Creative Cloud: CS6 marks new direction for Adobe
Along with the various new features to individual applications that mark any full revision to Adobe’s Creative Suite, this year’s CS6 release saw the introduction of a new subscription model called Adobe Creative Cloud. We recently had a chance to chat with Adobe Creative guru Michael Stoddart who walked us through some of the new changes implemented in CS6.
A few weeks before Adobe released its Creative Suite 5 (CS5) on April 30, 2010, a certain piece of hardware hit the market. That device was the Apple iPad and its immediate success highlighted the rate at which consumer technology can change and the effect it has on how online content is consumed and created.
It was also in April, 2010 that Adobe announced a 24-month release cycle for its CS Suite, with incremental “dot release” versions every 12 months or so. True to its word, Adobe released CS5.5 in April 2011, which included a number of updates aimed at developers now delivering content to tablets, smartphones and other devices.
In recognition of the increasing rate of technological change in general, if not in response to the success of the iPad in particular, Adobe CEO, Shantanu Narayen also announced that the release of CS5.5 marked the company’s “transition to an annual release cycle.” Again true to its word, CS6 arrived on April 23 of this year with even more features aimed at mobile publishing and app development, along with a new subscription based model.
Adobe’s Creative Suite with its collection of feature-rich applications that cover pretty much all the content creation bases has been the standard for designers and creative professionals for almost a decade now. However, it’s cost has also seen various applications, particularly Photoshop, become some of the most commonly pirated on the internet. While Adobe continues to provide various bundles at varying price points, with CS6 it provides a cheaper legal option for those needing one or more of the applications for a short-term project or those keen to dip their toes in the water without having to shell out the large sum of purchasing the Suite outright.
Adobe’s answer is Creative Cloud, an expansion of the beta that has been available to users of Adobe’s Touch Apps since the end of 2011. Now users can download and install any of the six CS6 desktop applications (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Premiere Pro, After Effects and Flash Professional) as well as extras including Lightroom 4, Acrobat, Edge, Muse and the Adobe Touch Apps for a monthly fee of US$49.99 on an annual contract.
The service also includes 20 GB of online cloud storage and synching of files to allow files to be shared with far afield clients and collaborators. With the Master Collection CS6 costing $2,599 and individual applications such as Photoshop CS6 and InDesign CS6 costing $699 individually to purchase outright, a Creative Cloud subscription is likely to prove an attractive option for many designers and publishers.
The Creative Cloud also gives subscribers access to the latest applications and updates as they are released. Adobe has already signaled that it will continue to add features to the cloud service that go beyond the sharing and synching of files. This includes plans for team versions of Creative Cloud accounts so that additional staff brought onto a project can use cloud app licenses and upload files while working on the project. Additionally, Adobe recently announced that Photoshop and Lightroom will get an update adding Retina display support in the coming months, with other applications to follow.
"The beauty of the Creative Cloud is that previously you had nothing from Adobe for two years and BAM, here is everything all at once," Stoddard points out. "With Creative Cloud we’re allowed not only to release new product but tell you what is coming and keep you up to date."
It appears the option of a subscription model has already proven a success for Adobe with the company reporting higher-than expected second quarter earnings in June, which Narayen attributed partially to the launch of Creative Cloud.
Focus on the Web
Stoddart points out this embracing of HTML5 isn’t specifically a reaction to Apple’s reluctance to bring Flash to iOS devices as the HTML5 features were already in development. However, the success of iOS devices helped accelerate things.
"Some of the products that we had in beta around the time of the iPad launch were accelerated, Edge our animation tool and Dreamweaver CS6 was already in development," says Stoddart. "So we had some of these things in the pipeline, but yes, certainly the growth of iOS devices has meant that we were in a good position to take advantage in the upswing in HTML5 requirements."
In the two years since the release of CS5, the rise of tablets and the continuing move away from traditional magazine publishing to online delivery has resulted in significant changes in the publishing industry. As a result, CS6 applications include a number of features designed to help traditional publishers more easily produce content for the iPad and Android tablets.
“With CS6 our desktop publishing tool, InDesign has been rearchitected to allow users to output an app,” says Stoddart. This is in addition to the ability to output a PDF, print, or SWF. The Digital Publishing Suite service lets files saved in InDesign’s .folio file format be uploaded to Adobe servers, where it will be converted it to an app that can be sold through iTunes or Google Play. This service starts at US$500 for a single, standalone app and increases for magazines that can have content pushed to them on a monthly basis.
Many applications in the Suite also sport a new Charcoal look. This is currently only found in Photoshop Illustrator, Premiere, After Effects, Edge and Muse, with Dreamweaver and InDesign yet to get the change.At 25 years old, Illustrator was Adobe’s first product (after PostScript). The company has shown its old warhorse some love by completely rewriting it from the ground up. Now 64-bit and decarbonized for Apple systems, it’s much faster. And in response to requests from many users, it now allows a gradient to be applied to a stroke.
Similarly, in response to feedback from users of Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere sports a new interface that includes JKL editing trimming and the ability to resize thumbnails. Although it’s not quite there yet, Stoddart says Adobe is working towards a render-free environment in which Premiere will read every single codec and allow video to be laid on the timeline without any transcoding into ProRes.
Photoshop has always been the marquee application of Adobe’s stable and it continues to set the standard against which all others are measured. With its daunting array of features, it’s often said that 90 percent of Photoshop users only use 10 percent of the application’s features. That might be true, but as Stoddart points out, the 10 percent varies across users.
One feature that pretty much everyone is sure to use on a regular basis is the crop tool, which is slightly different in Photoshop’s latest version. Instead of the crop window moving when repositioned by the mouse, the image now moves while the crop window stays put.
This might sound like a fairly minor change, but it can be a bit of a surprise when first encountered. However, once you get over the initial shock, the benefits of this update quickly become obvious – particularly when rotating images. Now instead of twisting you neck with the rotating crop window, the crop window remains at the correct viewing orientation while the image rotates. The end result is that it’s much easier to see what the cropped image will look like. There are also a number of handy cropping overlays, including Rule of Thirds, Golden Ratio and Grid.
Another commonly used tool is Autocorrect. In previous versions, using Autocorrect saw the image settings changed without actually letting users know what these changes were. All they saw was the end result. Now the sliders move to reveal just exactly what alterations have been made.
There’s also a new Content-Aware Move and Patch tool, which allows users to cut and paste a subject from one part of the image to another so that it blends into its new location and the space from which it was removed is automatically filled. It’s not perfect, but for certain images, particularly ones with organic backgrounds like grass or dirt, the results can be impressive and save users a lot of time.
Adobe has also cleaned up the interface and reorganized the menus. There’s also some improved 3D editing tools and Photoshop Standard gets some video editing capabilities, which might come in particularly handy for rotoscoping. And thanks to utilizing a your system’s GPU, Photoshop runs much faster, with the Liquify tool able to show changes in real time.
We’ve barely scratched the surface – or even the surface of the surface – of the multitude of upgrades and new features that can be found in the latest version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. While even Stoddart admits there may be specialized applications that can do a particular task better than one of Adobe’s offerings, it’s clear that the company’s Creative Suite and the individual applications contained therein are still at the top of the heap. Rather than being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, CS6 is still a jack-of-all-trades and master of most. Whether it’s worth the upgrade from CS5.5 will depend on your circumstances, but at least with the introduction of Creative Cloud, an upgrade need not necessarily be the massive one-off hit to the hip pocket nerve it once was.