Adobe CS5: You can't do that with the GIMP!

Adobe's Creative Suite 5 provides a surprisingly compelling set of reasons to bite the bullet and pay the licensing costs, even in cash-strapped edu settings.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Adobe approached me a few weeks back about the release of their new Creative Suite 5 (CS5) and its use in educational settings. Coming from Land of the Lost Budgets, the idea of devoting thousands of dollars to Creative Suite licensing (even academic licenses run in the hundreds of dollars per seat, depending upon the components you choose) makes me cringe. Just use the GIMP, I say! Use Eclipse for web development! It will put hair on your chest! Need to edit video? Cinelerra is free, as is Windows Movie Maker and iMovie (if you buy a Mac, that is). And then the Adobe folks gave me a preview of CS5, along with an evaluation copy of their so-called "Master Collection." Crap. There goes the GIMP.

Don't get me wrong. The GIMP is an outstanding piece of cross-platform software that meets many of the needs of students and teachers. It's free, mature, and stable and handles photo editing quite well. For simpler needs (touch up and management), Google's Picasa, Windows Photo Gallery, and iPhoto on the Mac all get the job done. But Photoshop CS5 (both their Standard and Extended Editions) does things with ease (if you have a video card that can handle it) that the GIMP either couldn't dream of doing or that would take a GIMP power user a month of Sundays to accomplish. OK, maybe not a whole month of Sundays, but it would be a lot harder.

I'm waiting on that infamous "Executive Loaner" MacBook Pro that should be arriving today to give CS5 a more thorough test drive, since it's just crushing my old MacBook and chuckled at the Windows desktop on which I tried to install it. For starters, though, I rendered a JPEG of my daughter on a 3D wine bottle; it's just one bit of built-in coolness.

So what does all this have to do with education? Who cares if students can wrap 2D pictures around 3D shapes? Who cares if they can use "puppet mode" and transform any 2D image into a 3D animation? And wait a minute, Dawson, I thought you were all about the cloud?

Here's my conundrum. Adobe CS5 is so good, it crushes any open source competition as easily as it crushes my video card. Check out this video that summarizes the capabilities of the new Flash Catalyst software and you'll get a sense of what I mean:

This will be the professional platform of choice for content creation (as was CS4, although this certainly cements its position). My position has always been to teach students skills and concepts rather than teaching them particular software or tools. And yet, the skill of creating really compelling content (for the web and otherwise) just might be better served by tools like those included in CS5. While the licensing costs may be tough to swallow, educators need to ask themselves how students will be using the tools and what we hope for them to learn.

Do we just need simple tools to clean up pictures, share videos on YouTube, or publish a brochure? If that's the case, then there are plenty of free tools that fill the bill nicely. Similarly, if you are running basic productivity/Internet access labs, then look elsewhere, because CS5 isn't exactly composed of light and snappy applications. However, I have no doubt that any vocational schools or colleges with programs that even touch upon graphics arts need to make the investment. I'd also argue that comprehensive high schools, while well-served in most situations by the GIMP and similar tools, would benefit from at least one small lab outfitted with CS5 and the hardware required to run it well if they wish to offer more than survey-level courses in web design, graphics, or other content-creation fields. Even the relatively inexpensive standalone Photoshop Extended (instead of the more expensive suites) would be a welcome addition to such courses.

In fact, my MacBook Pro just arrived! More thoughts on CS5 to come!

In the meantime, check out Oliver Marks' great analysis of CS5 in the context of an increasingly web-centric world.

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