If you're deeply into the field of digital design for print, web, mobile devices, or anything in-between, you should be visiting the Adobe Labs site regularly:
What's the Adobe Labs page about? Why, click the About page, dear: "Adobe Labs provides you with the opportunity to experience and evaluate new and emerging innovations, technologies, and products from Adobe."
In "what's-in-it-for-me-ese," this means: Free software downloads (public betas — stable enough to release, but still too many rough edges to charge for), experiments with web-based applications that might not ever be released, and interaction with Adobe engineers working on cutting-edge stuff via a community Wiki and forums.
Let's look at some of the software you can start using today …
If you have a licensed version of Photoshop CS2, no need to wait for Adobe's next version of the Creative Suite (due out in Spring 2007), you can download and install late-stage betas of both Photoshop CS3 and Bridge CS3 for Mac/Windows right now from the Adobe Labs site:
Photoshop/Bridge CS3 Betas
They download as a "set," you can't get one without the other — but after you download and install them, you can use one and ignore the other if you want. The Mac versions are universal binaries (meaning they run in Intel-based Macs much faster than CS2 can) and the Windows versions run in Windows XP and Vista.
A flattened TIFF saved in Photoshop CS3 is a TIFF that can be opened anywhere, so you should be able to use the beta for actual projects, as long as you save out copies of your files in generic formats.
If you're a Flash geek, you may be interested in upcoming Flash Pro 9's ActionScript 3.0 and the accompanying ActionScript Virtual Machine ("the most significant advances in the history of Flash"); you can get these from Adobe Labs too. As with Photoshop, you'll need to have a licensed copy of Flash Pro 8 to run them.
ActionScript 3.0 Preview
The beta for Photoshop Lightroom, "the professional photographer's essential toolbox," has been available for a while now, but I never downloaded it. I was at a photo shoot in January and got to see first-hand how a photographer uses Lightroom in the real world. It was amazing! They're taking pre-orders for the shipping product now, but the Mac/Windows beta (beta 4.1) is still available for downloading:
Now in its second beta release, Adobe Soundbooth is an audio editing program, like how Photoshop is an image editing program. In these days of everyone and their mother making podcasts and videocasts, Soundbooth is not just for broadcasters. Get a taste of how a professional sound-editing application can clean up and enhance your digital recordings by giving Soundbooth a spin …
Here's a completely new software program from Adobe that's free and in its final release. It's a web-based application so there's nothing to download.
Kuler lets you quickly experiment and create "color themes" — color palettes — and save them online or download them as swatches to use in your CS2 (and CS3) applications. You can view the most popular color themes that others have created and download theirs, too. Check it out, the Kuler web site is beautiful to look at it and fun to play with.
JamJar, Spry framework for Ajax, Digital Editions, etc.
There are over a dozen "technologies" that the Adobe Labs site is sharing with designers and developers; the few I've detailed in this article are just the ones that are most accessible by regular designers. But, if you're a developer, or you're a workaday mope interested in seeing what's about to come down the pike, spend some time with JamJar and the rest. Your head will spin but you'll be better prepared to keep up the next evolution in our field and position yourself to take advantage of it.