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Mac OS X Website Builder Face-Off
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Sandvox

Having been beaten down once before by Apple's decision to release Sherlock 3, the folks at Karelia software started afresh. Sandvox is the result, and Karelia unfortunately finds itself back at square one, competing directly against iWeb.



Sandvox looks colorful

Sandvox combines elements from both RapidWeaver and iWeb. It's not modal, you edit your web pages directly. It's also template-based, but there are rules you must follow. The templates will only bend so much.

Within them, there are a lot of nice features to play with. As well as the text, photo, and weblog pages common to all these applications, Sandvox introduces the concept of "pagelets," little boxes of fun that can be filled with all sorts of automated or multimedia content. Drag an RSS feed into a Sandvox document and it becomes an RSS pagelet (doing the same thing in iWeb just displays a link to the feed URL).

Sandvox pagelets are useful and potentially powerful

Pagelets can be manipulated with the Sandvox inspector; it's simple to stick them in the sidebar, or add them to the main section of the page as callouts. Recently added pagelets include a contact form (which is transparently processed by Karelia's own server--you don't have to worry about the back end), a del.icio.us link list, and a Flickr badge.

Like RapidWeaver, Sandvox's templates can be applied and changed at any time during the edit process. The supplied templates are nicely made, but I suspect only a few of them will appeal to each user, and you might find that a bit limiting. New templates will emerge, of course, once the Sandvox Developers Kit is released.

Remember, this is still beta code. There are unexpected crashes and some odd behavior, such as times when the Inspector wouldn't allow me to inspect, or times when a new selected design didn't get applied.

Sandvox is very appealing, despite its buggy beta status, because the people who made it have thought of so many neat little extras.

Using the Inspector

Every page can be assigned keywords, every template can be used as a wrapper around your own HTML. The Collections feature, which creates an automated header page gathering together content from other pages, is especially useful and very nicely implemented.

It's an appealing package because the developers have obviously spent some time thinking about real-world uses of their application, and designed features to suit. You can look through the selection of templates and pagelets and instantly think: that one would suit an independent software developer offering downloads; that one is ideal for babyblogging; this one could be used for a corporate web site. Sandvox does a great job of showing you what the end result of your work could be, and of demonstrating the features you might use to achieve it.

For the time being, it shines in terms of features but cannot be used for mission-critical work until it escapes beta.

Final Thoughts

When I started writing this article, I had a number of preconceptions based on previous experiences with RapidWeaver, a built-in suspicion of iWeb, and genuine curiosity about Sandvox. Having played with all three, I now have new opinions about each.

Each of these apps has advantages and disadvantages, and if you have enough time to spend testing all of them, you might be able to pinpoint where each of them is better suited to building a certain kind of website.

If I had to build a fresh new website today, and I had to choose between these apps, I'd probably go for iWeb, despite its long list of annoyances. If Sandvox had already reached final release, that probably would have taken the top spot instead.

And that's not to say RapidWeaver is a bad app; it's not, it's a very polished, usable app with a great deal of power under an apparently simple front end. Personally, though, I found iWeb easier to use. I had to grit my teeth sometimes, though.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at http://gilest.org.


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