Talking tech since 2003

In this day in age, small businesses and organizations need to have a company website in order to maintain their professional image and attract new clients and customers.  Personal websites – biographies, portfolios, resumes, etc. – are even becoming a standard for professional individuals as well.  However, the sad reality is that websites can be quite a challenge to build, making it difficult for small businesses and individuals to attain their own home on the vast Internet.  Sure, one can easily learn various web technologies such as HTML/PHP, CSS, and JavaScript to build a site from the ground up, but the fact of the matter is that many people simply lack the time to follow through with such a project.

This is where the concept of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web utilities emerged from.  By allowing less technically experienced users to build sites with a simple graphical-based utility, these utilities aim at making it easy for end-users to develop their own websites with minimal time or effort.  While this sounds like a great concept in theory, one of the big problems that I have seen with such websites is that they often-times are either overly complex for those without previous web design experience, or as a polar opposite do not give the user the level of flexibility or control that he or she needs to design a meaningful website.

Recently I decided to try RapidWeaver 5, a web design utility for Mac OS X developed by Realmac Software.  This utility was very appealing because it appeared to offer the flexibility that one would need to create a unique and crisp website without forcing the end-user to take web-design classes to use it.

Upon first firing up RapidWeaver for the first time, I was greeted with a nice project window, where I was given the option to check out their collection of free and paid third-party addons, go over their paid video-tutorial site (some free videos available as well), or jump right in and create a new project.  While the addons and video tutorials are indeed premium items and this was advertising in a sense, the remainder of the projects screen looked to be a simple way to keep track of multiple projects.

After diving in and creating a new project, I used the “Add Page” button to begin adding content to the project I was working on.  While I honestly expected to be presented with nothing more than a blank page, I was pleasantly surprised to find that RapidWeaver had a variety of options in terms of pre-defined page types.  For example, I could easily create a “blog” page with news content, a contact form, iframe embed, media embed, page redirect, or “styled text.”  This is definitely impressive because it allows a user to create a full feature-rich website without having to build different page-types from the ground up.

The one page type that stood out the most to be was the “blog”, simply because of the fact that I know how “dynamic” blog pages tend to be.  What impressed me with RapidWeaver was the fact that one could easily add articles, stories, and content and the application would automatically generate the appropriate indexes and page lists.  Sure, it’s not quite as flexible as PHP and MySQL-driven systems such as WordPress, but for a simple blog or news feature on a site it seems to do the job well.  Better yet, it creates static content, meaning that it can be served with lower system resource on the server.

As far as formatting goes, the concept of not having to know or implement HTML can be seen in the text editor, where text is not only formatted richly (bold, italic, underlines, colors, etc.), but a simple dialog also allows for common HTML features to be inserted into a page without any effort or coding.

In terms of design, RapidWeaver comes with a wide variety (47) built-in and semi-customizable themes, meaning that one can build, add content to, and customize a complete fully functional webpage out of the box.  For those looking for more premium and unique themes, RapidWeaver has a large selection of themes created by third-parties.  RapidWeaver also has an entirely separate theme store where users can purchase themes individually (typically between $15 and $25 each, but prices do vary) or as part of a larger “bundle” at a more discounted price.

With a theme selected, you can easily view your site in a visual mode, allowing you to see exactly what your website would look like once published and available on the web.

Again, going back on the concept of not knowing to need HTML or CSS (style sheets) in order to create a professional website, RapidWeaver makes it simple to use the “page inspector” to easily edit various aspects of a page layout or design based on a theme, making it dead-simple to customize a site specifically to your needs.  This goes perfect with the visual editor simply because it allows you to fine-tune various aspects of a page/site and view it in real-time on your computer.

RapidWeaver even helps you to add all of the necessary content to your site, such as the title, slogan, footer, and logos which are added to all of the pages.  While this may not seem like such a big deal at first, the fact that RapidWeaver makes it incredibly simple to change this information across all pages on a website makes it easy for one to apply updates and changes to the site down the road.

Last but not least, RapidWeaver also helps to upload your site via FTP or to Apple’s MobileMe service.  After all, what kind of all-in-one utility would RapidWeaver be if it made you upload files on your own?  With just a few clicks, your website can be uploaded to your server and ready for all to view online.

After having spent an hour or so with RapidWeaver, I must say that it is a very well-rounded solution and makes it simple for someone without web experience to design and upload a site on their own.  While I do feel that it gives the user a fair balance between control and ease of use, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone who was looking to develop more complex websites from the ground up, because when it comes to truly custom design, products such as DreamWeaver and Coda honestly do take the cake.  However, by eliminating the complexities (and cost) seen in these products, RapidWeaver is definitely a great solution for those who haven’t worked with web design in the past.

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