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Flash Catalyst unveiled at Adobe MAX 2008

Adobe MAX is the software giant's biggest annual confab, and is often the venue for new product annoucements. The 2008 installment was no exception.

MAX is a show that has gone through numerous transformations over the years. Before Adobe bought Macromedia, Macromedia sponsored a user conference (UCON), which merged into the Allaire Developers Conference as DevCon (when Macromedia bought that company). Eventually it became Macromedia MAX, and then Adobe MAX. As you might guess from the names, the show originally catered to the developer crowd, but since about 2002 the organizers have tried to attract more designers.

This year’s installment showed the strongest push into “creative” territory yet, with an entire track devoted to Design containing about the same number of sessions as the Developer track (a smaller track called “Envision” targeted corporate “decision-makers”). Nevertheless, the hard-core coders still outnumbered the pixel-pushers by a wide margin, as the sessions on Flex were consistently packed while sessions on CS4 subjects were more lightly attended.

Left- and right-brainers came together, however, in the overflowing sessions devoted to the new kid on the block: Flash Catalyst. We were given a peek at this product (codenamed “Thermo”) at last year’s MAX in Chicago, but it was formally announced at the Keynote address on Monday morning. The program is Adobe’s brave attempt to bridge the designer/developer divide: its ambitious goal is to simplify the process of designing interfaces for Rich Internet Applications (that is to say, Flex apps, which can run on any platform in the Flash Player).

A designer can create a layered comp in Photoshop or Illustrator, where the different layers represent different states of the controls in the interface (like up, over, click, and down states for rollovers). The designer can then import the comp into Flash Catalyst, and can save the project in a format that can be read by Flex. When the programmer opens the project in Flex Builder, it’s a simple matter to connect the interface controls to the code that runs the logic of the program. What’s more, the project can go back to the designer for more tweaking, and the designer can change the design of the interface without breaking the code. In fact, the code that Flex generates has had to be re-written to handle this round-tripping seamlessly, and Flex Builder 4 and Flash Catalyst seem to be made to work hand-in-hand. 

Adobe didn’t announce a ship date, but it seems clear that its release is still a ways off. Attendees received a DVD containing preview versions of Flex Builder 4 and Flash Catalyst, and a public beta will be released through Adobe Labs sometime in early 2009.

Flash Catalyst promises to be a major software event, and Adobe Press and Peachpit are planning to publish several books on the program. Stay tuned to this space for announcements sometime next year!