Since my very first Adobe Max conference 5 years ago, the then Macromedia (before their acquisition by Adobe) were talking about Rich Internet Applications or RIA's as the future of the Web. At the time they had recently launched Flex 1 and were predicting a very different Web experience for the end user.
5 years later and I have to ask myself whether the end user's experience of Web has changed that dramatically. Apart from the massive amount of video content that is available today, the majority of websites are still produced using HTML and only companies with endless budgets have been able to produce glimpses of Adobe's vision. So was Adobe wrong in their prediction? No, I think they were spot on, but the main problem was that the software did not exist which would allow web designers and developers to build RIA's.
Flex 1, by Adobe's own admission, was a crude first attempt at creating RIA's. Flex 3 by comparison is a much better program, but there is still a problem. Flex is a developer's program, its internal language is Flash ActionScript. Therefore without you are familiar with ActionScript or you are a coder and like learning computer languages then Flex is probably not a tool the average Web Designer will adopt.
Even larger Web production homes with teams of graphic designers and developers found the work-flows, moving from the designers vision into the back-end development, confusing and frustrating.
Fortunately all of these issues may soon be a thing of the past. Without a doubt the most talked about product at Adobe Max 2008 was a new Flash Catalyst program. Even though Flash Catalyst will only be released in 2009, you get the feeling Adobe is so excited about it they simply could not wait to tell us.
So what is Flash Catalyst? Well essentially it's a designer's tool which will really simplify the RIA work-flow process between Designers and Developers. Designers for the first time will have a program where they can import all of their artwork from programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash and then design the fully functional RIA interface. As the back-end will still need to be coded by a developer, the key distinction with Flash Catalyst is that designers can save all their work in a format that a developer can easily understand and work with.
This is indeed an exciting new change, the work-flow within the Web community, and designers should be excited about picking up a copy of Flash Catalyst in 2009.