Flash Professional is the software series what continued the Macromedia Flash line of apps. It is used to make interactive Flash content that is based on the timeline. The timeline makes it easy to use for animation and other linear content. With ActionScript programming, though, you can jump in the timeline and, if you wish, stay in one frame. It has extensive set of tools to create, edit and import media and use it in the project. You can do a lot without coding and you can also do a lot with just coding. The code editor itself isn't as feature rich as...
... Flash Builder (formerly known as Flex Builder) is, which is Adobe's modified Eclipse IDE made specially for Flex development. Its main focus is to create code, especially in XML-based Flex. Flash Builder is designed for programmers and has the bells and whistles that Eclipse has. This is also better tool to write ActionScript than Flash Professional's script editor, but its main focus is in Flex. There is no timeline as such, and products are usually rich internet applications (RIA) or Adobe AIR -desktop apps. Despite the lack of timeline, you can animate elements.
Flash Catalyst is a tool that I haven't used as much. It is intended to be used as a Flex interface designer software, and it can transform Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks designs to interactive interfaces without writing code. You can import Flash content created with Flash Professional. You can extend Flash Catalyst projects' functionality with Flash Builder. My impressions are that this is best to be used as a prototyping tool between the graphical mockup and the "first alpha version".
- Flash Professional
- Best tool (of these three) for animation
- Has timeline, but can be modified with code
- Coding in ActionScript (based on ECMA Script standard)
- Create and edit graphical content
- Flash Builder
- Based on Eclipse IDE
- Focus on Flex programming (based on XML), also ActionScript
- Has some basic interface design tools
- No timeline: non-linear logic
- Flash Catalyst
- Code free Flex interface designing
- Turn static artwork to interactive prototypes
- Tight integration with Flash Builder
- All have in common
- Publish to SWF or AIR
- Integrate with other Adobe software
Quick glance at prices and in which Creative Suite editions they are in can be seen in Adobe's Creative Suite comparison page. Product pages are also good sources for more information.