Software Review: Flash Catalyst

Flash Catalyst is a new product that allows designers to create interactive Flash presentations without coding (see the video demo).

You can mock up an interface in Illustrator, Photoshop or Fireworks, import it into Flash Catalyst, and use an array of panels to create buttons, scroll bars, transitions, simple animations and other interactive features. For example, you could create an interactive map of a city in which the buttons allow the user to zoom in on different neighborhoods.  Projects can also incorporate video or audio clips with customized playback controls.

When you’re done, you can export the project as a Flash movie for deployment on a web page, or as an AIR application that can run on the desktop. The program saves projects in a format called FXP that can be opened with Flash Builder, the Flash programming environment previously known as Flex Builder. This means you can create an interface with basic interactivity and hand it over to a programmer to build a custom application, such as an infographic linked to a live data feed. However, you cannot export projects to Flash Professional.

Although Flash Catalyst generally lives up to its billing as an easy-to-use interactive design tool, don’t think that you can just dive right in and begin creating presentations. It has a unique approach to setting up projects that can seem a bit daunting at first, and you’ll definitely want to follow the video tutorials  to get the hang of it.

Room for Improvement

Being a 1.0 release, it has plenty of room for improvement. One glaring omission is a “maintain aspect ratio” option when scaling graphics in the Properties panel. The lack of keyframing limits the program’s functionality as an animation tool. And the Convert Artwork to Component command—used to convert imported graphics into navigation controls—doesn’t offer a batch mode. If you create five buttons in Illustrator and import them into Flash Catalyst, you’ll have to convert each one individually. (If you try converting them all at once, the program turns them all into a single large “button.”)

Less annoying but somewhat puzzling is the inability to have more than one project open at a time. And the interface is a bit crude compared with other Adobe apps, lacking such standard features as tear-off panels.

Flash Catalyst uses an array of panels to enable creation of interactive designs without coding:

Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since before many current Adobe employees were born. His first computer was an Osborne 1 powered by steam turbines and illuminated by gaslight, though his memory is somewhat hazy on this point. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld.  He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine. For more information,
see his website.

Other CS5 reviews:

InDesign CS5
Photoshop CS5
Illustrator CS5
Flash CS5
Fireworks CS5
Dreamweaver CS5
Back to Creative Suite 5 Overview

Adobe Evangelists, including Russell Brown, will be on hand during the HOW Design Conference,  June 6–9 in Denver, to demonstrate the new Creative Suite 5 tools. 




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