sprout_logo.jpgSprout, an easy, in-browser tool for creating Flash applications, is about to launch publicly. The company has been generating buzz since it launched in January, and chief executive Carnet Williams says the tool will leave its private testing phase today at noon Pacific time.

Sprout’s big selling point is its “what you see is what you get” interface, which allows users to build Flash applications (basically widgets, although the company calls them “sprouts”) using tools reminiscent of Photoshop. If users start with one of Sprout’s templates, they can build a fairly rich widget by just making a few clicks and typing a few lines. (See the screenshot of Sprout’s “promote a cause” template below.)

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The company wants to make publication easier too, Williams says. Once users have created their sprouts, they can distribute them using Clearspring, Gigya and SpringWidgets.

While there are other WYSIWYG Flash editors out there, most of them (like Flypaper) are focused on creating graphics and presentations, rather than the range of apps that Sprout supports. Williams sent me links to some of the sprouts that have already been created: promotional widgets for an author, a record label, a politician and a movie. The best of these sprouts have the content range and interactivity of a fully-fledged Flash website.

My favorite example of Sprout’s capabilities was actually posted to the company blog. Apparently, after spotting this simple countdown widget to promote the new Indiana Jones movie, Chief Product Officer Jason Ricci was inspired to create the much richer widget here, which includes photos, news and links.

Williams says the company decided to create Sprout to address problems it faced under its old business model — making fundraising widgets. Williams’ team members wanted a quick, easy way to alter the widgets without having to go in and rewrite the code, so they first created Sprout for in-house use. They also had to wait for the right technology, Williams says — an early version was attempted with Action Script 2, but it didn’t really work until Adobe released Flex. (You can read our coverage of Flex 3’s release here.)

Since Sprout’s private launch, Williams says users from 30 countries have created 3,000 sprouts. The company has also added some new features, including integration with PollDaddy and Google Gadgets.

The Hawaii- and San Francisco-based company is self-funded at $3.3 million, Williams says.