Adobe CS4 — User Interface Clusterf**k

I’ve been “struggling” along with Adobe CS3 for some time, so finally switching to CS4 is a bit of a shock. To start with under Windows (I don’t have the Mac version) they’ve decided to opt for a non-standard Mac-like UI — the menu bar is at the top of the screen. OK that might be great, except that it’s (a) not the platform standard, (b) ugly, and (c) doesn’t actually benefit from Fitts’s Law because the menus are actually buttons that don’t reach the top of the screen. How hard would it have been to make the menus look (and work) like menus?

Adobe tries to implement a Mac menu bar under Windows and fails.
Adobe tries to implement a Mac menu bar under Windows and fails. Note that the shortcuts become underlined after you hit Alt -- which is both non-standard and annoying.

If you have multiple documents open, by default they’re arranged in tabs in an MDI-like interface (yes, they’ve combined a fake Mac menu bar that doesn’t benefit from Fitts’s Law with a fake MDI interface … if only they’d made everything Metal and put the main menu at the bottom-left of the screen it could have been perfect).

If you actually want to look at two documents side-by-side, well you can “tile” — which isn’t too bad, or you can “float” the windows — which separates the menubar and palettes from the documents. Exactly how this is supposed to be workable I’m not sure. What is definite is that Photoshop CS4 somehow manages to become a total slug when more than one document is visible or you use any floating windows. (When you choose Tile there’s a huge thunk … and I’m looking at empty documents on a late-model PC with lots of RAM.)

And the UI implementation is buggy too. When I tried to see if standard Windows keyboard shortcuts work as expected, well… the UI just went crazy. (They do kind of work, but they also trigger random behavior in the UI, so after pressing Alt, then F to see the File menu, the application had resized itself (beyond full screen) and magnified the underlying image.)

If you’re going to break platform rules, it should be for a good reason and you should do it competently. Adobe Photoshop CS4 feels like a bad X-Windows port.

Good grief.

  • For a tool that’s where a lot of very opinionated, artistic folks with blogs live, it’s odd that Adobe doesn’t shy away from radical and strange UI decisions.

    Do you get this strange menu transposition behaviour on your copy of PS CS4 too?

  • Yes it’s across the entire product line. I just happened to screenshot Illustrator.

  • Gah. Blogger eated my link to this example to set context for “this strange menu … behaviour”

  • I’m not set up to reply on Flickr or I would. It’s good to see how Photoshop CS4 draws immediate comparison to Lotus Notes (perhaps the worst UI of all time given its profile, development budget, number of revisions, user base, etc.) and badly implemented JavaScript menus. Yup, that’s right, Adobe’s CS4’s UI is about as bad as a half-assed website.

    Maybe they’re trying to make the new web versions of their software seem more like the desktop version.

  • The sad thing is that it isn’t *even* Mac-like. The Windows version is the less bad version as the Mac version breaks even more of the standard UI (expose).

    I used to be able to copy and paste (into) images from Windows Explorer, now I have to open in PSCS4 and select all and then copy. I know this might sound minor, but when I am mocking up site designs and constantly swapping in and out stock photography its a real pain.

    Also CS4 is about twice as heavy on system resources as CS2. I could run PS, Illustrator, ID and Acrobat all at once when doing page layout for PDF output. Now I have to keep to 2 CS4 apps max in order to work.

    Reading is therapy for me these days.

  • Exactly — it’s a bad Mac imitation. I’d prefer the real Windows UI over a half-assed fake Mac UI. And on the Mac I’ll be sticking with CS3 thanks.

  • Adam

    “Note that the shortcuts become underlined after you hit Alt — which is both non-standard and annoying.”

    Actually, that has been the standard behavior on Windows since Windows XP. Just FYI. It is configurable – I don’t know if CS4 conforms to the current setting; I haven’t coughed up for it yet 🙂

  • Hmm… I’m using CS4 on XP SP3 and it sure doesn’t seem to behave like my (vanilla settings), but it might be illusory, and I’m not at my desk right now, so I’ll have to revisit it. In any event, the rest of the menu behavior is so bad it seems petty to complain about this.

    Edit: just checked and — whoa — you’re right. Another victory of style over substance. Luckily Firefox doesn’t obey the new “standard”. (I did discover that you can access Safari’s (regular) menus under Windows by pressing the Alt key — fascinating.)

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  • Peter Hall

    I think I can’t express enough how bad CS4 user interface is!!!
    And lookout for CS5 -> it’s actually gonna be the exact same mess!!!

    I use the windows distro and it just doesn’t blend with the operating system like any other windows program not to mention the problems it generates when redrawing the UI on the background.

    Looks like CS3 is gonna be my last “investment” on the adobe creative suite…

    What a disapointment!

    Take care,
    Peter H.