Read just about any review, watch any tutorial, or head to Adobe's website and you'll hear the same thing: Adobe Illustrator CS6 sports a new "dark" user interface. It helps "get the user interface out of the way" and it "lets you focus on your design". That's all true, but that's like marveling at the shiny gift wrap on a new present. It's not the outer wrapping that deserves the focus here -- it's what's inside the box that really counts.
More than just a fresh coat of paint.
In previous versions of Illustrator, the programmers at Adobe used a framework to build panels and dialog boxes. This framework was 32bit and also had certain limitations. Since Illustrator CS6 was going to be 64bit, Adobe had to move to a 64bit framework, meaning that every single dialog box, and every single panel -- in the entire application -- had to be rewritten.
When you rebuild something from scratch (instead of just trying to patch it up), you benefit from the following:
- Any old issues automatically disappear (although that doesn't mean you won't necessarily introduce new ones). Still, any issue that happened in the past (i.e. bugs) are gone.
- You automatically benefit from newer technology. Meaning if the new interface framework has better support for things like keyboard navigation, then all panels and dialog boxes get that support -- automatically.
- You have an opportunity to address or rethink design.
It's that last bullet point that really stands out. Once Adobe was going to have rebuilt all these dialog boxes and panels anyway, they figured that at the same time, it might be a good idea to also revisit the design and function of them.
Redesigned and enhanced.
For example, you'll notice that in Illustrator CS6, every single dialog box now consistently features Cancel and OK buttons in the lower right corner. Previous versions were inconsistent with some panels having these buttons at the top right or elsewhere.
The Color panel has been updated to support a resizable and much larger color sample area, easier to find buttons for Black, White, and None attributes, and specifically with Hexadecimal colors, a single text field so that you can easily copy and paste values.
|The Color Panel from Illustrator CS5 (left) and the new one from Illustrator CS6 (right). I set my UI brightness in CS6 to match that of CS5 for easier comparison.|
The Transparency panel has been updated to raise awareness of an incredibly powerful feature that has been "hidden" since it was introduced back in Illustrator 9: Opacity Masks. Now, a Create Mask button is clearly found directly within the panel instead of having to dig in the panel's fly out menu.
|The Transparency panel from Illustrator CS5 (left) and the new one from Illustrator CS6 (right).|
The Save for Web dialog box has been totally revamped, allowing you to see and modify the image size and color settings at the same time, and the dialog is more streamlined, allowing you to export web graphics more efficiently.
|The Save for Web dialog box in Illustrator CS5|
|The Save for Web dialog box in Illustrator CS6|
These are but a few examples of what the new user interface in Illustrator CS6 means. It's not about how light or dark the interface is. It's brand new, with new capabilities (rename layers, artboards, brushes, symbols, etc -- all directly inline in the panel), and a smoother and silkier feel. It's kinda like how I always imagined the user interface for Illustrator should have always been.