Macromedia Contribute 2

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  Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

Contribute could be just what you need to take charge of your website but the changes to set-up, licensing and security provide little reason to upgrade. .

Macromedia Contribute caused considerable excitement when it was launched at the end of last year as it promised to solve the biggest problem facing web publishers: how to keep site content up-to-date, under control and in budget. Previously, because of the Web's underlying HTML architecture, even the smallest content changes had to be channeled through a web professional wasting both their and the contributors' time. Contribute's great success was to provide a fool-proof environment that enabled contributors to browse to, edit and re-publish pages while providing the administrator with enough security and permissions-based control, backed up by a versioning-based safety blanket, to ensure that they could still sleep at night.

To be successful Contribute must be able to work in just about any workgroup environment. As such, the most requested change in version 2 is the new support for Macs. However this is limited to OS X and looks like it comes at the expense of dropped support for NT. Less problematic is the move to a new third-generation site connection system. This is based on a high performance, threaded architecture with file caching designed to provide a stable and persistent connection no matter how unusual or cranky your web server, firewall or even dial-up connection.

Another fundamental change is to Contribute 2's licensing arrangements. One of the program's great strengths is that end users can edit a site over the Internet from wherever they happen to be so Macromedia has sensibly changed individual licenses to enable non-concurrent use on up to two systems ie a desktop and a notebook. Of course many version 1 users would have been doing just that anyway, and on more than one system, but now that's no longer an option as Contribute 2 ushers in a Microsoft-style activation system.

Greater notebook use demands greater security. Previously if a notebook containing a copy of Contribute was stolen, the thief would have immediately been able to begin defacing the associated site. Now contributors can at least set up their own startup password to prevent unauthorized access though an administered connection-based system would have been preferable. In addition, for those sites such as government agencies and corporations which demand secure and encrypted file transfers, Contribute 2 now supports SFTP alongside its more traditional FTP and LAN connections.

Security has been improved but still isn't exactly bullet-proof.

So much for the new underlying infrastructure in Contribute 2 - what new authoring power does the end user have access to? Of course this is a balancing act as new power is likely to come at the cost of increasing complexity, but it's one that Macromedia has neatly by-passed by leaving Contribute's authoring capabilities virtually untouched. In fact the site contributor might not spot any difference at all between version 1 and 2 apart from the new welcoming screen.

Actually that's slightly unfair. Contribute 2 does offer one major new authoring capability enabling user to directly incorporate content from their favourite applications into their web pages. In fact Contribute 1 already did a good job of converting material pasted material from Word and Excel to reasonably clean HTML, but the new feature is very different as it lets you automatically and instantly add multi-page, fully-formatted documents complete with all fonts!

Sounds too good to be true? Well it's certainly not quite as simple as it sounds. To begin with the capability is only available to Windows 2000 and XP users and depends on running the document through the bundled FlashPaper Printer driver. This converts the document to a scalable and efficient SWF Flash movie complete with its own simple interface for navigation, zooming and printing. It's undoubtedly very clever and could prove useful but it does seem to have some teething problems (when I tried to print the Contribute press release the pages came out blank). Moreover it's important to recognize that you're not creating a traditional HTML web page as end users will require the latest Flash player to see your document and, unlike a web-friendly PDF file, the text in your FlashPaper document isn't searchable or selectable.

FlashPaper lets you embed fully formatted documents.

Contribute 2 has one other trick up its sleeve - the ability to "transform your website into an online store faster than you can say "e-commerce"". What this boils down to in practice is a step-by-step wizard that lets you add the code necessary to accept credit card payments online assuming that you're happy to sign up for PayPal's transaction-based scheme. And, while this could be useful for some small businesses, the system again feels bolted on and ultimately under-powered.

More importantly, to many web administrators the idea of unsupervised contributors adding pricing information directly to pages is the stuff of nightmares. This is symptomatic and there's certainly more that could be done to beef up Contribute's security generally - such as an enforced approval stage before changes go live. In a way though this is missing the point. Contribute simply isn't the right choice if you're producing a mission-critical enterprise or e-commerce site - for that you're much better off with a data-driven approach. Where Contribute scores is in those organisations where the site content is organic, a level of trust can be taken for granted and the consequences of errors wouldn't be too drastic - say a small business that wants to be able to update a professionally-designed site without either paying through the nose or having to get to grips with HTML.

Contribute isn't right for all sites but where it is, it's a must-have application that benefits everyone and is worth its weight in gold. Sadly the same can't be said of Contribute 2 as an upgrade - if you're already happily using version 1 there's little reason to switch.


Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Trial downloads/special offers from Macromedia

System requirements: Pentium II, 64Mb of RAM, 50Mb of hard disk space, Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 and XP (not NT), Internet Explorer 5 or later.

Tom Arah

August 2003



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