Review: Adobe Contribute CS3

Edit your designed website with little or no experience. (August 23rd, 2007)

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Product Manufacturer: Adobe Systems Inc.

Price: $149 US - Upgrade $79

The Good

  • Easy to use set-up and Connection Wizards. User friendly interface. Set up access controls for multiple users. Offline editing of blogs. No web design experience required. Universal Binary for Intel based Macs.

The Bad

  • Many features not available in the Macintosh version. Prohibitive price for casual users or bloggers.

In the last few years, the market has expanded for people or small businesses that need a presence on the Web. Several software developers have answered the call with clever and easy to use WYSIWYG applications that make building a good looking web site easy, but they fall short when creating a professional site. These applications lean more towards a MySpace page or a personal website than something that caters to a business.

Adobe Contribute is aimed at the business that doesn't have unlimited funds for site creation. Traditionally Contribute has been a way for non-web designers to easily update and maintain a website. When Contribute was part of Macromedia, before the Adobe absorption, the target market was small business and corporate users. The idea was to have a web designer design the initial site using Dreamweaver or Dreamweaver templates, but the site could be updated by anyone with Contribute. Changes could be made to the website with a word processor, like Microsoft Word, which eliminated the need for recurring web design costs and updates. When originally released in 2003, there were few low cost WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web design applications that could produce good looking or professional sites with ease so Contribute had its place in the market. Although the price tag per license has always been prohibitive for the casual user, web designers often promoted it to their small business clients. When the client opted to buy Contribute, the web designer was off the hook for every little minor update needed on a web site. Contribute filled a niche until programs like iWeb and RapidWeaver.

Install

My copy of Contribute came as part of the Adobe Creative Suite 3 Web Premium product that includes Dreamweaver, Flash, Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, Acrobat, and Contribute, version 4.1. Bundled with such impressive software colleagues, Contribute is icing on the cake. The complete product install is simple, but time consuming. The one feature I miss is the Adobe splash screens that told you about the products as it installed. They were a lot more interesting than watching a progress bar for 45 minutes. On the bright side, the new Adobe registration process is painless. The single product version of Contribute installs in just minutes.

Set Up

When Contribute first opens, you can choose between setting up a connection to your Website and Blog or taking a Contribute tour. The Tour walks you through editing and connection basics, plus some of its features. You are guided through how to do some edits as though you are working on a real site on the Internet. I recommend starting with the tour to become familiar with Contribute.

Ready for the Web

The review of this software took longer than I anticipated because I am a longtime Adobe GoLive User. I had to learn Dreamweaver CS3 and Contribute at the same time, but you do not need Dreamweaver to use Contribute. I was able to do simple edits on websites done in GoLive and even Apple's iWeb without a problem.

Contribute uses an easy to understand connection and set-up wizard that allows you to connect to almost any of your web sites. You simply plug in the required information and Contribute connects to the site and downloads the page you want to edit on your local computer. You can save the page as a draft and work offline, then publish to the web as needed. The only feature missing is a preview file in Browser option, but since the edit window does live rendering, maybe that preview is not needed.

If your website was created by a web designer, the webmaster can give editors an access key that allows multiple users to edit certain content or areas of the site, so the design is never compromised. The webmaster can give users certain degrees of access control, including administrator, write only, and write and publish. The webmaster can also assign multiple rollbacks to previous saved versions, in case of mistakes or errors.

The Contribute interface is similar to Dreamweaver, but only includes some of the basic functions. Attributes such as heading size, font, text size, font style, alignment, and bullet points appear in a Word-like tool bar, so users should feel comfortable making adjustments. The web-oriented tools like insert image, links, and tables are in another area. Drop down menus offer specific options, such as link to Draft or Recent Pages, File on my Computer, email address, and Browse to Web page, which makes for a very user friendly experience.

If you want to start a site from scratch Contribute also includes lot of template Web pages based on various categories. You can easily build and create a web site. You simply pick a style or category, load the template, and replace the text and content with your own. The Starter web pages are oriented for business and education, but several other formats are included.

Now works with Blogs

Adobe is aware of the way the web has changed and adapted Contribute to support the changes by adding Blog support. Contribute CS3 integrates with popular Blog software such as TypePad, Blogger, and WordPress, among others. You never know when inspiration will strike, so with Contribute CS3, you can create your blog entry and view it as a WYSIWYG entry on your local drive before uploading it.

I have a few WordPress blogs, so I was able to test Contribute with those. I had to play with the settings and permissions several times before I was able to get a decent post uploaded, but that may be due to anti spam measures I have in place. If you have a website hosted on the Blog servers, Contribute may be more user friendly with your settings and set-up. The big advantage of using Contribute to manage your blog is that you can write multiple posts offline, save them as your inspiration strikes, and upload them later when you have an Internet connection

One big advantage of blogging is the low or no cost way of getting your message out on the web, but with Contribute's $149 price tag, I'm not sure many users will pay that price for the convenience of working offline. If Adobe took a page from Photoshop Elements and created a less expensive light version of Contribute just for blogs, then it may appeal to some bloggers.

Marginally Ready for Macintosh

One of the big drawbacks to Contribute CS3 is that some of the new features only work in the Windows version. For example, the most useful feature for most small business, the ability to publish to your website directly from within Microsoft Office.

Closing Impressions

Overall the notion you can edit and update your website in one simple user friendly application like Contribute is a good one. Contribute had its place in the market back when complex software like Dreamweaver or GoLive were overpriced and overkill for most people or small businesses that wanted to create simple websites. Whether Contribute is still viable at the current retail price remains to be seen.

Contribute is still a great option for a small business who has a professionally designed website and needs to be able to do minor updates in-house. Yet, it is a shame that a few of the best features are missing in the Macintosh version.

For the Blogger or person who has a personal website, the $149 cost of admission is rather steep considering the other alternatives out there at less than a third of that price. Hopefully Adobe will update features to integrate it with Microsoft Word and Excel when Office 2008 for Mac is released. Potential users should download Adobe's 30-Day Free Trial to see if Contribute suits their needs.



8/23/07, 1pm: Corrections made. Adobe Contribute CS3 is a universal binary application.

by Art Payne


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