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InDesign CS4 review

17 Feb 2009
Our Rating 

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Specifications

InDesign is one of the world's two true heavyweight mainstream page layout applications, and the past couple of major releases have seen it grow from an attractive alternative to QuarkXPress to a serious rival.

This growth is continuing, and even in the beta form available to us for testing, InDesign CS4 is clearly a well-matured tool with many compelling features.

It's interesting that although there are many new and upgraded features in this release, the biggest change is the interface itself. Like the previous version of Creative Suite, the changes in the interface are the most obvious difference. This doesn't, however, mean that the other advances are insignificant, as we found once we looked past the new styling.

The Tools panel has been reorganised slightly, but there's no major change. Start working, though, and you'll see that some of the tool behaviours have been enhanced and a few new panels have been added.

Like Illustrator CS4, InDesign now has useful visual feedback for dimensions and spatial relationships of objects as things are drawn, moved or reshaped. Drag a point, an object or multiple selected items, and you'll see a translucent information panel appear next to the cursor, which will show you width and height measurements, or X and Y coordinates, as appropriate. In a feature taken from previous versions of Illustrator, snap-to alignment Smart Guides also appear as items are dragged about.

Adobe's almost mysteriously successful colour-based social networking website at kuler.adobe.com has been integrated into InDesign and a number of the other members of the new Creative Suite. This provides built-in access to the colour palettes and themes created by members of Kuler. And browsing what's available is almost as compelling in the new floating panel as it is in the website itself. As well as being specifically useful and available across the Creative Suite, this is possibly the first serious example of a Web 2.0 service being integrated into a major, mainstream application. In addition, while this particular tool was written by Adobe, it helps to demonstrate the integration possibilities that are on offer to Extension developers.

Conditional text is a feature that allows designers to create a single layout that contains more than one set of text contents. This is done by applying predefined style-like conditions to text, and then choosing which ones are to be shown. Text controlled by a 'condition' can optionally show (and print) a coloured underline to highlight which elements are under which condition. This feature is simple to control, and in certain projects could save designers and production staff huge amounts of effort.

Control of the layout itself has also been considered. Spread rotation allows individual page spreads to be turned at 90? increments independently of other spreads in the document. This is a 'design time' rotation only - the pages aren't turned into exported PDF documents, even though this is technically possible. The feature is there to help designers to deal with layouts within a document that are arranged running sideways or upside down. Rather than have to strain your neck by working sideways, you can just turn a spread instead. Arrow keys nudge things in the right directions, the width and height values and X and Y coordinates work as they should, and so on. You may never need this, but if you do, you'll appreciate it.

One interesting development is the use of multi-touch trackpad gestures for controlling InDesign's interface. With an appropriately modern MacBook or MacBook Pro, you can Swipe, Rotate, and Pinch and Expand. These may sound like obscure 1950s dance moves to anyone not using trackpads, but they are in fact standard Apple UI gestures. In InDesign CS4, the three-fingered Swipe gesture scrolls through pages, while Pinch and Expand, which uses a pair of fingers, or finger and thumb, zooms in and out, and centres on the selection if there is one. The Rotate gesture can interact directly with selected objects or with the page (in 90? steps) if there's nothing selected. Simply put two fingers on the trackpad and twist. Your selected objects will turn as you move.

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