iWeb ’09 review

Apple’s goal with iWeb is to give home and non-professional users an easy way to create and update lively, personal websites without needing to know the mechanics of complex web building technologies. With the addition of FTP capabilities and some powerful new widgets, iWeb ’09 accomplishes that mission with flying colours. Despite its powerful features, it’s amazing how simple it is to use.

All design work takes place within one window, with four palettes: Inspector, Fonts, Colors and Adjust. The Media Browser, where you find your images, music, and videos, gains a newly styled drawer, and a Show/Hide Media button appears in the toolbar. Also new to the toolbar are the Add Page, Publish Site and Visit buttons.

The File➝New Site command launches the template chooser, which has 27 themes – two are new. Select your first page from that theme’s set: Blank, Welcome, About Me, Blog, Podcast, Photos, My Albums or Movie. The site and pages you add appear in the sidebar. Clicking on any page shows it in the web page canvas where you can then tweak and add content to it.

The Media Browser’s functions have not changed, you can add media to your pages from the Media Browser, drag in any image from the Finder, or drag a folder or image into the Media Browser.

In the Media Browser’s new Widgets tab you’ll find nine widgets. New are YouTube, iSight Photo, iSight Movie, Countdown and RSS Feed.

Embedding a YouTube video on a site typically requires entering HTML into the page code and uploading it to see the result. With iWeb, after copying the video URL from YouTube, you drag the YouTube widget onto your page template and paste that URL into the settings. The video plays in iWeb if you’re online. You can resize it, move it, or give it a frame or border.

Adding the new iSight video or photos, live date countdowns and RSS feeds is similarly easy. Countdown adds a live date countdown, optionally showing years, days, months, minutes and seconds.

With the powerful RSS widget, any RSS feed can be displayed on your page. If you have a set of images on Flickr, get the RSS address, put the widget on your page, enter that address, and your page displays those photos.

It’s a shame that iWeb still doesn’t have email-masking that shields your address from spammers.

Get published

Perhaps the most significant upgrades to iWeb are its new uploading features: built-in FTP and individual site uploading. Until iWeb ’09, you could directly upload sites only to MobileMe. To get a site to your own server you had to publish the site to a folder, and then use a third-party FTP program to actually upload it.

Now you can publish each site wherever you want. If you own a domain and have a hosting service, you can send any iWeb site directly to that server, and you can still export a site to a folder if you choose, to upload it using a third-party FTP app. If you own a domain name, you can also still set up a Personal Domain, which points your domain to the MobileMe server so your files live on MobileMe but the site’s URL is your own, a feature introduced in the previous version. iWeb ’09 also makes updating your published site more intuitive with the File menu’s new Publish Site Changes command.

You can click on a site’s name in iWeb to set up its publishing specifications. The interface is fairly clear.

Unfortunately, although you can have different FTP or folder settings for each site, a single user cannot upload multiple sites to different MobileMe accounts. It’s necessary to change your MobileMe settings in System Preferences to change the upload destination, and that changes it for all MobileMe sites.

If you’re sending your site to your own domain, by FTP, the Personal Domain feature or export to folder, you won’t love iWeb’s way of publishing the actual site folder instead of just your pages. That’s because the uploaded folder becomes an added part of the URL. The fact that Apple creates an index page redirect doesn’t help.

There is a shortcoming when using the Personal Domain feature with MobileMe to publish more than one site. (You are publishing to MobileMe, but your own domain is used as the URL.) For one site, this works perfectly. But add a second site, and only the first one in your sidebar can be reached via iWeb’s visit function. To get to the second site you’ll need to enter the domain name plus a backslash and then the site’s name.

There are advantages to using MobileMe to host your site. Because they are stored on your iDisk, blog and photo comments can only be enabled if you upload to MobileMe, not when your site is hosted elsewhere.

OUR VERDICT

iWeb ’09 is an excellent program for anyone wanting a personal website to share stories, photos, home movies, videos, podcasts and blogs. Its improved uploading capabilities, easy-to-use widgets and more straightforward interface are worth the price of the upgrade. Using the program for professional purposes remains more of a challenge. It’s not designed for professionals, but it can be a way to get a web presence.

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