Contribute 4

It takes a lot of skill and talent to create a website that looks great and works smoothly. But a major task still awaits you after you’ve launched the site, namely keeping it fresh with new content.

The dilemma for web designers and IT departments is profound: their clients and users clamour for the ability to make site updates, but it’s very easy for those users to accidentally destroy the website’s design. Adobe Contribute 4 enables content creators to maintain, edit, and add new web pages from templates, without needing to know HTML and without the possibility of breaking the site.

Site administrators can assign different levels of editing privileges to their users, further constraining the possible changes that well-intentioned but unskilled users can make to pages. This control can be quite detailed; for example, users can be allowed to enter text, but not to apply styles to their entries. An administrator can also specify that some users can make draft changes to pages, but must send them to a supervisor for approval before the pages go live on the site.

Blog support
Contribute 4’s major new feature is the ability to create and edit posts for blogs. The program supports a wide range of blog servers, including Typepad, Blogger, and WordPress, as well as servers that implement the MetaWeblog API (notably Movable Type and Drupal). Get started by creating a connection to your blog with Contribute’s Connection Wizard, just as you would with any other website. You can have connections to as many blogs as you want, and it’s very convenient to use the same editing interface for all of your blogs and websites, rather than use different tools to accomplish essentially the same job.

If you create Flash Video files, you can now drag and drop them into Contribute, as you previously could do with other media files such as QuickTime and AVI (although, not MP3 or other audio files). One oddity, though, is that it still creates FlashPaper files, the former Macromedia’s alternative to PDF.

If you use Firefox, you can install and use Contribute 4’s new two-button toolbar. The first button, Edit in Contribute, enables you to edit the current page, as long as it’s on a site to which you have previously set up an editing connection. The second button, Post to Blog, works after you select some text on a web page. When you click the button, Contribute creates a new blog post with an attribution link to the page, and the selected text in block quotes with its other formatting intact. Unfortunately, there are no equivalent toolbar features for Safari (in comparison, Weblog editing competitors such as Adriaan Tijsseling’s ecto and Newsgator Technologies’ MarsEdit provide similar Post to Blog ability for Safari through bookmarklets (small JavaScript programs that can be stored as URLs within a browser’s bookmarks).

One annoyance that hasn’t improved since the previous version is that Contribute takes as much as 30 seconds to retrieve pages from a site and switch into editing mode, or to publish draft pages to the web server, during which time you must wait for the activity to finish and can’t do any other work. Moreover, users with fast Intel-based Macs won’t enjoy any speed benefit, because Contribute is still based on PowerPC code and runs under Rosetta. Performance for such tasks as editing and publishing a page were virtually identical on our G5 and MacBook.

Windows wins
The Windows version of Contribute has always contained features not found in the Mac version, and Contribute 4 continues this sad tradition. On the Windows side this time around, you’ll find improved integration with Microsoft Office, including the ability to drag and drop Office documents into Contribute, which converts them into HTML pages, and new toolbars for Word, Excel, and Outlook that allow you to make new web pages from their documents with a single click.

Given that Contribute 3 was released more than two years ago, it’s a real disappointment that Adobe has not managed to convert the Mac version to a Universal binary or bring it up to feature parity with the Windows version. That leaves the blogging features as the main improvement for your upgrade money, and if you want a good blog editor, you can get one for £15 or less with either ecto or MarsEdit. We also found several minor bugs, including inconsistent preview of pages in editing dialogs, and some odd XHTML rendering that will prevent some pages from properly validating as correct XHTML.

OUR VERDICT

Contribute 4 is a bit of an odd duck because it is often purchased by IT departments for others to use. If you’re a designer or IT manager and you want to roll out blogs to your user base while maintaining tight control of the look and operation of your sites, Contribute 4 is a very good choice. However, the lack of Office integration is irritating. For individuals, it’s a thornier choice. If you didn’t upgrade to Contribute 3, then you should upgrade to Contribute 4. But if you own Contribute 3 and you’re not interested in the new blogging features, then move along, because there’s not much to see here.

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