Macromedia Contribute 3
 

 

Contribute 3 adds to the instant web file editing features a new range or tier of support services that make the product much more acceptable as Web Content Management editor for large organizations as well as for small to medium side businesses. Contribute 3 does this three ways. First, they have bulked up the edit authorization features. A new role has been added which is edit reviewer. The result is that some organizations may want to guarantee that all page edits go through an edit step rather than direct publish. There is a new "Send for Review" button that expedites the process with automatic sending of email notice to a reviewer with links when a page is completed. In addition, there is a broader range of resources including new video and audio capabilities that can be added as permissions to users. Those permissions can vary with web project and the Content Publishing Services is now centrally based on a server for faster performance and better central control. But the essence of Contribute 3 remains its ability to enable instant Web page edits.

Instant Web Page Edits

Have you ever wanted in a FTP session to just quickly make some edits to a file and be done with it ? The same visual edits you are familiar with in Front Page or Dreamweaver. Now you can do so with Macromedia Contribute 2. Contribute is not alone among the web editors that allow direct, visual drag and drop editing of a website - quite a number of direct web page editors from CoffeeCup's HTML Editor to MDM's FireStorm through telerik's radEditor are just 3 in a growing group. But what sets Contribute apart from these tools is that it allows not just concurrency controlled edits; but also protected edits of the web pages.

Direct WebPage Editors

Direct webpage editors allow a user to browse a website, and then if they have authorized FTP access to that site, they can select any page from the site and edit it. But what what Contribute adds to this are two measures of protection. First, Contribute writes a software lock on the file being edited. All Macromedia web editing programs including the very popular Dreamweaver, will respect that software lock and not allow a second party access to the file for edits until the lock is cleared when the webpage is saved and closed. A small number of 3rd party apps will also respect the Contribute file lock. So the Contribute system is not fool proof as I found to my regret: I opened a webpage in Contribute then later downloaded the same webpage using WSFTP and after extensive edits resaved the page using WSFTP. Neither of those page transactions were flagged by Contribute - so when my colleague closed and saved the Contribute edition of the file - all my WSFTP-enabled edits were lost.

However, if you are working in the Macromedia family of products, Contribute gives you a first level of concurrency control. And because Contribute is able to utilize Dreamweaver's template system - site administrators can add additional controls. 1)granting write access to web pages to specific users and 2)even masking off portions of a web page for access only by a named set of Contribute users. Again, this within-the-webpage masking can be compromised if other, external web editors are used. As noted above Contribute 3 considerably enhances the templating

Finally Contribute has a third control mechanism for webpage editing. Users are only allowed to do visual edits. WYSIOWYGTEdit- what you see is only what you get to edit, if that. Remember templates mask off areas of the page if the administrator chooses to do so. This means that stylesheets, scripts, plus all HTML/XML tags plus any scripting are kept largely under wraps. Users can apply existing stylesheets - but they cannot edit them or add new ones. Only the site administrator can.

Hence the logic for Contribute builds up like this. Many sites have little or no concurrency control - Contribute provides a measure of this. Second, to get good masking and templates, users have to step up to Macromedia's Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive or Microsoft FrontPage - but these web editors can be complicated and intimidating especially for analysts and graphics designers whose primary role is creating the content or images; not managing them in the HTM/CSS/JavaScript/XML design world. In short Contribute does a very good job of shielding content creators/providers from complexity of web page development; yet still gives them access to the web page for straightforward content changes and updates.

However after all is said and done concurrency remains a problem. To that end , Contribute 3 now supports the WebDAV spec so programs that use the WebDAV interface (including Contribute 3) will be less vulnerable to these type collisions. WebDAV is an IETF standard for Distributed Authoring and Versioning. Companies like Adobe, Apple, Documentum, Microsoft and others offer fairly high levels of WebDAV support in their products -- and so concurrency control is enhanced but even Contribute 3 is not impervious to malicious attack.

Speaking of Apple, Contribute 3 out of the box offers latest Mac OS/X support including support for the Safari browser. As well Flash Paper 2 has been ported to Mac and it offers both in Mac and Windows additional options. Notable is the ability to publish either to Flash SWF or Adobe PDF file formats with bookmarking and hyperlinking capabilities.

What Can Be Edited

In Contribute 2 there were restrictions on what could be edited. JavaScript and dynamic content is still off limits, but contribute 3 adds audio, video, and new image editing capabilities. In sum, the list of edit an updates allowed by Contribute is quite formidable. The complete range of text editing including changing size, style, coloring, and alignment of selected text is at the users disposal. This includes applying any existing stylesheets . Tables can be edited including adding or deleting selected rows and columns while full table or single cells can be edited for color, borders, padding, horizontal and vertical object alignments. Contribute 3 adds the Dreamweaver Mx engine which includes more and better CSS support.

Also links can be added and edited with a neat browser interface - so users can be sure because they see the page they want to link to. Ditto for images which now have the Dreamweaver MX Fireworks editing features(crops, color correct, rotate, etc) while a browser brings up a thumbnail of either website or locally based images. And all of these edits are done with help of a nearby "How Do I" coaching window - that explains the steps for a many of the key editing tasks. Or traditional Help file assistance is just a menu click away.

Goodies

What sets Contribute apart from other direct web page editors is the control it affords the webmaster and site administrators over the pages on a website - as noted, these controls are not foolproof, but they certainly improve the situation in many web development environs. But there are more goodies that Contribute 3 adds to the overall package. First and foremost, let us return to FlashPaper. FlashPaper is really a fast way to capture specialized reports, presentations, and spreadsheets for full display up on the web. FlashPaper works as a print file substitute. For example, suppose there is a 6-10 page key transactions summary produced in Crystal Reports that we want to display on the web. Crystal allows user to do so but the look and layout of the web pages is not identical to the printed pages and their size is huge; but by printing to FlashPaper instead of the printer a .swf file 1/3rd the size of the Crystal versions is created and then with Contribute 3 easily embedded in a web page. Ditto for a 7 page PowerPoint Presentation which was 3/4 the size of its Microsoft counterpart yet rendered the presentation with precise colorings, fonts, charts, and images of the original. FlashPaper makes the job of incorporating complex, multi-media rich presentations, flowcharts or CAD drawings, system designs with UML diagrams, project updates with Gannt charts and other graphics-rich reports very manageable.

But there is more. Contribute 3 has enhanced imports of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and most importantly Access database info your web pages - again with full formatting and additional controls. This is handy for displaying database tables. Contribute also adds SFTP- a secure and notably faster FTP connection to appropriately enabled servers. In addition, Contribute 3 continues to offer Paypal linkages to simplify the process of using credit cards for charging for web products or services. There is anew Google wizard for setting up local site search; very nifty. These wizards certainly streamlined the process of incorporating PayPal and Google on websites. It would be nice to see the same type of wizards for Amazon, eBay, and some of the other major Web services.

In Summary

Many clients have pretty knowledgeable web development shops; yet more often I see their developers using Contribute as their browser - because whenever they spot a problem on a page, they can quickly go in and edit it and extinguish the bug right away. Our clientele also like Contribute because it allows them to edit pages for text and image content without having to wait on our developers. What we lose in revenue we more than make up for in greater customer satisfaction and less frayed nerves on both sides of the account.

But on the corporate side, Contribute has had a smaller following because there was not enough control of the Web development process. Contribute 3 certainly changes that. CPS-Contribute Publishing Services runs centrally on a Windows, Mac or Linux server - and greatly broadens the control of every step of the Web development process. In addition, Dreamweaver MX2004 has been updated and brought much more closely into the Contribute control process allowing Web development experts (the Webmasters) to put the finishing touches on a production website. In fact the new Macromedia Web Publishing Services Product is just this mix of Contribute 3, Dreamweaver and enhanced CPS at a special bundle pricing.

In sum Contribute is an immediate, direct web page editor (all the FTP and admin is neatly hidden in the background) which allows simple, but now expanded content management control. With its new PayPal/Google, FlashPaper 2, Mac OSX, and SecureFTP support plus improved response time, Contribute 3 keeps the polish on a very attractive product whose price at $149 is a bit of a sticky wicket; but the upgrade at $79 is more palatable, especially for Mac users.


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