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Choices, Choices: Photoshop CS4 Standard versus Extended versus the Creative Suite Options

In the beginning, Photoshop was just Photoshop — there were no "editions" and there were no "suites." The introduction of Photoshop CS gave us a handful of "Creative Suite" options a few years back now and as of CS3 Adobe split Photoshop itself into the Standard and Extended editions. CS4 continues that pattern making the upgrade options less than simple for many of us.

As a photographer, out of all the products Adobe includes in the various Creative Suite options, Photoshop is the tool I use most. I do do website work on my own site here and on others, as well as some graphic design and so on, but I spend way more time in Photoshop than in any other Adobe product.

I do use Adobe Bridge of course, but it comes with pretty much any of the CS4 products, both suites and standalone products. If all I used were Photoshop and Bridge, the upgrade choice would have been relatively easy. Photoshop CS4 itself comes in two editions: Standard and Extended. The vast majority of what's in the Extended edition that isn't in Standard has to do with video and 3-D imaging, as well as engineering, architectural and scientific tools. While these are indeed cool, they don't tend to have much direct relevance for optimizing photographic images. And with a list price of $999 for Extended versus $699 for Standard the upgrade prices are of course less), those cool tools would be hard to justify. For a photographer that doesn't also need Dreamweaver, Illustrator, InDesign or Acrobat and therefore doesn't really need any of the suites Photoshop CS4 Standard Edition includes pretty much all they would need.

But things get more complicated if you want any of the other CS4 products too. Only the CS4 Design Standard suite comes with Photoshop CS4 Standard. InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat round out the Design Standard suite. DreamWeaver isn't included. Both the Design Premium and Web Premium suites do contain both Photoshop and DreamWeaver, but it's the Extended edition of Photoshop CS4, not Standard meaning that getting either suite would force you to pay a premium for those cool 3-D video tools you might not really need.

All in all, there are six CS4 suite options and if you really want to cover your bases you could go for the top of the line Master Collection that includes everything — everything that is except Photoshop Standard Edition. Since it included Photoshop Extended, the one product omitted from the Mater Collection is the Standard Edition of Photoshop CS4. Oddly, one product left out of all the CS4 suites is Adobe Lightroom 2. Granted, it doesn't have the CS4 moniker in its product name, but neither does Adobe Acrobat 9 yet it is included better than half of the CS4 suites. If Adobe were smart, they'd offer a Creative Suite combo designed for photographers but they don't. Not yet at least.

Or maybe Adobe is smarter than I give them credit for. If I were more cynical I'd suspect that Adobe put quite a bit of thought into what went into each Creative Suite option so as to maximize their profits. Pretty much whatever your needs are, for each suite that includes something you might want, Adobe also threw in something you don't. Adobe's one hand giveth through bundled savings and the other taketh away from your wallet for products and options you don't need. Frustrating, to say the least. It's almost as if they've been taking lessons from Microsoft and how they sell so many different Windows and Office versions.

At any rate, when CS4 came out I upgraded to the Design Premium suite. A number of readers have asked me what edition and suite to get. Design Premium may not be the best option for everyone, but it's what I ended up with. If you're wanting to upgrade, you'll need to study Adobe's website and make your own mind up based on your own needs. Be forewarned that Adobe doesn't make it easy.

Update 02/15/2009 - Thanks to reader D for reminding me of a point I left out that definitely factors into the discussions at hand: Officially, if you license one of the suite options rather than the standalone version of Photoshop, you must upgrade as a suite too. By that I mean that if you get, for instance, the Design Premium CS4 suite that includes InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and so on in addition to Photoshop you won't be able to upgrade just Photoshop in the future. When CS5 comes out you must upgrade the whole CS4 suite to CS5, not just those products you use most often, leaving the rest of your CS4 products to wait for the eventual CS6. And by "officially" I mean that this is their published license terms. I have though heard of people calling Adobe and talking them into relenting and letting them get out of their suite license after a lengthy conversation. I have no direct evidence of such relenting mind you so these must remain anecdotal second-hand conversations, but in the interest of full disclosure, there you have it.

Those of us who make at least some percentage of our livelihood from the fruits of intellectual property (in our case, photography) must accept that programmers, whether they work for Adobe, Microsoft, or any other company, want to control licensing terms too. But I mean come on people, making life unrealistically difficult for your customers simply can't (or shouldn't) pay off in the long run. OK, end rant.

Date posted: February 15, 2009 (updated February 16, 2009)


Copyright © 2009 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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