Tackling the Workflow Challenge --McIlroy
Adobe Creative Suite and Version Cue—they're the newest mountain in a molehill. Have they even crossed your radar screen yet? You may have heard the Reader's Digest version. Instead of releasing individual versions of their hit software, like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, Adobe has chosen to unify their major products under the CS (Creative Suite) name, and release all individual upgrades simultaneously from now on (including Adobe InDesign and Adobe GoLive).
Wow! It's the kind of news guaranteed to excite Adobe employees and put the rest of us to sleep. But buried within that announcement is something far more important: Version Cue. As Shakespeare wrote so long ago: "Aye, there's the rub."
Version Cue is about workflow, and nothing else. More specifically, it's about the management of digital assets within a production workflow. It has relatively modest aims. As Adobe says on its Website, Version Cue "helps you find files fast, track multiple versions of your files and share your files for creative collaboration."
Broadly speaking, Version Cue can be classified as a "metadata" standard. That's to say that Version Cue offers data about data. It doesn't tell you how a picture or page should look, but rather who created the file, or who edited it last.
Take a Hard Look
At first glance, this doesn't seem like a big deal. But stop a moment. Today, in your shop, how would you: "find files fast, track multiple versions of your files, and share your files for creative collaboration?"
If you run a "sophisticated" operation, you may have already implemented a DAM (Digital Asset Management) system, or even perhaps a CMS (Content Management System). These systems generally contain the features of Adobe Version Cue (and much more besides). I'll bet they work fine within your shop, but I'd also bet that they lead to lots of interoperability challenges with your clients and your suppliers.
That's the strength of Version Cue. Adobe has created a single underlying system for (the basics of) DAM and CMS, and built it into their "Creative Suite" of software.
If you're a "power user" of DAM or CMS then Version Cue will remind you of the early '90s. The functionality is sparse. Any DAM system or CMS today could run rings around Version Cue. But that's not the point. The most important aspect of Version Cue is that Adobe has, overnight, made this a standard, and has instantly changed the landscape for the future of graphic arts workflows.
(I will avoid wandering into a long paragraph about the standard that Adobe engineered underneath Version Cue, called XMP. It's not yet widely adopted, but it's based on XML, and anyone who claims there's real controversy here is drawing you into a conversation that will neither reward nor entertain you.)
How long have we been talking about digital asset management? (About a dozen years.) Content management? (About eight years.) Many, many vendors have tried—and died—offering solutions in these fields to the graphic arts industries. Many of the solutions were first rate. So too the companies that offered them. But the challenge of workflow is interoperability.
Version Cue is just part of what Adobe is putting behind the interoperability challenge. Most of the CS software now features a common interface and toolset: tools, palettes and custom keyboard shortcuts function between Photoshop CS, Illustrator CS and InDesign CS. The core engines are shared, so users can get predictable on-screen and printed output from each program. In many cases files can be imported across applications with all data intact, something that is certainly not achievable from a QuarkXPress base.
No graphic arts company is an island unto itself. Whether you're an author, a designer, an editor, a production specialist, a publisher, a prepress company or a printer, you invariably work with a host of others. The publishing workflow encompasses so many functions, at so many locations. For a DAM system or CMS to be truly effective, it has to cross many bridges. Hence the limited impact of all of the previously released systems. They offered singular standards that were difficult to embrace across all of the functional bridges.
In my mind a truly effective workflow system would function at the operating system level, whether at the Mac OS or from Windows (ideally both). But Adobe has become so dominant a player in graphic arts workflows that, even though riding above the level of operating systems, it can de facto set a standard.
What Will Be the Answer?
As I outlined earlier, Version Cue's functionality remains extremely limited. I'm holding my breath for two possible outcomes. Either Adobe extends Version Cue to a level where no other vendor would dare to compete. Or else Apple and/or Microsoft take the cue from Version Cue, and realize how important this functionality is to their own operating system platforms.
Either way, it should be clear to printers that metadata standards like Version Cue and JDF are the future of their workflows, and they should begin to plan accordingly.
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is an electronic publishing consultant and analyst, based at Arcadia House in San Francisco. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.