In today's world, we often spend much of our time comparing things, or trying to figure out who is best. In my home town (especially this coming weekend), the news is filled with Mets vs Yankees. Today's local newspaper dedicated two full pages to a position by position comparison of both teams, and who had the edge for each one. TV is filled with things like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, and more. In the design community, we've spent years comparing Apple to Microsoft, Adobe to Macromedia, Syquest to Bernoulli, Type 1 to TrueType, PageMaker to Quark, Quark to InDesign, etc.
The latest "drama" to unfold is Adobe's announcement earlier this week, finally putting an end to the one thing that most people probably already knew anyway, but just didn't want to accept -- that FreeHand would not see another version.
While FreeHand users have never been silent in the past, when John Nack posted Adobe's intentions on his blog, FreeHand users once again have stepped up to defend their beloved program.
I do agree (quite strongly I might add) with one of John's statements. In response to those who claim Adobe "killed" FreeHand, John replies:
Well, you can blame Adobe, but not in the way you think: FH steadily lost market share to Illustrator, and Macromedia realized that rather than fight that uphill battle, they'd be better off funding other efforts. As far as I can tell, the FH codebase had been essentially dormant for 2.5 years before Adobe took ownership. So, blame Illustrator for surpassing FH in the market, leading to the current situation, but don't blame Adobe for not reviving a dormant app.
The reality is that Macromedia killed FreeHand way before Adobe even had the chance to do so. In fact, if I remember correctly, when I came on board as product manager for Illustrator in early 2001, FreeHand had 14% marketshare worldwide. At the time, I no longer considered FreeHand even as a competitor anymore, and instead saw older versions of Illustrator as competition instead (many users stuck with Illustrator 8 because of how fast it was and because it didn't have "transparency" issues at the time).
But as I mentioned before, we live in a world where we feel the need to compare things. And so, it's easy to say that FreeHand is better at this, or that Illustrator is better at that. There's no question that FreeHand has some great functionality, and that Adobe simply MUST consider moving much of that functionality over to Illustrator. But that's a discussion we can have at a different time. At present, I thought I'd take a different stand -- something which I think is more productive in the present -- because it can help users NOW (not in some unnamed versions in the future).
The reality is that many users are making a decision (either willfully or not) to make the move from FreeHand to Illustrator. While there are a handful of resources available to help people make that adjustment (some developed by yours truly), I thought I'd present five specific features that appear in Illustrator that have no equal (or aren't present at all) in FreeHand. In fact, I'll tell you that I rely on these five features quite heavily. And while I may miss a feature here or a feature there from FreeHand (I was a FreeHand user before I moved to Illustrator), the time lost because those features are not in Illustrator pale in comparison to how much time I now save because these five features are present in Illustrator today.
To make a point, I have chosen five features that are specifically NOT new in Illustrator CS3. The features I list here have been in Illustrator for at least two versions now, so I've come to rely on them heavily and can't possibly ever imagine giving them up for anything else -- even paste inside :)
To make an additional point, I've found that these specific features share an interesting theme -- as they are all build around standards. Standards are important, and most designers I know have to deal with many kinds of files with many kinds of demands and with many kinds of deadlines. And Adobe's commitment to standards throughout Illustrator (and all of it's other programs for that matter), have only helped me in my work.
While you can argue that it's easier to select objects in FreeHand, these are five things that I do in Illustrator many many times each day, and ultimately save more time in the end.
While it was only a few years ago that I was pulling matchprint proofs, color keys, and dye-sub prints for my clients, today it's all about PDF. And while I fondly remember the days of racing across the city to drop my camera-ready ad for a newspaper to the latest Fed-Ex drop off in the city, I don't even think twice now when I send my files via email or upload them to a printer's FTP site (remember trying to jam just one more Syquest cartridge into that fedex envelope?).
The reality is that Illustrator's support of PDF and the standards built on it (PDF/X) are something I simply could not live without. Whether I'm sending a quick proof to a client or creating a high-res PDF for press, I can rely on using Illustrator for that. And since Illustrator can also OPEN any PDF file, I have the ability to edit or use content that I once might have had to redraw on my own from scratch.
I create so many PDF files each day, and while you can certainly create PDF from FreeHand, you don't have NEAR the robust support that you would have in FreeHand. That's why support for the PDF standard is reason number one for why I can't look back.
It wasn't pretty for Illustrator users when CS came around with its brand-new text engine. Migrating older files to the new version was painful, and for workflows that demanded moving files between CS and non-CS versions, a nightmare ensued. But there's no arguing that the modern Unicode-based text engine in Illustrator has made a world of difference in the work I do today. Better language support, better global support, and most importantly, better cross-platform support, means that files that I create can be used around the world, and likewise I can use files from almost anywhere.
I have clients with office around the world, and who need to create documents that people can read anywhere on any device. And Adobe support for the OpenType standard means that I can deliver that promise. It also means that I can incorporate the creative advantages of OpenType into my work. I used to spend my day trying to get documents with crazy fonts to work across multiple machines in my own offices and in my client's offices around the world. And I can't begin to explain how often I'd be on the phone with a client who claimed their PDF contained all these boxes on their screen where text was supposed to appear, when the file obviously looked perfectly fine on my screen. I can't go back there -- and so OpenType support (and Illustrator's professional-level typography in general) is reason number two for why I am not looking in the rear view mirror, but have my eyes firmly locked on the road ahead.
I'll admit that when Adobe first announced their support for the XMP standard, I thought it would only be interesting for huge businesses or news agencies (like the Associated Press). But here I am, publishing content and creating new files every day. My hard drive is filled with files that I create or update every day. And I work with others. And they have their hundreds and thousands of files. Metadata becomes increasingly more important.
On my own, I have also found myself publishing files and posting them for others to benefit from. With XMP I can store copyright information in my files. I can provide information above and beyond the content that appears within the file itself. And XMP metadata enables much more in the way of scripting, integration with digital asset management systems, and products like Adobe's Version Cue and the Adobe Stock Photos service. These days, I can't afford not to have this information, and probably couldn't function without XMP in most of my files. This is why XMP is reason number three (it rhymes).
So this is admittedly a broad category. I originally meant to label it as integration with the industry-standard application for photographic editing -- Adobe Photoshop. But then again, Illustrator is a best-of-class citizen when it comes to integration with almost all of the programs I use on a day to day basis. Illustrator has always excelled here, and besides for the ability to export layered PSD files with many items intact (layers, editable text, opacity, clipping masks, slices, etc.), you can of course also bring layered content with all that goodness from Photoshop back into Illustrator as well. Add After Effects to the list here, as I use that often enough. I am also holding back from mentioning Flash here -- only because Illustrator to Flash workflows were never pretty until CS3 came along (although in CS3, Illustrator to Flash integration is probably the best example of cross-product integration that I've ever seen between ANY product -- with the possible lone exception of the Dynamic Link feature found between After Effects and Premiere Pro).
I use so many applications every day and work on so many projects that I can't see limiting myself to trying to force one application to do it all. I use whatever I can have available to me at the time to get my work done, and Illustrator enables that. I can't imagine using anything else. Chalk integration up as the fourth reason for my loyalty to Illustrator.
Save for Web
I'm trying to think of a feature I use more often than Save for Web in Illustrator (it has been renamed Save for Web & Devices in CS3). I also could never believe that FreeHand never moved to offer this kind of functionality. In the world we live in today, I'm repurposing graphics all the time. Nothing gives me near the functionality that Save for Web does. One can argue that you can do all of that stuff in Photoshop, but the whole point is that I can get it done so quickly in Illustrator directly.
And it goes beyond just saving out a GIF or a JPEG here and there for a website. Clients need logos that appear in their proprietary database programs, wallpaper for their cell phones, icons for their digital displays in their windows, etc. I also use Save for Web to quickly crank out art for screenshots or for posting illustrations on my blog. Or for generating still frames for podcasts, movie clips, or animations. It's a workhorse, and it does SWF animations too. How can you beat that? A part of me died inside when Adobe lopped off ImageReady (the actual codebase for Save for Web), but for most of what I need on a daily basis, I need Save for Web. And that's reason number five.