Adobe Announces New Flash Platform Tools, Tweaks Microsoft

Adobe Systems has continued its effort to differentiate itself from Microsoft in the world of designer/developer workflow by releasing a beta version of its Adobe Flash Catalyst design tool.

Adobe Systems has continued its effort to differentiate itself from Microsoft in the world of designer/developer workflow by releasing a beta version of its Adobe Flash Catalyst design tool.

In addition to the beta of Flash Catalyst, Adobe on June 1 also announced other enhancements to the Flash Platform, including a beta of the newly named Flash Builder 4 -- formerly known as Flex Builder, and a beta of the open source Flex 4 framework.

Each of these advancements represents solid moves for Adobe in their own right. However, the Flash Catalyst technology is what clearly sets Adobe apart from the advances that rival Microsoft has made onto Adobe's home turf of appealing to designers. Adobe Catalyst, formerly known by the codename "Thermo," Adobe Flash Catalyst is a new professional interaction design tool for rapidly creating application user interfaces without coding. The tool, as well as the other tools, offer a highly integrated workflow and are based on the new Flex 4 framework, an open-source framework for building RIAs that will allow developers and designers to more easily collaborate on projects.

"Flash Catalyst is designed for the professional interaction designer who does wireframes and layouts and hands them off to a developer," said Tim Buntel, senior product manager at Adobe. And Flash Catalyst is based on the design layout of the [Adobe] Creative Suite products, he said. "This is not a coding tool. The goal is to make designers do all this without any coding."

Indeed, the consistent interface with Adobe Creative Suite minimizes the learning curve for designers. And the ability to import Photoshop and Illustrator native files with layers is a boost to designer/developer productivity.

Although Microsoft has been working on the same developer/designer workflow problem, the Redmond, Wash., software giant has approached the problem more from its strength as a developer-focused company.

Yet, Adobe Flash Catalyst turns interaction design from a development task into a design discipline. It allows designers to transform artwork created in Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator software into user interfaces that can then be utilized directly by developers to complete the application or site. This improved workflow allows designers to maintain control of the user experience while developers can stay focused on core application logic. Adobe Flash Catalyst lets designers demonstrate and iterate on functional user interfaces of applications at an earlier stage, securing feedback sooner in the development process. The project file is then provided to the developer to add functionality and integrate with servers and services using Adobe Flash Builder, said Dave Gruber, group marketing manager in the Developer marketing group at Adobe.

Additionally, using Adobe Flash Catalyst, designers can publish finished Flash file format (SWF) files for display in a Web browser. Round-trip editing with Adobe Creative Suite tools allows designers to edit structured pieces of the interaction design at any time, increasing productivity and keeping the design process moving.

"The designer can do all of their work and can then hand off a Flex project of FXP file to the developer," Buntel said. "They can go through the design and work with the customer on getting the application user experience to be what the customer wants. Also, the designer can define a finished product without the developer at all."

Meanwhile, Adobe Flash Builder is a professional development tool designed to help software developers rapidly build RIAs (rich Internet applications. The public betas of these products are available today for download on Adobe Labs at

"People are now expecting the same richness and ease of use in their workplace applications that they have in their daily Web experiences, but companies today are faced with strained development resources and less time to create intuitive applications," said David Wadhwani, general manager and vice president of the Platform Business Unit at Adobe. "The new Adobe Flash Platform tools help solve this challenge by reducing time to market for generating compelling applications and content. Using Adobe Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst, developers and designers can now work together more productively to create rich experiences that employees, customers and partners expect."