Adobe InDesign is generally seen as having won the professional publishing crown, but the war isn't over. Not long after the release of CS4, QuarkXPress 8 outflanked InDesign with its impressive productivity enhancements and embarrassingly superior Flash output.
InDesign CS5 is Adobe's response, and it immediately closes down a major weakness by allowing you to mix and match page sizes within a publication. Adobe adds an unnecessary and confusing Page tool in the process, but the size can at least now be set from the dropdown on the Pages panel.
More welcome is the improved handling of the elements that make up each page. The Layers panel now shows an Illustrator-style hierarchical view of objects, which makes it easier to hide and lock individual elements. It also makes it easier to re-order elements and add objects to existing groups. Best of all, you can isolate the components in a group, without having to ungroup them first.
The most eye-catching new feature is the way placed graphics are handled. The new Mini-Bridge panel lets you browse and select files by thumbnail, drag multiple files onto the page, and place items in a grid, simply by hitting the left and right arrow keys to create columns and rows. Once placed, you can refine a grid using the Gap tool, which updates multiple frames simultaneously by modifying the white space between them.
InDesign's long-standing range of fitting options and keyboard modifiers lives on, but in a similar vein to the Gap tool you can simplify matters with the Auto-Fit setting, ensuring that content resizes along with its frame. CS5 also adds a basic on-picture Content Grabber widget for repositioning.
Further refinements to frame handling include the ability to set corner effects directly on the frame itself and to handle each corner separately. You can generate and automatically position captions, including data pulled directly from the image file itself, and each caption can be live, so when you change the image it automatically updates.
In terms of text layout, you can now create a grid of multiple text frames using the cursor keys, and span and split columns. The latter can be applied on a style or per-paragraph basis, and text can span its own column, all columns or a set number of columns. Even more impressive is the ability to split text within the current column.
CS5 also does more to recognise that publishing is a collaborative effort, and so includes a copy of CS Review for initiating reviews and receiving feedback directly within the application.
The rest of the new features are focused on interactive publishing. InDesign has long offered half-hearted support, but CS5 finally takes the subject seriously. This is most apparent in the dedicated workspaces Interactive and Interactive for PDF, and five new panels.
The first of these, Animation, lets you apply and customise a huge range of preset animations such as fades, grows, fly-ins and bounces. The second, Timing, lets you orchestrate animations by linking and delaying effects. The third, Object States, lets you set up different states, such as formatting or page layouts, which you can then target with action options from the existing Buttons panel.
Media lets you choose a poster image and controller skin for embedded video files - including SWF and FLV - and even lets you set up navigation points that actions can jump to. The fifth, Preview, shows you how your publication behaves without having to export it first.
Put it all together and InDesign CS5 is a powerful interactive and online authoring tool, whatever your requirements. If all you need is simple online viewing you can instantly output an existing print publication as SWF, complete with built-in page navigation. For added value and offline reading and playback, you can add video and audio, and output to interactive PDF. For maximum impact you can completely repurpose publications for media-rich screen-based interaction.
Finally, for maximum power and the most engaging publications (and a feature that QuarkXPress simply can't match), InDesign CS5 lets you output to editable Flash FLA format to go on and add more depth using Flash Professional CS5.
The real strength of InDesign CS5 is that all this added power hasn't come at the expense of development elsewhere. Even if you have no interest beyond print, InDesign CS5 is a must-have upgrade and a crushing response to QuarkXPress.