Nearly 1.5 years ago, the Adobe community was treated to a demo of Codename Thermo at Adobe Max in Chicago. Thermo is a next generation tool for designing and developing RIAs. It’s come a long way since then, renamed Flash Catalyst and had a significant refining of its purpose in many many presentations by Adobe personnel, evangelists and community members. The title of this post, making reference to the mythical beasts of lore like the Griffin (Gryphon), is an allusion to the fact the Flash Catalyst is no small bit of work. It draws from the complete Adobe software catalog for various pieces of it’s makeup. It’s got a little of Adobe’s complete DNA strain sprinkled throughout it. Built on Eclipse (like Flash Builder), complete with drawing tools (like AI/PS/FW), possessing some timeline functionality (AE/FL), allowing for interactivity and design time data (FL/DW), Flash Catalyst is one tool from many many sources. Can something so varied in heritage and huge in scope deliver? Well, the community at large is just starting to determine that.
The Flash Catalyst beta (FC) has been in the hands of the general public for a week or so. I’ve been playing with it, too. No question about it, it’s a cool tool. The potential to create fully custom skinned MXML based apps leveraging the Flex framework by designers is very near a “holy grail” of XD judging by the level of interest around this application. So, what’s on everyone’s minds now that it’s more than a MAX demo or screencast?
First off, the toolkit… It’s a little feature incomplete to be used for production work right now, since it’s missing a large number of absolutely necessary components for proper RIA design and development. I’m sure they have planned to dramatically increase that number of of available components, but I’ve started a list for that in the user forums, here, to serve as a community point for discussing this topic. It can’t be easy thinking through the nearly limitless permutations of Advanced Datagrids, Item Renderers and ways that components can be combined and then providing a bridge between design tools, so it’s no surprise that some of those pieces are still absent from FC. The Flex framework is mature and robust, and providing Spark components (the new Flex 4 SDK components) for the entire suite is a big big undertaking. This is largely an effort of dumping tons of resources towards finishing this, so I’m confident this will be taken care of prior to sale.
Secondly, the use cases… There are a number of users/community members out there still a bit confused about how and when FC would fit into their workflow. Most have to do with questions about integration with various Adobe apps, but some deal with roundtrip issues and integration with Flash Builder. An interesting post on that can be found here. I don’t think Adobe can possibly make everyone happy here. There are simply too many masters to serve.
Thirdly, the app has some pretty big stability issues and install problems for a good chunk of users. I’m not going to link to each one here, but a quick scan of the topics in the user forum shows a full third of the posts are about basic app launching issues and very basic feature issues. Now, of course, these issues will be fixed prior to release, but it does go to show just how very far they have to go to get app performance up to par for a retail release. I wouldn’t expect a Flash Catalyst release party at MAX… as awesome as that would be. There is so much un-Eclipsing this Eclipse build, so much Adobe-ying to do. I’m sure they want this app to feel like a CS family memeber, and it’s close, but there is a ways to go (just export the project and read “Invoking Flex” as the progress bar advances, examine the Edit menu using Eclipse icons, note the missing preference panel, play around with the code view a little) before it’s an Adobe app.
So, enough complaining, what are some of the real bright spots in this tool so far?
- Illustrator and FC go together like peanut butter and jelly. I’ve imported a dozen or so AI files into FC and had only minor aesthetic issues with any of them. This bodes well for my RIA mockup tool of choice and FC working well with each other.
- The tool is a fantastic wireframer! I use Omnigraffle pretty much exclusively for this now, so it may be tough to usurp this for me, but if FC continues to add widgets and an extensibility layer to allow new components to be added to the basic library, I can see big big things for this. One of my biggest problems with doing wireframes revolves around it essentially creating a dead document. There is not really a tool out there that allows you to take a wireframe and use it as a part of your final deliverable. Flash Catalyst looks to proivde a way out of this.
- It really does work as advertised. You can indeed wire up a CS4 created mockup to XML schema in minutes. Not kidding here.Very nice!
So, to recap… Not complaining about the tool at all. In fact, the contrary. FC is a brave new world in RIA design. There are so many unknown tricks and suprises in this mythical software beast, though, it’s difficult to see how to get to a downloadable purchase from where we are today. The product is sure to elate many, and possilby disappoint just as many as well, at least in this 1.0 release. I’ve got high high hopes. Maybe that is part of the problem.
How about you, are you enjoying the Flash Catalyst beta? Is it what you expected? Where do you this fitting in your workflow? What part of this Gryphon are you most interested in?