Hosting Service Helps Web Designers Stay in Control

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It's a perennial headache for Web designers: build a great Web site for a client and then have them break it or mess up the design when they try to update the content.

Konductor, a startup from Vancouver, launched a Web content management service this week that aims to address that problem. It combines Web site hosting with an extension to Adobe Dreamweaver and a desktop application built on Adobe's AIR runtime.

When designers finish building a Web site, the Dreamweaver extension lets them designate elements of the site that a client will be able to update, such as forms, drop-down menus and CSS-formatted text. They can then publish the site to Konductor's servers, where it's hosted for the client.

The client, meanwhile, downloads an AIR desktop application that lets them view the site, see which parts they can edit, and upload new content by dragging files from the desktop into the AIR application. The app also includes tools to let them create new forms and compress images for faster uploading.

The Dreamweaver extension and the AIR application are free, and Konductor charges US$20 per month to host each client Web site, said Derek Zarbrook, the company's president, who attended the Adobe Max developer show this week to launch his company.

"We're trying to make life easier for designers," he said. "We're giving them a way to let clients update their own Web sites without messing up their designs or calling the designer back to do little updates."

Adobe offers a tool in Creative Suite 4 called Contribute that has some similar capabilities. Zarbrook argued that the Konductor app is easier for clients to use and has more capabilities, like the tools for editing drop-down menus and creating forms. There's also a database on Konductor's servers where clients can store data collected at their Web sites, from end-user surveys, for example.

Konductor used AIR because it allowed it to build a user interface that's simple enough for non-technical clients to use, Zarbrook said. AIR allows files to be dragged and dropped from the desktop, something a browser-based app can't do. Also, "a lot of people are still more comfortable with desktop apps, they like to be able to fire something up and run it on the desktop," he said.

AIR and Dreamweaver both use the WebKit browser engine, so pages render in the AIR apps just as they do to the designer. Adobe AIR was introduced only 18 months ago and Zarbrook said it has problems with memory leakage, which means AIR apps use gradually more memory over time until they are shut down, but Adobe is working on that for version 2.0 of AIR, which is due out next year.

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