Thursday, December 7, 2006

Adobe Contribute 4 Review

I completed my free 30-day trial of Adobe Contribute 4 in November.

I'm a blogger, not a serious web designer.

For me, as a blogger, I found Adobe Contribute to not quite be there yet. I will not be spending $149 to buy this as a blog editor (way over-priced for the blogging marketplace). I would like to see Adobe come up with a special edition which is really focused on being the best blog editor on the planet, at a very low price point. I think they would find a large and growing market for such a piece of software. Adobe Contribute can do it, but not in its present form. The blogging support felt more like an add-on to an already-existing product. I would be happy to be a beta customer for a true blogger-focused offering.

Here are the rough notes I took while kicking the tires on Adobe Contribute:

  • Crash == Lose Article!
    While writing my first large article, Adobe Contribute 4 crashed on me (I'm on a Mac), losing all of my hard work. Not nice. As a result, I've learned to save the document after every paragraph. I don't want that to happen again. I would expect a publishing tool priced at $149 to save my document while I type and not lose data during an application or operating system crash.

  • The WYSIWYG editing is both too good and not good enough.
    The editing window is designed to look like how the article will look when it is actually on the blog. As a result, you get a giant screen filled with static blog junk all around it, which limits the working area for the article itself. That's not really how writers want to write. Why can't I turn off that part of the WYSIWYG and just have a box for the article that is WYSIWYG?

  • Formatting is unnecessarily restricted.
    I can't center a paragraph, for example, so it makes it impossible to center a picture on the page. I think this is some limitation or bug with how Contribute interprets the CSS of my blog template (I use Wordpress). Still, it's pretty annoying.

  • Where's my cursor?
    At least on the Mac, I frequently cannot find my cursor, or the cursor is shown as being one space away from a character, but pressing Delete will erase the character instead of the space that was shown. Very annoying.

  • Multiple categories not supported for an article.
    I'm not sure that Contribute has full support for the MetaWebLog API. You could only specify a single category for a post. What? So, I had to edit each article in Wordpress after submitting it. Also, there's no way to enter in Trackbacks to ping. What?

  • Bullets don't look right.
    Could be another CSS interpretation problem, but my bullets have bad formatting while entering text, but appear correctly on the blog.

  • Spell-check is not performed automatically while I type.
    I have to ask for the spell-check to happen before I publish. That's just another step in the workflow that I shouldn't have to remember to do (and would often forget). Make it automatic with the squiggly red line under misspelled words, please. For $149, I completely expect this.

  • Insert Link or Image often fails with nasty error message.
    I start every article by inserting an image. After inserting the image, I would no longer be able to enter in a Link (anchor). I would receive a nasty "region" error message, implying that I was tring to edit something in the static part of the page. The workaround was to save the article and reload it.

  • Trackback support weak or completely absent.
    Trackbacks should be figured out automatically in the background, based on the links that I enter into my article. This would be a killer addition to the product for bloggers. The tool should determine the trackback address to use for each article that I link to.

  • Safari integration lacking.
    On the Mac, Contribute only support Firefox 1.5. I couldn't get the toolbar support to work on Firefox 2.0 or on Safari.

  • Problems connecting with one of my wordpress.com blogs.
    I've got a test blog on wordpress.com that is separate from this blog. Contribute could not connect to it because I use a different user-id to edit that blog. Contribute expectes the user-id to match the name of the blog, or something silly like that.

  • Wrong installation path.
    Contribute installed into "/", rather than "/Applications" folder. I think I figured out that the Contribute installer application was different enough from the typical installer applications that, strictly speaking, this was my fault. However, I think Contribute should follow installer prompts in a way that follows the norm.

  • Adding an Image by dragging?
    I was never able to add an image by dragging it directly into the article. Furthermore, I could not add an image to an article by browsing to the page and selecting it. Contribute only allowed me to add images from my local hard disk. I.e., it was not nearly as helpful as it could have been for image management.

  • Setting publish date for the blog article?
    I found no way to set or change the date of an article.

  • Publish from Microsoft Office capability is Windows only.
    Why? I've got Microsoft Office on my Mac, too...

  • Integrates with NetNewsWire!
    I was pleased to find that Contribute integrates with NetNewsWire. However, the integration was pretty simple and I didn't like the format of the articles/links that were chosen.

  • ##TITLE## with ##CONTENT## added as an entry to my RSS feed
    When i did my first post, there was a phantom entry made that ended up in my RSS feed, but not on the website itself. I have no idea why.

  • Can't insert a bitmap "bmp" image?
    Contribute does not appear to be able to handl .bmp images. That's unfortunate, and required me to convert the images manually.

  • Not a Mac Universal application at present
    That didn't bother me, since I'm on a Power Mac, but for $149, it should be Universal by this time.

  • Firefox extension did not work with FireFox 2, and crashed Firefox 1.5.

  • How do I edit raw HTML?
    I could not find any way to edit the raw HTML that was being generated. I sometimes need to do that to properly embed videos or other media.

  • Trackback URL is NOT a list of Trackback URLs that you should notify of your post!
    Apparently, their use of Trackback URL is just to specify where other should trackback to this particular article. I leave that up to the Wordpress application, so I'm not sure why they exposed that field, but neglected to expose the list of trackbacks that you'd like this article to ping.


On the plus side, I did like the auto-resizing of images.

Contribute is a nice piece of software, but I just don't see it being a match for the blogger community yet. Hopefully Adobe will take another crack at it, and fully embrae the Mac audience, which sorely needs a professional-grade blogging tool.

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3 comments:

  1. I 100% agree with you. This piece of software reminds me of another Adobe flop called Live Motion... It made it to version 2 and then abruptly died. Full cardiac arrest. It just disappeared from their website and was never mentioned again.

    Live Motion suffered many of the same aliments as Contribute does. They are like twin brothers.

    Why would a leading content creation software company create such flops? It is beyond me... Then again, I started using Photoshop back when it was version 3 and guess what? It sucked too back then. Paint Shop Pro has a better and easier interface. I actually got my brother who makes a living as a designer to prefer it over Photoshop for another 2 versions when it came to quick edits.

    I hope they get their act together. I tried editing a wordpress blog that is hosted on my own server and it was horrible. A bad joke. Contribute tried to edit basically my entire blog face instead of entries and the entries I couldn't even edit because I could see when it put them in the window. Basically it couldn't tell where my added PHP code started and Wordpress PHP code left off.

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  2. Hey vrocks,

    I hear you and completely agree.

    Adobe Contribute is simply not a bloggers tool in its current incarnation. It may be trying to be all things to all people and failing at all of it. I don't know - I didn't try to use Contribute for anything other than blogging.

    As for why big companies end up releasing flops? That one's easy.

    Let's start with the fact that Adobe is one seriously good software development company. They really do have some of the best software designers, developers, architect, and product managers at the company.

    But, if you create enough products, some of them are bound to miss the market - either with poor timing, or poor quality, or poor integration, or lack of features, or poor usability, or poor performance, or too expensive, or crappy support, or ... You get the idea. Writing great software is hard.

    Adobe is darn good at it, though. Most of the time.

    The other thing that big companies have that startups don't is the patience to keep plugging away at a software product until it is great. Listening to customers, revising, improving. Eventually, sometimes, they get it right.

    Microsoft is king at that.

    Anyway, enough of my rant. Thanks for the feedback!

    -Brian

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  3. eric,

    Thanks for the excellent comment!

    I feel your pain.

    I am currently Beta testing the Adobe Contribute CS3 product. Can't talk about the experience, but will once the product is released.

    -Brian

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