Price When Reviewed: tbc
Pros: Catalyst is very easy to use. New state model and Spark skinning simplifies coding. New Builder tools help debugging efforts. Good client-side data management additions.
Cons: Catalyst lacks advanced components; transitions are awkward to apply. Network Monitor monitors services calls (Flex RPC) only.
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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.
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.
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.
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