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.
Catalyst also has a timeline. No, not that timeline—not the grid of frames and layers used to create animations in Flash Professional. The Catalyst timeline looks and functions very much like the Animation panel in Photoshop CS5. You do not animate objects in Catalyst, but you can apply (and schedule) effects like fade-in and fade-out, sound effects, movement, resizing, rotation, and 3D rotation.
Designing a four-state button in Flash Catalyst is intuitive. Simply double-click on button artwork copied from Illustrator or Photoshop, and assign Button from Catalyst’s Convert Artwork to Component popup.
You can either use the modest set of graphic filters in Catalyst to modify the up, over, down, and disabled states of a button, or use four separate images from Illustrator. If you elect to tweak button states right in Catalyst, you can choose from Blur, Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Bevel, or Inner Glow effects.
Handing off projects to Flash Builder
Generally speaking, nobody will create stand-alone projects using Flash Catalyst. It is meant to assemble interactive objects that can be given to a coder to animate and connect with live data. A form is designed in Catalyst and connected to a server in Builder. Designers working in Catalyst can use (dummy) test data (called design-time data) to visualize how their graphic elements will work with data, but an ActionScript coder in Flash Builder will need to activate the project with live data.
The reason that Catalyst projects can be opened only by Flash Builder is that Catalyst’s invisible process of generating code creates editable modules that, until CS5, have been called Flex. Flash Builder (formerly known as Flex Builder) can work with this code, but Flash Professional cannot.
Wiithin its clearly defined and constrained boundaries, Flash Catalyst CS5 is a radical step toward integrating visual designers more closely into the process of building Flash interactive projects, and separating out the three major functions of Flash: Interactivity, animation, and coding.
Catalyst is an interesting innovation, with potentially significant implications for Flash development, but it debuts as a 1.0 product, a work-in-progress. It's stable but its features are quite limited. If people are in an environment where the CS5 Web, Design, or Production Premium collection is available, they'll likely use it, but at this point, I wouldn't suggest that an independent designer who works with Flash developers buy it.
Designers who find Flash Professional challenging but approachable may not be satisfied with Catalyst’s limited set of actions, but designers who have never crossed the bridge into working with Flash will find Catalyst an appealing entree into the process. At the other end, Flash Builder coders will appreciate being able to integrate batches of Flex code generated directly by designers without having to guess at their intent.