It’s been estimated that there are around 70 million blogs live on the web. That’s 70 million people with something to say: RapidWeaver 3.5 gives these people a fast and easy way to say it.
Billed as a “powerful website-building application”, it’s no code-crunching jack-of-all-trades like Dreamweaver or Freeway. Instead, you get a simple drag-and-drop authoring tool with a learning curve that’s easy to climb. There’s no need to edit HTML or server-side scripts and no arcane parameters to enter. It’s entirely template driven but surprisingly flexible. With RapidWeaver you can publish blogs, podcasts, photo albums or even videos. This version sees the application’s debut as a Universal binary too.
Publish in minutes
Many web-authoring tools promise that you’ll be publishing pages within minutes. In the case of RapidWeaver it’s true. With an interface that’s superficially similar to Apple’s iWeb, you start by selecting a page type to create. The package ships with a list of page types, including blog pages, contact forms and HTML content layouts.
The main view you’re offered when editing pages changes depending on which type you select, but it’s always divided into three sections. There’s an HTML view new to version 3.5 where you can see the raw code behind your page, but not edit it – it’s there so you can check that your code validates. The default Edit view is where most of the action happens. In some cases it’s a simple, word processor-style window where you can add and format content, in others it’s a data-entry dialogue.
The Blog page type, for example, enables you to schedule blog posts, create RSS feeds, add podcasts with built-in iTunes tags and create bespoke categories through a menu-driven page.
With the Styled Text page type selected, you can drag and drop media elements direct to your page using the iMedia Browser. You can also add media to blog entries and drop in links directly from your Safari bookmark menu. With a media element selected, attributes can be tweaked using the Media Inspector. Images can be rotated or given drop shadows and you can change the ALT description or resize the element.
Once you’ve selected a page type you can choose a theme from over 30 examples. These are professionally designed layouts that range from sober business templates to more playful pages. Each theme is further configurable using the Theme Inspector.
The layout of your pages can be changed with the Page Inspector, accessible like the Themes Inspector from the Window menu. Here there are four tabs that let you tweak the positioning of box elements on your page. You can’t directly edit HTML but you can add snippets of script and change CSS. When you’ve built a site, it can be previewed in the main window or externally in an installed browser.
A cut above
RapidWeaver offers several advances over Apple’s iWeb, including blog scheduling and dynamic forms, but two features really set it apart. First, RapidWeaver is extensible: third-party plug-in pages and themes are available, some for under a fiver. These can be used to add functionality to the package. Blocks from www.yourhead.com, for example, adds advanced layout capabilities to your pages, or you can opt for some add-on themes from one of several providers listed at www.snipurl.com/realmac.
The other unique selling point is that RapidWeaver can publish pages directly to any web space – not just a .Mac account. Although it’s configured to work with .Mac out of the box, you have the option of publishing to any site using a built-in FTP client, upgraded with SFTP support in version 3.5. Make sure you rename your site from the default ‘My Website’ before you export it though, or you may encounter a publishing error. This is controlled using a separate ‘Site Setup’ dialogue.
Overall, RapidWeaver 3.5 makes a great impression as a tool aimed at casual web developers.
Though we prefer the open and intuitive interface of Apple’s iWeb, the extra features in RapidWeaver make it a better tool for bloggers and podcasters. It’s not the best package to choose if you need complete control over every aspect of a website, but for quick and casual developers, this is an ideal way to create and publish a good-looking site.