Xara – Web Designer 6 review

standards-compliant WYSIWYG web site creator with templates
Photo of Xara – Web Designer 6
£39

The idea behind WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) web editing is a good one: you get all the flexibility of DTP-style layout without having to learn a line of code. Although this is an idea most of us can get behind, such products usually have some associated problems.

First, the graphic design tools tend not to be that good, in fact are hobbled by the very fact of producing something for the web rather than for print; second, the web bits (links, navigation bars, rollovers and so on) can be pretty clunky; and finally, the code that they generate errs towards loose and baggy so the resulting sites run more slowly than they should.

Xara Web Designer is the exception, the first program to fix all three problems at the same time. For less than £40 you get a web design program that has the same kind of graphical chops as the company’s vector-based Xara Xtreme but includes good underlying web technology to generate XHTML and CSS code that validates properly; and for the terminally lazy it ships with dozens of high quality templates with all the navigation built in, for you to use as the basis for your original pages.

Web Designer 6 builds on the good work of previous versions but beefs up the web stuff still further. So, it’s easier to build good navigation bars: buttons stretch to accommodate your text, sub-menus feature transparency and animation effects courtesy of Dynamic HTML, and new buttons are automatically added as new pages are created.

It’s always been easy to change individual theme colours dynamically, but now the templates ship with ready-made colour variations which you can just drag out of the gallery and drop onto the working page to change the colour scheme at a stroke, and there’s wide support for widgets to add things like PayPal and Google Checkout buttons, YouTube videos, contact forms, Google maps, newsfeeds and more.

For those of a more D-I-Y inclination, version 6 now recognises HTML snippets and when you paste them into a page, automatically creates a placeholder instead of asking you what on earth they are; similarly, adding external files like PDFs and Word documents has been streamlined. Some of the publishing issues from earlier versions have been usefully addressed here too. As well as cleverer FTP handling (settings can be stored with the web site and different profiles saved for later use), Web Designer now publishes sites incrementally so only the changes since the last save are uploaded to the site; an overdue improvement and big time-saver.

Other new features include slideshow enhancements, using drag and drop to populate photo galleries, fancier Lightbox-style effects for looking at photos, as well as more and better design templates. Text handling gets a helping hand too, with support for proper justification, bulleted/numbered lists and indents.

If you’ve seen previous versions you’ll notice that version 6 has undergone a real makeover and now sports a new dark interface. We found this was a help when working on predominantly light coloured web pages because it distinguished the tools from what we were working on, but when the pages were dark it became a bit overpowering. Thumbs up for the new fly-out buttons on the button bar, but thumbs down again for not taking the opportunity to re-design the bits that ignore Windows design conventions, like those stupidly small scroll bars.

Company: Xara

Contact: 01442 350000


Verdict
Web Designer just keeps getting better. With version 6, Xara builds on a world class set of design tools by beefing up the web features, improving key components like navigation bars, publishing, adding functionality using widgets, and the way in which both photos and text are handled. And it's still not even £40.