In recent years, many blogging tools such as Nucleus and scripting languages such as Frontier have allowed diverse groups of users to collaborate on Web site content. But most of those tools require a working knowledge of at least HTML and often of PHP or more arcane languages. Contribute 2.0 helps noncoders, well, contribute to a common site. Contribute certainly does what it promises: it makes editing simple Web content point-and-click easy. But while Contribute 2.0 can neatly solve basic content needs, it has limited capability to work with dynamically created and scripted sites. It also requires someone on the server side to set up Contribute; you can't just load it at home and expect to start working on your company's site. If you're looking for a more powerful, and possibly faster, solution, consider Vignette and its ilk, or custom tools.
Unlike most professional graphics applications, Contribute 2.0 runs in a single-window interface; this works because Contribute is designed for editing a single Web page at a time. The screen includes three panes that list pages being viewed or edited and a persistent help section (labeled How Do I).
It looks like a Web browser, but it's not. Contribute is good at presenting competent tools in a form familiar to Web users who aren't coders.
The primary editing pane mimics a Web browser; in fact, you can use Contribute to navigate to any Web site, which the application renders fairly well. When you click the Edit Page button, however, a toolbar similar to those of early visual Web editors appears. You can click any static content and change it as long as you have made a connection to the site.
The connections system is the key to Contribute. Users can access (Make Connections To) only sites that have been configured through Contribute to be administered. That means someone with server access must run Contribute, set user permissions, and distribute encrypted keys to allowed users. As a result, random visitors can't edit the United Nations' home page, for example. This doesn't mean the site is locked to other appropriate users; Contribute integrates well with Dreamweaver, for instance.
Contribute 2.0 offers few new features compared to its debut version. As in version 1.0, there's support for Dreamweaver templates. Administrators can "lock out" sections of pages against changes, manage groups as well as individuals, and protect scripts and folders from certain users. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are supported. Text, links, and images can be dragged and dropped into page drafts; the generated HTML is fairly clean. The biggest news is that Contribute 2.0 now supports Mac OS X; Macromedia sells a lot of copies of Dreamweaver to Mac users.
Some features will warm a security freak's heart; a few will help make Contribute less of a worry to strict W3C standards fans.
Two new items should make server administrators happy: support for Secure FTP (SFTP) and encryption of Contribute user passwords. CFOs from boardroom to home office should like the new integration with PayPal Merchant Tools; an assistant helps set up credit-card payment tools easily.
Two interesting features are, for the moment, only for Windows 2000 and XP versions of Contribute 2.0. The first is FlashPaper, which renders any printable document into a pixel-perfect Flash version of itself--yes, like PDF. Some have said that this is Macromedia's first salvo at the Adobe standard. It's not clear why this isn't available for Mac OS X, which has basic support for printing documents to PDF in the Finder.
Also Windows-only is the ability to insert Microsoft Office documents into Contribute-edited pages. In the Mac version, you can drag and drop Word text, if not Excel spreadsheets, though re-creating formatting will be up to you.
Sites that run dynamically generated pages will have to do a bit of template yoga, including locking pages, moving server folders, and placing templates to accommodate Contribute; however, Macromedia provides scripts and examples to ease this transition.
Contribute bogs down on midrange Macs. In our tests, clicks in the How Do I section or on page elements, even Toolbar items, resulted in a noticeable lag that sometimes ran inexcusably long. After extended work or work with large files, we noticed significant hard disk grinding as Contribute used up all available RAM. This alone can ruin even the best-designed interface.
Good user-interface design decision: Users can get a visual recon of sites they're linking to when creating hyperlinks.
After two phone or e-mail support contacts, which must be used within 90 days of the first incident, users are forced to purchase a service program. That plan may work for business-minded and expensive programs such as Flash or Fireworks, but it's overkill for this $99 app. The service programs can cost up to nearly $800 a year. Fortunately, the Macromedia forums and other online resources are fairly extensive. Macromedia also seems to deliver good-quality service; our posted question yielded a swift e-mail response from a support rep. Contribute's built-in help feature, however, has some bugs that compound problems with the weak, built-in Mac OS X help system.
This is where most free tech support comes from, unfortunately. However, the advice isn't bad, and Macromedia reps are in attendance.