Adobe CS3 launch: How big is too big?

March 26, 2007, 9:15 AM UTC

Tomorrow is the big announcement of Adobe (ADBE) CS3, the biggest product launch in the software maker’s history. It’s important on two levels. One, it’s the most concrete justification of Adobe’s merger with Macromedia announced two years ago – we’ll see the first product bundles that include the best of both Adobe and Macromedia software. Two, more than a lot of other software out there, Adobe bundles can spur people to buy hardware; and these new offerings from Adobe will rely heavily on today’s fastest chips and memory.

Alas, I can’t go into much more detail than that; as a condition of my briefing with Adobe senior vice president John Loiacono, I had to promise not to spill the beans before the big shin-dig. What I can do, though, is offer a little perspective that might help software users (and investors) weigh the importance of CS3.

For starters, it’s wrong to think of this as a product launch. Adobe is announcing so much stuff – 13 new applications and 19 new product configurations, as CEO Bruce Chizen put it in the company’s earnings call this month – that it’s more of a deluge. Adobe’s steepest challenges will be explaining to its vast user base of photographers, Web developers, videographers, illustrators, designers and other folks (a) Why they should care about CS3 and (b) which of those 19 product configurations is the one for them.

Are there enough new goodies in CS3 to make it a must-have product for all (or most) of those creative constituents? As I began to argue earlier, I think there are. But this CS3 introduction also feels bloated to me, and I wonder if it doesn’t signal the end of the Creative Suite’s utility as a marketing tool – in today’s form, anyway.

CS was nice and useful when you were getting a compact bundle of apps for digital artistry – Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive, and Acrobat. It was simple. Photos, graphics, layout, Web design, documents. These were tools that every modern artist needed when navigating the worlds of print and Internet.

Two versions later, Adobe has not only added more of its own original products to the mix (video app Premiere, for example), but it’s also thrown in Macromedia’s Studio MX suite (Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks et al). Tomorrow everyone will have a chance to weigh in with an opinion on how well Adobe has handled packaging and pricing.

Even without waiting until tomorrow though, I’m comfortable declaring that Adobe should work on a new marketing strategy for the Creative Suite.

The revolution in user-generated content led by MySpace and YouTube has dramatically boosted the number of digital creatives out there – and the number of potential customers for the Creative Suite. It seems everyone wants to create and upload music, video, slideshows and everything else.

What Adobe needs now is a $500 version of Creative Suite that offers basic versions of every component, so that this new generation of cross-media creatives gets hooked on Adobe tools as they hone their craft. Let the newbies pay to download additional features as they advance and need them, and make sure those downloadable features cost a few dollars each, not a few hundred.

C’mon Adobe – make it a little easier for the up-and-coming creatives, who are mixing text, photos, video and animation even more than the pros.