Product review: LivePage scores a hit with new release

If your Web site is small and not mission-critical, you can manage its content with an authoring tool easily enough by updating documents manually. But if you have a large site, and especially if you need to control access for browsing and authoring, you're going to want a more robust solution.

LivePage Enterprise 2.0 offers a highly scalable solution for enterprise-level Web sites that put a premium on reliability and security. LivePage Enterprise, which shipped in January, covers basically the same ground as the market-leading Vignette StoryServer, but does so at a fraction of the cost. And LivePage supports the conversion of Standard Generalised Markup Language (SGML) documents, a feature missing from Vignette.

With LivePage, as with other high-end Internet content managers, data is stored in a relational database and the program handles transactions between the data in that database and the Web server. Indeed, before installing LivePage, you will need to have installed either IBM DB2 2.1 or later, Microsoft SQL Server 6.0 or later, Oracle SQL 7 or later, Sybase SQL Server 10 and 11, and Sybase SQL Anywhere 5.0 or later.

The fact that the data is stored in an enterprise-level relational database means that even when you are running multiple Web servers, the content is reliably updated using tried-and-true database replication tools. There are also performance and security benefits from this architecture. Better still, users of LivePage generally don't have to be database specialists. LivePage's interface is intuitive and easy to use.

The program has four main components: Manager, Administrator, Content Server, and Personal Content Server. Although the Manager and Administrator components could more effectively be combined, the tools are generally easy to learn and use.

The LivePage Manager, which looks very similar to Windows Explorer, is where you go to build and maintain a site. A Contents tree in the left-hand panel offers an easy-to-navigate view of the site. What is displayed in the main panel to the right depends on which tab you select: general, children, graphics, links, or preview. If you want to view a page as it actually appears in a browser you simply highlight it and then click on the Browse button in the toolbar. Manager also includes an HTML editor, and tools for creating and checking hyperlinks.

Even better -- and this will be especially appreciated by those with large Web sites -- LivePage Manager offers a powerful query utility. Search for a character string -- or link search terms with Boolean operators -- and the program will return results with pages ranked according to relevancy. That may not seem like a big deal if your site is small, but if you have thousands of pages it can make a big difference. Also welcome is the program's new global search-and-replace utility, which makes it easy to update the content on even very large sites.

The LivePage Administrator is where you go to manage LivePage documents and users. For starters, the administrator can assign varying access rights to users. Users can be given browsing rights, editing rights, or administrative rights.

Unlike typical Web authoring tools, LivePage allows you to create "personalised" content. You can configure the program to offer users different views of documents depending upon the level of permission that you have granted to them. You might, for example, give one group of users a summary view of a corporate report, while giving to executives a view that includes additional data, such as employee salaries.

Also, a new Web Style Wizard makes it easier to change the look and feel of LivePage documents.

LivePage also includes two server components: Content Server and Personal Content Server. The Content Server delivers pages from the LivePage documents that were created in Manager and stored in your SQL server to your Web server. This server requires Microsoft's Windows NT to run. The Personal Content Server does basically the same job, though it works only for a single workstation. This server can run on either Windows 95 or Windows NT.

A key feature of this architecture is that because LivePage documents are stored centrally in the SQL database, when users with editing permission make changes to the documents, the changes are immediately available to all users, even when multiple Web servers are in use.

Most of the new features in this 2.0 version of LivePage are under the hood. As I noted, the global search-and-replace feature is new, as are templates that the user can specify. Also new is optional validation of documents for HTML code, and integration of the LivePage Manager with other authoring tools using OLE automation. All LivePage components now support Extensible Markup Language (XML), HTML, and SGML, as well as XML data islands. Additionally, the Content Server now supports Active Server Pages.

LivePage is currently available only for Windows NT servers, although versions for Linux and Sun Microsystems' Solaris are currently under development.

Despite LivePage's surprising ease of use, most users will turn to the program for its other virtues. The program's reliance on enterprise SQL databases for storage gives Web administrators greater assurance of reliability and availability than other solutions provide. And LivePage's capability to customise content and control user access suit the program well for enterprise-level use.

Patrick Marshall (pgmarshall@uswest.net) is an InfoWorld contributing editor. He is senior technology analyst at Federal Computer Week's test centre.

The bottom line: very good

LivePage Enterprise 2.0

LivePage Enterprise is an industrial-strength Web content manager for large Web sites and enterprise-scale intranets. The program offers variable security and personalised content delivery, as well as access control for authors.

Pros: Easy to use; provides personalised content; variable security.

Cons: No hard-copy manual; separate installation procedures; separate administration and manager tools.

LivePage Corp, Waterloo,Ontario; +1 (519) 885-8121; www.livepage.com.

Price: $US8000 per server; $10,000 for unlimited access licences via Internet. Intranet pricing is $20 per user or $10,000 for unlimited users.

Platform: Windows NT.

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