The budget end of website creation is quite well catered for these days, and Magix is one of the bigger software players here. The latest Website Maker, version 4, provides an easy introduction to the process of putting together a professional looking site. The idea being that it’s professional looking because, unlike your average budget site construction program, Website Maker 4 produces Flash based sites bristling with multimedia goodness.
While Website Maker requires a small installation on the local hard drive, it actually runs online. When it’s first fired up, the program has to be activated on the Magix website before the creative process can begin. The user is then given their own magix.net website address, a chunky 5GB of online storage space, and a voucher that comes with the package provides one free domain name of their choice (although it has to be .co.uk, and available of course).
Website Maker’s simplest mode of operation uses an editing assistant wizard to help select and then modify an existing template site. There are the best part of two hundred different site themes here, divided into categories such as animals, sport, business and family. We had already decided that we fancied putting together a heavy metal themed site, and indeed under the music category there was a rock motif available.
Once the main template has been chosen, the program displays six pre-defined web pages – the homepage, contact page, about me, picture gallery, videos and music – allowing the user to edit them. Text can be entered simply by clicking on the text box and typing away, whereas the default pictures, videos or audio can be swapped for any file on your hard drive. However, the relevant file must be uploaded to your online Magix account before it can be placed on the site.
The basics couldn’t be any easier, really, and Website Maker takes care of layout details such as automatically aligning text. However, we did run into some problems. After we’d written some text in a template box, including a list, and then returned to it later, the program had squashed the list all into one line. It was still displayed correctly on the site, but not in the template box. This wouldn’t have been an issue, except we wanted to edit a couple of words, and when we clicked the update button the layout went awry on the website as well. It wasn’t a huge issue, but slightly annoying nonetheless. Other oddities included the default volume for our site’s music clip being set to zero.
More of a worry was the fact that the rock template had got its wires crossed, with the default image page set up to carry a video, and the default video page set up with a gallery of six images. There was no way to change this, either. The editing assistant function might make the program easy to use, but it’s also quite inflexible. It isn’t possible to swap pages (though you can delete them), or indeed change the number of images on the gallery picture page, for example. In other words, the level of customisation is very limited.
Of course, further tweaking is possible in the main project editing suite, outside of the spoon-fed confines of the assistant wizard. This allows you to play with more details such as changing font sizes, stretching and moving pictures, fiddling with the opacity of the menu text, or adding animations to your graphics, such as an expanding and contracting skull. Well, we liked it, anyway. We were also a fan of the media player that looked like a leather belt, so don’t trust our taste too much.
Adding new elements, such as a picture, is as simple as exploring your uploaded files area on the bottom toolbar, and dragging the image onto the working project area. Everything is done with a standard desktop publishing style interface, using boxes and handles to re-size, rotate and so forth. It really is commendably easy to use, and producing something like a picture gallery, which a site viewer can use to enlarge and scroll through a set of photos, is a brief matter of a few clicks.
The only somewhat irksome facet of the interface is the object parameter window. This is used to add elements such as tint or animation to an object, but the window is quite large and rather gets in the way of the project desktop at times (it’s static, and therefore can’t be shifted out of the way, either).
It must also be said that designing a site completely from scratch is a trickier matter, at least when it comes to the background and framing of the page, as you’re not given much help by the program on this score. It’s then that a lot of fiddling and experimentation is necessary (not to mention the odd contribution to the swear-box).
But Magix certainly delivers on its promise of allowing beginners to design some fairly impressive looking Flash web sites. However, one potential bugbear regarding Flash in the future, which might be worth bearing in mind, is Apple’s lack of support for the technology. The iPhone doesn’t do Flash browsing, and neither will the iPad, and that could be problematic for Website Maker 4 pages, if the tablet makes as big a splash as Steve Jobs is hoping.
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