Is the Adobe cs4 suite worth the upgrade? | Pixel Clever

It’s kind of a love hate relationship I have with Adobe. They have the monopoly on the design world so I use their software daily, and for the most part it works, but there are some things that drive me batty. Each time there is a new version released I hold on to the faint hope that maybe this time they removed some of those glaring annoyances or put in the really obvious features that have been needed for years. Occasionally my disappointment is softened by some minor improvements, sometimes it’s not.

This past week I decided to take the new Adobe cs4 master collection for a spin to see if it was worth the upgrade. I currently use the cs3 suite for my design work and I had heard some promising reviews for Illustrator, Fireworks and Dreamweaver in cs4. The following is my review based on that evaluation.

Installation

Again, a bloated, two hour install (or something close to that). I have to say the Adobe suite is the most dreaded of installations of any software package that I have ever encountered. To make things more interesting, for the windows version they require that you upgrade to service pack 3. Why? I’m sure they have a snappy answer, but whatever it is I’m not buying it. I have never found any other software that demands a service pack 3 upgrade in order to install. What if you don’t want to “upgrade” to service pack 3? Well, tough cookies, no cs4 for you (unless you are smart enough to have weaned yourself from Microsoft’s evil tit).

Now on to the individual software evaluations…

Illustrator cs4

The first program I opened up in cs4 was Illustrator. Not because I love illustrator, but rather because the previous versions have driven me so crazy that I virtually never use it unless I have to. The main improvements that attracted me to the cs4 upgrade were the changes to the gradients and the eyedropper. Gradients in previous versions of Illustrator were pretty primitive in comparison to Photoshop or Fireworks gradients and I have to admit that they made massive progress in the cs4 version. The new Illustrator has full control of the gradient directly accessible just by hovering over the vector object and the controls are much more advanced. In fact I would say that they created the best gradient tool on the market if it weren’t for one HUGE issue. They still don’t give you access to the eyedropper tool from within the color picker of gradients or any other color picking region except in the swatch palette! This means that to this day, in the year 2009 they still make you create a swatch for every color you want to use. So frustrating… and it’s not like they don’t know that this is an issue. I have sent them multiple emails about it. Every other graphics software that I know of lets you pick colors with an eyedropper no matter what the context. Illustrator is supposed to be the most advanced vector tool on the market, but it is still using a 1980s style approach in so many ways (ok well maybe 1990s is more fair). The eyedropper issue is a show stopper for me; until they make the eyedropper accessible from all color dialogues I have no interest in upgrading.

Photoshop cs4

Adobe claimed Photoshop cs4 is faster than previous versions. I haven’t timed the startup, but all it took was opening up one large image to write Photoshop cs4 off as a dud. Moving a large file in cs4 causes all sorts of aberrations to occur. Huge blocks of pixels disappear, reappear in chunks in the wrong places… it’s a mess. How on earth did this get past quality control? It took me 3 minutes to see there was a problem. My father who is a photographer also tried out Photoshop cs4 and reported the same issue. He’s not planning to upgrade and neither am I. On one positive note they did add in tabbed browsing for when you have multiple images open. This was a needed feature, but not worth the money they are charging for the upgrade.

Dreamweaver cs4

I use komodo 5 for programming, but komodo doesn’t have the same CSS tools as Dreamweaver so unfortunately I have to keep both programs open on most days. My main issues with Dreamweaver cs3 has been the lack of code correction for popular programming languages such as PHP, the fact that it is really designed for flat html sites (which are soooo last decade), and a few little annoying quirks that I run into occasionally. None of what was added to the cs4 version is even remotely useful to me as a Drupal developer and I find that its new layout just slows me down. I wasn’t sorely disappointed because I didn’t have very high expectations, but I will not be upgrading.

Fireworks cs4

Fireworks is one of the few elements of the Adobe set that I really fully embrace. The cs4 version seems to have a few minor usability improvements such as easily accessible buttons for flipping objects horizontally or vertically, moving objects to the front or the back, grouping, and alignment etc… There is also the added ability to export pdfs, which is nice. Apparently Adobe did some work on fixing memory leaks in this version, however for something so essential it is hard to justify them not making this a bug fix for all previous versions.

The only downside I found to the cs4 Fireworks is the lack of compatibility between the files from the cs3 suite. I’m not talking about the whole file not working, but I have found that if I create text in cs3 occasionally it won’t let me convert that text to a path even after upgrading the text from the “legacy” version. This is a minor bump in the road, and I’m sure future updates will have this fixed.

Flash cs4

I am on the fence about the new flash release. There are some aspects that look promising, but I need to test more before reporting. I am a minimalist when it comes to flash anyway, so I doubt I really need it. We’ll see…

Conclusion

Save your money. I wouldn’t “upgrade” to cs4 even if it was free (and actually it can be if you know how to download torrents). This is the most expensive upgrade that Adobe has posted thus far, and the product they are delivering still isn’t cleaned up enough to justify even a normal upgrade fee. I recommend sticking to cs3 (or whatever version you are using). I don’t really have my fingers crossed on a proper cs5 suite, but maybe, just maybe, if enough people refuse to upgrade they might put together a better release.