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Mac OS X Website Builder Face-Off
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The same kind of creative cost that you encounter in Pages, in fact. These new-style apps have been described as "What You Get Is What You See" software, as opposed to "What You See Is What You Get." You are offered a template and you are forced to bend your creativity to fit.

Now, anyone in the first category of users--anyone with experience of making web pages, whether by hand in BBEdit, in Dreamweaver, or even just messing with Blogger templates--is going to take one look at the limited page templates available in iWeb and gasp: "That's all?"

Sure, you can tweak these templates. With enough time at your disposal, you can make them look radically different. But it takes a long time, and every change you make to one page will have to be replicated manually across all the others (assuming you want them all to have the same look). There's no way of tweaking a page template and copying those tweaks around.

There are limited preference options

So, unless you have lots of time to spend adjusting the built-in templates, you're stuck with using them. And that might put you off somewhat.

There are 12 themes on offer in this first release of iWeb. All of them look OK from the outset, but there's a marked difference in style when compared to the template offerings from RapidWeaver or Sandvox.

Lots of things that iWeb does will make experienced web users (or web creators) gasp in horror. The code it generates is variously described as "awful," "abhorrent," "a nightmare," and "rather ugly." So, not good then.

In taking the decision to use iWeb, you not only sacrifice artistic creativity, you also lose some control over the structure of your site. You're forced to stick with the all-at-one-level, somewhat idiosyncratic structure chosen by iWeb. You also have to put up with iWeb's insane page URLs (FCE47259-78BA-4B5E-ABF2-F39B93520C85/Blog/16F11A70-848F-4143-A814-36DAA6CDAAB9.html), and huge file sizes (let's hope your site's readers are on broadband). You can mix template styles within a site, but having created a page using one style, there's no way to switch it to a different style without deleting it and starting again.

Then there's publishing. By default, iWeb will only publish direct to a .Mac account, a decision that seems frankly bizarre to me. Sure, they could have added extras that made using .Mac hosting more enticing, but to strike out any other kind of publication except to your own hard disk comes across as simply mean-spirited.

A quick wedding album takes moments

It's only when you actually start building pages in iWeb that you can appreciate its good side. Drag text boxes around, throw in pictures, put the one on top of the other, edit images in situ; you can make things look exactly how you want them to, just so long as you stick within the limits imposed by the application. Your project exists only as a set of instructions until you hit the Publish button; only then is the HTML generated.

There's no edit mode or preview mode. You're always editing, even once you've published the site. Integration with iLife makes adding photo albums, movies, or podcasts incredibly simple.

Despite the rigid site structure, despite the limited templates on offer, despite the output HTML that will make your hair stand on end and the page URLs that will have you reaching for your link-shortening bookmark; despite all these things, iWeb does a good job of making a nice-looking website in no time at all.

And that's what it's for. It's not for expert bloggers who want a change from Moveable Type. It's not for web design aficionados who want to show off their portfolio. It's not for anyone who actually cares more than a jot about the source code behind the scenes.

No, iWeb is for people and projects where speed and simplicity are what counts.

You want a quick online photo gallery to share with your friends? Bam, it's done. You want an instant blog to share movies and photos of your newborn baby with the grandparents? Zap, it's built in less time than it takes to change a diaper. With iWeb, everyone who has always wanted a website can get themselves one with no more challenging task than thinking up something to say.

And that's not to say that iWeb hasn't got something to offer even the geekiest of web professionals. Take author, explorer, cigar smoker, and fellow O'Reilly writer Ben Hammersley, who recently wrote of iWeb:

"Yes, the code is clunky. Yes, the URLs bring me out in hives. No, there are no comments. But there's also no messing around, very little time wasted between knowing what I want on the screen and producing it, and no trouble at all in administering it. I publish to a local folder, and rsync takes care of the rest. Some things I want to customize, others I just want to get the hell out of my way. The whole thing is frictionless--and frictionless tools are what I want this year."

That's it, in a nutshell. If it's frictionless web building you're after, there's nothing much smoother than iWeb.

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