Price: £357 plus VAT
Pros: Prototypes mesh smoothly with Flash Builder. Portability from Photoshop and Illustrator. Designers can create Flash interfaces. Programmers can add coding via Flash Builder.
Cons: Built-in actions are limited. Projects can't be moved to Flash Professional. No animation or scripting tools. Limited drawing tools.
Flash Catalyst CS5 aims to let designers into the interactive design game without requiring them to learn how to code.
The program lets non-coder designers fashion interactive graphical elements that come to life as components of a Flash project — but only in conjunction with Flash Builder 4, which is now a member of the CS5 family.
Flash Catalyst's boundaries are defined by The Three No’s: No design (drawing tools are limited; you draw objects in Illustrator or Photoshop); no coding (you use Flash Builder); and no animation (you use Flash Professional). With Flash Catalyst, Adobe has pried apart the major interactive design functions and targeted them to the designers, programmers, and animators best able to accomplish specific tasks.
The Catalyst interface is anything but intimidating. Coding is generated in the background as designers work, and it is embedded in a saved FXG file -- an XML based format supported by Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, and Flash Builder 4 (renamed from the previous Flex Builder), but not Flash Professional CS5.
There is a Code view, where you can see the code generated, but you cannot edit it. So, while you can create, view, and test a button’s rollover effect in Catalyst, the button itself can only have a limited set of actions associated with it -- such as opening a Web page or launching a video—until a Flash Builder 4 ActionScript expert sets it in motion.
Flash Catalyst provides a familiar Layers Panel, rules, grids and guides, an Align function, and a library of components that designers can add to their pages. The toolbar is rudimentary, with a stripped-down set of tools for selection, drawing, navigation, and zoom. Text editing and formatting options are similarly bare bones. The concept is that designers will create and edit artwork and type in Illustrator and Photoshop, and when editing rounds are complete, the artwork is saved as an FXG file.
I found the inability to move, hide, or resize Catalyst’s limited set of panels a bit disconcerting at first. If the interface is supposed to make designers feel at home, it might have been nice to give panels the same attributes found in other CS5 applications: a panel menu and the ability to move, resize, and collapse panels.
According to Adobe, this permanently anchored set of panels is a “version 1.0” feature, with the implication that future versions may sport more fully featured panels and controls. That said, the more I worked in Catalyst, the more I could see that such controls might be unnecessarily distracting, since the point of Catalyst is to assign interactivity to objects, not to edit or create them.