Adobe has released two new tools for Flash developers and updated its popular framework for building sites with Flash.
The company has announced the beta release of its Adobe Flash Builder 4 (formerly known Flex Builder), along with a new authoring tool, Flash Catalyst. The open-source Flex framework has also been updated. All three pieces of software were made available for download early Monday through Adobe Labs.
The beta releases of Flash Builder and Flash Catalyst are both free downloads now. Adobe plans on collecting feedback from the Flash community before releasing the products commercially later this year. Flex Builder 3 is currently priced at $250 for the standard version and $700 for the pro version, and Flash Builder 4, as it will be re-named, is expected to be priced somewhere in that ballpark when it’s released in the late summer of 2009. Pricing and availability information for Flash Catalyst has not been determined, but Adobe says it plans to keep Flash Catalyst in beta a little longer than Flash Builder.
Both tools put a great deal of emphasis on making it easier for visual designers and coders to collaborate on projects.
Flash Catalyst goes a long way toward improving the depth of that collaboration by offering designers a way to transform artwork created in Photoshop or Illustrator into user interface elements. Using Catalyst, the designer can build a working prototype of a design, complete with scrollbars, buttons and animations. That way, when the designer hands off a visual design to the Flash developer, the major elements are already rendered as moving pieces in the design, and the developer doesn’t have to interpret what the designer wants by referring to documentation or, more often, by asking the designer to describe the intended behaviors.
Flash Catalyst can publish finished Flash files (SWF) and offers round-trip editing using other apps in the Adobe Creative Suite. So, if the visual design of a button changes, the related images inside the Flash file are automatically updated.
For developers, the new Flash Builder 4 offers several new data-centric tools with a simple drag-and-drop approach for creating interactive charts, graphs, and data grids.
The final part of Adobe’s new release is an update for the open-source Flex framework which offers a simplified, component-based way to develop for Adobe’s Flash Platform.
Interestingly, Adobe’s updates to its Flash authoring tools come on the heels of last week’s Google’s I/O conference, where the search and services giant showed off the power of HTML 5 and how nearly everything Flash excels at — video, audio, complex interfaces — can be created using pure HTML. While we don’t expect Flash to disappear any time soon, clearly alternatives are starting to gain momentum. And support for HTML5 in the major browsers is still somewhat lacking, so these Flash tools give designers the opportunity to create rich, immersive interfaces now, without worrying as much about cross-browser compatibility.
In the mean time, for those working with Flash on a daily basis, the latest Flash Builder 4 and other Flash workflow enhancements should be welcome news.