Adobe launches Creative Suite 3

Adobe has unveiled the first upgrade in two years of its flagship design software suite, which accounts for more than half of the company's overall revenue.

With new versions of nearly every single one of its creative tools, Adobe's Creative Suite 3 (CS3) launch is the company's biggest in its 25 years. Six new bundles have been unveiled - including a Master edition that bundles 12 different applications.

Adobe's chief executive Bruce Chizen described the launch as giving Adobe's users "the creative license to engage audiences across virtually every medium.

Mac OS X users will find universal binary versions of most applications, though some tools have yet to move from Windows to Apple hardware. Designers using the latest Macintosh hardware should see significant performance improvements - as native Intel code will mean tools like Photoshop are no longer running through the Rosetta emulation layer.

Adobe's flagship product, Photoshop, has had a significant update, and now links 2D and 3D art, print and web, and still and video. A public beta revealed many of its new features - though Adobe has kept its 3D and video support for a new high end version, Photoshop CS3 Extended. Photoshop also includes a new user interface, intended to give Adobe's creative applications a common look-and-feel, which should reduce learning curves - and training costs.

The CS3 Design Premium package now includes Dreamweaver CS3 and Flash CS3 alongside InDesign CS3, Photoshop CS3 Extended, Acrobat 8 Professional and Illustrator CS3, mixing web and print design in one package. The Standard package only includes the print design tools. All the suites include Adobe's workflow tools, Bridge CS3 and Version Cue CS3, as well as support for the Connect web conferencing package.

However, it is the CS3 Web bundle which fully merges Adobe and former Macromedia products together. Flash CS3 adds support for ActionScript 3.0, introduced with Flex and the Flash Player 9. The biggest change for all the web tools is closer integration with Adobe's design applications, and Photoshop layers can now be imported directly into Flash. Fireworks CS3 has moved away from image creation, and is now a web site prototyping tool. Dreamweaver CS3 adds AJAX tools, with support for Adobe's Spry framework. A premium bundle includes Photoshop CS3 Extended and Illustrator CS3.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the CS3 announcement is the arrival of a suite of video tools, CS3 Production. Able to work with real-time digicam feeds, and with a green screen tool that can handle virtual studios, CS3 Production gives podcasters and web video producers the same tools as their broadcast media colleagues, simplifying editing tasks. The new SoundBooth application will help clean up soundtracks with new visual editing tools.

One thread linking all the elements of the CS3 release together is the new Device Central application. Designed to show how content will render on mobile devices, Device Central should reduce testing time. Al Ramadan, Adobe's senior vice president, Mobile and Device Solutions believes it will help designers work with "the complexity of a fragmented mobile landscape", letting them create "engaging, optimised content dramatically faster than before."

Analysts said reviews of Creative Suite 3 have been positive and some expected it to provide further momentum for a stock that has gained nearly 20 per cent over the past year.

"We believe Adobe shares could see some modest upside in the coming weeks as the company benefits from positive buzz from its CS3 product introduction," CIBC World Markets analyst Brad Reback wrote in a recent research note.

Adobe will begin shipping CS3 in April. It estimates that CS3 Design Premium will sell for 1,409, CS3 Web Premium for 1,195, Production Premium for 1,409 and the Master bundle for 1,969 - all at stiff premiums to the US pricing of $1799, $1599, $1699 and $2499 respectively.

(Additional reporting by Michael Kahn, Reuters)