First look: Adobe Flash and Flex ignite with Flash Catalyst

Adobe Flex 4 SDK, Flash Builder 4, and Flash Catalyst betas close the gap between great UI design and rich Internet application development

Bottom Line

Adobe Flex 4 SDK beta and its associated design and development tools aim to improve support for large data sets and streamline productivity of designers and developers. Flash Catalyst dramatically reduces time for interface design. Flash Builder 4 brings deeper package introspection and a new debugging and unit testing framework that raises the bar for RIA development.

If only it were as easy to build a Web application as it is to design one in Illustrator and Photoshop. Maybe it will be someday, and maybe that someday is closer than we might think. Adobe has certainly succeeded in shrinking the distance between design and development with its latest batch of RIA tools: Adobe Flex 4 SDK, Adobe Flash Builder 4 (the Flex Builder IDE renamed), and Adobe Flash Catalyst, all recently made available in public beta.

The new kid on the block is Adobe Flash Catalyst, previously code-named Thermo. By allowing you to import Illustrator or Photoshop artwork and turn them into interactive Flash, Catalyst jumpstarts any Flex project. I can't overstate how accessible and easy to use I found Flash Catalyst.

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[ Take a scrolling tour of Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder 4 highlights. | Microsoft Silverlight 3 is catching up to the capabilities of Adobe Flash, Flex, and AIR. See the Test Center's preview. ]

Using Catalyst's pallet of UI components (scrollbars, buttons, data lists, and so on) and other tools, I was able to graphically construct a data-ready interface from scratch within minutes. Page and button states were quick to customize; even glitzy transitions such as fades and slides were a one-click cinch to apply.

Design to build

Catalyst reads Adobe's new static XML graphics interchange format, FXG, so importing bitmap and vector images from Creative Suite 4 applications (Illustrator and Photoshop) is a snap. Elements altered in Catalyst can still be edited back in Illustrator and Photoshop tools. And you can include "design time data" to give designers a view of actual data formats.

To be sure, Adobe needs to fill out the asset library with more controls, containers, and prefab layout grids -- but this is a nice showing.

Meanwhile, under the hood, Catalyst generates the Flex code behind the user-interface components, which developers can import into Flash Builder 4 and combine with the business logic.

Flash-Catalyst1_sm.gif
The Adobe Catalyst beta showcases several samples that highlight the ease of building RIA apps on the Adobe Flex 4 SDK.
Flash-Builder1_sm.gif
The Flash Builder 4 beta harnesses some nice improvements over its Flex Builder 3 predecessor including a data service wizard and debugging and unit testing capabilities.
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