts and the ability to start a site without having every detail filled in makes this dialog box an improvement over the one in Dreamweaver CS4.

My first impression

The quantity of new features in Dreamweaver CS5 is not large, but what is included are improvements vital to the way web designers and developers work today. Dynamic websites powered by content management systems are all around us and Dreamweaver needed to address the lack of tools and interface to handle these sites. The Webkit-powered browser within Dreamweaver and introduced in CS4 was a catalyst for the improvements in Dreamweaver CS5, and interaction has now become as manageable as images and layouts.

InDesign CS5 First Impressions

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InDesign CS5, announced today with the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 (CS5) applications, has already proven to be a solid and dependable product in my toolkit. InDesign is actually not one of the products I beta-test for Adobe so I haven’t used InDesign CS5 for more than a couple months, but in that time I’ve played with many new features and have enjoyed the experience.

InDesign CS5 is included with the Design Standard and Design Premium suites as well as the Master Collection.

“Not about the new stuff”

“Not about the new stuff” is written in my notes from my visit to Adobe headquarters in January, and this is a good way to classify the differences between InDesign CS4 and CS5. As with Illustrator CS5, InDesign CS5 doesn’t have many radically new features: several features augment basic functions like creating text frames and organizing page elements. However, some of those simple additions constitute radical departures from InDesign conventions—can you imagine text flowing outside of its frame?! You can now with InDesign CS5.

Now a multimedia publishing tool

id_mediapanelInDesign CS5 previews and controls video with the new Media panel.

InDesign has been a Flash-publishing application since CS3 and CS4, but InDesign CS5 sports several panels designed to handle video, animation and multimedia functions, making Flash publishing a larger aspect of the application. In the past this print/media combined strategy has not performed too well—QuarkXPress’s HTML publishing capabilities come to mind—but the InDesign team believes multimedia and Flash will be most valuable to publishers as they look for multiple revenue streams and try to embrace the Internet to do it. I was at Adobe the day Apple announced the iPad and the synergy between the iPad device and InDesign-built eBooks (exportable to the widely-supported EPUB format) and Flash was apparent. But Adobe has a near-impossible task in convincing Apple to put Flash on the iPad and its other devices, and my experience as a print designer is that many of my customers still consider print and electronic publishing to be separate things.

InDesign CS5 introduces five new panels in the Interactive category:

  • Animation, for building animations with the same motion presets in Flash Professional CS5,
  • Object States, which can build multi-state objects such as slideshows and text that responds to simple mouse input,
  • Timing to control timing and playback for interactive and animated elements on the page,
  • Media, a video monitor and playback interface for tweaking video in InDesign, and
  • Preview, which will show all multimedia on the page in real-time.

id_interactiveThe five new Interactive panels in InDesign CS5. Click the image for a better view.

The panels are easy enough to understand and use, though there are quite a few interactive panels now—nine total—and you have to move back and forth between them to produce multimedia in InDesign CS5. Some streamlining of the interface would be a good feature to add in the next version of InDesign. The other advancement for multimedia in InDesign CS5 is the ability to export files as Interactive PDFs or FLA files for further editing in Flash Professional CS5. The Interactive PDF export dialog box is a simplified version of the standardized PDF Export dialog box, and I don’t understand why it is different from that interface (now called Print PDF). I thought a exporting preset for interactive PDFs would have been less confusing. As for the export to FLA, the new text engine in Flash Professional CS5 makes it easier to work with FLAs produced in InDesign CS5. I haven’t tested this feature extensively so I can’t report on any difficulties or benefits, but I will do so in my full review.

id_flashA layout shown (left to right) in InDesign CS5′s Preview panel, layout view and in Flash Player. Click the image for a better view.

As with Word, track your changes

Oddly enough, the feature I use most in Microsoft Word is for tracking changes. InDesign CS5 now does the same thing, tracking changes and giving the user a way to accept or reject changes later. The Story Editor and the new Track Changes panel facilitate this new feature. This is a very useful addition and I’m already experimenting with adding it to my workflow. The major problem is Track Changes cannot be turned on by default and it works on a per-story basis, so it doesn’t seem efficient to use it on all stories in all publications. The other downside is changes are tracked and shown only in the Story Editor, a text-based editor that InDesign has had for a long time. Changes aren’t shown in InDesign CS5′s Layout View, unlike Word.

Improve your organization with Layers and Mini Bridge

There are two major additions to InDesign CS5 designed to assist with organizing assets both inside and outside the InDesign file:

  • The Layers panel has been rebuilt and now functions much like Illustrator’s Layers panel. Elements can be individually selected from the panel and layers can be nested and drilled down all the way to individual objects. This is an example of one Adobe product looking to another for ways to improve.
  • Photoshop CS5 may have Mini Bridge as an extension, but it was developed by the InDesign team and InDesign CS5 sports it as well. In InDesign CS5, Mini Bridge can not only navigate external files but can also show linked files for a particular document, making it something of an internal “File Browser.”

id_layersThe new Layers panel.

One more new feature indirectly related to organizing assets will appeal to users who hate to handle all the fonts associated with projects. Document-Installed Fonts is a feature new to InDesign CS5 that makes the application basically serve as a font management program for the fonts in a particular project—the user manually creates a font folder and InDesign CS5 will move the needed fonts to that folder and install and uninstall them on demand. Printers won’t have to copy and install designers’ fonts anymore—InDesign CS5 will do all the work without a need for other font management applications. The InDesign CS5 press documentation says the Fonts folder generated during packaging will also work as Document-Installed Fonts, but I’ve not tested this particular method yet. In any case, this is a novel way to attack the problem of moving fonts from client to vendor without fouling up typography or copying fonts.

My favorite: multiple page sizes and column spanning/splitting

A new Page tool now lets you resize and modify individual pages in a document, something that previously required a third-party plug-in to accomplish. Magazine designers who often work with gatefolds and other folded pages are going to be thrilled. The tool works great and settings can be changed in the tool’s Options bar. Unfortunately you can’t do the same modifications from the Pages panel, which would have been a smart place to also include this feature.

My favorite feature in InDesign CS5 is something very radical and at the same time very simple: modifying column layouts for text selections. For example, a bulleted list of several items can split into two columns without requiring a two-column text box like before. Conversely, a headline can span two or more columns and break through the column bounds. I love this feature because it really makes multi-column layouts easier to work with and the improvement in typography is beautiful. I used to do this work by nesting text frames into other text, but it’s all unnecessary now.

id_splitspanA bulleted list (left) split into two columns and a subheading (right) spanning two columns. Click the image for a better view.

My other favorite: object grids and the Gap tool

The InDesign team must have had grids and frame boundaries on their minds in the last year because, along with breaking column frames with text spanning, InDesign CS5 has two beautiful features for creating and spacing objects. When dragging the mouse to create a text frame or object, you can use the keyboard’s arrows to build grids of multiple objects. For example, you can use File > Place and select six images, then drag a single image box and use the Up and Right arrows to make the one box into a 2×3 grid of six boxes. The images will then place into all the boxes and your work is done. Frame Fitting Options and the new Auto Fit feature will let you fill all the frames as you like and keep them that way even if you resize your boxes.

The other new feature is the Gap tool, which lets you adjust the gaps between objects and page boundaries. Position the Gap tool between any two objects and you can then “position” the gap itself by dragging. Aligned gaps—such as those found in large grids as described above—can be moved as a group or independently. If you have Auto Fit turned on for your boxes, images within the frames will resize to fit or fill as directed. This feature doesn’t excite me too much because I don’t often build large grids of images, but I know many publication designers do and the productivity improvements possible with this set of new tools is worth trying out.

My first impression

There are more features in InDesign CS5 that I am saving for my full review, such as the Content Grabber and live captions, but I wanted to convey the out-of-the-box thinking that went behind some of InDesign CS5′s new features. I never would have expected to see text flow right out of its box or such a large suite of multimedia tools in what is really a page layout tool. Industry changes are making InDesign a very different product than what it was ten years ago, and I will be very curious to see how the print community welcomes it.

Illustrator CS5 First Impressions

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Adobe Illustrator CS5, a part of all Creative Suite 5 (CS5) suites announced today, was the first beta application I tested for Adobe several months ago and I’ve used it all this time in my professional workflow. The application is stable and has some nice new features and improvements to existing features, but I’m not sure if it is an essential upgrade.

Some new features are extensions of old features

CS4 was a notable release because many product teams focused on productivity enhancements and “making things easier” for users. Adobe began to promote this approach about halfway through CS4′s product cycle. I think the Illustrator CS5 product team has maintained this approach, because several new features in Illustrator CS5 are improvements to old features or provide new ways of doing things.

One example is the addition of Drawing Modes, which allow you to draw behind or inside objects. There are three modes:

  • Draw Normal, which is default behavior,
  • Draw Behind, which draws behind a selected object, and
  • Draw Inside, which will put strokes and placed objects inside an object.

Draw Behind is not particularly useful, and I tend to go back to my usual behavior of moving objects to the back if needed. Draw Inside is a lot more useful but you can do the same thing with clipping masks or opacity masks. I happen to not like working with clipping masks so Draw Inside is a positive addition to Illustrator, and I think others will agree, but it’s not one of those jaw-dropping features we have come to expect from Adobe. It’s really a productivity enhancement.

ai_rearrangeartboardsThe Rearrange Artboards dialog box makes it much easier to organize artboards without precise dragging and numeric inputs.

Another example are the enhancements made to artboards, which was the killer feature introduced in Illustrator CS4. I use artboards regularly as an organization tool for my work but Illustrator CS4 does not make it easy to align or organize artboards. Illustrator CS5 has improved the artboard feature with an Artboards panel where you can rename, reorder and rearrange artboards pretty easily with just a panel menu command or a dialog box. You can also rename artboards in the Artboard tool’s Options bar. These are all welcome improvements to an existing feature, and it makes handling artboards easier without changing artboards’ basic functions.

Probably the most dramatic tool designed to improve an existing feature is the Shape Builder tool, which duplicates what one can do with the Pathfinder’s Add and Subtract buttons. The Pathfinder panel is powerful but disappointingly complicated. The Shape Builder tool will combine or exclude shapes with a simple drag, and it’s fast and intuitive. It can take a little time to master but it’s worth learning, and it will also lessen the need for clipping masks to hide objects.

New perspective drawing

ai_perspectiveIllustrator CS5′s perspective grids make three-dimensional drawing much easier, and two-dimensional objects snap to the 3D space when dragged onto it.

Perspective drawing might be the most dazzling new feature in Illustrator CS5. 1-, 2- and 3-point linear perspective grids can be produced and drawn upon for building three-dimensional drawings. You can drag and drop two-dimensional shapes and drawings onto grids and they’ll conform to the right perspective, and it’s fun to build three-dimensional drawings so easily with perspective grids. Everything remains live so you can edit shapes and even text, but you have to be careful: if you use the regular Selection tool to resize perspective-enhanced text it will be expanded and you’ll lose edibility. A Perspective Grid tool and Perspective Selection tool are available to handle perspective-enhanced objects.

Stroke shaping

It blows my mind that Illustrator can now widen and narrow specific points in a stroke! The new Width tool can change the width of points on a stroke so multi-width shapes can be built with just one stroke. I really like this feature because I often draw organic shapes that can’t be produced with the Pathfinder panel and can be comprised of just one multi-width stroke. A good example is a stroke that’s pointed on one end: in Illustrator CS4, a combination of stroke outlining and point manipulation is needed to produce this. The Width tool can do the same thing with just one drag.

ai_strokesThe maroon stroke (top) demonstrates multiple widths while the star (above) has new dash controls that keep the points sharp.

There’s also some improvements to arrowheads and dashed line control in the Stroke panel that help users fine-tune the positioning of arrowheads and dashes around endpoints and corners. This is another example of a feature that is helpful but is really an extension of long-standing features.

The Bristle Brush: Beautiful art done quickly

Photoshop CS5 has introduced brush tips to its painting engine, making it a better application for fine art painting. Illustrator CS5, being a vector art application, doesn’t handle painting the same way but it tries to mimic the look of painting with a new Bristle Brush brush type. A variety of round, pointed and fan brushes are available with settings for brush length, density, paint load and opacity. Illustrator CS5 recreates the look of paint by overlaying multiple strokes of various opacities to create a blended and shaded strokes of color.

ai_bristlebrushBristle Brush controls are easy to work with, but you can get good results with the defaults as well—even if you “get creative” and just start brushing.

I like the Bristle Brushes, not really because they recreate a painterly look (Painter and Photoshop are superior in that regard) but because the results are very pretty. Illustrator graphics tend to be flat and blocky, but the Bristle Brush can make very nuanced and shaded artwork quickly. I will be curious to see how easy it is to actually print Bristle Brush art in the final version, because I fear so much transparency and overlaying strokes may make it hard for a RIP or a printer to handle, but on the screen the results are striking.

ai_drawmodesThere are two Bristle Brush strokes in the artwork above, one drawn above and one with the new Draw Inside feature. Nesting elements inside shapes will be easier and more intuitive.

My first impression

Illustrator CS5 might be an exciting upgrade for some and not worth the money for others. I was surprised how many features are enhancements to existing features or rely on other applications like Flash Catalyst CS5. My favorite new features are the Shape Builder and the Width tools, with the perspective drawing features a close second. I will be writing a full review of Illustrator CS5 when the final product is shipped.

REVIEW: Adobe Captivate Fills The eLearning Niche

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I am sometimes hired to produce electronic learning (eLearning) products such as demonstrations, quizzes and “textbooks on a screen.” In the past I have used Flash and the other Creative Suite applications to create these products, mostly because there’s no other good application for building eLearning tools such as these. I’ve always thought Director would be a good choice for this, but Adobe has only updated the application twice since acquiring it from Macromedia and eLearning is not its primary focus.

I was naturally surprised when I stumbled upon news that Adobe had an application called Captivate and a suite called the eLearning Suite that did focus on eLearning, and just a few months ago Captivate was upgraded to version four (the eLearning Suite is a new product). I’ve been covering Adobe Creative Suite apps for years now and this was one suite that had escaped my attention! This is because it’s targeted to PC-using eLearning professionals and not available for Mac users, which I really can’t understand: Mac-loving designers are often called to produce eLearning products, and unfortunately most of them aren’t aware of the great capabilities the eLearning Suite offers. Fortunately, Adobe tells me a version of Captivate for Mac is already in the beta testing stages, so I hope to see a Mac version released in the future.

The sum of its parts

What struck me about the eLearning Suite was how similar it is to the Creative Suite 4: other than Captivate 4 and some other features, the eLearning Suite consists of CS4 applications including Flash, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Soundbooth, Bridge and other supporting applications, including Device Central for developing eLearning products for mobile devices. Acrobat 9 Pro and Presenter 7 (normally available in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended) are also included.

The eLearning Suite distinguishes itself from CS4 by a few unique applications and features:

  • Captivate 4,
  • A “Learning Interactions” library available in Flash CS4 Professional. This library includes movie clips for drag-and-drop questions including multiple choice, interactive, true/false, sequential, yes/no and several other formats. Each movie clip comes with detailed instructions so any intermediate Flash user should be able to handle them, but total novices may find them difficult.
  • CourseBuilder Extensions available in Dreamweaver CS4. The extension adds a “CourseBuilder Interaction” item to the Insert panel, which can create the same types of questions produced by Flash’s Learning Interactions but built with HTML and JavaScript. CourseBuilder Extensions is more robust and shows a gallery of question formats to choose from (and some formats have more than one layout and button design). CourseBuilder Extensions produces a lot of code for what it does but it works well for drag-and-drop functionality.

These features, along with the integration inherent between the CS4 products, help optimize the eLearning Suite for eLearning productions.

Adobe is assuming that eLearning producers are not web designers or Flash programmers, and drag-and-drop tools are needed for them to produce successful projects. I would agree with this if their assumption is true that the eLearning community is a separate market from the creative professional market. However, I believe the eLearning and creative professional markets are much closer than that. Designers and multimedia producers using CS4 now will be very comfortable with the eLearning Suite. It’s likely Captivate 5 will be developed for both Mac and Windows, and I hope Adobe Presenter will be as well—if so, it would be great to see the eLearning Suite become a part of the Creative Suite product family. I think it will happen—you heard it here first!

Two workflows

The eLearning Suite is a full complement of applications, so Adobe wisely emphasizes workflow as the key to successful eLearning production. There are two ways to do it:

  • Rapid authoring workflow revolves around Captivate 4 as the primary authoring tool (with Presenter 7 as an auxiliary tool) while the CS4 applications produce content such as graphics, audio and interactivity.
  • Traditional authoring workflow revolves around Flash CS4 Professional and Dreamweaver CS4 as the authoring tools for interactive and online eLearning products, complemented by their Learning Interactions and CourseBuilder Extensions. Captivate and the other CS4 apps are relegated to content production roles.

Both workflows deploy content through a variety of methods, and I think deployment is the killer feature of the eLearning Suite. It supports all the best formats for eLearning deployment, including SWF, HTML and interactive PDF (made possible by Acrobat 9′s SWF support). eLearning products can be deployed via CD-ROM, the World Wide Web, e-mail, mobile devices or local network. Even better, the eLearning Suite can aggregate and package content so it complies with the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), the standards for web-based eLearning. All this can be delivered with a learning management system (LMS) or an online presentation tool like Acrobat Connect Pro.

Adobe’s holistic approach to content deployment aligns well with today’s technology: companies and employees use many different kinds of devices to receive and send content. If the eLearning Suite focused on CD-ROM or online deployment I don’t think it would be as successful, but the convergence of Flash, PDF and online technologies makes it possible for learning to take place anywhere, on one homogenous platform, and in adherence to the industry standards represented by SCORM.

Captivate 4: Powerful application with familiar features

captivate-box

Working with Captivate 4 was an enjoyable experience, which is not always the case with applications designed only for Windows. Captivate 4 is a power application thanks to elements borrowed from several familiar applications:

  • PowerPoint: The slide-based structure and video/audio support makes Captivate a smart choice for presentation design as well as eLearning production.
  • Flash: Each slide has a timeline so elements can be interactive (and should be if successful learning is the goal).
  • Presenter: Presenter is basically a PowerPoint-to-Flash application anyway, and Captivate imports PowerPoint in the same way.
  • Acrobat: The interface design is mostly influenced by PowerPoint and Flash, but the main toolbar has the same look and feel as that in Acrobat 9.

captivate-screen

The round-trip PowerPoint functionality is excellent: users can import PowerPoint presentations and add content and interactivity not available in the PowerPoint application. I expected a method to export back to PowerPoint, but it seems this is not the case. The next best thing is a dynamic link between Captivate and PowerPoint projects, so elements of the project design can remain in PowerPoint and be updated as needed. However, I’m not sure why anyone would do this because Captivate’s functionality and ease of use is superior.

The coolest feature in Captivate 4 is on-the-fly converting of slide notes to speech! Only two voice are available (“Kate” and “Paul”) and they must be downloaded separately from the Adobe website, but it is a thrill to hear your notes read aloud. The voices are electronic, much better than MacInTalk’s monotone but not up to par with a real human voice—but it’s a helpful feature nonetheless. Paul’s voice seems a little more natural than Kate’s, which is ironic because my clients tend to want female voices in their presentations and eLearning materials.

captivate-reviewer

Captivate 4 includes a Send For Review feature to make it easier for instructional designers and subject matter experts to collaborate on eLearning products. This is facilitated by an AIR-based Captivate Reviewer app so collaborators can view Captivate projects and comment as needed. Adobe has really focused on big-picture improvements over the last few years, such as collaboration and productivity improvements, and the good news is that such improvements are applicable to a wide range of products including Captivate 4.

captivate-timeline

Audio and video is very important to Captivate and the eLearning Suite. Soundbooth CS4 ships with the eLearning Suite and helps produce audio, while video can be recorded on-screen within Captivate. Movie clips, including FLV and QuickTime, can be imported easily and Flash CS4 Professional’s video skins are available. I had no problems importing audio and video, which is to be expected. The one thing I did miss was a video application comparable to Soundbooth CS4.

The other major feature in Captivate 4 is the Table of Contents and Aggregator tools, which are handy for larger eLearning projects. These two tools create a table of contents for easier navigation and/or combine modular projects into one whole. Most of my eLearning projects are not large enough for the Aggregator but the Table of Contents is awesome—in a few clicks I can do what takes me an hour or two in Flash! I wish I could preview the table of contents within Captivate—the project must be published before the table of contents can be seen.

Widgets, mice, questions, interactivity

Captivate 4 comes with a bunch of widgets and other interactive elements, so an interactive eLearning experience can be produced even if a user doesn’t want to monkey with audio and video. The Insert > Mouse command inserts a mouse cursor on screen and can be animated to show movement and clicks. The Quiz menu can create and customize several types of questions, and it pretty much offers the same questions as the Learning Interactions and CourseBuilder Extensions. I prefer to add questions here since I adopted the rapid authoring workflow and most of my eLearning work is done in Captivate. However, I’m not thrilled by the default question designs—part of this is because I’m not thrilled by the way designs look in PC-only apps in general.

The other interactive feature available in Captivate 4 is Flash-based widgets, and they really make a Captivate project look good. Widgets include buttons, check boxes and radio buttons, combo and list boxes, a dynamic certificate and even a jumbled word puzzle. Some of these widgets will not please designers who want a really slick design, but drag-and-drop users will really love them. My big complaint is that widgets don’t seem to preview properly within Captivate: I had to publish my projects in order to test them. A “Live View” feature similar to that in Dreamweaver CS4 would be a great feature for Captivate 5.

Conclusion

Captivate 4 is an anomaly in the Adobe product universe—an application that employs technology from several CS4 applications but doesn’t exist in the Creative Suite family. Adobe had to build an eLearning Suite around Captivate and populate it with CS4 apps. I believe this is the wrong thinking: even though eLearning professionals may not be creative professionals, there are many creative professionals who build eLearning products and can benefit from Captivate’s broad toolset and ease of use. I think the release of Captivate for Mac will draw a lot of these creative professionals toward the eLearning Suite.

If you produce eLearning products as part of your job, Captivate 4 is a strong recommendation. Designers who know their way around CS4 should also consider the eLearning Suite, though for most designers and agencies it doesn’t make sense to carry CS4 and the eLearning Suite—most of the applications overlap. I’ll be watching this new suite closely and will be very interested to see how it evolves in the next few years.

Adobe Captivate 4
Adobe Systems
US$799/299 upgrade
Rating: 9/10

Adobe eLearning Suite
Adobe Systems
US$1,799/599 upgrade
Rating: 9/10