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(photo credit: Courtesy Apple)
'If iWeb makes it easier for non-professionals to publish Web sites, maybe it should be banned - there's enough visual pollution on the Internet as it is, and we don't need a program to create even more," writes one irate reader in response to my praise of Apple's iWeb last week. Well, Mr. or Ms. Irate (you didn't specify), I stand by my stand - or statement. Contrary to being another source for the uglification of the Internet, iWeb is a boon to Web site design, as it provides people with good ideas, the tools that they need to put together a halfway decent, or better, site. And if the sites you can link to from this site (tinyurl.com/qdd9s) are any indication, "halfway decent" is the minimum you can expect out of iWeb - some of these sites look pretty sophisticated to me.
That's not to say that iWeb doesn't have its issues - or, more correctly, that I didn't have my issues with iWeb when I built several sites using the program. Like I said last time, the authoring time I put into the site I made for this column - http:/digital.newzgeek.com - and my "other" site - http://digital.newzgeek.com - was minimal, with both being done on separate afternoons once I got the basics of the program down pat. The Newzgeek site was actually a redesign of a site I originally did using several freeware and shareware HTML authoring programs, and the difference in authoring with iWeb was like night and day.
iWeb's critics knock its "coding efficiency" standards, accusing the program of producing "ugly HTML" of a type not considered up to modern standards. I understand that many "Web wonks" are bothered by inefficient code generation but, from what I can see, the excessive
tags, to take one example, have absolutely no impact on the way a page is displayed. However, several things about iWeb's site generation did bother me. Chief among these was the directory structure of a site automatically generated by the program. In contrast to manually marked up sites, iWeb creates a directory structure several "layers" deep, with separate sections for HTML pages, RSS feeds, photos, etc. This definitely makes a lot of sense for non-professional users who otherwise probably would have a hard time following the relationship between a file or link and what happens when one clicks on it. It does, however, cause my home page to be displayed in Web browsers as http://digital.newzgeek.com/digital.newzgeek.com.html
(because it's in a folder called "digital.newzgeek.com," which is in a directory folder of the same name). It's a minor flaw, but the kind of thing that advertises the site as being done with iWeb for those in the know.
As mentioned, iWeb comes with several dozen prebuilt templates, with color backgrounds and several other features already set on the page. But you have to be sure to pick the right template before you start designing, because you can't change elements like frames, background colors and link colors on a template. To change these, you'll need to start your site from scratch! Apple recently released an updated version (1.1.1) of iWeb that includes a blank white template page, but the original program had no such thing (although there was a Web site, tinyurl.com/hcdgv, that offered blank white and other templates).
In general, you also can't add external elements directly to the iWeb page, except for graphics. For example, I added a Google Search box for my http://www.newzgeek.com
. According to the instructions at www.google.com/searchcode.html, adding a search box that will check for results on your own site or the Web in general is just a matter of cutting and pasting some code. Except that it didn't work in iWeb when I first tried it - and it took a bit of research to figure it out (you must add the tag line BeginHTMLData before any non-iWeb code or use a program like iWebEnhancer from www.iwebenhancer.com to do it for you). In addition, this manual HTML editing must be done in a "regular" HTML authoring program since iWeb doesn't give you access to the code at all (my current favorite for manual editing is AlleyCode, an excellent, free PC program (www.alleycode.com).
The Google Search Box, I found, did not play well with iWeb's code. Google is used to searching flat - i.e. single - directories, with all searchable content in a single top-level directory - unlike iWeb's subdirectory system mentioned above. The result was a Google search box that could only find the name of a file based on search parameters - but when you clicked on the search result, you got a "page not found" error. This was because Google was for some reason searching only the top level directory, even though the iWeb generated Web page from where the search results came list the correct subdirectory address. Working on this problem alone took more time than designing the whole site, but I was determined to have a Google search. In the end, I just copied the HTML files to the top level directory, for the sole purpose of allowing Google Search to open them. I'm still trying to figure out why no amount of tampering with the Google code can make the search engine look in subdirectories (I suspect that it has to do with Google's attempts to get businesses to buy search engines for their site, and not just use the free one they offer).
And then there was the mouseover story. On my old Newzgeek site, I had a feature where one could roll over an article title with a mouse and get an auto popup description of the story without having to click on the link. This, of course, is way beyond what iWeb can do, or what it was designed for. I was prepared to live without this feature (using the Acronym tag), until a reader wrote in to tell me he missed it - so add it I did, once again using manual markup techniques.
As you can see, iWeb has its drawbacks - as one would expect from a program that builds sites automatically. If anything, iWeb is more of a site design program, with the "design" referring to the way the site looks - as opposed to how it operates. If you know what an HTML Acronym tab is and you want it on your site, you might prefer a more advanced program. But I still prefer iWeb because it makes Web design intuitive - that other advanced coding stuff can always be laid on top of the basic page.
If you've always wanted a professional looking Web site but were too intimidated by Web site coding to try, or didn't want to pay a designer to do the work for you, get yourself a Mac, like the Mac Mini (www.apple.com/macmini) - still reasonably priced and not much more than you'd pay for professional site design. And start your own Web revolution!