Macromedia, Ektron balance functionality, affordability

Usability, easy integration distinguish Ektron CMS400.Net and Macromedia WPS

The CMS (content management system) market remains top-heavy with expensive, complex solutions, such as Documentum, Interwoven, and Vignette. There’s little question they have a place in large organizations that have document management and other sophisticated publishing needs.

But many enterprises simply want to ease the management of their Web site content -- a task that, increasingly, has become the forte of low-end CMS products from companies such as RedDot and hosted CMS providers such as CrownPeak and Atomz.

To find out whether products in this range have what it takes, I ran Ektron’s CMS400.Net 4.5 and Macromedia’s WPS (Web Publishing System) 1.0 through a series of tests to build, publish, and maintain a typical Web site or intranet.

Both products are up to the task -- but with discernible differences. Macromedia’s WPS requires a full client application to deliver top-notch usability. If your needs don’t go far beyond editing and publishing pages, you can’t go wrong for the price.

On the opposite pole, CMS400.Net shows it’s possible to have a full-blown CMS at an affordable price. The penalties I found, however, are a steeper learning curve, longer development cycles, and reliance on Microsoft back-end technology.

Macromedia Web Publishing System 1.0

WPS combines three Macromedia products: the revamped Contribute 3 client application, which allows end-users to edit Web sites; the new Contribute Publishing Services product, which allows IT managers to centrally manage access to sites; and popular Web design ensemble Macromedia Studio MX 2004, which -- Contribute 3-enabled -- eases the burden of building sites. Although pundits might first think Macromedia has simply touched up current products and called it a system, my testing showed a lot of thought and new technology went into this solution, and thus it should work very well for many enterprise Web projects.

This release works with various IT environment and Web design methods. For instance, you don’t need to create sites with Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 2004. WPS manages almost any HTML-based site, even those built with Microsoft FrontPage 2003 or those that are hand-coded. For my tests, I used Dreamweaver.

From Dreamweaver, I easily set permissions on library items, such as menus and style sheets, and on shared assets, including images, so that all Contribute editors would have read access to these elements. Because Dreamweaver and WPS share the same versioning and check-in/check-out system, I could safely make changes to layouts, and those revisions automatically flowed through to the published site.

Yet, Contribute 3 is the real core of the WPS. In general, the basic browse, edit, and publish metaphor remains unchanged. From the Contribute client app, end-users browse to a Web site, click the Edit button, make changes as they would using a Microsoft desktop app, and then press Publish to instantly update the live site.

Still, I found a number of changes that improve this experience for developers and content publishers. For instance, Contribute 3 now shares Dreamweaver’s accurate CSS rendering. As a result, text and layout changes made in Contribute 3’s editing mode appeared as they would when pages were published. Additionally, Version 3 includes the Macromedia Fireworks image-editing technology for making in-place edits to photos. I liked the ability to drag and drop text from Word and to insert video.

Because Macromedia is now positioning Contribute 3 for enterprise deployments, I was especially keen on testing its new administration and workflow tools, which received passing grades. Foremost, setting up users is painless. From the Administration menu, I picked the appropriate role, such as an author who could edit but not publish pages.

The new approval system allows several users to collaborate on site updates before they go live; a straightforward, one-step Send for Review function routes pages to the appropriate manager, who checks the work and then publishes. Dreamweaver 2004 developers can also be part of the workflow, as might be required if new graphics or coding changes are requested.

For large enterprise deployments, Contribute Publishing Services plays a significant role. It’s a lightweight server application that connects to LDAP or Active Directory. When users open Contribute 3, Contribute Publishing Services authenticates them and lists the sites they’re authorized to access, thus saving admins a lot of setup and maintenance work. Publishing Services also logs user activity and sends e-mail notifications when pages or assets change.

Macromedia WPS has progressed significantly from the stand-alone Contribute 2 product. Contribute 3 by itself will handle departmental needs, and its tight integration with Dreamweaver streamlines development. Yet Contribute Publishing Services should interest IT managers most. Besides user authentication, the API enables programmers to build, for instance, server-side workflow tasks such as checking in files after publication. Granted, this type of advanced workflow operation should already be part of a CMS. Given the low cost and usability of WPS, however, it’s hard to fault Macromedia for focusing its efforts where it did.

Ektron CMS400.Net 4.5

Ektron has progressed from its browser-based eWebEditPro editor to its own Web content management products. The latest, CMS400.Net, works exclusively within Microsoft’s .Net Web services framework. For enterprises in step with Microsoft’s vision, CMS400.Net is a fine fit, offering strong XML support and hooks to Microsoft development tools, along with usability and quick deployments -- two important areas that expensive, complex CMSes don’t adequately address.

Installing it on Windows Server 2003 with SQL Server 2000 took approximately 30 minutes, and making my basic site functional took less than a day.

As with most pure CMS products, you first create and organize your site’s content and then apply consistent styles and access controls. CMS400.Net consolidates these jobs within a browser-based work area similar to that of Outlook 2003. The resulting UI streamlines the creation of folders and subfolders for content, building a library of images and other shared elements, and managing users and groups.

Additionally, this “smart desktop” acts as a day-to-day project manager by displaying tasks such as content awaiting your approval.

More experienced content authors use the same folder-tree UI for locating and editing content and for adding new pages. Unlike many CMS products, however, CMS400.Net also allows end-users to log in, navigate to a Web page, and edit it directly. I was pleased that authorized users could use the same basic process to update site navigation such as adding another page to a drop-down menu.

Whereas most content managers supply a WYSIWYG editor with decent text-formatting commands, Ektron’s eWebEditPro+XML goes farther. I appreciated the ability to configure cleaning levels, which strip out extraneous tags from text pasted in from Word but maintain formatting of tables and text styles.

Most intriguing is the XML aspect of this editor. I quickly built a contact form that saved keyed-in information to my SQL database. The process is painless because all the underlying XML tags are hidden from the author, as is the need to manipulate the database directly. The same XML approach works when you want to embed XML data as part of Web pages.

XML takes center stage in several other areas as well. Built-in RSS syndication enabled me to publish the news section of my intranet as an RSS feed. Second, an XML indexing module provides basic keyword search for site visitors and helps editors locate library and content assets. I was also able to build advanced navigation by feeding XML metadata within pages to a custom Macromedia Flash movie.

CMS400.Net offers solid site administration, including expected history tracking, a virtual staging server for previewing changes, the ability to roll back sites to a prior state, and functionality for publishing and retiring content at specific times.

Ektron CMS400.Net offers surprising depth for the price, including workflow tasks and the ability to work easily with XML forms and XHTML (Extensible HTML) documents and data. Moreover, the .Net framework enables fast integration with Microsoft products such as SharePoint Portal. The downside is that you’re tied to Microsoft technology; Ektron says there are no current plans for Linux support nor for porting to J2EE servers.

Macromedia WPS and Ektron CMS400.Net demonstrate that IT managers have serious, affordable Web content management choices. Whereas Macromedia WPS delivers straightforward editing and publishing capabilities at a good price, Ektron offers superior functionality, but its reliance on Microsoft technology may prove undesirable to some shops.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Scalability (10.0%)
Integration (20.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Flexibility (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Macromedia Web Publishing System 1.0 8.0 7.0 9.0 7.0 9.0 8.0 7.9
Ektron CMS400.Net 4.5 8.0 8.0 8.0 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0