If there’s software that typifies what Apple does, it’s iLife ‘08 which makes the complex seem easy. Movies. DVDs. Music. Photos. Web sites.
Web site building is made drag and drop simple with iWeb, despite a number of shortcomings which flaw the Apple’s inherent ease-of-use in iLife ‘08.
What does it take to build a web site? Millions of dollars or nearly nothing, depending on what you want the site to do, and complex (or not) you want the site to be.
Apple’s approach with iWeb is to make attractive sites that are easy to use, hide all the complexities of web building, but in so doing they cripple an application that deserves more.
For example, Mac OS X is decidedly straightforward to use, even for Windows users and computer neophytes. Yet, under the OS X hood is a complex operating system, UNIX, hidden but easily accessible.
Not so with iWeb. Building a site is drop dead easy and in true Apple fashion, it will look great. But getting under the hood to improve it is a major pain, hence some crippling in the site building process.
First, the good news. iWeb’s sites, via some classy built-in themes, look stunningly great. iWeb’s themes are better than anything you’ll find in the popular dynamic content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or even the Expression Engine we use for Mac360.
Second, ease of use could not be easier. Building a web page in iWeb is even simpler than any of the above. Click, drag, drop. Insert text, move text, insert photos, move photos, insert graphics, move graphics.
Apple made iWeb more of a page layout application for web pages than a tool to manipulate content, or XHTML, or CSS. All those cumbersome elements are mostly hidden away in iWeb. They’re so hidden you’ll probably never see them.
That safety net for the less experience iWeb target user differs substantially from RapidWeaver and Sandvox, both of which will let you tweak and tune your web pages. iWeb does not. It may not matter to most iLife users, but you may quickly outgrow some of the constraints.
For example, all the web site tools listed above allow for nested pages and navigation links. Create a web page, then create five or six more that are sub-pages of the one you created. It’s a common navigation set up on the web, and easy to do in RapidWeaver and Sandvox. Not so in iWeb.
Nested sub-pages will only show up in the blog entries and in photo galleries. The iWeb site’s main navigation is hard wired. Whatever pages you create will show up in the navigation links. It doesn’t take many to run out of space. Again, that’s a constraint that even novice web site builders will find painful.
Here’s another issue, minor for some iWeb users, but it quickly becomes an issue for users as their experience level grows.
Google has a web site and page tracking system called Google Analytics. It’s free. It works great. All that’s required is to sign up for Analytics at Google, grab some of their tracking code and place it in the header of your web site’s pages.
Sorry. No can do in iWeb, and the page counter provided in iWeb is lame. However, iWeb does allow for easy insertion of Google AdSense ads and Google Maps. Other site building tools can do the same, but not as easily.
Another issue that is maddening, considering that Apple is the king of software ease of use, is replicating content and functions across many pages.
For example, let’s say you want a Copyright Notice at the bottom of each page. In most content management systems which build web pages, RapidWeaver and Sandvox included, you set it up and the notice shows up in the same place on every page.
Not so in iWeb. It’s cut and paste for every page you create, page after page. There’s no ease of use there.
These are bones of contention that even novice iWeb users will run into after working on a family web site and there’s no way around them. Yet.
On the other side of the ledger, iWeb, up to that point where you hit a few walls in layout, navigation, and more sophistication, shines are one thing—it builds a gorgeous web site complete with blog, photos and movies, podcasts, and page layout that’s intuitive if a bit cumbersome.
Obviously, iWeb is built with .Mac in mind and integrates well with other iLife ‘08 tools, such as iPhoto, iTunes, and movies created with iMovie. If you don’t have a .Mac account, you can still publish your web site, and upload it via FTP to a different web server.
iWeb is capable of building multiple web sites, and publishing each to your .Mac account site with one click. It’s a simple and elegant process that hides the complexity of the standard FTP process which is required with most sites.
Using iWeb to publish multiple web sites, each of which may use a different theme (look and feel), is more cumbersome without a .Mac account.
Apple has stepped up .Mac’s feature set to coincide with the launch of iLife ‘08. For example, your annual $99 fee also gets you 10 gigabytes of storage, and 100 gigabytes of bandwidth—both of which are excellent values for novice web site users who may have thousands of photos and dozens of movies to store online.
.Mac also handles personal domain names, too. If you know how, you can obtain a domain name, then point the domain to Apple’s server and your .Mac web site. Publish your iWeb web site to .Mac, and your site shows up in your domain.
Here’s an example—last week I started a simple family blog site, which you can view Here. I used RapidWeaver to create the blog, which is running on a Mac mini sitting on my desk. When I update the blog in RapidWeaver, it updates the web site automatically. That process is much faster than iWeb, but about the same number of clicks.
To test iWeb’s capability for a blog and photo gallery, I pointed the domain to a .Mac account. Click Here to view the iWeb version. I had planned to make this temporary, but the process is so simple, and the photo and movie galleries so classy, that I’ll make it permanent.
If you’re new to web site building then you’ll enjoy iWeb, but only up to the limitations imposed by Apple. RapidWeaver and Sandvox provide much greater capability and flexibility, though the site designs are not as attractive as what Apple puts into iWeb’s themes.
Blogging is a dynamic process which usually requires frequent updates of content. The dynamic content systems mentioned above excel at such tasks. iWeb does not. With dynamic CMS sites you can update the site from anywhere there’s an internet connection and a browser.
With iWeb, as with RapidWeaver and Sandvox, you need your Mac, the application, and your files.
The Web Gallery feature of a .Mac web site is visually and functionally stunning and integrates easily with iWeb and iPhoto.
iWeb is a bargain as a part of iLife ‘08 for $79. RapidWeaver and Sandvox alone are $49 each (SandVox Pro is $79). WordPress, Joomla, Drupal are free, as in Open Source applications, but are substantially more complex to set up sites that are comparable in complexity to iWeb sites.
The even more complex ExpressionEngine Personal is $99, though a Core version is also free.
Does iWeb have a place in Mac community? Certainly. It’s a bargain and allows users to build stunningly attractive, if not somewhat limited, web sites.