When Written: Sept 2001
Verdict: A good way to manage web site development, providing task management, discussion groups, versioning and a client web site all in one package.
Price: All prices exclude VAT
3 user £1300
Supplier – Unipalm – 01638 569600
Internet – www.macromedia.com
System Requirements (min for up to 5 users) –
OS – NT4 SP6 server, Windows 2000 SP1 server
CPU – Intel Pentium 400Mhz
Ram – 320M
Disc – 50% utilization
Web Server – IIS 4/5
As soon as you move away from developing web sites for your own company, or start to have other people involved with the design or development of a web site, then the problems start. Often the other people involved are not in the same office as you, the client definitely will not be, and clients have the audacity to have different ideas to you!. Somehow you need to manage these people and make sure they all know what needs to be done. You also need a way to allow all of them to suggest changes, discuss issues and for the project manager to assign tasks to individuals, so that one job does not get done by more that one person.
Along with all this, the client needs to be kept up to date with how the project is progressing. The client will also want to be involved in some of the discussions and to suggest changes. The ability to ‘roll back’ changes at any time and also to create ‘snapshots’ of the site is very useful as a project progresses. Managing this can become quite a headache, a lot of us do this by using a combination of phone calls, email, public exchange folders, post-it notes, scraps of paper, knots in handkerchiefs and any other methods of communicating and reminding that seem appropriate at the time! Soon it becomes obvious that a better way needs to be found. There are several commercial products out there, but most are aimed at large design houses and have a price tag to match. Macromedia, sensing a hole in the marketplace, have released Sitespring, which claims to help out in just this area and at a starting price of £1300 is affordable by most web design companies who take these issues seriously.
Sitespring is installed on the same box as your development web server, and the initial setup, administration and the running of Sitespring is all done via a web interface. The server must be running NTFS otherwise Sitespring will not install. In fact, for all users all the functionality of Sitespring it is accessed via a web browser, which makes it very easy for team members and clients based at other locations to access the system. To understand Sitespring it is best to see how it might be used during the development of a web site. First the Administrator creates users, the maximum number of users being set by the license that you buy. The starter pack is for 3 users. These users are the team members and not clients or client users who can look and participate in the project web site but who cannot edit web pages, more of this distinction later. When you create users, bear in mind that the user name is case sensitive as well as the password, something that users of NT based systems are not used to. Apart from the usual form of details for a user, you also set their email address and whether they have project manager permissions, or user permissions with or without the permissions to publish to project sites. If they have project manager permissions then they can do more or less anything on the system except overall Sitespring server configuration issues, which are left to the Administrator. Users on the other hand can only view the details for a project and add, modify any task on the system, or delete tasks that they have created. I personally would have preferred a more granular security model, so that you can allow some users extra control, perhaps this may appear in future versions? All users can post to the discussion groups.
The next stage is to set up a client, which can be set up by a Project Manager. By clicking on the obviously named ‘Clients’ button a form appears where you can enter the clients details and after a save, you can add client users, who are people who can view the project web site and have no impact on the number of licenses for which your copy of Sitespring is registered. On the subject of navigation of these pages, this has been well thought out, it is clear and unfussy with a universal look between screens which makes it easy to learn. Macromedia have tried to make it look and behave like an application and resisted the temptation to indulge in some sort of designer’s fantasy. This is a good move and makes the system very easy to become familiar with. The user interface that the clients see is called the project site and can be viewed by anyone on the project via a web browser. This interface is built based on a template several of which are supplied, although you obviously would want to customize this to match your company’s image.
The next step is to set up a project and assign a priority, owner, client and status to it. You can then add users to the team, while areas are automatically set up to display and manage Tasks and Discussions. Tasks are assigned to a user and given a status. The user is informed by email and they can then check the details via their browser. The user to whom a task is assigned to cannot delete the task but can alter its status to indicate what stage the job is at. The discussion group works in a similar way, with the project team being informed by email of any posts made. This can lead to a lot of emails if the discussion is lively. One of the limitations of the discussion forum is that it is a single thread, so you can comment to the last comment in posted but not to a previous one. This is a big disappointment compared to other web based discussion groups and again as this is the first version, perhaps we will see some improvement here.
The final step in setting up a project is to set up the paths to the files that are associated with the project. These files have to exist on the Sitespring server within a shared folder. Sitespring has a full versioning engine so that previous versions of files are kept and can be rolled back at anytime. The clever thing here is that the files don’t need to be opened via Sitespring or Dreamweaver for this versioning to work. To test this claim, I opened a file stored on the Sitespring server on a workstation with notepad, I made a small change and resaved it with the same name in the same location, thus overwriting the old file. When I checked in the projects web page the file was showing with one modification which I could ‘roll back’ if I wished by opening the previous version using the web interface and resaving. So now you have protection against someone on the team making a change to a web page and accidentally breaking it.
The project site that Sitespring creates is a great mechanism for clients to be reassured that things are happening with development of their web site and also to give them a system to post messages and be involved in discussions. Better than that, is the ability to assign tasks to client users. How many times has a client chased progress on a web site when the hold up has been that it is waiting for content and, or a decision from the client? By having a system such as this hopefully everyone will know what is required of them and what others are doing to progress the project.
One major problem that I came across is when I posted a web page that needed approval to the project web site. When users click on the link for to approve this web page, it opens in the browser however it had its images broken and the style sheets missing. I never managed to get this working properly, but in demos I have seen this was working fine. It is obviously something to do with the configuration of Sitespring and the web server, but I must confess that I could not get it working correctly.
The speed at which the Sitespring pages were delivered also seemed to be a little slow particularly the first time you access them. The server used was a 500Mhz machine with 512M of Ram and twin IDE hard discs, hardly Honeyball spec but still adequate for a web server serving 3 people I would have thought!
Sitespring is a great tool for managing web projects. It is a little limited when compared to some of its bigger brothers like Interwoven’s Team Site (http://www.interwoven.com/products/teamsite) or Merant’s PVCS (http://www.merant.com/PVCS/index.html) but the difference in price is considerable. The lack of being able to comment to anything other than the latest posting in a discussion topic and difficulty in getting the pathing right for web sites so that their pages display correctly when published to the project site are disappointing limitations. However this is a first version so perhaps these will improve with later versions. In my view, they need to if the product is to be taken seriously by the web development community. That said, Sitespring is well equipped to do what it is designed to do and the level of structure and control that it gives to a project will ensure that it makes many friends. If you are designing web sites for other clients and there is more than just you and a dog then it is worth looking at a product such as Sitespring and at this price it seems like money well spent.
Ease of Use 4/6
Value for Money 5/6
Adding a new project
Adding a new client
All the projects configured in Sitespring
Discussion threads only allow you to reply to the latest posting
Displaying files and web pages that need to be checked by the client or user
Images broken because pathing not correct
Project web sites can have very different looks applied to them
Article by: Mark Newton
Published in: Mark Newton