Content Server Gets Make-Over

Microsoft's updated Web site content manager delivers better integration with .Net and XML.

With its release of Content Management Server 2002, Microsoft Corp. has taken the previous version, which is essentially a re-branding of acquired technology suited mainly to departments and intranets, and transformed it into a platform that can easily manage large, complex Web sites.

eWeek Labs tests show that Microsofts Content Management Server 2002, which shipped earlier this month, is an excellent upgrade of the product. Content Management Server 2002 not only gains strong new capabilities but also goes a long way toward integrating with other Microsoft .Net servers and development environments. This integration increases the capability of the content management server and makes it a good platform for creating and managing Web services.

In addition, like the rest of Microsofts .Net line, Content Management Server 2002 is very much XML-aware, both in its support for Web services and in its ability to accept content as XML.

Content Management Server 2002 also features much tighter integration with Microsoft Word, making it easy for any content contributor to submit content to the site directly from Word.

Given its increased management capabilities, improved development options and XML support, we found Content Management Server 2002 to be a valid option for companies looking for a platform to manage complex Web sites—as long as the company lives mainly in the Microsoft-technology-only world in which this product works best. (See eWeek Labs assessment of Bricolage, an open-source alternative.)

One of the nicest things about the new version is that its added capabilities dont come at an extra cost. Prices for Content Management Server 2002 are the same as for the previous version, Content Management Server 2001: $42,999 per CPU. Although this is a high price for a Microsoft server product, it is less than the prices for competing products such as Percussion Software Inc.s Rhythmyx and Stellent Inc.s Content Management.

As Microsofts newest server product, Content Management Server 2002 requires the latest updates to run, including Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000 Server, Service Pack 2 for SQL Server 2000, and—if you want to take advantage of the ASP .Net Web services features—.Net Framework and its latest service pack.

One feature that will be familiar to users of the previous version, as well as the products earlier incarnation as NCompass Resolution, is the Site Manager application. From this Windows application, we could define the site layout, manage templates and resources, and define user roles and rights.

We could also create multiple channels for individual sites, making it possible to manage multiple sites from the same Content Management Server.

Although the Site Manager application is capable, we would prefer a purely browser-based administration option, which would make it easier to manage sites from any system. In addition, Content Management Server 2002 handles workflow through user rights and roles, which should be more than enough control for most sites, although businesses that have strict workflow requirements will need a more advanced workflow process.

One Content Management Server interface that is purely browser-based (although that browser must be Internet Explorer) is that of the Site Author. From this interface, we could not only add content but could also manage the content creation, review, approval and publishing process. This works by adding management into a box as logged-in site authors browse the site.

Also from this interface—which will be the only one that most site authors see—we could view important information about added content, including entire revision histories.

Another new feature is Authoring Connector. With this capability, novice content contributors can send content to Content Management Server from within Word.

For sites interested in Web services and advanced Web application development, probably the most welcome new feature is the support for ASP .Net and the tight integration with Visual Studio .Net. Using this integration, which is similar to the Visual Studio .Net integration in Microsofts BizTalk Server, we could build portions of our site to work as Web services or integrate other Web services into our site.

The server also integrates with Microsofts Visual SourceSafe to provide source code management for Web site code.

Content Management Server 2002s increased support for XML includes support for XML Schema and the ability to apply XML transformations. The servers new XML place holder made it very easy for us to incorporate XML-based services and applications into Web content.

Content Management Server 2002 includes pre-built controls that make it easy to add standard functionality to the site. However, users should audit these controls before using them because these types of bundled applications have been leveraged as points of attack for malicious hackers. A software development kit is also available to help businesses create their own server controls.

A notable strength of the previous version of Content Management Server is its ability to manage content deployment to and from staging servers or for deployment to various servers. Microsoft has extended this capability in the new edition through integration with Microsoft Application Center. Using this integration, we could deploy all the characteristics of a site, which gave us greater flexibility with content design as well as with user rights and management.

We could also use this feature to set up scheduled updates from a development server to a live server, which is especially useful for sites whose content changes regularly but constantly during a given day.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]