10 things to know about the evolution of Adobe’s Creative Suite 5.5

When Adobe announced in April that its new product-release cycle would involve milestone versions to be released every 24 months interspersed with incremental “dot release” versions mid-cycle it signalled a major shift in how the company delivers its software. This week we caught up with Adobe’s Principal Evangelist Greg Rewis and discussed the factors behind the company’s decision to back the dot release plus why users should consider the 5.5 upgrade (or not) the role mobile devices play in the CS ecosystem the future of the Suite and more. Here’s ten things we learned.

Adobe’s Greg Rewis: “I believe that tablets are the future regardless.”

1. Mid-cycle CS releases versus full CS releases: the distinction as Adobe sees it

GR: “What makes a dot release versus a full release? There’s no hard and fast rule; this is the first time that we’ve done this [with 5.5] in terms of a significant dot release in mid-cycle. As a general rule of thumb we’re saying that a dot release is a response to changing market conditions. There’s something that our creative community is wanting to do and we need to provide tooling for that. With a major release such as CS 5 or CS 6 then we’re trying to update across the board. That’s not saying that every single product in the Suite is going to see significant upgrades or changes but that’s the general goal of ours with a major release: to give everything in the Suite some love and attention.”  

2. Mid-cycle CS releases reflect the rapid pace of digital innovation today

GR: “[The dot release model] has been a long time coming. In the past there was an 18 to 24-month cycle and that’s great for the [Adobe development] teams who were able to do some really innovative stuff but it’s a long time to wait as a customer when you’re seeing things happening. Let’s roll the clock back a year: when we announced Creative Suite 5 just a few days prior to that Apple announced the iPad. No-one saw that coming. And as close a relationship as we had with Apple that was something that caught everyone by surprise and so the market changed there. The same thing could be said of HTML 5 for when we were building Dreamweaver CS5. Things have picked up speed in the world that we’re in now. And that means that we needed to stop and take a look at how we were doing our software development and the response is the mid-cycle or dot release. It means we’ve seen enough change in the market that we need to get some [updated] tools out there… to help our creative audience adjust or adapt or create for what is happening in that market.”

3. The challenge for Adobe in 2011 is predicting the next big thing

GR: “[The new CS development pace] is definitely a cultural change I’ll make no bones about that. But we realise we’ve got to do it. The [dev] teams have really embraced it. The individual product teams [have to] start thinking what can we do quickly? As opposed to long-term almost death-by-meeting schedules… The good side is we’re able to concentrate on the software. The hard part of it is trying to predict that next big thing because really what you’re having to do is watch on a daily basis what’s happening and then predict is this going to take off? Is that not going to take off? Can we afford to wait on this? There’s a lot of thought that goes into those decisions as to which [technologies] do we pick and which can we afford to wait a little bit longer on.”   

4. The key benefit of 5.5 for design: servicing the tablet phenomenon

GR: “The 5.5 release is in response to changing market dynamics in three key areas. On the design side that’s what’s happening in and around the iPad and the desire for publishers and content creators that work day-in and day-out in InDesign to bring their content to (not only) the iPad… Obviously the market is starting to see Android tablets coming out as well so it is in response to that tablet phenomenon. If a user is a content publisher of some type and wants to get their content from InDesign into the tablet sphere that would be the key benefit for them.”

5. The key benefit of 5.5 for web: HTML5 CSS3 and apps

GR: “In the web space [the selling point] is obviously HTML5 and CSS3. Both from a perspective of embracing that as a standard and providing tools within Dreamweaver to allow users to build using HTML5 and CSS3 and then extending that into the mobile tablet sphere as well through multiple screens whether we’re talking a web site that needs to adapt its form factor or adapt the layout to be better utilised on a tablet or on a mobile device or even a television. We need to start thinking not only smaller screens these days but larger as well. Plus the ability to build applications [Flash AIR native] across all of these screens.”

6. The key benefit of 5.5 for video: real-time performance and mobile formats

GR: “On the video side the [upgrade benefits] are the enhanced production and speed required for any editing application that wants to edit these new high-definition formats. The Mercury Playback Engine enables you to work with full-on 1080p whatever HD format you want to work with and in real-time without having to render without having to pause at any time whatsoever even as you move between applications such as Premiere and After Effects. You’re able to live-edit very intense weighty files. For example editing video that’s 4000 pixels wide and still being able to work with that on even a laptop computer. Plus we’re embracing the DSLR and the mobile camera whether you’re talking a high-end DSLR camera down to your average iPhone or Android phone.”

7. Mobile devices aren’t just for content consumption: they’re the creative tool of the future

GR: “I believe that tablets are the future regardless. Now I’m pulling my laptop out when I need to do some work in Photoshop or Dreamweaver or one of the Creative Suite tools but other than that I can live [work] quite happily on a tablet. So with that in mind what we’ve also seen is the explosion in interest in tablets and an obvious offshoot of that is what can we do at Adobe to enable creative professionals to use those tablets in a creative way. So we’ve released a couple of apps on the Apple App Store that tie in with Photoshop. But for us the take-away is that we released an SDK for Photoshop that allows developers to create these add-ons for Photoshop that are tablet-based. So we’re thinking all sorts of possibilities would open themselves up. So that’s the idea: first allowing tablets to plug in to our applications and in the future the next step is to start thinking about what can we do in terms of being a software company to [make] creative tools that exist only on a tablet device. There’s all sorts of areas – as tablets hit the mainstream – in the creative workflow where we could see ourselves bringing tools out.”  

8. Happy with CS 5? Adobe says that’s okay 5.5 won’t be for everyone

GR: “At the end of the day we put a significant amount of investment into adding [new] features to the products that get updated and the question is is this [the 5.5 update] for everyone? No certainly not. If you’re not [working in] one of the areas that’s addressed by the release then you’ll be perfectly content to stay where you’re at… That’s something for each individual customer to weigh on their own as they see fit.”

9. Australian users are ahead of the curve

GR: “As far as Australia is concerned the Australian audience and Australian customers I think are very embracing of new technology and tend to be as we travel around one of the leading countries in terms of getting behind new technologies and embracing that. I know a lot of developers down here that were talking mobile last year. When we were just beginning to think about mobile they were already talking mobile. So I think that’s to Australia’s credit that the community down here is very quick to spot a trend and then get ahead of it as a community.”

10. What’s coming in CS 6

GR: “We’ve got a lot of ideas. We obviously can’t comment on anything in terms of a specific feature but if you look at where the market is going in terms of the mobile and tablet explosion high-definition video 3D… we can imagine very easily expanding into all of these areas adding capabilities.”