Monday, April 28, 2008

Web Builder's Review – iWeb '08 (2.0.3)

Everyone using a Mac probably has some version of the iLife suite of apps on their system. iLife comes with iTunes, GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD and iWeb. For the price (free with new systems, $79 otherwise) it's a tough act to follow. Even though iLife '08 has had a hard time convincing people to use the new version of iMovie HD, the remainder of the apps have been improved one way or another. So, my suggestion to you, if you are considering using iWeb, it's worth the upgrade for it and all the other apps iLife includes.

That being said, iWeb is not without the typical love/hate relationship that many popular apps suffer from. It's slick, it's easy to use for most design requirements, has 26 very well-designed templates, plays very well with .Mac, is integrated with the other iLife apps like iTunes and iPhoto as well as Apple technologies like QuickTime, Drag and Drop and CoreServices.

However... (you were waiting for that, weren't you?) However, not all is roses in Appleville. For instance, iWeb wants you to have only one website. Yes, you can create multiple sub-sites, but they are all contained in a single file. Loss or corruption will either have you running to TimeMachine to recover an earlier version, or screaming to the nearest cliff. Luckily, there is at least one third party solution that allows to create and manage multiple iWeb site files, called iWebSites.

Another issue is the publishing problem. If you have a .Mac account, great! You can publish the entire site or only changes directly to your account – it couldn't be easier (maybe a little faster, though). But if you want to publish to another server, well, you can't – directly. You need to publish to a folder on your hard drive, then upload it to your site using an FTP program like Transmit or Fetch. Ugh. And if you make changes, you have to re-publish the entire site and then re-upload the entire site, because you can't be sure of which were just the changed files. On the church site, I make changes at least once a week. I have been wasting huge amounts of time doing this.

*Update 7/1/2008* I just came across a small app from Plyxim software called Easy iWeb Publisher that allows you to publish changes to your own hosting service, and it's free (donations accepted)!

Oh, and custom naming or the ability to organize file placement or common images? Forget it. iWeb uses it's own way of doing things, and you just have to live with it. Every page has its own folder for HTML and images. Yuck. While we're on the subject, iWeb uses a lot of PNGs to create some of the layered looks in the templates, which dramatically increases the loading times, even on fast connections. Hello? (knock, knock) Anyone home? Looks are important, nay, even critical, but only if you can download it to your system fast enough to see it.

Building the site is very WYSIWYG, but there is no way to edit the code directly. Now many end-users probably don't care about that. But I certainly do. As a developer, I want to be able to access the code directly and make changes. Yes, you can add an HTML web widget to inject custom code, but still you can't access the entire page directly. Search and replace? Yeah, but on a single page only, not the entire site. And, of course, no way to search the code.

As I mentioned at the start, iWeb does some things very well. I won't let all the negative comments stop me from still recommending this app for certain users doing certain kinds of projects. Adding slide shows, movies, blogs, journals, is easy, fun and fast. Almost everything in a template can be modified in some way from location to color to font. Even templates can be switched with a click of the mouse on a page-to-page level, and still maintain your content. The Inspector and Media Browser give you control over the pages and imported files. Apple does pay attention to design details and the control over content as well as the interface, show that. It even allows you to insert Google Maps and Adsense onto your pages.

Another benefit of iWeb is it's relationship with iPhoto. With the Core Image functionality it shares, iWeb offers some nice tools to adjust your photos without having to go back into your other applications. It also offers the Instant Alpha option, allowing you to intelligently drop backgrounds out of most images.

There are some companies that provide iWeb templates, after the original ones get a little stale. And with as many people probably using iWeb, that could be faster than you think. But you have to go out and search for them, there is no central place to review vendors or designs. Also, other than the basic Web Widgets, there is no way to add custom widgets to your pages. So you're pretty much stuck waiting on Apple to upgrade the features. I have come across someone who has written an Automator script to add Google Analytics, but it's a post processing function not integrated into the program. There may be others who have done similar things.

All that being said, I like iWeb. I used it originally when I wanted a new look for the church site, and I was able to move the content over from the existing site pretty easily and took me only a few hours to convert. But I realized that after having it in there for a while, there were a few things that began to irritate me. However, I was stuck for the time being with seemingly no other option than to go back to my original Dreamweaver and Fireworks files. Until... (read exciting continuation next week!)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Special Software Bundle

For those of you who read my blog... thanks. I just wanted to let you know of super software deal, I just came across. Macupdate has special software promotions and this one rocks. Check it out below.

If they sell 6,100 copies (they have sold over 5,110 as of this writing), Parallels will be unlocked and included in the bundle, even if you already purchased the bundle! If I didn't already own Parallels and Sound Studio, this would be a must have for me.

Only five days left, so check it out. You can also read my previous review of Parallels.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back on the Chain Gang

Like the old Pretenders song, I am back on the chain gang. Work has been going gang busters and I have neglected my blog, waiting for that next article idea to come up, hopefully in conjunction with some insight I have gleaned (no, I didn't have to look up that word) from my recent work. I have been mulling over a review for some time, knowing like the photo books, that it might take some time to complete. But finally I have come across the opportunity and occasion to do it.

I have been maintaining my church's website for, oh, I think forever. And it has gone through many incarnations (or should I say resurrections, since I'm Baptist). Some of the previous designs are displayed here. There are several concerns I have as a webmaster that are particularly germane to this site, but also to many of my other sites and I'm sure your sites as well.

  1. Content – This site is a great example of content – there is text, PDFs, photos, movies, a blog, a calendar, podcasts, multiple sub-sites, sometimes a bulletin board, an occasional form – basically everything you might see on a site. It has tens of pages, and is hundreds of megabytes in size.
  2. Maintainability – How do you maintain all this information? How easy is it to post new material and link it to the existing pages? What about adding pages or whole new sections? What if I want to introduce a new design?
  3. Technical ability – The web and its related technologies are always changing. How easy would it be to introduce new technology into your site.
  4. Portability – Last but by no means insignificant, is your easy easily accessible by multiple development tools or are you locked into an application that has you at it's mercy?
These are some of the concern I have wrestled with and I will use this site and maybe a couple of others as a jumping point to explore some of the newer alternatives to the large, complicated and costly web development applications.

If you have worked with me in the past, you know I am a Dreamweaver/Fireworks fan. I pretty much do all of my development work in those two apps. Now, with Macromedia having been bought by Adobe and having their products integrated into their Creative Suite, it's even easier to import designers' files in Photoshop and Illustrator and produce working HTML and images.

However, there are some clients that can't afford to spend the money on design and production for their sites, or their clients are on a tight budget, or they feel they are not up to designing their own site, or they are home users just wanting to put some of their photos, movies, and journals online. There are a few mid-range development tools that have made an appearance, starting with iWeb and continuing with RapidWeaver and Sandvox, that have made this a much easier process.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to review these apps, contrast and compare them, and also mention other apps that are here or on there way that might ease the complexity of learning and leave more cash in your pocket. Next week, we'll start off with iWeb.