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Mac OS X Website Builder Face-Off

by Giles Turnbull
03/08/2006

Anyone can make a website these days. The easiest way is to spend five minutes at blogger.com and come away with a simple blog. The complicated way is to buy professional-level software like Dreamweaver, or hand-code everything in a text editor, and make everything from scratch.

Or, in some circumstances, you could take the middle path, using one of the growing selection of simpler web builder applications--those that offer predesigned web templates for you to tweak and customize with your own content.

The idea isn't that new; RapidWeaver has been around for years and now is at a mature Version 3. But during his keynote at Macworld in January this year, Steve Jobs announced that the new addition to iLife 06 would be iWeb, another of these website makers and one designed to incorporate multimedia from the rest of the iLife suite.

Now, shortly before the keynote, a reference to iWeb mysteriously appeared on, then vanished from, Apple's website. Conspiracy theorists suggested that this might have been a deliberate ploy by Apple to divert the attention of rumor sites away from something much more interesting. Whatever the reason, the leak appeared and caused frowns down at the offices of Karelia Inc., a software company working on a third web builder: Sandvox.

The Karelia team had been working on Sandvox for quite a while, and for good reason. Their previous best-selling Mac OS X app, Watson, ended up being knocked aside by Apple's introduction of the remarkably similar Sherlock 3. Undaunted, they started work on something new, confident that it wouldn't happen again.

But it did, when Steve Jobs announced iWeb onstage at the Moscone Center. Apple's software was all about making websites quickly, using a template system. Just like the Sandvox app that Karelia was working on.

In this article, we're going to take a sweeping look at RapidWeaver, Sandvox, and iWeb, in an attempt to fathom their differences and drive a wedge between their feature sets. Can one of them do it all? Or are they slightly different tools, each suited to building different kinds of websites?

There's only one way to find out.

iWeb

The first thing that happens when you launch iWeb is this:

A little nag screen

Nag screens are frustrating in any application, and there's no means that I could find to switch this one off. You're stuck with it.

So this nag is doubly frustrating, because it's not the kind of nag that's asking you to register or pay a license fee for the software you're using. Rather, it's trying to sell you more stuff.

By this stage, you've already paid your fee for iWeb by purchasing the iLife disk or a new Mac, which comes with iLife pre-installed. This nag is a sign of things to come. While iWeb is not dependent on having access to a .Mac account, some of its features work a whole lot better when such access is available. And iWeb makes use of every opportunity to remind you of this. A simple "Don't show me this again" checkbox would be nice at this point.

Nagging frustrations aside, what's iWeb like to use?

There are two kinds of people who are going to use iWeb, and their answers to this question will be different.

People who have made any kind of website before, no matter how they did it, will say: "Nice, but there's not much flexibility."

And people who have never made a website of any kind before will say: "Wow. This is cool."

It's important to remember this when you try iWeb, or compare it with the rival web builder applications. iWeb is a tool designed not for web experts, but for complete novices. It's intended to make the task of creating a website as easy as making a document in Pages, and it largely succeeds in this regard.

But at a cost.

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