Adobe has launched Flash Catalyst, an interactive design tool for creating interfaces for desktop applications that's pitched at designers rather than developers. Alongside this the company has announced a new version of the Flex Builder programming environment for refining the back-end of such applications, which has been renamed Flash Builder 4.

Public betas of both Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder 4 for both Mac OS X and Windows are available from the Adobe Labs website.

Flash Catalyst previously went by the code name Thermo, but was named in November at Adobe's developer conference.

Flash Catalyst enables users to take an interface design created in Illustrator and turn all of its constituent parts into display or control elements by selecting each part in turn and applying an interactive behaviour to each -- such as buttons to drive functions, identifying a search box or as parts of a scrolling list (including list elements, scrollbar, slider and up and down arrows). It's interface is designed to be very similar to tools from Adobe's Creative Suite, including Flash, Illustrator and Photoshop, which aims to make Flash Catalyst easier for creatives to learn.

Once the funtionality of the interface has been set, the FXP project file is passed to a developer, who opens up the FXP file in Flash Builder to tie these functions to the backend database that drives the application. Adobe says that the advantage of this process over the traditional workflow of a designer creating a static wireframe and then passing it over to a developer for coding is that its faster -- as standard interface elements are already embedded, so don't need to be coded -- and it's easier to go back to make changes to the design based on the requirements of its interactivity. So a designer can quickly adjust the interface layout based on their own adding of interface elements, or based on feedback from the developer.

Interactive agencies using Flash Catalyst and Builder can create user interfaces to run in the Flash Player or on the desktop using Adobe's AIR technology, which offers a unified way to output versions of applications that runs identically on Mac, Windows and Linux desktops without having to know how to code for each platform.

Flash Catalyst resembles rival Microsoft's Expression Blend tool said Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester.