Realmac Software – RapidWeaver review

theme-based web design for the Mac
Photo of Realmac Software – RapidWeaver
£51.50

RapidWeaver is an inexpensive web design program for the Macintosh that, although theme-based, has enough hooks so that HTML and CSS coders can get inside and rummage around to good effect.

Although it ships with 40-plus perfectly serviceable themes and 10 page types (including styled text, a contact form, blog, podcast, photo library, file download page and so on) it really springs to life thanks to an open architecture that has encouraged the development of themes and plug-ins from third party developers. These add, among other things, Google-friendly site maps, shops, Flash-style effects for banners and navigation, CMS features, forums and guest books.

It can still turn out impressive web sites straight from the box, and most of the themes are editable in some way allowing you to change basic features like fonts, the colour scheme, position of the sidebar, page width, header height and so on, to produce something that doesn’t look like the original vanilla version.

This makes it much faster to knock up a good-looking web site than if you have to build it from scratch, and because the theme coders have done their job, the results work across most browsers automatically with very few surprises (the odd bit of IE 6.0 unpleasantness aside).

Web sites built with RapidWeaver look smart and contemporary, and the program makes it easy to do the back-room stuff: there’s no need for a separate FTP program, you can paste Google Analytics code straight into the Site Setup dialogue box and it’s automatically applied to every page, and if you think meta tags still matter, it’s simple to add keywords along with your site description and so on.

RapidWeaver isn’t WYSIWYG, though. Instead it has two modes: Edit, where you do all the work, and Preview, where you see what it looks like. It’s possible to add some elements in Preview mode (you can work on a sidebar for example) but RapidWeaver’s habit of re-drawing the page at regular intervals makes this a bit ungainly.

However, because themes inevitably introduce limitations (we’re not talking free-form design here) there aren’t too many surprises, and some people find that working in Edit mode has fewer distractions. For those who know what they’re doing, all sorts of things can be achieved by mixing code and text on the same page or by adding some custom CSS. In addition, many third party themes are breaking away from RapidWeaver’s fairly rigid header/content/sidebar approach by offering containers for extra content in the header and footer areas, increasing its flexibility no end.

There’s a refreshingly free exchange of useful snippets – and generous advice – on the RapidWeaver forums and more experienced users often offer up some code to change the look of a header for example, or produce scrolling text in the sidebar, or a Flickr badge that you can just copy into your site (and then keep in the Snippets library to use elsewhere).

RapidWeaver gives you everything you need to build attractive, straightforward web sites and – courtesy of plug-ins and extra themes – is far less limiting than you might expect. One word of caution: although there are some fantastic third party extras for RapidWeaver, mixing and matching like this will result in the occasional hiccup and although developers are generally helpful, it’s not always easy to track down the source of the problem.

Company: Realmac Software


Verdict
If you can get on with the Edit/Preview model, RapidWeaver is an excellent choice for building standards-compliant static web sites quickly. And with the addition of a few plug-ins it can handle anything from personal pages and blogs right up to complex sites with multimedia, shopping and community features.