Creative Suite 5: why bother?

You've had a week now to digest the Creative Suite 5 announcement and the big question is: Do you really need it? Jim McCauley has a crack at answering.

The past week has seen Creative Suite 5 officially announced and picked over in fine detail all over the web, and now we're all familiar with what we can expect from the latest version of the Adobe design monster when it goes on sale. Which leaves the question of whether you should actually buy it or not.

Here's the main problem with CS5: whichever way you look at it, it's chronically, horrifyingly expensive. Even if you're buying it in the States and get to benefit from Adobe's US-weighted pricing, it's still going to cost you a lot of money. If you're not buying in the US, the least you'll get to pay for the Design Premium package is a manageable £516, as long as you're upgrading from CS4. If you're upgrading from CS3 or older then it'll cost you anything from £716 to £1,231, and off the shelf you're going to be stung for around £1,500. And if you have your heart set on the Master Collection, that'll set you back up to £2,300.

So, are all these spangly new features really worth all that cash? It's a tough call. The big feature, we'd argue, is Photoshop CS5's Content-aware fill, and while we were perhaps a little cynical about whether it'd live up to expectations, reports suggest that it's all Adobe claimed and more. If retouching photos is a large part of your job, you absolutely need it.

Or do you? If you're strapped for cash and don't mind getting your hands dirty with GIMP, there's a plugin for it called Resynthesizer that sort of does a lot of what Adobe's Content-aware fill does. It lacks the finesse of Adobe's solution, but it'll do at a pinch. Find out more here.

Another major feature of CS5, the iPhone Packager, is more troublesome now that Apple seems to have put a spanner in the works with its decree that translated apps won't be permitted on the App Store. If you're a Flash developer and were counting on CS5 to help you become an iPhone or iPad developer, it looks like your money would be better spent on learning Objective C or C++. Which might not be as much fun, but could arguably be a lot more useful to you in the long term.

These things aside, though, CS5's a lot more than an incremental iteration. This time around it genuinely does offer a lot of new features that make it a worthwhile purchase for most designers; perhaps less so if you bought CS4, but if you're running a version older than that and want to stay in contention in the competitive design market, then upgrading looks like an absolute must. There are just so many time-saving new features in there that if you don't adopt them you're running the risk of being left behind.

Which brings us back to the issue of the price. Look at it this way: if you're a design professional then the price really shouldn't be an issue. Take it on the chin and offset it against tax. Or if you're in education, take advantage of Adobe's generous educational discounts.