Adobe CS5, The Verdict

Is CS5 worth the upgrade price? Simon takes an honest look at the pros and cons. Will he fork out the cash, or stick with CS3 instead?

Adobe CS5, The Verdict

In an article a couple of weeks back entitled Do I really need Adobe CS5?, I mooted whether or not I should upgrade my venerable CS3 Web Premium software to the new Adobe CS5. I talked about the fact that I only really use Photoshop on a daily basis, as well as issues surrounding pricing and the lack of compelling web-related updates. I also noted that it wouldn't actually help me have any better ideas, but concluded by suggesting that I probably will upgrade.

This article explains why, after due consideration, I won't be upgrading after all.

This is an entirely personal view, and you should evaluate the software for yourself!

First, the good bits.

I've been playing with the Photoshop CS5 demo (remember, it's only really Photoshop that matters to me) for a couple of days now, and it's nice. There are some great updates and a couple of compelling new features. Here are the new things I really enjoy:

  • Save for Web is now really fast. In CS3, it tends to beachball randomly (and has done ever since it was introduced). This is great, but essentially a bugfix.
  • The eyedropper has an excellent colour ring so you can really see what you're doing when picking colours.
  • I can adjust the opacity of multiple layers at once.
  • The whole thing feels fast. It really does go like the clappers.

There are loads of other new bits of course, including Content-Aware Fill (it works, so long as you're not too demanding of it), new brushes, better 3D handling, and better selection tools.

And the not so good...

Although these headline-grabbing features are fun, and massively useful if you're a retoucher or illustrator, they don't really help my core business, which is coming up with great layouts for websites. In conjunction with the price (more of which later) they don't feel like compelling reasons to upgrade for me.

There are also things I dislike about it:

  • The interface. It's horrible, being neither Windows nor Mac, but some bizarre Flash-based hybrid with seemingly random buttons everywhere. Yuk. I missed CS4 so have never really encountered this horror before.
  • Some of the headline features (I'm thinking about the 3D features especially) feel like ideas discussed and decided in a marketing meeting. Does anyone (apart from Adobe evangelists) really use this stuff?
  • The feature-creep of Photoshop just seems to go against the grain in the wider market of increasingly focused applications which do one thing really well.

Here's the kicker: The Price

CS5 Web Premium BoxshotFor my previous article, I researched the upgrade pricing on Amazon. The best match I could come up with at the time was for an upgrade from Web Premium CS4 to Web Premium CS5. The price was £549 GBP inc. VAT at 17.5%, which I concluded was a hefty outlay for an upgrade.

Since then, I've done more digging and found that an upgrade from the CS3 (which is what I own) to CS5 Web Premium is actually going to be £746 inc. VAT. This is clearly an even more terrifying price. Note that from my list above, I'll be paying £746 for a bugfix, a better eyedropper, some layer enhancements and a bit more speed.

I'm rounding up and down a little here to get rid of the pennies.

It's just not worth it for me. Although the other new features are interesting, at this price it's not an automatic buy — you have to balance everything against the business case. Will Content-Aware Fill make me that outlay back? Will a speedier Save for Web?

Adobe's international pricing: A cynical disgrace

It's £746 GBP in the UK. So what does this upgrade cost in the US? Looking at, it's $770 USD. The current exchange rate between USD and GBP is 1.5 pretty much on the nose. So 1 GBP buys $1.5 USD. Let's do the maths:

$770 USD = £513 GBP

Let's be fair and add the UK VAT tax at 17.5%, which gives a grand total of around £600.

So, where has that extra £146 come from? Whatever Adobe say about differing support costs in different markets or whatever tripe they're trotting out this time, it's simply cynical per-region price fixing, which as an aside, gives a competitive benefit to designers in the US.

The Creative Suite is no longer an inspirational tool for me

I find writing this really sad, because I used to love Adobe's products, and this is very subjective stuff, so bear with me while I try to put it into words. Maybe it'd be best to compare my reactions to other software with my reaction to CS5.

I simply can't see how the new tools will benefit me hugely in my everyday work

For instance, when I see an update from software developers Panic I get genuinely excited. I've been using their products for years, starting off with the venerable FTP app Transmit. These days I also use Panic's Coda as my primary web development tool. Panic recently released Transmit 4, and it is lovely. It addresses all the things that held Transmit 3 back, and adds new features that I can see will immediately benefit me. Now I can't wait for Coda 2. Panic's apps both look fabulous and do exactly what I want them to.

Another example. For photo editing, I use Apple's Aperture. I'm on version 2, but version 3 is now out, and adds several features and fixes that I feel really excited about. Even though I didn't know I needed them, I can see immediately how I can use them creatively, and the interface feels like I want to use it.

I don't get that feeling using the demo of Photoshop CS5. I simply can't see how the new tools will benefit me hugely in my everyday work, especially when considered as a business case balanced against that pricing.

What I really, really want

Okay, here it is. I want a tool that's entirely focused on creating and designing great web layouts. It should feel like a native Mac app (or Windows, if that's your bag) and provide me with an environment that is inspiring and clean. If Panic made a web layout tool that integrated nicely with Coda, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

This tool should be Adobe Fireworks of course, but as far as I can tell, it's essentially received only bugfixes in CS5 (and boy did it need them). Plus there's that infernal, unlovable interface.

Sadly, a tool like I describe does not appear to exist, though I'd love to be proven wrong. The nearest I can find is Pixelmator, which is great software but doesn't have that web focus. It could be made into a genuinely amazing tool that could challenge Photoshop at a pro level, but it's not there yet, lacking important features and typographic control.


It feels to me like Adobe could really do with some stiff competition. In the pro creative market they're pretty much entirely on their own. There seems to be nothing driving innovation and no incentive to produce really great software. Plus, with their virtual monopoly, they think they can charge what they like. And they're right. This taints my view of the company and the brand.

This time Adobe, you won't be getting my money

Back when Adobe were taking on Quark with the then-new InDesign, they felt like an innovative upstart producing great software. Now they just feel like Quark did back then. They sorely need someone to try to take their business away from them.

So, this time Adobe, you won't be getting my money. Of course, eventually, unless an alternative presents itself, I'll have to upgrade, but I'm really hoping that between now and CS6, we see a new young upstart who can produce great professional software and take me away from this bloated, marketing led monopoly.

Adobe: Give me great software at a fair price, or lose my custom for good.


What do you think of CS5? Is it a genuinely exciting new product, or no more than a cynical attempt to extract more money from designers? Will you be upgrading, or have you already? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Responses to this article

7 responses (oldest first):

10-May-10 21:03
I think Adobe are in a difficult position, especially with Photoshop, because the app is a victim of its own success. They did such a great job of adding fantastic features over the years that it's now reached the point where it's hard to add anything genuinely useful. Look at the innovations in previous versions:

Photoshop 3: Layers (changed image editing for ever)

Photoshop 4: Adjustment Layers (made image adjustments so much nicer to do)

Photoshop 5: Editable Type (fantastically useful) and History palette (essential really)

Photoshop 5.5: Save for Web (again, essential for web designers)

Photoshop 6: Layer Styles (like Adjustment Layers, this really made adding layer effects easy)

How do you top ground-breaking features like that? Very tricky. And yet you need to have new versions out all the time so that your customer base keeps giving you money.

As far as I'm concerned, Photoshop finished its "quantum leaps" around version 6, and since then it's mostly been minor improvements, bugfixes, and new features that aren't hugely useful to me as a web designer. (That said, CS2's ability to select multiple layers was a bit of an "about time too!" moment, and CS3 had the odd lovely feature like the Quick Select tool.)

Personally I think Adobe needs to step back a bit from Photoshop, and think about how they can reinvent the software from the ground up to take advantage of the new paradigms and interfaces that are coming along now - mobile computing, multi-touch, Photosynth, face recognition, etc. In other words, produce a rebooted, slicker, nicer-to-use app that's more tailored to today's technologies, instead of just bolting on new features all the time.

Content-Aware fill does rock though
11-May-10 04:40
@matt That's all true. I think that what they did with Lightroom was a very good bet - splitting a definite demographic away from the main Photoshop to create something new and very good, but within the "Photoshop" brand umbrella.

As I say in the article, Fireworks should be that for web designers, but it suffers from the CS interface visually, and under the GUI, the old underlying Macromedia interface approach still remains. Plus, they don't seem to be plugging it at all at the moment, which makes me wonder about its long-term future. It's not mentioned in the products menu and you really have to dig for it under "All Products".

Essentially, I don't think Adobe have the mix right for web designers yet, which makes me loathe to part with any cash.

16-May-10 21:20
Your verdict is the same as mine, I see.

The Adobe tools I have at present are Studio CS2 and Macromedia Studio 8 (I've had them so long I can't even remember the names - one of them is definately Studio, though...<g>).

From CS2, I use Photoshop for web layouts which design company clients send me, InDesign and Illustrator for print work I handle myself, and that's it. From Macromedia Studio 8 I use Fireworks 8.

Yes, I'm way out of date - to the point of falling off the upgrade path. But do you know what? I don't care.

I used to use Dreamweaver 8 - but as I work mostly in code view using PHP/MySQL, I don't need the pretty graphic interfaces. I *do* need syntax highlighting, so I now work on Netbeans.

Why haven't I kept up? Not because I refuse to invest in my own business, but simply because I refuse to pay Adobes exhorbitant costs for bug fixes. I have several associates who are Adobe Community Experts, and the word I get from them is that Adobe don't particulary care about the upgrade pricing, because enough people pay it. There are bugs in Dreamweaver CS5 that were notified to them in the CS2 development process, but Adobe would rather spend their time putting pretty enhancements in the product instead of making it more stable.

Adobe, I don't need you any more.

What I *do* need, however, is a tool which takes the slicing facilities of Fireworks, and brings them to another level. Something offering slice layers, which I can turn off or on to show/hide slices of different layer combinations. Now that, I'd pay good money for. If it wasn't written by Adobe, of course.

p.s, Fireworks CS5 had, I'm told by someone with contacts in Adobe, only two people working on it, so they concentrated on bug fixes. I too would be worried about its long term viability as a product.
17-May-10 04:04
@kpdirection. Interesting. 2 people did quite a lot then on the FW CS5 release. I'm quite impressed by their dedication to the cause!

That said, it's not reassuring for the next generation of that app. Frankly, even if they did revamp it, it'd still have that rotten interface.

As the only dedicated web design tool available, it's sad to see it languish like this. But maybe it creates an opening for another developer to do something great...

15-Jun-10 04:08
hi all, i been working on a new design tool that let's you design your site as you do with photoshop. anyone care to try it? just email me at and i'll send some code over to you via email. it's just a javascript widget.
27-Jul-10 06:10

I am a newbie in graphic designing and i am using CS5 creative
suite cs5 version . and i love it .. all the soft wares are easy to handle . i think with release of CS5 version of adobe artist work has become more effortless . I love the package
Thanks Adobe


[Edited by vitun on 27-Jul-10 06:14]
27-Jul-10 10:41
@vitun Thanks for posting, and welcome to the forums!

It's nice to see someone praising Adobe since it's easy to bash them!


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