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As Web sites grow in volume, managing content and the publishing process remains a growing concern, one that is attracting new vendors. A new release from Vancouver-based NCompass Labs straddles the gap between departmental-size intranet-oriented systems and enterprise-level systems designed for dynamic external sites. Resolution, which packages a database-driven Web publishing system with a strong set of workflow and administrative tools, will appeal especially to NT shops that don't have a six- or seven-figure software budget.
Our first look at Resolution came more than a year ago, at Seybold Seminars New York, where NCompass Labs was showing an early beta version of the product. At the time, we weren't sure what to make of NCompass: This was a company that had achieved some early notoriety selling a plug-in that allowed Netscape Navigator to run ActiveX controls, and now it was launching itself headfirst into the content management market. Our first demo was interesting, but it wasn't memorable enough at the time to make our usual Seybold expo coverage.
Last December, NCompass released Resolution 2.0-the first version of the product that's truly ready for commercial release. This time, we sat up and took notice; what began as a rudimentary demo is now a compelling, well-designed content management system. Resolution is considerably less expensive than competing (and still superior) products from Inso and Vignette, and NCompass is targeting the mainstream Internet publishing market rather than working a niche (such as FutureTense's emphasis on the newspaper market) or emphasizing document management (a field crowded with any number of look-alike competitors). It's too early to tell if NCompass will succeed in this space, but Resolution is certainly good enough to meet many publishers' content-management needs.
The designer's view The Resolution system is built around a three-tier architecture that consists of a desktop client, a server (which uses Microsoft's Internet Information Server for HTTP services) and a Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 relational database. In addition, beginning with Version 2, Resolution offers a separate staging server. The NCompass client is a 10-15 MB stand-alone Window application that includes specialized tools for template designers, content contributors, editors and system administrators. The database communicates with the server via an ODBC connection; although the current version of Resolution supports only SQL Server 6.5, future versions will also support the Oracle 8i relational database and SQL Server 7.0.
Designing templates. Like most Web content-management systems, Resolution requires designers to create their own page and navigation templates or to select from a gallery of prebuilt templates. But Resolution is a design-neutral environment; that is, a designer can use almost any Web authoring tool or HTML editor, including visual tools such as Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage, to create and edit templates. It can do this because all of the special functionality of Resolution is triggered by attributes held within the image source tag. With the exception of these attributes (which call out the placeholders, described below), the templates consist of standard HTML and ASP code, along with whatever client-side scripting languages the publisher …