Adobe to Change Designer/Developer Game with Flash Catalyst

Adobe just might have a hit on its hands with its design tool, formerly known as "Thermo" and now known as Adobe Flash Catalyst. The design tool is aimed at creating application interfaces and interactive content without coding.

SAN FRANCISCO-Now that Adobe has taken the technology it formerly referred to as "Thermo," given it a product name and released an early preview version, it finally looks as if the design tool giant may have a new potential hit, if not a game changer, on its hands.

Of course, the technology first has to undergo the rigors of alpha testing and then more in-depth beta testing before it will even be released as an Adobe product. But the concept of Thermo, which is now known as Adobe Flash Catalyst, is to empower designers to work better with developers in the area of designer/developer workflow. What Thermo does is enable designers to use the Adobe design tools they are familiar with and create designs that they can hand off to a developer with the developer having a clear understanding of that design without the designer having to do any coding.

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"Thermo is aimed at making it easy such that if you hand me a Photoshop file I can ingest that and look at all the metadata and all the layers associated with that file and I can make something with it," John Loiacono, senior vice president of Adobe's Creative Solutions Business Unit, told eWEEK in an interview at the Adobe MAX 2008 conference here. "All the code is generated behind the scenes to make that stuff happen."

In essence, "a designer will create something in Photoshop or Illustrator and then take it to a developer, and they can dissect and deconstruct it," he said.

Moreover, "Thermo, we think is a big change," said Loiacono. "The design community likes it for its rapid prototyping capability. ... Just the rapid prototyping alone is a homerun."

The issue of designer/developer workflow is not new. Adobe has been talking about it for years, and Microsoft also has been attacking the problem with its Expression suite of design tools that have been developed to work with the company's Visual Studio tools suite.

However, Loiacono said he does not believe Microsoft has anything comparable to Adobe Flash Catalyst. "We don't see what they have currently as delivering in the space we're targeting," he said. "Where Adobe has an advantage over Microsoft is we have both sides of the equation"-Adobe caters both to designers and developers, whereas Loiacono believes Microsoft is much more suited to developers.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said Microsoft's equivalent to Thermo is "a combo of Expression Blend and Visual Studio."

Adobe Flash Catalyst "doesn't do everything," Loiacono said. "You can't do a Photoshop style design with it, and you can't build a back-end Flex-style application just with Thermo. But you can take your idea and build it to make it do things and then pass it off to a developer to connect it into your back-end logic. That's the developer's job."

Asked her opinion of the potential impact of Thermo, Bola Rotibi, an analyst with Macehiter Ward-Dutton, simply said, "Adobe knows its stuff."

The big issue here is ease of use. If Adobe Flash Catalyst, aka Thermo, makes it easier for designers, then it will very likely be a hit, as Loiacono said, if only for its prototyping capabilities. Adobe is coming at this from its position of strength in the design tools world. The company knows designers. Now that the Thermo code is broadly available, we'll have to see what kind of feedback comes out of the community.