Macromedia updates light-duty Web tool

The software maker adds antipiracy product activation and Mac OS X support to Contribute, its Web publishing tool aimed at ordinary office workers.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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David Becker
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Macromedia plans to update its light-duty Web publishing application, adding support for the Mac operating system and integrating controversial antipiracy technology.

The software publisher plans to announce on Wednesday version 2 of Contribute, a collection of tools introduced last year to allow ordinary office workers to update and manage content on Web sites.

The new version will be the first Macromedia product to use "product activation," an increasingly common antipiracy technique in which the installation process for a piece of software ties that copy to a particular PC configuration.

Microsoft introduced the technology with Windows XP, and Intuit has followed suit with the most recent retail versions of its TurboTax tax preparation products. In both cases, there were widespread consumer complaints about buggy installations and problems with the software when used with PC components that had been upgraded. Intuit later backtracked, saying it would not use product activation in future versions of TurboTax.

Macromedia competitor Adobe Systems also recently began experimenting with product activation in Australian versions of some of its products.

Erik Larson, senior product manager for Macromedia, said activation technology in Contribute 2 will be based on software by Macrovision, the same company that supplied Intuit. But Macromedia's version will be heavily customized to allow for installation on two PCs and to be forgiving of hardware changes.

Larson said use of product activation in other Macromedia products will be guided by comments from Contribute owners. "We wanted to get a wide range of feedback about activation," he said. Contribute "spans two sets of customers, so we thought it would be a good example."

Jeffrey Tarter, editor of software industry newsletter SoftLetter, said Intuit's experience shows that the more a software product appeals to average consumers, the tougher it is to introduce product activation.

"Most professional software and high-end business software already has some form of copy protection on it, and those people deal with it fine," he said. "It's the true consumer market that goes nuts over activation."

Contribute, aimed at ordinary office workers, falls close enough to the consumer end that Macromedia should be careful, Tarter said.

"It's such an emotional issue that I've never seen anyone be as cautious as they should be," he said. "This is one of those very emotional issues where, for some reason, software companies do not seem to learn. After 20 years of experimenting with copy protection...they still have this fantasy that consumers are going to love this solution."

Besides product activation, the other big news in Contribute 2 is support for Mac OS X, the latest version of Apple Computer's operating system. The creative professionals who set up and promote Contribute in their companies often use Macs, Larson said, and pushed for a product that worked both on their machines and on the Windows PCs of co-workers.

"We got some very clear and consistent feedback that they wanted cross-platform support," he said.

Contribute 2 will also introduce FlashPaper, a new implementation of Macromedia's Flash animation format that uses Flash to produce attractively formatted pages of text for Web display. Rumored by some in the publishing industry to be a potential challenger to Adobe's portable document format (PDF), FlashPaper is a Web-only format that does not have the ability to save, transmit or send documents, Larson said.

"It's literally just a document viewer. It's not a document-sharing technology," he said. "I see it more likely being a complement to a PDF deployment."

The argument for Contribute remains the same: The software gives regular office workers a safe, streamlined vehicle for making basic updates to Web pages, which frees up designers and developers to concentrate on more creative tasks. Larson said Macromedia has sold about 70,000 copies of the software and found Web professionals to be the most effective recruiters for getting Contribute into their office.

"Most of our marketing and communication has been to the Web professionals," Larson said. "They get out of this pain and suffering of having to do constant updates."