Apple VARs Breathe Sigh Of Relief As Adobe Ships CS3

Adobe Systems on Tuesday rolled out its Creative Suite 3 (CS3) product line, which the company called the biggest release in its history.

The launch includes overhauled versions of Adobe's flagship design products, such as Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, which are the first versions to provide native support of Apple's Intel-based Macintosh architecture.

Apple VARs have been waiting eagerly for CS3, a product suite that's heavily used among the design and multimedia professionals that form Apple's core user base.

"Having Creative Suite 3 available is going to be one of the biggest deals this year," said Michael Oh, CEO of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple specialist. Oh said he expects the launch of CS3 to have an even bigger impact on the Mac solutions market than Apple's launch of "Leopard," the next version of its Mac OS X operating system, which is due out this spring.

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Steve Lamb, owner of MacDoctor, a Winter Park, Fla.-based solution provider that specializes in Apple sales and services, said his customers will be relieved to finally get their hands on the new Adobe software.

"I've got a lot of people who have Intel machines who need it," he said.

Still, Lamb said he doesn't expect CS3 to drive a major buying cycle. His customers generally bought Intel Macs when they became available and resigned themselves to waiting for Adobe to catch up.

But other Apple VARs said they've seen a definite sales freeze during the wait for CS3. Even Apple has regularly acknowledged that its sales have been tempered by the wait for the Adobe's Intel Mac-friendly design applications.

Tekserve Corporate Sales Director Charlie Thomas said he's sees significant pent-up demand among customers of his New York-based Apple sales and services shop. He's already booking pre-orders for CS3 and for new hardware to go with it.

Adobe's Design and Web bundles are slated to ship this month. Users waiting for the full Master Collection, which includes multimedia tools like Soundbooth and Encore, will need to be patient a bit longer: Adobe said the complete collection is due to ship in the third quarter.

More than a dozen applications are part of Adobe's CS3 portfolio, which is available in six configurations priced at $999 to $2,499. Besides supporting Intel Macs and Microsoft Windows Vista, CS3 is the most complete collection of software from both Adobe and Macromedia, which Adobe acquired in late 2005. The suite now includes key Macromedia applications like Dreamweaver and Fireworks.

Industry analysts expect the inclusion of Macromedia offerings to be a major sales driver.

"The ability to import files directly from Illustrator CS3 to Flash CS3, or cut and paste files from Photoshop into Dreamweaver, will be very compelling upgrade reasons," UBS analyst Heather Bellini wrote in a research note to clients.

NEXT: Paving the way for CS3 in the channel

Despite intense interest from users, Adobe zealously guarded details about its CS3 launch, a situation that prompted grumbling from some solution providers who wished they had more preparation for the Big Bang launch.

"I haven't heard a peep from Adobe," Tech Superpowers's Oh said. Unlike Microsoft with its Vista launch, Adobe hasn't made a "channel pack" available for CS3 nor provided other materials in advance, he added.

"I would expect them to be a little more channel-focused," Oh said. "They do need to come to realize that we're the ones who will be pushing it into the marketplace."

Adobe offered public betas for some CS3 applications, and Tekserve's Thomas said they helped his company train on the new software. Unlike Oh, he was comfortable with the amount of information that Adobe offered in advance, including details on the blizzard of upgrade pricing plans.

Since CS3 includes products from companies Adobe has acquired, including Macromedia and video software maker Serious Magic, upgrade paths are "a little on the chaotic side," Thomas said, adding that the confusion has prompted customers to call TekServe for help in figuring out their needs and upgrade rights.

Most CS3 applications are universal binaries that will run on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, as well as support Windows Vista and XP. But a few of the newest applications, including the still-under-development Soundbooth audio production software, will run only on Intel Macs.

"They're doing a pretty good job of helping us sell new hardware. They're pushing the new platform even more than Apple," Thomas quipped.

*Note: This story was updated Tuesday afternoon with more VAR comment.