Digital World: iWeb to the rescue

Sleek, pretty and the results are breathtakingly beautiful - and above all, easy to use.

By DAVID SHAMAH
June 27, 2006 09:56
iweb 88 298

iweb 88 298. (photo credit: )

 
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Sleek, pretty and the results are breathtakingly beautiful - and above all, easy to use. To all those who have suffered at the heavy hand of HTML coding in their desperate attempts to put together a halfway decent looking Web site - here's the news you've been waiting to hear: a true What You See is What You Get (WYSIWG) drag n' drop Web authoring program. First things first. Before you write telling me about this or that other WYSIWG HTML application and protest my use of the term "true" in relation to iWeb, the subject of this article (excluding by implication other HTML programs marketed as "true WYSWIGs"), please consider all the facts I am going to present carefully. Also, I am quite aware that many professionals have criticized iWeb for not living up to some coding standards. And yes, I know you need a Mac to use iWeb and that lots of people don't have Macs. But who knows - software is software, and if Apple can come up with a program as easy to use as iWeb, others are sure to follow making the iWeb story relevant to PC users, too. On the other hand, one can ask why we had to wait almost a decade into the Web revolution to get something like iWeb. With iWeb, authoring an Internet site becomes as simple an operation as writing a letter and clicking on some menus and buttons. There are billions of Web sites out there, and they were all made, not born. Just where did they come from? Well, HTML - Hypertext Markup Language, the building block of most basic Web sites, is not too difficult to learn if you apply yourself. And there are plenty of programs that let you type text and add graphics, automatically generating the HTML code that makes your site understandable to Web browsers. Of course, nowadays there are other Web technologies that site authors employ - XML, Javascript, XSL, Flash, etc. - but those are mostly used by professional or semi-professional site authors. Most of the sites out there are "basic" ones, and most of the basic ones are based on plain-vanilla HTML with maybe a few cut and paste CGI scripts thrown in. Not having taken a poll or conducted an intense study, I can't say for certain, but I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of existing and active Web sites in cyberspace were put together by an automatic site generator, like the one by Tripod (http://www.tripod.lycos.com), used by millions to put together personal or even business pages. There are also plenty of commercial or shareware programs like 1site (http://www.1site.info), which lets you build basic sites without knowing HTML, and lets you "grow" (i.e. add fancy features) to your site as you learn Web site coding. Each system has its pluses and minuses. Using services like Tripod, Angelfire (http://www.angelfire.lycos.com), or Geocities (http://geocities.yahoo.com), you can get your site up in a matter of minutes and have it hosted for free by Lycos or Yahoo. If all you want is a basic family Web page, this is maybe the easiest route to go because it requires little technical skill. There are drawbacks, though, mainly the presence of ubiquitous pop-up and banner ads you are required to display on behalf of your patrons, plus a limited design universe from which to draw inspiration. Programs like 1site can be useful for people who know what kind of design they want and are familiar with the way Web sites get planted in cyberspace - i.e. how to buy a domain name, where to find site hosting, etc. Chances are that most of those people know something about HTML, too, so they can tweak their basic designs and add elements and features. And then, of course, there are the true professional programs like Dreamweaver, which one could theoretically use without advanced knowledge of HTML but require a whole course in figuring out how to use the program's features. I make these observations as one who has been down all these roads from the early days of Geocities to when the full version of 1Site was freeware (the Lite version of the program, which can generate up to 30 pages for a site, still is) and even using Dreamweaver for a time (recommended for pros with lots of time to invest in learning how to use it). I am not a Web professional by any means - I am a busy person who doesn't have time to take an online HTML course and learn how to apply the skills I pick up. What I always sought in a Web authoring program was ease of use and flexibility - basically, to be able to put together a Web page in the same manner I would put together a page in QuarkXpress without having to dabble into too much HTML. I can put together a decent looking flyer or poster in Quark in about a half hour, and I wanted a Web authoring program that would be just as easy to use as well. And, although I sought, I failed to find. Generally, the free on-line systems were way too basic and inflexible for putting together a site I would feel comfortable putting my name on, and programs like 1Site were fine if you stuck to the template you were using - attempting to make major changes ruined some esoteric HTML balance on the page, I found, requiring lots of coding work and time to fix things up. In other words, designing wasn't as simple as moving elements around on a page, which you can do more easily in a program like Dreamweaver but, again, there are so many other features in applications on that level that casual users will find them overwhelming. Needless to say, none of these options were as easy to use as QuarkXpress. But iWeb is. Being a more dynamic thing, what with all the clicking and and referring, it stands to reason that even a simple Web site would take more than a half hour to build from design to code generation. Fair enough - I'm willing to dedicate an afternoon to the project. But, in that afternoon, I want to be able to build a site I like with the elements I want and set up on the page how and where I like them. And I want the flexibility to be able to move things around quickly and easily without getting into an HTML brouhaha. And, I want options when it comes to posting my site - an easy way to get my site in cyberspace if I'm not familiar with the process and options to use my own domain name and Web hosting service if I do know what I'm doing. This is what iWeb does - and I have the proof. A site I designed in one afternoon that had all the features I wanted in a site - including an RSS feed! Check it out at http://digital.newzgeek.com. I'll tell you all about how iWeb did the heavy lifting for me next time. ds@newzgeek.com

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