Adobe InDesign CS4 review
VERDICT InDesign CS4 boosts productivity, adds advanced long document functionality and enables screen-based publishing via Flash.
InDesign is the central application in Adobe’s publishing vision taking text and images and combining them as multiple page publications ready for output on paper. And now on screen.
As such, efficiency is key and InDesign CS4 benefits from all the latest CS4 interface enhancements – workspace switcher, application bar, self-adjusting panels, tabbed documents, tiled window arrangements and so on. You can even tile the Story Editor text view next to the layout view.
As you work on your publication, you’ll also benefit from other dedicated interface enhancements such as the power zoom and the ability to rotate spreads to work on angled text. Particularly useful are the new Smart Cursor, which gives onscreen feedback on object transformations, and Smart Guides which constantly check all other objects in the current view to help you create consistent sizing, positioning, angle and even spacing interactively.
Perhaps the most significant interface enhancement is the complete reworking of the Links panel. This now shows thumbnails of all linked and embedded graphics, stacks repeats and shows page numbers as links so that you can quickly jump to the image in situ. You can also customise the panel to add sortable columns of information, such as scaling factor, or set these to show in the Links Info pane below. The Links panel also now lets you choose which application to use for editing and can relink files intelligently which is especially handy when switching from low resolution JPEGs to output TIFFs.
Advances in InDesign CS4 include new links handling and conditional text.
There’s still the danger that you’ll forget to switch all your images, or maybe one will be modified externally or go missing, which is why InDesign has long provided a preflighting command. Now the capability goes live flagging up potential pitfalls as you work. By default the system checks for the basics, such as missing fonts and overset text, but you can customise your preflighting profile to check for factors such as minimum stroke weight, font size, image resolution and so on.
In terms of entirely new design power, InDesign CS4 finally offers the sort of advanced long document handling that Adobe has previously restricted to Framemaker. Using the new Cross References panel and dialog you can quickly create dynamic links either to manually added text anchors or to any existing paragraph based on it style tag in the current document or other book chapters.
Even more powerful is the ability to create and control multiple versions of the same publication, for example to output the same catalogue with different regional content, currency and pricing. Simply create a new condition in the new Conditional Text panel and you can quickly apply it to text and then toggle its display with the familiar Adobe eye icon, with the layout updating accordingly. You can also create multiple condition sets and InDesign CS4 can also automatically add pages where necessary to accommodate text reflow.
The biggest new focus in InDesign CS4 is outputting projects for screen display - publishing to pixels as Adobe puts it. To take full advantage of such screen-based delivery, publications need to be engaging and interactive and InDesign CS4 makes it easier to add text-based hyperlinks and to test them. It also makes it simple to add preset rollover buttons, or to create and style your own, and to add page transitions. However InDesign’s basic video handling is left unchanged meaning that support for Flash video FLV is notable by its absence.
Once your interactive publication is set up, you can export it to PDF for simple offline viewing complete with live links, buttons, cross-references, transitions and placed Flash SWF files. Alternatively, you can use InDesign CS4’s entirely new Export to SWF command to output your publication as a highly-compressed Flash movie complete with HTML wrapper ready for near-universal online viewing. InDesign CS4 can even take care of onscreen navigation automatically with an interactive page curl effect – simply click on it and you are taken to the next page.
With improved control over interactivity and direct SWF export InDesign CS4 moves strongly into screen-based publishing.
It’s all very simple – often too simple. To begin with, there are minor glitches, such as Acrobat not supporting the goto page command, along with major holes such as the lack of Flash-based support for basic animation, scripting and video playback – all features that the latest QuarkXPress 8 does offer.
Adobe manages to save itself from the embarrassment of Quark providing superior output to Adobe’s own Flash platform by its introduction of XFL. This is a new XML-based interchange format designed for Flash handling and intended as an eventual replacement for the binary FLA. What this means for InDesign CS4 is that you can export an entire publication to XFL and open it directly into Flash CS4 Professional with each spread coming through as a movie clip. You can then edit the text and graphics and add the missing animation, scripting and video playback with Flash itself.
Again the system’s by no means perfect – while text is editable, for example, that’s currently only possible on a line-by-line basis – and of course you need a copy of Flash Professional. However such deep integration between InDesign and Flash, combining the best of both in terms of design and interactivity and offline and online delivery, is certainly creatively exciting and leaves the more expensive QuarkXPress 8 trailing.
In fact that’s true generally of this release meaning that InDesign CS4 further strengthens its hold on the publishing crown.
EASE OF USE 5/6
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/6
Requirements: Windows XP (SP2), Vista
Tom Arah is the webmaster of designer-info.com. He has been a professional designer working with computer software since 1987. He also offers training and consultancy and since 1997 has been the contributing editor covering design issues for PC Pro, the UK's biggest-selling (and best) computer monthly.