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With NetObjects authoring Server Suite 2000, Net Objects Inc. has given Web site administrators a broader range of control over site content, expanding what had been a strong team development system into a potent set of tools for content management.
Released last month, Authoring Server Suite 2000 provides a capable Web content management system that will be especially attractive to businesses already using Net Objects' Fusion Web authoring tool. Pricing for the suite is $19,850 for a 20-client system and $49,625 for a 50-client system, which is competitive with other midrange Web content management packages.
Where earlier NetObjects products focused primarily on coordinating teams of Fusion authors, the new suite goes much further. NetObjects has added broad-based management features such as workflow, site rollbacks and a browser-based client that lets non-HTML-savvy users add content to the site.
These features, when combined with the excellent development and site management features found in Fusion, make Authoring Server Suite 2000 a compelling system for managing large and complex Web sites. The suite also includes very good administration features for automating, monitoring and publishing to multiple Web servers.
In PC Week Labs' tests, the NetObjects suite stacked up well against rival Web content management systems such as Dyna Base from eBusiness Technologies (a division of Inso Corp.) and Future Tense Inc.'s Internet Publishing System. As with any similar package, though, extensive retraining is required.
Our only quibbles are with the suite's lack of component-level versioning and its workflow features, which have the free-form style typical of document management systems. Companies that place a high priority on version ing or enforcement of a strict workflow should look elsewhere.
However, in just about every other area, Authoring Server Suite 2000 holds its own as a content management package, providing capabilities such as check-in/check-out, rights management, cross-site asset management and site history. (To see PC Week Labs' Shoot-Out on Web content management packages, go to www. zdnet.com/pcweek/stories/ news/0,4153,2329627,00.html.)
When it comes to user management, the NetObjects suite is one of the most flexible content management systems we've seen. It can directly import user information from Windows NT and LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) directories and can also maintain its own user directory.
User roles are defined by assigning privileges to individual users. The privileges cover most content publishing bases, but they are predefined, and the suite offers no means for creating custom privileges. And although we could assign teams of users to each site, we couldn't define privileges to a group of users, which would have been useful for creating a group with specific privileges and then simply dropping users into that group. Depending on the number of users, this could be a time-consuming chore.
The power of Fusion
When it comes to publishing content to a site, the Authoring Server suite comes on strong. The suite distinguishes between two types of content contributors, those with HTML developer skills and those who just need to add basic content to pages.
The TeamFusion client, essentially a workgroup version of the Fusion tool that leverages Authoring Server, is tailored for the developer-level user. With this excellent tool, we could create and edit pages and site templates, share components with other users, and view an entire site using Fusion's highly intuitive structure view. The view also let us see at a glance the status of each page, such as whether it was checked out or under review. This tool also includes a real-time messaging feature that lets developers quickly contact one another for basic collaboration and chat.
By adding special data lists, we could also set up pages that enabled novice users to author and contribute content. These specialized lists essentially create content entry forms for use in the Content Contributor Client. Novice users can access this Java-based client through a browser and easily add structured content without needing knowledge of HTML (see screen).
For workflow, we could assign review tasks to users to make sure the right people viewed a page before it was published. However, we couldn't define a strict, staged workflow that would carry every piece of content through a prescribed process en route to publication—a capability that some businesses value highly.
Authoring Server Suite 2000 has some of the best site management features we've seen in a content management application. In addition to the excellent site views in the TeamFusion client, it includes a remote administration application that makes it possible to quickly view activity within the system and publish histories for each site.
We could also roll back an entire site to a previous version and could automate tasks such as scheduled uploads to Web servers or backups of sites.
Senior Analyst Jim Rapoza can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PC Week Labs Executive Summary: NetObjects Authoring Server Suite 2000
Building on its strengths in HTML authoring and group development, NetObjects has created a system that enables companies to manage content on large and complex Web sites and intranets. However, although the Authoring Server Suite meets many core Web content management needs, it lacks component-level versioning, and its workflow may be too free-flow for businesses that prefer strictly controlled workflow.
Short-term Business Impact: Sites already using NetObjects Fusion for Web development will see immediate payback from the Authoring Server Suite, allowing them to bring much of their site content under control. The suite also works with other Web development tools, but businesses will have to weigh the practicality of essentially implementing two development tools for their users.
Long-term Business Impact: Effective use of a Web content management system can bring order to chaos, allowing businesses to make sure that site content is created, approved and published in the proper manner. However, managers should take care not to create a management system that handcuffs staff by stifling creativity, flexibility and the ability to act quickly. Authoring Server Suite 2000 leaves plenty of room for flexibility.
Pros: Excellent and diverse content creation and publishing features; thorough site administration features; easy-to-use Web browser client for novice content creators.
Cons: No component-level versioning; can't enforce strict, staged workflow; no group-level roles.
NetObjects Inc., Redwood City, Calif.; (888) 482-3200; www.netobjects.com
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