Tools Of The Trade: The Adobe Creative Suite 2

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The Independent Online

Adobe has rightly become synonymous with high-end software for creative applications, through programs such as PageMaker and Photoshop. The latest generation of design products sets out to maintain this lead, in the face of tough competition from companies including Quark and Apple.

The Adobe Creative Suite 2 package consists of Photoshop, InDesign - the successor to the PageMaker layout application - and Illustrator. Together, these cover most of what designers will need to create documents for print, although those working mainly on the web will need to add either Adobe's own GoLive package or Macromedia's Dreamweaver.

Nonetheless, the creative suite is a strong set of tools. Photoshop, in particular, is more or less required for anyone working with images.

The version (9) of Photoshop in Creative Suite 2 will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used the application from version 7 onwards. Adobe has sensibly stayed faithful to the established look and feel.

Unlike too many software upgrades, the program also maintains its performance well on computers with relatively modest specifications. Of course, any image-editing application will benefit from as much memory and disk space as you can throw at it, but Photoshop was perfectly usable on a Macintosh with 512MB of main memory.

Additions to the program include integration with Adobe's online stock image library, with ImageReady (a program that optimises pictures for the web) and with InDesign. Adobe has also boosted support for video formats - especially for content developers designing DVDs or interactive television - and the software now captures a lot more data from images taken on a digital camera, such as the shutter speed and aperture.

For layout, InDesign has gained ground against QuarkXPress, but Adobe's application has still to regain the market share enjoyed by PageMaker in its heyday. InDesign is competent, and designers old enough to have worked with PageMaker will have a strong sense of déjà vu. Many of the keyboard commands, for example, are the same.

Neither is the learning curve for InDesign too steep, considering the complexity of the application; the software is certainly more intuitive for newcomers than Quark. The interface, much of it shared with Photoshop, certainly helps.

Adobe has added a number of useful options to InDesign, such as the ability to "package" a page to make it ready for web publishing via GoLive, and good integration with PDF files. Designers who mostly distribute their work as PDFs should probably pick InDesign for this alone. The program does, though, require a powerful computer to perform at its best.

Illustrator makes up the set, providing powerful vector drawing tools (vector illustrations, unlike photographs, maintain their quality regardless of the print resolution). Much of what the non-specialist will need to do is already in Photoshop or InDesign, including the ability to create complex text effects. But for some tasks, Illustrator is good to have to hand; some designers may well use it for most of their work.

Last month, Adobe completed the acquisition of rival Macromedia, and it will be interesting to see how this affects product development in both camps. But for now, anyone planning to buy or upgrade either Photoshop or InDesign should consider Creative Suite 2.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5.

PROS: extras that integrate all three applications; consistent interface.

CONS: no integrated web design software; upgrades are mostly incremental.

PRICE: £705 plus VAT (full version); £325 plus VAT (upgrade).