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You have to feel for Adobe. One moment the world economy capsizes in gloom, doom and credit crunches, and the next moment Adobe launches a software package costing two grand.

Analysts have blamed business spending cuts for disappointing pre-order sales of Creative Suite 4 (CS4), whose full Master Collection edition is now on sale in the UK for around £1,969 plus VAT.

Not that Adobe’s biggest-ever software release is proving unpopular. CS4 and its component products, which include updated versions of PhotoShop, Illustrator, Flash, Acrobat and InDesign, are storming the BitTorrent tracking sites.

Is it worth the fuss? And would a media or IT department be wise to shell out such a wedge on the new suite, which comes less than 18 months after the wildly popular CS3?

At CS4’s London launch, the Adobe footsoldiers couldn’t give or get enough of “workflow”. The promise was a simpler, stronger integration between Adobe’s cornucopia of applications – a gift for producers who want to switch seamlessly between applications for a single project.

The product doesn’t disappoint. First, streamlined metadata tools will enable designers to juggle and search multiple projects far more easily. For example, the video-editing application Premiere Pro now supports metadata as well as an expanded range of media formats.

Designers have also welcomed Illustrator’s new multiple Artboards feature, which allows you to work on more than one project at a time.

CS4 also introduces tighter links between the programs. Most notably, a new version of production tool Dynamic Link enables quick and easy transfer of content between Premiere Pro, video effects app After Effects, audio editor Soundbooth and DVD authoring tool Encore.

The new collection looks and feels more like a software suite, and less like CS3’s goodie bag of disparate bits. Web design application Dreamweaver CS4 boasts a revamped interface that echoes that of PhotoShop, Illustrator and Flash.

Expanded community and collaboration tools are another big addition. Most CS4 applications support Adobe ConnectNow, which allows up to three people to collaborate on a project in real time. Adobe Community Help provides technical support, while the Resource Central library offers media and tutorials.

Overall, while this is an exceptional bundle – absolutely top of its class – it’s not flawless, especially at that price. However, Adobe CS4 Master Collection does represent a substantial step up from CS3 if you’re a designer or producer who needs to juggle several applications at once. The time and headaches you save with this streamlined content factory would be well worth the outlay.

But for most of us, the whole kit n’ caboodle just isn’t worth the price of a car. Photographers in particular should spend a more Peston-friendly £233 on Adobe’s excellent new Lightroom 2, which isn’t included in CS4.

The intermediate option is one of Adobe’s pared-down Premium or Standard suites, such as Web Premium for web designers or Production Premium for video editors. Prices haven’t gone up much since CS3, but they’re still steep and a more flexible mix-and-match pricing structure would be much welcomed.

Another drawback for less minted users is the need for a powerful computer to run it all on. You’ll need Windows XP SP2, Vista or Mac OS X v10.4.11 with a processor of at least 2GHz (more for HD video); 2GB of RAM (bare minimum, in our experience – you’ll want 8GB or more when running multiple applications) and 24.3GB of space for installation.

On the upside, it’s a whole lot less hassle to install than CS3…

VERDICT: 9/10

(Product list on next page)

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Here’s what’s in the box (prices from Adobe’s online store, VAT included):

Adobe CS4 Master Collection (£2,313):
InDesign CS4
Photoshop CS4 Extended
Illustrator CS4
Acrobat 9 Pro
Flash CS4 Professional
Dreamweaver CS4
Fireworks CS4
Contribute CS4
After Effects CS4
Adobe Premiere Pro CS4
Soundbooth CS4
Adobe OnLocation CS4
Encore CS4
Adobe Bridge CS4
Adobe Device Central CS4
Dynamic Link
Version Cue CS4

Adobe CS4 Design Premium (£1,467):
InDesign CS4
Photoshop CS4 Extended
Illustrator CS4
Flash CS4 Professional
Dreamweaver CS4
Fireworks CS4
Acrobat 9 Pro
Adobe Bridge CS4
Adobe Device Central CS4
Version Cue CS4

Adobe CS4 Web Premium (£1,404):
Dreamweaver CS4
Flash CS4 Professional
Photoshop CS4 Extended
Illustrator CS4
Fireworks CS4
Acrobat 9 Pro
Soundbooth CS4
Contribute CS4
Adobe Bridge CS4
Adobe Device Central CS4
Version Cue CS4

Adobe CS4 Production Premium (£1,655):
After Effects CS4
Adobe Premiere Pro CS4
Photoshop CS4 Extended
Flash CS4 Professional
Illustrator CS4
Soundbooth CS4
Adobe OnLocation CS4
Encore CS4
Adobe Bridge CS4
Adobe Device Central CS4
Dynamic Link.

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