Adobe Creative Suite 3 Web Standard review

Price when reviewed

Last month, we looked at Adobe’s CS3 Design Standard suite with its flagship applications InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop, and its long-standing focus on professional print. These days, however, it’s relatively rare for a designer to be interested in only paper and, after its takeover of Macromedia, Adobe is now as strong when it comes to online design as it is for print. So just what form do the new Adobe web platforms take and which is the best option for you?

The first web-orientated bundle Adobe offers is the CS3 Web Standard edition, which will immediately be reassuring to current users of Macromedia Studio. Despite the rumours, the market-defining Dreamweaver hasn’t been replaced by Adobe’s own GoLive, and Fireworks is still very much alive and kicking, as is Flash Professional and, to a lesser extent, Contribute.

However, it isn’t necessarily all good news for current Studio users. Some might object to Flash’s new Adobe-style interface and approach to graphics. Others will note that FreeHand is conspicuous by its absence (Adobe claims that both FreeHand and GoLive are still being developed, but we wouldn’t hold our breath). On the plus side, upgrading Studio users will benefit from Adobe’s wider graphics and design expertise in the form of Bridge CS3’s media management and Device Central CS3’s dedicated development capabilities for mobile devices.

Most significantly, Adobe is in the position to offer Macromedia users a new upgrade path, which it does with its CS3 Web Premium edition. This includes everything in the Web Standard edition and adds the best-of-breed vector and bitmap handling of Illustrator CS3 and Photoshop CS3 Extended and throws in Acrobat 8 Professional for luck. The integration of Illustrator and Photoshop into Flash and Dreamweaver based workflows via the new support for AI and PSD files and simple cut-and-paste enables both page- and application-based web design to be made richer than ever.

It isn’t just existing Macromedia users who stand to benefit. Adobe’s previous web offering, GoLive, was bloated and underpowered, so users upgrading to the CS3 Design Premium edition will profit hugely from its replacement by the streamlined productivity of Dreamweaver CS3. However, the inclusion of Flash Professional is less convincing. While traditional designers are increasingly multiskilled at publishing online and in print, there are still comparatively few that will be producing Flash-based web applications, so it would have made more sense from the end-user perspective to drop Flash (or replace it with Fireworks) and cut the price.

The same is true of the Web Standard edition. Page-based web authoring is massively more prevalent than Rich Internet Application development and, if the options were provided, there’s little doubt that the most popular suites would be cheaper, Flash-less versions of both the Design Premium and Web Standard editions. Adobe hasn’t offered these for very good reasons: it desperately wants to drive the take-up and spread of its proprietary and rapidly evolving Flash technology to lock in users and to encourage future upgrading.

So the web-orientated CS3 suites aren’t quite the user-driven bundles that Adobe would like to present them as and it’s important to remember that if you won’t actually use a program, its RRP is irrelevant – its value to you is nil. Having said this, Adobe has chosen its pricing very carefully to ensure that, even if you don’t use all of a suite’s components, this is almost certainly the most cost-efficient way to buy. Moreover, while Adobe’s marketing strategy is still focused on pushing Flash, its main CS3 development effort has been directed towards Dreamweaver, Fireworks and the wider page-based web authoring workflow. This is in marked contrast to the focus under Macromedia, and the vast majority of web designers will ultimately be grateful.

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