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Of course, Adobe Photoshop is the application-turned-verb that continues to be my most frequently used title in the collection and I am always looking to be impressed. Going back to the earliest version as an end-user, my first reaction was "they've done it again!" It is faster, easier to navigate, and actually more fun to use in CS4. The canvas rotation tool is a completely new perspective â€“ literally. Shy of the fact that I end up accidentally triggering it with Apple "gestures" on my track pad when working on my MacBook Pro, this is a great feature to improve the way you look at, edit, and present your images. The new adjustments panel gives quick access to correction and enhancement tools and, in this case, does a superior job compared to some of my tried-and-true third-party plug-ins used for some of these tasks. The new scaling tool is excellent and, for things like event photography or web design, allows the clear resizing of an image while changing the aspect ratio. No more squeezing/cropping for your limited output area in your projects. The new masking tool is much better than previous versions as it is now its own adjustment panel. Selecting your targeted subject matter is much faster and more accurate. Again, something that was always better in third-party plug-ins is now onboard. The 3D tools are now greatly improved as well with truly dynamic looking output and depth. All of the 3D editing, including animation tools, seem to bring the images to life. 2D to 3D conversion is fast and is limited only by the amount of time you have.
Adobe Illustrator goes well beyond its description having also come a very long way from its earliest carnations. One of my favorite improvements has to be how easily it is to work with gradients in CS4's version of AI. Real manipulation and control of what may seem to be a very simple part of a design or layout is now easier and requires fewer step (or "tricks," if you will) to get the output to match the screen. The ability to control the transparency of a gradient in a 2D or 3D environment allows for both subtle and dramatic effects that save time and energy. Another great time-saver is the addition of multiple artboards allowing your layout to take on many shapes, sizes, and resolutions for more cohesiveness throughout a project. This is great for things like corporate identity whereby a theme, campaign, or just a single project are able to maintain the core design for a huge variety of output formats.
I have to admit that Adobe InDesign was always a love/hate item for me early on, but the addition of new "pre-flight" features that give you information in real-time made me a believer. No more "wait-and-see" or third-party tools, yet again, and the output tells the tale. Faster, more intuitive and superior integration bring all of the other CS4 applications to life. The new Smart Guides align all of the elements properly without the ol' "eyeballin' it" tricks. In this case, the perceived output is still spot-on visually because...well...it is. Like Illustrator, your output easily translates to many sizes and formats, but InDesign now adds Conditional Text to take it a step further and allow for different languages, localizations or other elements of your text that may change based on who will see it. A huge time-saver over the old ways of file version after file version creation. Clearly, Adobe has again responded to its customers by adding the much sought-after ability to export to Flash and Shockwave. Animations and effects come alive in whatever output you choose. There are so many excellent workflow improvements that I do recommend the tutorial videos from Adobe and other training resources to truly realize the full scope of the power of InDesign.
As a longtime GoLive devotee, the world of Dreamweaver always seemed like a distant cousin-by-marriage that would show up at the door asking you to come to the family reunion, but it turns out that it is more like the next generation of the CS family that has matured nicely, but slowly. The biggest addition in the CS4 version of DW seems to be the addition of Live View rendering, an ongoing theme in CS4 products, giving the user access to both the code and the content during previews. Although still relatively new to the Adobe lineup, you can create Adobe Air-based applications from within Dreamweaver as well, but there is a learning curve here. Once again, videos and seminars will help you master the newer app type that is still in its infancy. My favorite new feature is in how well DW handles Photoshop .PSD files and creates Smart Objects that you can edit and update from within the application. This big timesaver saves a lot of steps.
Again, going back to version 1.0, Fireworks has grown better with age (one would hope), and adds a big speed boost under CS4. Like its other CS4 brethren, FW is now much better suited for collaboration and can employ Adobe's ConnectNow online meeting services. The updated interface includes improved Styles control and Live Styles for faster access to your libraries. Adobe touts PDF exporting as a new feature, but the real benefit is in the relative security that this provides when you only want specific people to have access to specific output options from your file. FW allows separate passwords to be created for specific tasks - again, more of a time saver than anything, to save steps.
As someone still learning pro-level video after working in analog for so long, this is a natural progression with AfterEffects CS4 as it continues to be a powerful animated graphics tool that creates 2D and 3D output for just about any need. What comes to AE follows the same crossover workflow and collaborative enhancements that make all of the CS4 applications so valuable. Employ new effects and styles even faster that now include the addition of Imagineer Systems' Mocha so that your own elements can follow the movement(s) of your subject matter. In addition, like the other CS4 applications, there is more 3D support with the tools found more often in a stand-alone application. New nested comp navigation makes it easy to search for and employ the effects you want in your project.