Web design for everyone.
It doesn’t seem like so long ago that I reviewed Serif WebPlus X6, but here we are around 18 months later and I’m taking a look at Serif’s latest offering, WebPlus X7.
Casting my mind back to the previous review, I found X6 to be a perfect tool for pretty much any web designer, whether they have practically no experience or they’re a seasoned pro.
WebPlus X7 offers pretty much more of the same, albeit with some subtle improvements under the hood and some tweaks to make it an easier package to get to grips with for beginners.
Of course, it still offers an incredible amount of customisation for professional web designers, or those perfectionist among us who simply must have their sites exactly as they picture them in their heads.
WebPlus X7 comes with some pretty cool new features when compared with its predecessor. Chief amongst them is native support for HTML5, the latest recognised web standard. This allows sites to be coded a lot more efficiently, and makes it a lot easier to have your site look professional no matter what platform your audience views it on.
Other new features include:
- Integrated video player for streaming MP4 videos
- A true 64 bit platform for faster performance on 64 bit computers.
- A new form designer
- A new startup assistant.
- Guest bookings for business websites
- A streamlined interface
There are a ton of other tweaks and improvements, but this covers the major ones. It would be impossible to cover every single aspect of the program in this review, it’s so vast.
Instead I took the same approach to the WebPlus X6 review and created my own dummy site to trial some of the features.
Just like X6, WebPlus X7 promises to be a convenient way to get your own site published. That being said, the interface is just as busy as with previous versions. I certainly wouldn’t recommend using this software on anything less than a full HD monitor, you’re simply going to struggle to get everything on your screen in one go.
To the left of the screen you’ll find your selection tools and media browser. X7 comes with a whole heap or images, clipart and graphics included, the latter available in a range of colours to match the theme of your site.
Across the top of the page you’ll find the main tool bar which allows you to add, edit and customise any element of the site you’d like. You also have your publishing and preview tools here.
To the right of the page you’ll find your site tree, customisable elements and colour swatches. The rest of the screen is the preview area for your site itself. Different pages can be selected from the pane on the right and will then be displayed in the middle.
To be honest, a novice is going to initially feel completely overwhelmed by the complexity of what’s in front of them, but you’ll quickly find yourself getting to grips with it and after a while it is pretty intuitive.
Working with templates
If you’re not exactly a web design king then don’t worry too much, Serif offer a whole bunch of design templates to get you going. I counted 30 desktop and 30 mobile themes, each of which is available in a variety of different colour themes. The themes themselves cover pretty broad range in terms of overall look and style of site, and there should be something for everyone here.
Don’t go thinking that you’ll be left with a site that’s the same as everyone else’s, though. Once you’ve selected a theme you can edit pretty much every aspect of it to end up with something that looks as original as you are. In effect all the themes do is bring together a bunch of elements into a starting point for you to develop from, rather than having to start with a completely blank canvas.
Of course, you might want to start with a blank canvas, and if you do you will definitely be able to come up with something respectable, it just might take you a bit longer.
Drag and drop
Just like with the previous version, WebPlus works largely on a “drag and drop” formula to allow you to quickly and easily construct your site. Pretty much everything, from pictures and galleries, forms, videos, social media and e-commerce can be dragged from the left sidebar into a page and then customised to fit in properly with the look and feel of the site.
The whole process feels very natural and produces results very quickly, which is good as it allows more time for you to tweak the various elements of the site in order to bring it to the brink of perfection.
Social media integration remains a favourite tool of mine, allowing you to quickly add connections to your companies Twitter feed, Facebook page and Google+ page. You can also add quick and easy share buttons to allow visitors to share your content to popular forums like Digg and Reddit.
If you’re building a website for a business then WebPlus X7 has you covered in terms of ecommerce support. Out of the box you’ve got support for Paypal, Roman Cart and Mal’s eCommerce which each provide excellent tools for order customisation, cataloguing and checkout.
I had a play around with the different options available and it’s a very flexible tool. You can specify pretty much every detail relating to the transaction, including the following:
- Buy now/subscription/donation transaction types
- The type and design of button used
- The name, description and photo of the item for sale
- Whether the customer is prompted for an address
You can even opt to import a catalogue of products from a spreadsheet or database, saving you the time and effort of creating a listing for every item you sell. Need to add or remove an item? Just upload a new version of your database and all changes will be replicated on the site.
This is about as fluid and easy an eCommerce solution as you’re going to get, and it’s a great way to quickly and easily offer your products for sale with minimum fuss and effort.
Previewing and publishing sites
If you’re creating a site that everyone can use then it’s important to make sure that it displays properly in a variety of browsers. To that end, WebPlus X7 allows you to quickly and easily preview your site using any browser installed on your system.
Clicking on any of the preview options will open the browser concerned (or a new tab if you already have it open) and show you your site as it currently stands. This can be a great tool for checking the look and feel of your site in a real environment without having to publish it first. That way, you can ensure that it’s exactly as you want it to be before opening it up to the rest of the web.
When it comes to publishing your site, Serif give you the option of hosting with them, or adding your own web hosts details so that you can send the websites files to their servers.
Serif’s own hosting charges are not the most competitive out there, but it does simplify things slightly to use their services so beginners may wish to consider this. If you’re using your own web host then the wizard should have you published in no time at all, providing you’ve received all of the appropriate info from your host.
If you’re a beginner, don’t feel too put off by the amount of information shown above, any decent web host will be more than happy to help you input the correct information.
If you’re a budding web designer or a business owner looking to avoid web design charges then Serif WebPlus X7 should definitely enter in to consideration. Just like its predecessor it offers an excellent theme based model alongside a rock solid element based design tool. As well as that you’ve got enterprise class e-commerce tools and excellent support for streaming video and photo galleries.
If you’re a more experienced web design professional then you might be tempted by the sheer depth of WebPlus X7 when it comes to the library of objects and the level of customisation that you can go to.
When it comes to things like blogging, WebPlus X7 still seems to lack any sort of obvious mode that will allow for quick and easy updating on a regular basis, so I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who’s purely looking at creating a personal website (look at a free tool like WordPress or Blogger for that).
My only other major criticism, nay, observation, of WebPlus X7 is that you’ll definitely need a reasonably big monitor in order to use it effectively. For the purposes of this review I used a machine with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and I still found my workspace a little cluttered at times. I’d imagine that anyone with a screen of less than full HD resolution will find themselves having problems.
These gripes aside, though, WebPlus X7 offers an excellent level of customisation alongside a fluid and easy to use interface that should have you creating decent looking websites in no time. It’s also relatively cheap, coming in at less than £100 at time of writing. If that seems a little rich for you, and you don’t mind not having the latest features, then you could certainly consider picking up the previous version for a lot less on Amazon.