Sure, but when you have clients who want a book, whaddya do? It's a good thing that Contribute "has one of the more complete and accessible documentation I've seen for end users", because third-party manuals are hard to find.
I also use Safari.O'Reilly, and find very little Contribute support there. Please don't get me wrong, I use help from the Adobe site all the time, but my clients don't want to pay for me to sit there with them while they do their editing and show them how to run things. If they wanted to do that, they'd pay me to do maintenance.
Gone are the days when we received 20-pound books with our software, and it's a good thing, too, but third-party manuals are still really good resources and (I think) help keep the software creators credible.
I think content management itself is evolving, and I'm all for it. Especially when it does not involve yet another framework (or application program)...like Joomla or Drupal require. Not all sites lend themselves to those solutions. (I know, I know, someone will take issue with that, but in my world, it's true.)
It's interesting to read your experience.
From my experiences, since using Contribute version 1, my clients have really taken to it with little hand-holding. They have literally found starting up the program, and referencing the sidebar context help when necessary, to be all they need to get underway. I usually carve out about an hour for "training", but really it's to touch the high points on the application and to answer any of their questions once they've played around in it. I'm sorry you've struggled with this as a solution, but perhaps there are other factors which differentiate us or our clients.
Oh, it has not been a struggle, but I typically am workiing with clients who have little or no experience with computer applications beyond mail and word processing. So at that level, it's hand-holding.
But there are all levels of experience out there, client-wise, and I learned long ago that measuring clients by my own avidity to learn programs and make things work is unkind at best.
So I try to realize that they don't have my background (or inclination!) and work with what they do have...
It's definitely engaging...
In addition to commercial sites, I have volunteered to create sites for missionaries and community organizations. It is very disturbing to learn that the "free" InContext Editing will change to a fee for service plan. These folks do not have the budget that a commercial enterprise would have.
I would hope that the negative feedback about this change will make Adobe rethink their plans. After all, GoLive Contribute was free, wasn't it? I am having enough problems adjusting to the way Dreamweaver works... it is nice, don't get me wrong... but I am still searching for the way to do things I used to do automatically in GoLive.
I would be happy to add a small Flash button to any site that has InContext Editing in exchange for free updates. That would be a win-win-win for all involved.
I have fallen out with InContect even more now.
The only client that I had left, after explaining that they would have to pay monthly if they wanted to keep using InContext, has now left me. I have put in place a password protected section on their site and Adobe, in all their wisdom, has decided to discontinue the possibility to change content within secure directories.
They have updated their software to the latest version and in the release notes it says:
"HTTP authentication is no longer supported by InContext Editing (Password protected websites folders and pages cannot be edited using InContext Editing)"
This can be found at http://labs.adobe.com/wiki/index.php/InContext_Editing.
I cannot see how they can justify removing this function. Are they trying to make it so simple that it becomes absolutely useless? Or are they planning on releasing different versions of it? Like a simple or advanced version.
It just does not make any sense.
I have been looking and similar alternatives and I have come across the following.
The last four in particular I am looking into. Although they are all impressive. Some are open source and others are a paid service. I have no problems in using a paid service once I know it is a paid service and I can tell my clients this in advance. It also has to be good, clean and simple. Which the above all are.
I went out and bought a CS4 suite for Dreamweaver and InContext. I would not have bought it if I had known that they were going to have an ongoing charge forever. I know that you may say I'm taking it out on Adobe when I'm will to use some of the paid options above. However, with most of the above options they offer 1, 2 or 3 sites for free and 50+ sites for either side of $20 a month. Now that's a big difference. Along with this, you do not need to buy Dreamweaver to achieve this. Any editor will do. Whether it is a WYSIWYG or a simple text editor.
This is just my personal opinion and I don't expect everyone to agree with me. But from what I have been reading over the past few months I know that I am not alone.
I was very happy using Dreamweaver CS3, I purchased two new CS4 Creative suite design premium boxes because the new Dreamweaver CS4 had this incontext editing feature. Well after hearing that Adobe wants to charge for this and at $10 to $20 US, which for me in Australia will cost more.
I think this is a complete rip off, after what you pay for an adobe boxed product or a subscription like I'm on, I already pay $298 a month to use there suite.
I agree with there's a cheaper options out there, my clients won't pay for this simple service Adobe is offering.
I will continue to use CMS systems like ExpressEngine, Interspire and CushyCMS. I wont be purchasing any future editions of Dreamweaver, sorry Adobe, there wasn't anything that great to upgrade from CS3.
My clients are happy to pay the one charge, that I bill them for creating there site in one of the CMS systems I have mentioned, and then just paying for the yearly hosting.
I think unless Adobe makes this a free service, that the users that do use this service will be so small that eventually Adobe will pull this service and no longer provide it, as they do not want to compete against other CMS systems. These CMS systems do charge more, but you have a greater range of tools available that Clients are happy to pay for.
My advice to Adobe listen to this forum and the Designers using your software, there are better options out there and we don't have to use Dreamweaver.
I currently have CS3 Design Premium. I also don't use Dreamweaver for web development at the moment - my workflow is: design in Illustrator/Photoshop, code in Espresso/Textmate, CSS in CSSEdit...then deploy in either a CMS platform (I mostly use Modx) or fully manual.
InContext is a dream come true in many ways - sure there are other options out there, but for the end user (who is non technical) InContext is the cleanest and easiest I've seen. It alone would get me to upgrade to CS4 and (shock horrors) use Dreamweaver.
But - and why does there have to always to be a but? - Adobe's vagueness over pricing make me hesitant to use it. Firstly, Dreamweaver is an overpriced application for what it does compared to other development tools (some may differ, but that's my perspective as a pro). And adding another paid extra does nothing to sweeten the deal. If it was a one off fee per site or if the proposed subscription was less it would be ok...but honestly...
But when have Adobe listened to their users in the past unless it's been convenient for them? We're only the professional suckers that pay for your software...why should we have any rights or expectations?
I have found a much easier solution than Adobes incontext editing in Dreamweaver.
I've been using Page Lime CMS, which is dead easy to use and at $19 for up to 50 websites it's a bargin.
What adobe has is nothing more than what Page Lime is, if there pricing was the same I might use Adobe incontext editing.
Page Lime is non technical and if you can't do a simple HTML edit, like you need to do in Page lime, I don't think you should be designed commercial websites.
I upgraded to CS4 because of indesign, illustrator and flash which is worth upgrading for. I regret purchasing CS3 if I knew CS4 was going to be released so quick I would have waited. The only reason I use Adobe is because it's the industry standard program, what else is there CorelDRAW, Quark.
Nothing really comes close to Adobe, hopefully one day we may have a choice and maybe Corel and Quark may stepup and challenge Adobe.
At the moment there is no real choice.
Thank you everyone for your valuable feedback.
We have released updated pricing and packaging information which you can read on the product FAQ page.
Even at $10 per month for unlimited domains, I would still use a free or open source solution. I currently have about 25 clients for whom I maintain web sites. Only 1 or 2 of them would benefit or use this feature so it is just not worth the cost. I am sure there are a lot of designers who only have a few of their clients that need this service as most clients get the designer to do their updates and are not bothered to do it themselves.
$10 is cheap, I mean if you charge your clients $30 a month for having a CMS website, the first client covers the cost, the rest are all profit.
I to maintain clients websites, but they have a choice either I maintain it at $80 an hour, or they have a CMS for $30 a month.
Even if I use open source, I would still charge my client, so I don't see how $10 is to much.
Thank you Cristinel,
At one point we were limited to 5 sites in the InContext pilot. Can we now register as many sites as we want and use InContext on them. I have about 35 sites where I would like to use Incontext editing? I did look at the FAQ, but it did not answer my question.
Morris Enyeart, Ed.D.
President & CEO
City Connections LLC
5 Ebbtide Court
Barnegat, NJ 08005
Phone: 888-534-8283 or 609-660-9327
Fax: 888-876-5669 or 609-660-9326
The "Free Preview/How much will InContext Editing cost" states: "This fee will include unlimited usage of InContext Editing, without restrictions or additional fees for the number of domain you have registered with the service."
I'm unsure what the exact updates were to the FAQ, but the pricing has not seemed to change. It is still estimated to cost $120 to $240 a year. Compare this to the power of Contribute for $199 forever (and really the power of Contribute is tied to the power of Dreamweaver Templates). The capabilities of editing are far inferior by comparison. It seems like the trade-off is number of users for capability, and most of my clients don't need multiple users and less capability.
I guess if you are married to the Adobe platform (i.e. Dreamweaver/Contribute) as I am, then ICE is really not attractive for your clients. It sounds like for others who use non-Adobe HTML development, ICE is inferior compared to other third party, web-based CMSs.
It seems like Adobe has quite a bit of work ahead in the next year (before ICE becomes paid) in order to truely compete. If the feature set is improved in relation to the cost, I may be persuaded to use it for my clients. I'd like to see this succeed, but currently doesn't make sense for my needs.
I really agree with the idea of a one-time charge per domain. I could easily pass that on to my customer, or build it into the overall website price. $50? $59? Totally do-able. Monthly fee? nope. I'll go for the freebies even if there's a steep learning curve.
I liked GoLive! What the heck? Dreamweaver is cumbersome and non-intuitive by comparison with other programs. InContext should be included. That alone would move units of software for Adobe. I don't like the sort of bait-and-switch that's going on with including the capability and then charging a (monthly!) fee.
As InContext becomes more fully-featured and bug-free, it will be a beautiful and elegant CMS solution that fits the needs of most of my clients. Kudos to Adobe for the development of such a user-friendly CMS interface. That said, the prospect of monthly billings to my clients is a deal-breaker. A one-time per-domain licensing fee is feasible, and I could likely sell that without a problem to my clients, or build it in to my design fee.
First I have to admit: Adobe's incontext editing is GREAT. But I think that Adobe's plan to make it a paid service is a mistake. In keeping the incontext editing free they show how great it is for customers to have their sites developed with Dreamweaver CS4 and thus creating a gigantic boost of sold Dreamweaver copies. And DW integrates great with PS, Flash, etc. So Adobe: do yourself a favor: keep incontext editing free and you will have the opportunity to double the selling of your suites. If you let people pay for incontext editing you will only finally have a few customers left (how many times a year does one update it's business content?) and incontext editing will leave the stage within 3 three years. Adobe: think well!
I was about to use ICE for one of my Non-Profit websites but after reading the above I might have to rethink this. Please Adobe... rethink the idea of charging for this wonderful current free service that Webdesigners can use going forward and you will have more loyal adobe based WebDesigners than you can Dreamweaver about.
Overall I am thrilled that this service is being offered and I am happy to pay for it. It's called "cost of doing business". For many of you who are complaining about paying the yearly fee which amounts to about 2-3 hours of your time per year, you might be overreacting just a tad. It seems that others of you have misunderstood, and think that your clients will be paying a monthly fee, which is not how I'm reading it. It's going to be a yearly fee charged to the developer. I don't have to do the client/cost breakdown, as it has been done in above posts.
I have been ignorant to other free editing services available, but I personally just don't have time to keep up on "all things internet". I have to go with what I know. I only use Dreamweaver to develop sites, so want to work with something that integrates with it. I have been recommending Contribute to my clients, which has not always been a happy thing. Contribute is too robust and is often a hassle with checked out files, permissions,etc, for the size of organizations I work with. These organizations usually have one or two people updating their site. InContext is perfect for them, and while I might charge them an hour or two to set up a site, it will be worth it to them in ease of use.
For me being able to offer new clients the ability to easily update their own sites, without having to purchase software, is actually a great selling tool for my services. I say bring on InContext, work out the bugs and charge a reasonable fee.
I would like to hear back from those people who praise the program after they actually used it with customers. I don't know if other programs are better because I haven't looked into any, but I know InContext is not the way to go for me. I have nothing but problems with customers messing up their sites and want me to fix it.
To enable them to do a good job, you would need to teach them css. Even if you spend that time, they will not listen or "forget" and do it the easy "Word" way. Voila, you have a mess of stacked span tags. Right now I cannot even publish one of my customer's sites. Not in IE8 and not in Firefox. Publishing is just timing out. He can, so it is not the server. I am very disappointed that Adobe published a product that is so full of problems.
I have several clients using InContext Editing now. Both are very small non-profits who are happy not to have to ship me the content to insert.
Regarding clients who "mess up" the pages...you can control six ways from Sunday what you allow them to do regarding formatting. Too bad you didn't rein them in before they gave you heaps of trouble. You don't have to teach them much if you exert control. Easy for me to say. I don't know your clients!
But an example comes to mind: making sure that an editable area is between <div> and </div> and not including the <div> tags as editable. But you know all that, and I don't need to stand on your one side nattering while your clients are on the other side pulling at your sleeve...
I guess it will require a bit more thinking ahead when designing the site in the first place in order to make it 'client-proof'.The tough part will be going back into an already functioning site and figuring out how to adjust it for ICE. I have that task ahead of me on a site I have richly endowed with Spry Widgets.
But that client is quite eager to be trained...and for the site to finally go live...so here's hoping.
I am watching Adobe's policy for fee structure, hoping it will be somewhat flexible, or at least lenient. Needless to say, I'm happy so far, and since they have seen fit to allow another year of Beta with no fees, happy will continue for another year.
I'm not complaining about paying for the adobe service, it's just that there is better out there which I have found a lot cheaper.
Adobe hasn't developed anything new here, there are services the same as what adobe is offering which are cheaper and have more features and great support, like pagelime for example.
What most of us are complaining about is these other services charge a small fee to, but we didn't have to thousands of dollars or a monthly subscription to buy there software like Adobe.
In our business we have always paid for the suite which was about $1600 per computer, CS4 came out and we all went to a subscription of $110 per month. Now since we are already paying to use an Adobe product isn't it a bit rude of Adobe to charge for this incontext service.
As for not finding enough time, in my design studio we all normally work anywhere from morning to early hours into the night and we all still find time to keep up on " all things internet". As a web designer / developer it's your job to keep up to date with "all things internet"
But in the end if you don't research I quess it is those designers that miss out and lose.
Hey Marshall, you are complaining about paying. But that's your perogative. If you don't want to pay, then continue on with your other better and cheaper services. I'm a little confused as to why you and others think Adobe owes us free product. Just because I've bought all of a bands records in the past, do they owe me a free disc? Do you give your product away for free (well I do, but it's not about me lol.) Do you see where I'm going here?
As far a it being my responsibility to know all things internet, uh no it's not. My responsibility is to create affordable, decently designed media for my clients, that fills their and the end users needs. It is also my responsibility to take care of all the other bitness in my life, like being a mom and a farmer and an activist and a musician, which precludes me to sitting in front of my box nerding out 24/7. Hence going with what I know and keeping up as much as I can on the software that I use.
You don't seem to get my point, which is for those of us that have design studios that employ people, I spend thousands of dollars to buy adobe products, along with all the other costs of servers, apple macs etc.
Design studios don't really need an extra Adobe cost, Adobe makes a very large profit from just the software they sell. As I said before this isn't something Adobe as though of, they have just used some free open source software and badged it there own now they are trying to sell it to us.
I and my staff in our studio will not use it or pay for it, we have found other alternatives which are cheaper, and have more functionally.
At the end of the day we are just looking after our clients, We don't use Dreamweaver for everything as there is some things it just doesn't do that well and you can't beat hand coding sometimes.
If there are people out there that want to buy Adobes incontext editing go for it. I personally just wouldn't use it for the fact that Adobe has terrible support.
When you scale it down, a freelancer probably pays more for software and hardware, as I don't get multiuser pricing and the same profit margin that a larger development firm does.
And I guess I don't get your point because now you say you don't want to use it because of poor support. Which is it?
lisaannallan, I don't think anyone thinks Adobe owes us a free "disc" but let's put it another way based on your band's record example. How would you feel if your favorite band came out with a new record but you already have all their music so you decide not to get this new one but then you hear one of the new songs and you decide you will buy it. Then after you have the record for a few weeks the band says in order for you to keep listening to the song you will have to pay again and again. You would be ok with this?
A lot of people were in this situation, they were fine with CS3 but decided to upgrade for this awesome InContext feature and now they are being told after the fact that they will be charged to use it.
And really what would stop them from doing something similar to any other of the CS family? Oh you like the masking feature in Photoshop? Well we are going to start charging you a monthly/yearly fee.
In the long run it could possibly hurt sales for CS5(?) people will be reluctant to upgrade for fear of having a new feature turn into a paid service.
I don't get multiuser pricing, you need quite a few designers before they give you good pricing. So I pay the same as you!
Plus I have the other costs as I said of servers, backup and macs.
And which is it well it's both, in fact there are a number of reasons why I won't use it. But that's my choice and the choice of my staff we are all experienced designers and developers, we've been in this profession for a long time.
If you think it is a great product then use it, I'm not here to create a debate so please chill out.
Not only is your analogy flawed, but I believe you're perpetuating a falsehood. As far as I know, Adobe has always made it known that InContext Editing would not be free indefinitely. I distinctly recall reading the following paragraph many times before I signed up with InContext Editing, just to make sure I was comfortable with the risk:
While in free preview, InContext Editing is available at no charge. The final pricing for the service has not been determined; however, it will be offered as a monthly or annual subscription with a price of US$10 to US$20 per month.
Do you have proof that the service was offered without this disclaimer? The original poster of this discussion thread never complained of "bait and switch"; the poster simply wanted to get opinions on the the eventual pricing scheme.
Marshall70: . . . I'm not here to create a debate so please chill out.
Marshall, oh really? I think most readers would regard these comments as needlessly combative:
Marshall70 (Aug 24): "... if you can't do a simple HTML edit, like you need to do in Page lime, I don't think you should be designed commercial websites."
Marshall70 (Sept 26): "As a web designer / developer it's your job to keep up to date with 'all things internet'"
I also think lisaannallan is right to question your reasoning, as some of your statements about InContext have been contradictory:
Marshall70 (Aug 18): "I think this is a complete rip off..."
Marshall70 (Aug 26): "$10 is cheap. . . Even if I use open source, I would still charge my client, so I don't see how $10 is to much."
Marshall70 (Sept 26) "I personally just wouldn't use it for the fact that Adobe has terrible support."
Can you see why we might be confused by your posts?
I am afraid antlion I cannot agree with you when you write:
As far as I know, Adobe has always made it known that InContext Editing would not be free indefinitely
When signing up to buy or upgrade to DW CS4 it is not clear that it is a trial programme that will need to be paid for. I suggest you follow the same route I did in upgrading to CS4 and tell me in all honesty if it is in any way clear that InContext is not free.
Click the Products drop down menu on the Adobe web site and choose Dreamweaver.
Halway down the page that opens is the heading "Clients can quickly and easily edit their pages with Adobe InContext Editing"
There is no mention in the text that follows that InContext is not a free part of the programme. There is a link that says "try the free preview" which takes you to a site where you can actually try InContext. So still one assumes it is free with the product, the Free Preview words refering to the fact that you can try it free without buying DW CS4.
Right at the bottom of the page, in VERY small writing is the following.
Note that this does not refer specifically to InContext. While a lawyer might argue, possibly successfully, that the disclaimer allows Adobe to impose a charge for absolutely anything that constitutes an online service, at anytime, retrospectively, even though offered free in the advertising, it is not the "it's your fault because you did not read the small print" behaviour we expect from a once fine software company. (Incidentally, issuing disclaimers in Britain is usually pointless, as test cases in the House of Lords have set the precedent that just because you state something it does not absolve you from the application of what is reasonable. But it may be different in the US).
Additionally, before upgrading, I visited the Adobe Development Centre to find out more about InContext and found this article http://www.adobe.com/devnet/dreamweaver/articles/getting_started_with_ice_dev.html You might like to read it (and my annoyed comment to it which I posted after upgrading to DW CS4, setting up some of my customers with InContext and then discovering it was not going to be free). I think you will agree that the article is misleading.
As a previous post implied, does this gives them carte blanche to charge for anything retrospectively if they find it proves popular and to drop it (where does that leave you and your customers?) if it is not? It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and I hope an Adobe policy maker is reading this topic and realising how damaging the whole sorry episode has been for the company. I am sure all the gifted and talented people who design and produce these great products are less than happy at the way the marketing department are besmirching their name.
And it could have all been avoided by making it clear on the page that this was a trial beta that would eventually be paid for. (But then why only offer it with CS4? It could have been a seperate download - another reason to think it was a free service as an inducement to upgrade). They would also have gained the support of the web community if they had asked us for our views on what features and payment model we would have prefered.
It would go some way to repairing the damage if they took these criticisms on board, aplogised, and amended the misleading advertising.
This is just getting stupid and child like.
It's quite simple if you think that Adobe's incontext editing is good and worth it then buy it, if you don't then find something else there is plenty of choice.
And yes I stand by my comments, as an employer of a design company, but no I don't have the time nor do I want to start a debate.
I'm finished with this post, in just getting stupid.
At the end of the day just charge your client and but it in there costs, if they don't want to pay for it chances are they are to cheap, tell them to go somewhere else like a copy shop.
Thanks for pointing this out in so much detail--you make an excellent case that the Dreamweaver upgrade path includes misleading language. (I signed up with InContext after buying CS4, so I will now admit I didn't fully appreciate the frustration other people might have experienced.)
On another note...
Did you ever get a chance to figure out if either Cushy or Surreal allows the creation of repeating regions? (We had a brief exchange about this topic in July.)
Thank you antlion.
Yes, I did have a quick look at Cushy and Surreal back in July but have had other fish to fry since, so sorry for not getting back to you.
The answer is that all three programmes, and some others, seem to have much the same functionality - including the abilty to add new sections, headlines, images etc - but the way you implement those different functions varies and goes by other names. I have been busy lately with some other jobs and assignments + holidays so have not really had a chance to look again in any depth. If and when I have a chance to evaluate in more depth I shall certainly post again.
I have looked briefly at InContext again recently and it seems a good enough application, I am not trying to knock it, but I I just feel Adobe could have been more straightforward about it. I am not sure where you are from, but here in the UK we have been annoyed with Adobe for a long time for their pricing policy (their products cost nearly twice as much here as in the states). I am not so concerned about Dreamweaver, there are other ways of building web sites, but Photoshop (and now Lightroom - fantastic app) are essentials (I am a pro photographer as well as a web designer) and I feel Adobe abuse their virtual monopoly position. Anyway, this is getting off topic, and will have no effect on Adobe, but it makes me feel better!
I'm in the US, so when I see Adobe's UK prices, my jaw drops in disbelief. I feel your pain (to quote one of our former presidents).
Web design is not a significant source of income for me. I have only one client who uses InContext (which is now "free" for another year), so I haven't felt compelled to explore other tools; otherwise I'd research this myself. If you learn more over the next several months, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.
Off topic: Just curious... since InContext is officially available only for users in the United States, how can UK users preview it?
Very off topic: I use a Nikon DSLR and decided to purchase Nikon's own software, which I use for 99% of my image processing. That's one of the reasons I didn't bother to upgrade my Photoshop CS2. (I purchased the CS4 Web suite, without Photoshop.)
Has anyone mentioned that GoLive had a free companion product that was supposed to do the same thing as "InContext"? I think it was called "Contribute". When GoLive was replaced by Dreamweaver, we lost that free updating feature. When I saw that CS4 had a "free" feature, I assumed that they were just going back to their original policy not to charge for updating software.
I also do most of my work on a volunteer basis for organizations that would not be willing to pay for the privilege of updating the site themselves... especially, since I volunteered to create the site. This is as much for my benefit as theirs and I hope that Adobe will choose to keep this free.
Marshall70, debate is good. We are hashing out that InContext works for some, others not so much.
I do have to say, though, that you have gotten my back up with the "head patting" insinuations. I have been doing this for 10 years, I use Macs, 2 in fact, have server and storage services I pay for and while I don't do a lot of coding from scratch, I know my way around enough to tidy up what needs to be tidied up and throw a little sumpin sumpin in here and there. I also do advertising design, photography, motion graphics,commercial production and marketing, so what I lack in markup languages, I make up for in "jill of all trades" skills. I think that makes me just as "professional" as you and your employees. So lets stop the pi$$ing match, shall we?
As for the rest of the comments, I guess if you only upgraded to CS4 for InContext and assumed, for what ever reason, it was going to be a perpetually free service, then I guess that would be off putting. But I really wonder how many people that actually applies to? There might be an overrepresentation on this board because I think most people upgrade because it's time to upgrade. I have learned the hard way that not keeping up with new versions can cause a big learning curve (I'm still trying to wrap my head around Fireworks after using ImageReady for years). I would also guess that people like me, who didn't upgrade just for free ICE, would be willing to pay a small fee for such a handy, integrated service.
So I stand by my statement that there is a lot of fuss here and if you don't want to pay, then don't. Hopefully,though, this will teach Adobe that they need to be very clear about what is and is not included in software purchase prices.
Contribute is still a going product, and has been upgraded to CS4. I have clients who use it. As far as I know, it has never been free...I have bought copies for myself and clients have bought them through several version changes. I do remember a two-for-one special (you needed a copy and your client needed a copy, as I recall) just before a version upgrade that was a pretty good deal. But if it was ever free, it was in the first version, though I think it may have been a bargain --- but never free---, possibly bundled with GoLive (I never used GoLive).
The difference between Contribute and InContext Editing in one way is that you do not have to create your editable pages with Templates in order to insert editable areas for your InContext Editors, you can simply take a page and indicate editable areas "free form" (as free form as a structured page can be...). I admit that I have not spent a lot of quality time with Contribute lately, and the client I set up with it is very happy with capabilities provided thus far.
If I were setting that client up now, I would use InContext Editing, taking advantage of the Template to set up the site, but InContext to set up the editing. With that one client (who uses Contribute), I effectively had to set up a separate Template for each separate page in order to control "editing possibilities" on each page. I am using ICE with another client on a site that I did not set up with Templates at all, and it is fine.
I might suggest that if you were in a position to do so, to test out InContext Editing yourself. Those pro bono jobs are a good place to use it, and get working knowledge of it. Give Adobe real feedback from real working situations. If it evolves well and appropriately, use it. The only way Adobe will get a feel for how the broad spectrum of professionals using InContext Editing in their practice actually use it, the better the product will ultimately be.
Yes, Contribute is not free, but we already have it as part of CS4, with no added costs to keep using it indefinitely. Adding content contributors has a fixed, known, one time cost. It is easy to make a cost benefit decision. With the InContext model there are perpetually continuing costs. As a practical matter, in my particular situation continuing costs and subscriptions like that are much harder or impossible to do. Being uncertain about what will happen in the future makes it more difficult.
I understand how Adobe would be interested in moving to a revenue model like they are putting into InContext. It is a common theme these days. Find ways to assure an ongoing, reliable, steady revenue stream rather than the traditional boom and bust cycle of periodic updates and trying to manage what is in them to get people to keep paying for them. That is one of the places feature bloat comes from. The Adobe CS line has pushed in that direction of frequent, expensive releases pretty hard.
I do get the sense Adobe is feeling its way into this looking fort new revenue models and it may or may not succeed. Over the years Adobe has shown a propensity for dropping support of less lucrative products in favor of others. I was burned by the GoLive vs. Dreamweaver situation for example. I still go back to an old version of GoLive sometimes to use certain features and capabilities that are still not available in Dreamweaver.
There are some aspects of the way InContext might apply to my situation that could be attractive but the uncertainty going forward makes it hard to make any commitment to it. For those who have been in this business a long time and seen a lot, Adobe's way of addressing this subject heightens the possibility of distrust in what to expect going forward, shall I say.
However, unlike others here, my experience with Contribute is not all sweetness and light either and that is the main reason for me to look at InContext. With Contribute I have a great deal of trouble with unreliable uploading and state management. Frequently draft uploads die or get stuck or lost and frequently the state of the site files gets messed up so we can not work. The background files that manage the state and so on appear to get corrupted or become inconsistent. Besides the fact that it happens at all - it obviously should not, no matter what the environmental problems might be, transfers might fail, but recover should always be clean - the fact that I can not find a way to restore things to a consistent state, and the fact I can not find an avenue to effectively address the problems with Adobe push me 1) towards InContext (in hopes in MIGHT be better on this), or 2) away from Adobe completely to something with a better cost structure and either better support options or openness to allow me do my own support.