Adobe has launched the fifth incarnation of its Creative Suite collection of professional applications for print and web designers and videographers. This set of coordinated programs, popularly called Adobe CS5, includes new versions of 14 products and their associated apps, four new online services, and a brand new interactive web design product.

“As a technology that generates more than half of the company’s revenue, this is an incredibly important release for us,” John Loiacono, Adobe's senior vice president and general manager of Creative Solutions, told Macworld. “We’ve hit our stride not just with a speed bump in functionality and performance... this is a big leap ahead in some of the capabilities we have built in to CS5. We have enormous expectations on how this will perform in the market.”

Since 2003, when Adobe first gathered its print and web tools into a suite (later adding its video package), the company has offered a steady parade of updates for its creative professional user base. The new CS5 veers in a somewhat different direction than earlier versions with a specific concentration on online services and web analytics. Creative Suite 5 products, for the first time, include access to Omniture technologies - web utilities that capture, store, and analyse information generated by websites and other sources.

The suite now hosts three discreet versions of Flash - the familiar Flash Professional, Flash Builder (previously called Flex Builder), and a brand new interactive design app called Flash Catalyst. There is now a greater emphasis on online services that Adobe is relying on bridge the gap between its 18- to 24-month upgrade cycle.

“One of the challenges that we have with product cycles that tend to be 18 to 24 months in length, is that they’re long in development. So we’re trying to update services much more rapidly... and decouple some of these features that we’re adding and manifest them as services, which allows us to move a lot quicker to modify and test them... I see the services as an extension of the applications,” Loiacono said.

The updates in CS5 - more than 250 new features have been integrated throughout the Master Collection of all programs - address not only technical changes in hardware capabilities to make them faster and more efficient, but also strive to solve workflow problems. “Our beta testers are giving us high marks in hitting the mark on not just key functionality that they need but actually understanding their workflow,” Loiacono said. “At the end of the day, building the next generation of really cool features is a requirement and it’s expected, but it’s not sufficient anymore. We can’t just be pixel polishers. We have to look at the next generation of the workflow challenges that people are facing.”

Technology advancements

Several CS5 apps have advanced technologically to keep pace with advances in Apple hardware. Photoshop, Premiere Pro, and After Effects are now 64-bit native to take better advantage of the increased memory built into the Mac’s new hardware, and Premiere Pro is now better optimised for multi-core Intel Macs. Improvements in Photoshop's OpenGL engine will make the new version faster and more responsive, as well.

As Adobe announced last year, CS5 will run only on Intel Macs and with only the most recent operating systems, such as 10.5.7 (Leopard) or Snow Leopard (10.6). In addition to native 64-bit support, Adobe has introduced the Mercury Playback Engine to Premiere Pro, its flagship video editing app.

The Mercury Playback Engine speeds up processing and rendering so editors can work on large, complex projects without delays. The key to this improvement is GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) acceleration and the full use of all processing cores. While traditionally apps use the computer’s CPU (Central Processing Unit) for performance, the Mercury Playback Engine directly accesses Nvidia graphics cards for performance boosts. Premiere Pro and the Production Premium apps require either OS X 10.5.7 or OS X 10.6.3 for GPU-accelerated performance.

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