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 http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flash/.
“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.”
Adobe Flash Builder 4
Adobe Flash Builder 4 is based on the open-source Flex framework and includes features to simplify RIA development. Formerly known as Adobe Flex Builder, the new IDE improves basic development functionality, adds significant new data-centric development features, and streamlines the design-develop workflow. Gruber said Adobe changed the name of the technology from Flex Builder to Flash Builder to bring it in line with the Flash Platform.
New data-centric development features in Flash Builder enable developers to introspect services and use a simple drag and drop approach to bind methods to user interface components, such as interactive charts, graphs, and data grids, Buntel said during a demonstration of the technology for eWEEK at Adobe’s New York offices. These features make it easier to break down information silos and integrate business data from databases and Web services across different organizations, he said. As a result, companies can build user-centric applications for dashboards, e-commerce and self-service Web portals that streamline business processes for their employees, customers and partners.
Flash Builder 4 includes coding enhancements, expanded agile development support, a new network monitor, enhanced debugging, profiling and re-factoring.
“With the arrival of the ‘digital generation’ in the workplace, workers expect a new approach to the enterprise and want to consume business applications like they do with other tools on the Internet,” said Herve Couturier, executive vice president, R&D NetWeaver and Business Objects, SAP, in a statement. “The adoption of the Adobe Flash Platform, particularly with the use of Adobe Flash Builder, has helped SAP create even better user interfaces and interactive content for our next-generation applications, like our new SAP BusinessObjects Explorer.”
Moreover, “The UI components in Adobe Flash Builder deliver tremendous value to developers. For me, the wide range of components allows me to rapidly build tools and applications with little or no up-front design support and a lot less programming,” said Andreas Heim, director of technology of Smashing Ideas Inc., in a statement “As a result, I can create iterative versions of RIAs faster than ever, and we can shorten production cycles.”
In addition, Adobe announced the newest release of the open-source Flex framework that provides a common foundation for both developers and designers to create compelling user experiences that run on the Adobe Flash Platform. The updated Flex framework facilitates productivity and consistency, enabling developers to import functional UI created by designers using Adobe Flash Catalyst and completing the application logic while preserving the design and layout of the user experience.
Gruber said Microsoft has been hot on Adobe’s trail in the RIA space. “They’re really desperate to get into this game and have spent a boatload of money to get a place at the table,” he said. They’ve had to build from the ground up with a player: Silverlight. And their first initiative was to try to compete with us on a video basis. And they’ve done deals with NBC for the Olympics and other deals, but the objective was to get the player out there. They’ve come out with adequate support for video and they’ve been playing catch up with us.”
Meanwhile, “We continue to innovate and add new things,” Gruber said. “You’ll see them add things like what we have in Catalyst next year. They have the advantage of seeing what works for us and also what hasn’t. And they can clone and build on top of it.”
For instance, Gruber mentions Microsoft’s Expression Blend as an example of this. Expression Blend is a Microsoft user interface design tool used for building interfaces for web and desktop applications.
Gruber said that to build Expression Blend, Microsoft hire a lot of former Adobe employees and built a product for designers to try to compete with Adobe’s Dreamweaver and other graphics products, but the focus has been on the Microsoft platform. “We’ve been primarily centered around the non-Microsoft base — with the Java developers — because they had no graphics base.”
Added Gruber: “We’re going to continue to set the bar for where Microsoft is going. Mainly they fear losing their developer base. They see the world shifting more to support designers and they knew they needed some level of parity. We are continuing our innovation and we watch what the enterprise is doing.”
Yet Gruber also said Adobe is looking to shore up its tools integration and provide a tooling experience like Microsoft provides with Visual Studio. If this occurs the game is over because Adobe is not wedded to Windows, he implied. “Microsoft has years of experience and a mature product, but they’re trying to retrofit this product to fit into this new world. We’re not feeling Microsoft is taking any of our customers. They haven’t really committed to a cross-platform play yet, and we live in that world everyday.”