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Adobe has started shipping their newest version on the industry standard Creative Suite this week. The most popular of that family, Photoshop, has gotten an overhaul and some welcome additions, including an improved UI and tools for which many designers have been yearning.

The biggest improvement is in pure performance. Adobe has added plug-ins for enhanced multi-core support and the difference in speed shows. PS CS3 launches almost twice as fast as the previous version and rendering filters and other intensive tasks have certainly seen improvement. Additionally, the OS X version will run natively on both Intel and older PowerPC machines.

Smart Filters, a welcome new feature, are the natural extension of Smart Objects, allowing you to apply non-destructive filters. This makes experimenting much easier since each effect is not rasterized to the object and can be toggled at will. The improved performance allows this without making you sit through painful rendering each time you switch.

By far the most interesting and worthwhile upgrade is the new Quick Select tool. Essentially an improvement on the Extract tool, it will automatically find the edges of the object that you wish to isolate. It also provides you with a new Refine Edge palette where you fine tune your selection for smoothness and contrast. If you’ve ever spent hours attempting to get an Extract pixel-perfect, you’ll love this feature.

All these features, and more, are available in PS CS3 in either the full version for $649 or the upgrade for $199. Adobe is releasing alongside these the Extended version, or PS CS3E, which adds increased 3D support for the Vanishing Point filter, the ability to input and adjust movie files, and extended 2D and 3D measurement and analysis. Those extras will pop the price up to $999 and $349, respectively.

Having run both PS CS2 and CS3 on Windows Vista, the improvements are extremely welcome. For most users, however, the price tag is not. For PS CS3, many of those features have been around for years in Adobe’s sister programs, After Effects and Premiere. Allowing Photoshop users in on the fun is nice, but ultimately redundant. PS CS3 might very well be the best editing software on the market, but PS CS2 runs a close enough second that the upgrade probably isn’t worth it.

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