The rumors about Photoshop CS3 started way back in August 2005, mere months after Adobe Photoshop CS2 shipped. One twist that none of the speculators foresaw, however, was Adobe choosing to test run its first public beta program using a major product. (Lightroom, the "beta" cycle for which is almost a year old, doesn't count.) It turns out that CS2 runs so slowly on Intel-based Macs that Adobe decided to throw those users an early bone.
I suspect Adobe is also using the opportunity to test its activation technology: CS3 will be available only to users with a valid CS2 serial number; there's a two-day activation grace period; and the beta will time out after the final product ships in the spring. It's pretty clear that Adobe is a bit skittish about the whole "public" thing, as the company is quick to stress that the beta isn't "feature complete," may not be rock solid, and has no tech support. Then again, the Web's infinite beta cycles have subverted the meaning of the term.
Adobe might also be anxious because it is--gulp--substantially changing the interface. That's a dangerous thing to foist off on a firmly entrenched user base of graphics professionals, who tend to resist changes in their tools. But the company probably is betting that the improved integration and more consistent look and feel across Adobe and former Macromedia applications will prove an attractive upgrade.
In addition to the interface changes, the new version promises better integration with Lightroom and updated raw handling, and the ability to export Zoomify images. CS3 also finally offers non-destructive filters and a Photoshop Elements-like Quick Selection tool, which automatically finds edges as you drag your selection cursor around the subject.
In some cases, the streamlined interface simply consolidates previous capabilities that were poorly implemented. For example, Adobe combined all the random options for modifying a selected outline into a single dialog box and now allows you to preview your changes. It sounds like a small thing, but it will probably save me hours.
The beta version will be available Friday, at which point you can download it from http://labs.adobe.com. Once I've had a chance to download and work it over a bit, I'll be back with a slide show. And more opinions, of course.