Serif WebPlus X5 review

WYSIWYG web page design with e-commerce features
Photo of Serif WebPlus X5
£81.69

Along with Xara Web Designer, Serif’s WebPlus flies the flag for all those individuals and smaller companies who want to build web sites but who aren’t (or can’t afford) coders or ‘proper’ designers. For the resourceful generalist who’s computer literate and able to turn their hand to many different tasks, the new X5 version represents a cost-effective way to build sites from scratch.

Mature product
Products like WebPlus, which have been on the market for a while, tend to hit a plateau and build on what they’ve got rather than taking a radical new direction – and that’s the case here. Thus, the core of WebPlus remains the same. It’s a drag and drop, WYSIWYG web page creation tool that lets you lay out sites in a similar way to laying out printed pages in a DTP package. It then allows you to add web stuff such as navigation bars, slideshows, shopping baskets, Java applets, media players, forms, site search boxes and RSS feeds. X5 adds a range of incremental improvements to the existing feature set, and includes 25 templates (with eight more available online for free) to get you started.

Buttons and pop-out windows
X5′s new Button Studio gives you complete control over the design, appearance and operation of buttons as they appear in navigation bars or as standalone items. But while it’s a powerful and welcome addition, it isn’t easy enough to change the characteristics of button states, and you should be able to edit the text on a button without having to quit the designer and then open a separate ‘Edit Button’ box.

X5 now includes dozens of navigation bars which are mobile-friendly and easy to customise, and we like the new pop-up menu that lets you attach extra navigation to graphic elements on mouseover, as well as new pop-up panels that can float on top of the page and are useful for creating special offer ‘badges’, contact information, captions and so on.

Similarly, the ability to add specific ‘actions’ to images, text and graphics is useful if, for example, you have a panel of text or a coupon that you’d like visitors to be able to print out. X5 now also includes a lightbox effect that expands thumbnails into full-size images, and along with support for scalable vector graphics files (SVGs) this means you can create sites with real visual dash.

E-commerce applications
More surprisingly for a product like this – and at this price point – X5 incorporates basic e-commerce and has wizards to help beginners get started with PayPal, as well the less well-known RomanCart and Mal’s Ecommerce (new to us, this one – but free and well worth a look) to create online stores. This version extends PayPal support to include a professional-looking mini-cart that sits at the top of the page and makes it much easier for visitors to manage their purchases. It’s admirably easy to set up, though, and puts straightforward e-commerce in the hands of anyone.

Although it’s generally nippy enough, even on our old Dell, X5′s template browser is a bit too leisurely for our liking, both when it first loads and then again when you select a design and then sit around waiting for the program to display the associated page templates. But that’s the only time we noticed a lag, and given X5′s relative sophistication (CAPTCHA box support, online bookings, interactive widgets for external services like Google Maps, YouTube and Twitter feeds, blogs, forums and RSS feeds) we can live with it.

Company: Serif

Contact: 0800 376 7070

Positives
  • Builds PayPal stores for peanuts.
Negative
  • The sluggish template browser.

Verdict

For personal web sites, we still think Xara Web Designer has the edge, but if you need those e-commerce features - and especially if you sell via PayPal (or want to) - this is an inexpensive, slick way to build web pages without coding that also allows you to add the kinds of interactive elements that visitors to a modern web site have come to expect.