Flash Catalyst or Catastrophe?

I’ve been watching the large number of blog links regarding the news from Adobe labs that Flash Catalyst is now in public Beta; naturally I had to download and have a go myself.

My first impressions are not good.

It seems like they’ve decided to invent their own usability best practices for the tool shortcuts. Where the hell is the pan tool? Why doesn’t holding the space bar and then using the mouse to scroll perform a pan? Keyboard shortcuts for delete don’t seem to work in the layers panel. Where is the align panel? Do I really have to right click an asset and select an align option from a dropdown? It’s a real mouseathon in the program at the moment. These aren’t really things I see as Beta related, they should just be in the app – which they are in any other CS4 product, so I’m mystified how these issues got through QA to this stage.

Probably the biggest issue is the speed (or lack thereof) of the program. Trying to edit a button’s state is painfully slow. I’m not sure whether this is to do with my system (dual core 2.4Ghz with 4Gb RAM on Vista) but I’d like to know if I’m the only one who thinks the program runs painfully slowly.

Aside from the usability and productivity issues I’m still at a loss as to why the CS4 core wasn’t used for this (or was it?) and even why we need a further dilution of the Flash product base. Surely Flash CS could be re badged as Flash Designer and the Catalyst toolset integrated (I realise I made that sound easier than it would be, but as it stands the introduction of this third tool looks like more of a money grab than anything else). This would go nicely alongside the newly re badged Flash Builder (which incidentally looks very good, so kudos to the Flex team).

I haven’t upgraded to CS4 as yet, and it’s for some of the reasons above that I haven’t. I just don’t know where the Flash products are headed, and quite frankly if this is where they’re going I may jump ship completely onto HMS Flex and let the “designers” out there handle getting the assets I’m after into a state in which I can use them. Though the right side of my brain may have something to say about that statement…

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14 thoughts on “Flash Catalyst or Catastrophe?”

  1. i sympathize however it was the right decision (a difficult one perhaps) to base the IDE on eclipse. this really makes the tooling fit nicely into a developnment shop (we love eclipse!!). most of the issues you describe can (and i expect will) be addressed in the medium term.

  2. My boss got a beta copy of Flash Catalyst when he went to Adobe Max, and we were able to toy around with it in office for a bit around the beginning of this year.

    I can’t speak for everyone, but frankly I don’t see the value in this product at all. Granted, there are certain difficulties that arise as you pass files from designers to developers, but it rarely demands more attention than a five minute phone call to hammer out the details.

    It seems to me that, at least within my company, this application adds an unnecessary intermediate step in the development process. Whether it’s the same application I toyed around with six months ago or plenty has changed since, I can’t yet say, nor can I comment on other perceived uses of the software, but for the task of prototyping and clarifying implementation details I just don’t get it.

  3. I think everybody needs to sit tight until the product is out of Beta, at least when referring to performance issues. This isn’t a long term Beta (like Gmail) so hopefully we can expect big changes before a release candidate. That said I was also confused by the missing shortcuts – do any of the designers know if this compares better with Photoshop/Illustrator than it does with the flash IDE?

  4. There’s definitely there’s overlap with the Flash IDE, but Adobe wanted a tool that integrated well with Flex Builder/Flash Builder, so they built Catalyst off of Eclipse.

    I think the other issue is that the timeline of the Creative Suite products is different from the Flex products, something I imagine that Adobe would not want to change to give the Flex team more flexibility in when their product came out.

    It fragments the Flash tooling, but I think a tool like Catalyst was really needed in order to skin Flex applications easier.

  5. I love the concept of Flash Catalyst and believe it will revolutionise flash development. It is everything I have ever wanted, having grown extremely tired of manually skinning components.

    HOWEVER… I am completely with you on the usability issue. For the last couple of days I’ve been playing around with Flash Catalyst and don’t find it intuitive, friendly or quick to use. One of Adobe’s stated goals was that it would be familiar to users of other Adobe CS4 products. In that respect, it fails miserably. It has nothing in common with other Adobe CS4 products, for some of the reasons you’ve stated and for other reasons too.

    I utterly DESPISE the HUD. Someone has obviously decided that it would look cool to borrow it from Lightroom and just stuck it there in the middle of nowhere, in the way, like a great big lemon. Get rid of it Adobe. (For what it’s worth, I don’t like Lightroom anyway, specifically because the interface is so bad, cramped and hurts the eyes. I used to use it but switched to Aperture as soon as 1.5 was released and have never looked back).

    What this product does is amazing. From me, it gets a 10/10. How it does it is really bad and I agree with you that this does not appear to be because it is a beta, but rather that usability has been ignored. I find it easier and less irritating to just write the fsg by hand.

  6. Hi guys,

    As an engineer on the Catalyst team, I wanted to add my perspective to just a few of your points:

    @Performance: We’ll be spending a good deal more time on this before we ship the final release.

    @HUD: We know people don’t like it (we’ve been getting this feedback for a while), and we’re working on improving it (hopefully getting rid of it altogether).

    @Pan tool, keyboard shortcuts, alignment: These are all artifacts of this being our first beta release. We’re working on a pan tool now, and are continuously improving the keyboard shortcuts. Take a step back and look at the other CS apps – there’s a lot there! It’s going to take us some time to achieve parity with the common tools.

    All I’m really saying is – if these issues are pissing you off now, try again in the next beta. You may find many of them improved.

    Flash Catalyst Team

  7. @Adam – thanks for stopping by and giving us some insight as to what could be in future Beta’s.

    As the developer community is very familiar with the fairly polished Creative Suites, this means any new product will be compared to them. This is definitely where my comments spawn from, and because you’re in the Adobe stable it seemed rather odd that these things weren’t addressed in the Alpha stage.

    I also wanted to add that upon further reflection I can see that the majority of drawing and editing of assets will actually be done in either Photoshop or Illustrator; so my negativity about some of the control issues may be a moot point in the long run. Will be interesting to see who uses the program when it’s released.

  8. i suspect the product will get most traction with shops using eclipse for their J2EE development who are already using flex. Catalyst is really there to fit between the design tools and the developer’s IDE. it is very ambitious and will take some time to bring the usability and workflow up to speed. but from an architectural and technical perspective it appears to be based on sound judgment with a payoff in the longer-term.

    so i think the short/medium term it may not be readily useful to others until they improve some the issues mentioned.

    as a one-man-shop i am personally very excited about it – but then again that doesn’t mean i’m going to purchase a license and use it. but if it’s priced right (as-is flex builder) i suspect it will be a no-brainer. my understanding is that adobe make no money of flex builder, not sure what their plans are with catalyst. i suspect that they do want to make money with it (as they do with the flash IDE) so the pricing will not be low like flex builder.

  9. I think this tool would have worked quite well as part of Fireworks. I don’t see the point of creating this extra step between Design and Development. If I design a button in Fireworks why not allow me to generate all of the button states as well and then generate the FXG code. Let me setup my pages in Fireworks as screens and then set the transitions between them using my layers and Catalyst-style timeline. Adobe could have made Fireworks really kick ass and would have prompted a lot of designers out there to get involved with building interactivity. As it is I fear that Catalyst will still be seen as a ‘developer’ tool.


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