Though InDesign CS4 includes strong improvements for all users, it’s primarily focused on servicing the previously unaddressed role of InDesign in Web and animated document production. I’ve tried to look fairly at the new features for all users, and have come up with my list of favorites. Because of space, numerous other features and enhancements couldn’t make the list, but do deserve an honorable mention. New features like the ability to instantly arrange multiple document windows on screen in over a dozen different ways, the fact that Mac users now finally have an application background, and tabbed documents come immediately to mind.
Here’s what did make our list of Top 10 New Features in InDesign CS4. (Paul, can I get a drum roll please?)
Conditional Text: Like InDesign CS3′s Text Variables, Conditional Text is one of those good ideas that most people won’t use–even if they recognize that it’s there. In a nutshell it allows you to set conditions for the display of text–if the condition is met, text appears; if the condition isn’t met, the text is hidden, and the remaining text reflows to compensate for its absence. Adobe is primarily touting the feature as a means of repurposing content between print and digital (PDF, Flash, and HTML) output without the need to create and maintain multiple versions of the same document. Although it’s a good idea, which earns it a spot on this list, I think, even with the other reasons to create digital-distribution documents in InDesign, most workflows will still be better served by saving multiple versions of the document or using layers to differentiate between print and digital content, which is why Conditional Text is at the bottom of my favorite features list.
Exporting to Flash CS4 (cropped; click for full image).
Flash Interactivity and Export: A genuine surprise to most everyone was the success of Flash content creation in InDesign rival QuarkXPress. Not to be outdone for long with its own technology, Adobe has now brought Flash creation into InDesign. InDesign content can be exported directly to Flash SWF for immediate use online or on CD, or it can be exported into the new XFL interchange file format for import and refinement in Adobe Flash Professional CS4. Either way, the layout is faithfully preserved, including object and text editability (in XFL), hyperlinks, interactive buttons, and page transitions, another new feature.
Animated Page Transitions: As part of Adobe’s purchase of Aldus in 1995 it acquired–and promptly killed–Persuasion, a competitor to Microsoft PowerPoint geared toward creative professionals. With its user friendliness, unparalleled creativity, and integrated export of platform-independent, font-inclusive PDFs that can be shown as slideshows presentations on any computer or projector, InDesign has, in recent years, taken up the mantle of presentation creator for the creative professional. One major feature it lacked compared to PowerPoint was page transitions to keep the audience’s interest between slides. They could be added in Acrobat, of course, but each revision to the slideshow therefore required separate edits to the InDesign document and the PDF, which was inefficient. Now InDesign steps even more fully into Persuasion’s long missed shows with native page transitions that include wipe, page turn, blinds, comb, fade, dissolve, and more. Once exported to PDF or SWF, the animations create smooth changeovers from one page or frame to the next. Watch out, PowerPoint!
Cross-References: Cross-referencing with automatic update formerly required third party plug-ins, but now InDesign CS4 does it natively. Once a cross-reference is created, InDesign automatically updates it to reflect reflow and other copy changes. Online documents created in InDesign–a big focus of CS4–are also enhanced with hyperlinks connecting cross-references in the same or even external documents.
The new Preflight panel (cropped; click for full image).
Live Preflight: The new Preflight panel checks your document as you work. Instead of waiting until the last minute, when you’re probably already worried about a deadline, the Preflight panel examines the entire document or a range of pages in real-time, as you work. It reports instantly such errors as overset text, stroke weight issues, and the use of low resolution images. Not only does it report problems, it also suggests and connections you to the means of solving problems.
Live Preflight is a handy, time-saving addition indeed.
Spread Rotation: If you’ve ever used InDesign to layout a calendar, product packaging, or long documents that include multiple page orientations you know InDesign leaves you with two unsavory choices–work sideways with some or most page content rotated 90-degrees or split the document up into multiple files. (You could also use the Page Control plug-in I created to address this problem and the need for multiple page sizes in the same document.) Although InDesign still doesn’t do multiple page sizes in the same document (fortunately for me and DTP Tools, the licensee that distributes Page Control for me), it can now temporarily rotate the view of spreads in 90-degree increments.
Smart Text Reflow: Finally you won’t have to worry overly much about manually adding or removing pages as text reflows. InDesign CS4 can do it for you–even when reflow occurs because of hiding or showing copy through the new Conditional Text feature.
More Informative Links Panel: You probably think your CS2/CS3 Links panel is pretty good, what with its quick Relink, Update Link, and Edit Original buttons. How much more could Adobe improve such a simple thing? Plenty.
The Links Panel (cropped; click for full image).
The new CS4 Links panel has all the features of its predecessors as well as a ton of new information and ability. Its fully customizable to show, among numerous other attributes, each linked asset’s status, size, color space, layer overrides, actual PPI, effective PPI, transparency, scale, and much, much more. The list of linked assets can also be sorted by any column–file name, status, size, and so on–and automatically groups multiple instances of the same asset under a single heading; updating all instances of the same image is as simple as updating just one.
The coolest new feature, the one that really pushes this feature way up on my Top 10 list, is the fact that the Links panel now shows thumbnails of linked images. No more scratching your head, guessing which esoteric filename is the image you need to replace. Now you can see linked images, directly in the links panel. Even better, a new Link Info pane affixed to the bottom of the panel shows a larger thumbnail and complete details of the asset.
Smart Guides: Smart Guides will hit you as one of those how-did-I-ever-work-without-these features. Instead of littering your document with ruler guides and grids and constantly referring to the Transform or Control panel to position, rotate, and size objects, smart guides appear like magick when needed and wink out when not. Object dimensions and rotation data appear in tooltip-like popups while vertical, horizontal, and even rotational guides appear while drawing, moving, or rotating objects to facilitate precise object sizing and positioning; once the object is deselected, guides and tooltips disappear, leaving the workspace uncluttered.
Smart Alignment and Spacing: Hand-in-glove with Smart Guides is on-the-fly alignment and spacing of objects without the Align panel. Drag an object near another and smart guides appear along their common planes. Move an object near the vertical or horizontal center of the page and a new smart guide appears enabling instant centering of the object on the page. Even better, enhanced snap-to options make quick work of aligning objects to one another or the page, and even of spacing out multiple objects relative one another–again, without even opening the Align panel.
Smart Guides, Smart Alignment, and Smart Spacing in action (cropped; click for full image).
More than any other new feature Smart Guides, Smart Alignment, and Smart Spacing combine to be the biggest improvement you’ll enjoy in your everyday work. By relegating the Transform and Align panels to occasional instead of constant use, these new features will undoubtedly save the average InDesign user cumulative hours of tedious positioning and alignment per week. Unlike CS3, InDesign CS4 doesn’t introduce any major creative enhancements for the average user, therefore the massive productivity enhancement inherent in Smart Guides, Smart Alignment, and Smart Spacing become the CS4 Killer Feature, and my number one favorite feature. I think they’ll become your favorite as well.
Keep watching Quark VS InDesign.com for more on InDesign and the entire Creative Suite 4 line of products. Once Adobe releases shipping versions instead of betas, we’ll present the official Quark VS InDesign.com InDesign CS4 review.