Users can preview two new Adobe products, Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder 4, starting today. Both programs aim to simplify the process of designing Web applications. Catalyst, which has never before been released to the public, is aimed at designers. Built to resemble Illustrator and other Adobe products, Catalyst allows a nonprogrammer to design working interfaces for Web applications. Builder, which updates a previous product called Flex Builder, is aimed at developers. Specifically, it’s a tool for developers building Internet applications, and Adobe says that it has been improved to better handle data and to work easily with Catalyst.
Dave Gruber, group product marketing manager for Adobe, says that both products could make it easier for businesses to build applications that resemble popular consumer Web applications. As users come to expect slick, easy-to-use interfaces, the pressure has been on for businesses to develop internal applications that match the programs employees use recreationally, he says.
Normally, when a designer works on a Web application with a developer, the designer has to create a series of static images, called wireframes, that show how he expects the application to behave, Gruber says. The developer then tries to match those wireframes to the best of her ability. Often, Gruber says, the result is fairly different from what the designer had in mind.
Catalyst lets a designer pull in images from Photoshop or Illustrator as the basis of an application’s interface. The designer can then identify the application’s moving elements, such as scrollbars or buttons. The designer sets how those parts should behave by selecting from menus. Catalyst creates working code in the background.
The system gives the designer a lot of leeway, says Tim Buntel, a senior product manager for Adobe. For example, he says, a designer could create a circus scene, and then select a tightrope and a tightrope walker to serve as a scrollbar and thumb.
When the designer finishes the interface, Catalyst can save it as a Flex project (fxp), a new file format that allows the application to transfer seamlessly into Builder. “Catalyst dramatically changes the development process when designers are actively involved,” says Gruber.
It’s possible to create an application entirely within Catalyst, Gruber says, if it doesn’t need to be connected to any sources of data. If it needs more work, however, a developer can open an application in Builder. Businesses often have data stored in a variety of formats, and the product is designed to automatically connect to a wide variety of these. “We wanted a standard way of dealing with the data regardless of where it came from,” says Buntel.
It’s possible to work within Builder by dragging and dropping elements such as tables, with code generating automatically. However, Buntel says, the system also allows users to view the code and edit at will.