Realmac Software – RapidWeaver 5 review

theme-based web design for the Apple Macintosh
Photo of Realmac Software – RapidWeaver 5
£52.75 (£26.04 upgrade)

Although Apple’s iWeb does a decent job of allowing beginners to create nice-looking web pages, it’s not really up to the job of building professional level or business sites. For those Mac users who don’t fancy making the jump all the way up to Dreamweaver – or learning to code properly – there’s Realmac’s RapidWeaver.

RapidWeaver has made its name as a low-cost web design program that uses themes, but also offers plenty of ways to tailor the look and behaviour of standard pages using hand-coded HTML and CSS. A lively community of add-on, plug-in and theme developers further extend the program’s reach.

RapidWeaver 5 (RW5) is still determinedly un-WYSIWYG, which means you create pages in the Edit view and then use Preview to see what they’ll look like. While this takes a little getting used to – and is a no-no of the first order for many people – it actually lets you build sites more quickly, because you can concentrate on the content and let your chosen theme do all the designing for you.

RW5 ships with 47 themes (six new ones are included) suitable for use in a wide range of projects, and 11 page types designed to handle different kinds of content – specifically a blog, photo slideshow, styled text, contact form, file sharing, site map, HTML code, QuickTime video, an album of movies, an offsite page and an iFrame. Of these, the styled text page is the most useful, allowing you to combine text, images and code with files and even movies.

Casual or occasional users may not even notice many of RW5′s more significant enhancements, partly because there’s no program documentation – not even upgrade advice – beyond a few bits and pieces on the web. But improvements there are. For example, if your sites use multiple style sheets, then RW5 can now consolidate them so that your pages load more quickly. A new bookmark manager keeps track of FTP, user name, password and path information for all your web sites. There’s also support for GoSquared’s fancy LiveStats service to go along with Google Analytics, as well as a new Sitemap page plug-in, which is an important addition for people building larger web sites.

Existing RapidWeaver users will find that Assets (typically files such as Word documents, PDFs and compressed archives) have been replaced with Resources, and given a spot in the left-hand panel along with the pages in your site. While this may make managing them easier in the long run, existing site setups may also need to be adapted to handle the new terminology and format – and if a lot of these have been hand-coded, this will be an enormous pain.

Elsewhere, minor enhancements include a Project window which lets you access recent projects, better ways of keeping third-party add-ons up to date (plug-ins are essential if you want to make the most of RW), and some minor re-jigging of the interface.

Although version 5.0.2 (reviewed here) is a lot more stable than the first releases – which caused a minor firestorm on Realmac’s community forums – the program still suffers a few issues. We’d offer the usual good practice recommendations to back up your sites first, make sure all plug-ins and themes are up to date before loading a project file, try a test site first, and so on.

If in doubt, let the excellent Realmac community forums be your guide – wait until the hubbub there about version 5.0 dies down, and you’ll be able to buy with greater confidence.

Company: Realmac Software

With hundreds of high-quality themes, powerful third-party plug-ins that let you create anything from Lightboxes and sophisticated JQuery slideshows to shopping carts, content management and online forms, RapidWeaver 5 is an inexpensive program that makes non-designers look good. The software takes care of the boring stuff so that real designers can stretch their wings, and it even lets coders get under the hood to get their tweak on. On the downside, it's not WYSIWYG, there's still no manual for version 5 - not even a Readme file with some upgrade guidance about how to use key new features - and clearly has a few problems yet to be ironed out.