Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

A Review of InDesign CS2

Adobe’s new InDesign CS2 packs some nice new features, but upgrading is certainly not necessary for those already running InDesign CS.

When Adobe releases a new version of their software, there is always a flurry of discussion/ranting/wishing through the design community as the cycle of upgrade anxiety begins. Do I need this upgrade? What are the new features? How much is it going to cost? Is it going to be backward compatible with my old version?

You can read reviews of Adobe’s Create Suite 2 in Communication Arts, HOW and a few online publications. I’m not going to review the whole CS2 product, because I haven’t used a single new feature in Photoshop yet, and the improvements in Illustrator are so small that you can just look at Adobe’s website.

But InDesign. Page layout program of the stars, the Quark-killer, the golden child of the 800 lb. gorilla.


Installation was a nightmare. We ordered three copies of the CS2 Premium upgrade for our department, and all three of us had different install issues. Combined, we spent about four hours with technical support, three and a half of which was waiting for someone to pick up. While that sounds like more fun than kicking stray dogs, I can assure you it was not.

Sexy But Slow

There are two things you will notice right out of the box, which may or may be related. First, the interface has changed. There are more curves and bevels and “physical” interface enhancements, and the palette tabs have been run through the soften-gradient-dropshadow filter, which actually makes them harder to read.

The second obvious difference is the increased sluggishness of the program. Loading takes longer. Screen redraws hang for a moment too long. Swapping fonts and styles is sticky, not snappy. I am on a 2.8 GHz machine with 2 GB of RAM, well above the published system requirements, and my files are not complex. This is a real life issue my co-workers are also having, and I hope Adobe can fix it with the next incremental update.

Functionality Changes

InDesign’s actual functionality changes are not life-altering. Adobe really scored big with InDesign CS, making all the improvements the design crowd had been clamoring for since version 1, and the program works so well and is so robust that CS2’s upgrades are just icing on the cake.

There is now an Object Style palette, which is sweet. Define a box with fill colors, strokes, gradients, drop shadows, transparency, text wrap and more, save it as a style and then apply it to any other box, including text boxes. The drop shadow menu has also been expanded, and now includes “Spread” and “Noise,” similar to Photoshop.

When placing a Photoshop image, you can select which comp layer to use. This reduces the amount of swapping between programs if you set up everything in Photoshop ahead of time.

A few more interesting enhancements: You can repeat transformations, like flipping and rotating. You can save “snippets,” but I have not tried this yet and can not attest to how well it works. There is also a much higher consistency in display color, which I can attest to, as my documents now look the same across InDesign, Illustrator and Acrobat.

The InDesign team also added a few non-functional tweaks that make the program that much better. Grouped items are now indicated by a dashed line so there is no confusion between groups and singular objects. Also, the font list now previews the typeface, similar to Microsoft Word, as does the typeface inside the font, so you can quickly see variations of Univers or Helvetica right inside the palette.

Backward Compatibility

InDesign CS2 is backward compatible with InDesign CS through the Interchange format. Simply export the document as an .inx file and it will open up perfectly in InDesign CS. I tested this on several projects and besides a few missing fonts (quickly resolved) and long save/open times, it was a smooth process. I guess after the backward compatibility debacle years ago, Adobe learned their lesson.

The Upgrade Decision

The enhancements and functionality additions to InDesign CS2 are nice, but not really worth the upgrade price. I am so far unimpressed with the changes made to the individual programs of CS2. It seems that Adobe spent their resources further integrating the programs (such as consistent color) and working on Bridge.

For those who purchase InDesign on an individual basis, and I don’t think there’s many of you, don’t bother. If you use the whole suite, your current workflow already works and there’s very little here that will make it any better, especially since you’re already 100% compatible in both directions.

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Wednesday May 18, 2005

For those book and manual publishers, a big boost (I’m told) is the anchor a frame to a point in the text and let its position be determined according to page edge or fold i.e. the solution for all those edge and margin notes. Have not tried CS2 so cannot say if it’s as good as it sounds.

The Co-worker

wrote the following on Thursday May 19, 2005

I particularly don’t like how you have to convert all your CS files (like you did when you upgraded from 2.0 to CS) because they tweaked the type engine so much.


wrote the following on Friday June 3, 2005

I’m using PS CS2 as well and there is a performance decrease. Stupid :(


wrote the following on Friday June 3, 2005

The performace decrease is a serious, serious issue. I am running a fairly well-stocked system (2.8 Ghz, 2 Gigs RAM) and the whole CS2 suite brings everything to a crawl. Where CS was instant, CS2 lags on stupid stuff like screen redraws. I hope Adobe fixes this quickly with a minor update because I am about to switch back to CS.

BTW, I have turned off Adobe’s Version Cue and LM services, which can be found in Windows under Start > Run > msconfig > Services. This still does not help.

Perhaps it’s Bridge bringing everything down?