Do I Really Need Adobe CS5?

Simon regards the new features in Adobe's latest Creative Suite, and tries to decide if it's worth the upgrade.

Do I really need Adobe CS5?

Adobe have revealed the next generation of the venerable Creative Suite, CS5, and it goes on sale (according to Amazon) on the 7th of May. Naturally this is a source of enormous interest to the design and developer communities, since Adobe effectively have something of a stranglehold of creative software since their merger with Macromedia, during which they acquired Flash, Fireworks and Dreamweaver among other technologies.

Attention is therefore well and truly focused on the feature sets within CS5, and around the world people are sighing over the upgrade pricing and wondering if CS5 is worth their hard-earned pennies. Personally, I tend to upgrade every other version, and I'm currently running CS3, having skipped CS4. That means this update should be a no-brainer for me, with lots of new toys to play with.

...people are sighing over the upgrade pricing...

Dreamweaver, for instance, now comes with built-in support for Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal, as well as cross-browser testing using Adobe's BrowserLab technology, in which you can test sites across multiple platforms and browsers without installing them.

The Web Premium suite now comes with the Flex builder tools as standard, as well as updated versions of Fireworks, Illustrator and Photoshop. It also features a new tool called Flash Catalyst which promises the ability to create Flash projects directly from your Photoshop files without writing a line of code.

Photoshop, the cornerstone of all the Adobe Creative Suites, seems to be a decent upgrade, with the spectacular Content Aware Fill option and numerous workflow enhancements (control multiple layers' transparency with one opacity adjustment — hooray!), as well as new painting effects, selection tools and "Puppet Warp", a way to warp or stretch elements very precisely.

Content-Aware FillBy the way, if you haven't seen it, check out Matt's article about Photoshop's Content-Aware Fill. Amazing, and probably more magical than an iPad.

But do I really need it?

As I say, on the surface, this should be a no-brainer, and initially, I was very excited, spending hours trawling the Adobe site for nuggets of information. My enthusiasm quickly waned however. Are these tools really going to help me that much? Are they going to make the money back for me?

Here are my main reasons for hesitancy:

I only really use Photoshop

Photoshop is a wonderful tool, and I use it every day. I like it a lot, though it has its niggles. The trouble is, of all the CS tools, I only really use Photoshop on a daily basis. I have the others, and from time to time I make good use of them, but Photoshop is where it's at for me. It's my primary design and layout tool and where I earn my bread and butter.

I can't just upgrade Photoshop, I have to do the whole suite.

But I don't use Dreamweaver (never liked it), can't get on with Fireworks (hate the interface and text handling) and I'm not at all a Flash developer. So essentially, if I upgrade my Web Premium suite, I'm primarily doing so for Photoshop's new tools. In the UK, the upgrade price is £559 GBP. The US version retails for a comparatively more reasonable $599 USD. That's a hefty outlay for one product though, and I can't just upgrade Photoshop, I have to do the whole suite.

Uncompelling web features

Again, because I don't use Dreamweaver or Flash daily, the web-specific updates aren't that interesting within Photoshop itself. Flash Catalyst looks like something to get a bit excited about, but I suspect that what will happen is that I'll play with it for a day and then just ignore it for ever more.

I'm not unaware that if you live in Dreamweaver and Flash, you might have a completely different take on this, so of course take a good look at the new features of these apps and please decide for yourself!

Also, however much Adobe tries to be on the case, they're always playing catchup with the web, thanks to their long product cycle. For instance, I want to see Tumblr design integrated into Dreamweaver now, because that feels like where the mojo's at, but that's only been apparent for the last six months, and Dreamweaver's feature set was probably final by November last year.

My actual ideas won't get any better

This is a biggie for me. I've only recently realised that mostly, design is about ideas, concepts and creating solutions to problems. This was brought home to me just after reading the Adobe site's breathless endorsements of CS5. I followed a link from Twitter to Duane King's site:

Duane's site is a wonderful example of great design: innovative, simple, clear and deeply, deeply sexy. I love it, and the schism between this and the examples on the Adobe site was instantly clear to me:

I don't want to create animated dragons, I want to do work like this. ^^^

Not exactly like this, obviously, but work which is simple, elegant and clear. I can already do that in CS3, or at least I could if I had the vision and talent to do so. An upgrade to CS5 is not going to help me achieve this. Re-reading books on typography, grids and layout might help though, so if I want to be able to do work like this, a "back to basics" approach might be a better bet.

There's still so much for me to learn in terms of design and idea generation that an upgrade to CS5 seems somewhat frivolous.

On the other hand...

It is probably time to upgrade. Photoshop CS3 doesn't run that well under Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard (my big cat of choice) and Adobe aren't supporting it any more. The basic speed and reliability enhancements seem more compelling than many of the marketing-led new features.

You never know, the gradient editor might not be so clunky and Save for Web might not grind to a halt as I try to export a GIF!

Also, I'm meant to know about Photoshop. With my colleague Matt, I even wrote a book on it, so I feel like I should keep up to date with the technology, if only to avoid becoming a tedious old man. It's not like my ideas will get worse if I upgrade after all.

I expect I will, if only to satisfy my own curiosity and have something biggish to set against the 2010-11 tax bill. Plus, you never know, the gradient editor might not be so clunky and Save for Web might not grind to a halt as I try to export a GIF!

So watch this space. If and when I do get my copy, I'll be writing a follow-up article with my impressions of the suite, along with maybe a few articles about the new features.

I'd love to hear what you all think about the new features. Will you be upgrading instantly, will you wait to see what the reviews are like, or are you perfectly happy with what you're already using? Let us know in the responses below!

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Responses to this article

4 responses (oldest first):

23-Apr-10 02:47
Hi Simon,

It has a lot of nice features but due to the cost, I don't think I'll be getting it anytime soon.

But does anyone know if/where its still possible to get a copy of Macromedia Studio MX (physical copy and not downloaded version)?

Apologies for my question being off-topic.

24-Apr-10 23:23
I'm pretty tempted by BrowserLab and Content-Aware Fill, but like Simon I only really use Photoshop in earnest out of all the CS5 apps.

Simon, can you "crossgrade" from the whole CS3 to just Photoshop CS5, for a cheaper upgrade price?
24-Apr-10 23:25
@mauco: I have an old copy of Flash MX kicking about somewhere, although it's registered and I'm not sure the registration is transferable. And of course that's only 1 app, not the whole studio.

Have you tried eBay?
29-Apr-10 03:10
@Matt: I also had one lying around somewhere which I wanted to give it to my nephew who's just starting out in design. I felt that version would be an ideal starting point, moreover I didn't want to go splurging on the more recent/expensive versions. Thanks for your suggestion.

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