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REVIEW: RAPIDWEAVER 5 FOR MAC

Back to basic web development for OS X

A few years back Apple made the dubious decision to remove iWeb from it’s iLife suite of creativity programs.  iWeb itself wasn’t that great when it came to producing websites, but it was incredibly easy to use and the removal outraged many amateurs who wanted to create their own website or blog.

RapidWeaver 5 from RealMac Software seeks to bridge the gap that has been left by the removal of iWeb, by providing an easy to use platform for Mac users.  That being said, when you actually dig down in to it it’s a much more powerful tool than iWeb ever was.

Creating a site

RapidWeaver makes it incredibly easy to start planning your site.  All you need to have in your head is a basic idea of the layout of your site, and RapidWeaver will help you make it a reality, quickly.

When you first launch the software you’re presented with a splash window that gives you the option to pick up on an existing project, start a new one, browse the library of add-ons (more on that later) and view online instructional videos.

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On selecting the “Create a new Project…” option, you’ll be presented with the main design and preview window, which allows you to plan the layout of your site, as well as produce the content that will fill each page.  From this page you can choose from one of the pre-installed 47 themes, as well as edit every aspect of your site.

It would take too long to detail exactly how this process works, but here’s a video that takes you through the creation and publishing of a basic website:

The entire process is pretty intuitive, the only annoying thing is that any references to online sources (YouTube videos for example) won’t display properly in the preview pane, which can only show local content.  This could prove annoying if your website will rely heavily on content scraped from other sites.

Although it didn’t have a couple of bugs for me, the publishing side of RapidWeaver works very well (in theory, anyway).  If you make a change to a site that you’ve already published, you won’t need to re-upload the whole thing.  RapidWeaver will check which pages and files have been amended and then only send those files to your website via FTP (File Transfer Protocol).  This could be of great benefit as your site grows, especially if you only have a modest Internet connection.

Tutoring

RealMac Software have gone to great lengths to provide written and video tutorials for RapidWeaver on their website.  In order to access the “Beginners” guides, all you have to do is sigh up for a free account.  The videos cover basic things, such as how to add content and change themes, to more advanced things like text and image formatting and publishing.

However, in order to access the “Intermediate” and “Advanced” videos, you’ll need to sign up for a support subscription at $9.95 a month.  The videos themselves cover some great topics such as theme editing, advanced gallery and blog functions and reducing the file size of your project.  However, I have a real problem with this type of support model.  In my view, if you buy a product you should receive a decent set of instructions on how to use all of its features, for free.  To charge people an additional subscription fee in order to be able to use their software to the fullest seems a little bit like you’re squeezing them dry.

For the purposes of this review, I’ve not bothered to pay for a subscription, so I can’t comment on the videos themselves, but if it helps there are quite a few instructional videos on YouTube from other RapidWeaver users.

Plugins and Add-ons

Although RapidWeaver comes with 47 themes built in, you’ll probably find yourself struggling to make your site original within a short while.  Not only that, but the limitations when it comes to layout and choice of content mean that you might not be able to include everything in your site that you might want.

Thankfully, RealMac Software have allowed 3rd party developers to produce add-ons for RapidWeaver that can extend its functionality and allow you to add more content to your website.  Unfortunately, the 3rd party add-ons all come at a price, some stretching as high as $20-30.  That might not seem like a lot, but it does significantly increase the cost of the overall product once you purchase a few.

That being said, the online catalogue does list some add-ons that would potentially be very useful.  There are several that would add excellent catalogue and e-commerce support to your site, plus several that promise to add additional functionality when it comes to designing your site.

In truth, I don’t like this business model at all, I would much rather spend more on a package which includes all of these features right out of the box, rather than buy a relatively cheap product and then have to buy add ons in order to make it do the things that I want.

Conclusions

RapidWeaver 5 is kind of a double-edged sword.  On the one hand I do like the ease of use and the simplicity of the interface.  It requires absolutely no previous experience of web design or HTML in order to produce decent looking websites in minutes.  The themes and templates themselves also seem to be a lot more solid than iWeb, which had a tendency to break if you didn’t do exactly as Apple predicted you might.

On the downside, I don’t care for the limited features and themes that come with the product out of the box, or the limited video support that could find you signing up for a support contract in order to find out exactly what you need to do.  You could also say that the add-on system is a rip-off, but in truth there will be those that only want the basic features, so why make them pay for things they’re not going to use.  There is some logic at least to that, even if I don’t personally agree with it.

On the whole, RapidWeaver 5 is an excellent tool for beginners and hobbyists, and more than fills the hole left by Apple when they removed iWeb from their arsenal.  More adventurous or experienced users may find that they outgrow RapidWeaver’s basic functions quite quickly, in which case there’s the add-on and theme libraries on Realmac’s website.  However, professionals (budding or experienced) should avoid RapidWeaver, it simply doesn’t allow for the level of customisation and originality that your clients will expect.

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Author

Matt

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