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(photo credit: Courtesy)
Q: How can you get a professional looking Web site that doesn't look like an "off the shelf" job, with special features like RSS, blogs, and even podcasts - all completed to your exact specs within a matter of hours?
A: Find a professional and write him/her a check! Q: Yes, but what it I don't want to pay someone a ton of money? Is there any way I can do it myself.
A: I'm glad you asked! Yes, indeed - all you have to do is get hold of a newish Macintosh (one of the Intel-based models released this year, to be specific) and fire up the included iWeb authoring program, part of the iLife '06 software suite. Important statement: iWeb is without question the easiest and least painful to use Web site authoring program for the average user now in existence (please highlight this sentence for reference when we get into the complaints people have had about iWeb!).
For some people, that's just fine. But I'm betting that most people who have something useful to say are intimidated by the idea of learning HTML. Those who are most motivated will probably hire someone to set up their site, but that can be an expensive proposition. Others will sign up with a free blogging service, like http://www.blogger.com, but that model does not fit all sites.
There is now an easier way, and Apple's iWeb is it. With iWeb, you don't have to know a stitch of HTML or any other Web markup language in order to build a beautiful site. You open up the program and select a template, which contains Web pages appropriate for resumes, informational sites, photo blogs, movies, etc. Once you select the template, you can move the boxes on the page wherever you want, and add graphics and text boxes (where you type in your text like you would when writing a plain old Word document), and move those around to your heart's desire. You can change the color and size of text or drag and drop graphics from within - or even from outside - the program (.png format is preferred). This means any graphic you draw or create in a program like Illustrator or Freehand, to name just two, can be painlessly incorporated into your site.
Items on your page are controlled by iWeb's "Inspector," which has separate tabs that let you set the size of the page, text color and size, graphics fill, stroke and angle, and external links, among others items. Any graphic or text can be outfitted with a hyperlink to a file, external or internal Web site, photos, e-mail address, movies - basically, anything you can link to is grist for iWeb's mill. As mentioned, iWeb has some advanced Web site features built right into the program, most notably RSS, which automatically updates subscribers to your blog or site when new items become available. The same goes for photocasts or podcasts, where photos or audio get updated automatically for subscribers. Note that using RSS in a site would require you to learn a separate programming language, XML. "Sites" can consist of more than one page, and all the pages in your site are listed on a navigation menu at the top of the main Web site page - so you can have separate pages for text, graphics, movies, resumes, doodles etc.
When you're done, you can save and then publish your work - i.e., generate the HTML and XML code. All this is done automatically, with all the files in your site "gathered" by iWeb into the appropriate file folder (i.e., iWeb will copy the photos, movies, or text files you linked to into your site's folder, and create the proper link for it within the site folder). You can publish to a folder on your hard drive and upload it your chosen Web site hosting service for use with your own domain name - or you can use Apple's own .Mac ("dot Mac") service, which will act as your hosting site and provide you with a domain name users can use to link to your site. Note: .Mac costs $99 a year - more than many hosting services charge - but if you're a novice who wants to get your custom made site into cyberspace right away, it might be worth it.
Okay, okay. I can already feel those of you who know of iWeb or who have used it chomping at the bit, ready to trash this extremely positive review of what you probably consider to be a "piece of junk." Remember what I said above, though, in the fourth paragraph of this article - emphasizing especially the words "easiest," "least painful," and "average user." No, iWeb is not perfect, as I will proceed to show also, using Web sites I have authored with the program as an example - but for the average user who doesn't know, and doesn't want to know from HTML, iWeb is heaven-sent.
I, again, direct you to the Web site I set up specifically to discuss the program, http://digital.newzgeek.com, as proof of both sides of the argument - the unparalled ease of getting a site together, as well as the drawbacks, which I chronicled in the building of this site and will describe next time, but which I still believe are relatively minor compared to the benefits you get by using the program. Plus, maybe the biggest minus of all for many users, the fact that you have to buy/get a Mac to use this program (if you have any iWeb concerns you'd like to see addressed, please drop me a line).
I'll leave you with this: Besides the time spent to convert the actual articles on the site into HTML - basically saving as HTML in OpenOffice, the word processor I use on my laptop - and copying the files onto my Intel iMac, it took me about four hours of solid work to set up the site and the RSS mechanism. Not bad!