20 January 2006

iLife06 and the new iWeb

Edit 31.01.06: Since posting this article, I have made a few minor changes to the personal website, though nothing taking more than a few seconds. I have also switched my corporate website to use the new iWeb version, and changed the links in the article to allow you to see the old one. Finally, in the corporate website, I have removed the blog features provided by iWeb and replaced them only by a link to this blog for reasons that are obvious as you read the article.

You reader(s) have probably thought there has been a bit of a dearth of Apple coverage here since MacWorld. Where are the articles proclaiming the iMac Core Duo and MacBook Pro, you may very well ask?

Well, I'm trying to be a bit considered in my responses. There has been a lot of garbage written so far with all sorts of jumps to (usually incorrect) conclusions, more conspiracy theories etc etc. I am particularly watching how general reaction pans out in reference to the myths/realities of moving to Intel that I wrote about before MacWorld. I'm also waiting to see more real world reports coming in rather than people quoting one or two simple performance metrics to either support or condemn a theory. So, stay tuned....

But, I did get my hands on both iLife06 and iWork06 pretty quickly, and while I've been a bit busy with other things, I have managed to play around a little with iLife06 and in particular iWeb. While this is far from a review of the applications, I thought you might be interested on my initial observations:

1. iLife06 is a huge installation. It pretty much looks for 10GB on your hard disk at install. Now if you don't need Garageband or are prepared to have less of the loops etc, then you can save quite a bit on this (IF you use a custom install). But don't expect to install the whole caboodle on an aging laptop.

2. iPhoto. Steve claimed iPhoto was massively improved in performance. A few people suggested it was all in his demo on the Core Duo iMac. Well, I can tell you Stevie-boy is right. iPhoto really does scroll much faster, and generally feels snappier in all sorts of regards. There are some nice new features, though I haven't really had a chance to play with them much yet. If you do use iPhoto, you should jump at the new version.

3. I haven't tried the other applications yet (iTunes doesn't really count as it is available free). But there are some improvements over last year's versions for both iMovie and iDVD that would make them of interest - especially if you also use iPhoto. Unless you use Garageband extensively or are keen to produce your own podcasts (a major new feature in this release), I'm not sure how important you'll rate the GB improvements.

So that brings me onto iWeb. This is a new addition to iLife that promises the ultimate in simple but beautiful (!) and functional website creation. While it is especially useful to someone with a .Mac account, it can also be used without, subject to a couple of limitations. How does it stack up?

I have created 2 websites. The first was a really simple test to see how quickly I could publish a 3-4 page website with a movie, some photos and a blog page. And the answer is VERY quickly (about 20 minutes total - 2-3 minutes for each additional page). You can take a look at the site here if you're interested. It is hard for me to express just how easy it is to do this, and how you need to know NOTHING about html to do so. Navigation is straightforward, and some of the functionality Apple have provided (eg photo slideshows) is very good indeed. Note that this site is not a functional site - the choice of photos, movies, text etc have little or no meaning. It is merely a demonstration of what can be done very quickly indeed.

So, if you've always wanted to build a simple personal website (or know someone who wants to) but has been put off my having to learn HTML, editors, ftp etc or couldn't get past the installation of Frontpage, then iWeb is well worth investigating. There are a few disadvantages still with iWeb, but you really can achieve some great results in no time at all, and perhaps more importantly, the site would be easy to maintain thereafter (that's often the biggest problem). If you don't have a .Mac account, you'll still need to know how to upload a site to your ISP, and you won't be able to do photoslideshows for instance, but much of the other functionality should work.

Now moving on to more ambitious things, I wondered if I could replicate my rather simple company website with iWeb? You can compare my former website with my new iWeb-created version here. What do you think?

Well, looking at the new version in Safari, I think it looks quite good. I was able to do it quite quickly - over a couple of hours. If I had accepted a few more compromises, I could have done it much faster. Moreover, I think it will be much easier to maintain going forward - easier to add pages, or to edit content on them. And it would be easier to do things I hadn't thought of before - use of more media for instance. I was surprised how often I could just copy and paste the page from a browser and all functionality would come through (eg the links page was copied straightover and all links actually worked straight off!). So it would be easy to move a simple site over from an existing website into iWeb - even if you'd lost the original source.

As comparison my previous website was built using an html editor, and was my first attempt to make limited use of CSS. Production of buttons for the website and the navigation editing and testing took a fair part of the time.

But, let me deal with some of the limitations I found along the way because it is quite clear that iWeb will be a severe disappointment for people with certain requirements.

1. File structure, and uploading. In the current version, there is only one iWeb project so to speak. The two websites I did are in the same "file" (though you don't really ever access that file). A new site is added within your current site. If you maintain more than one site and they are in different locations or for different people, iWeb would be a hindrance. While it seems it only reloads things that have changed, uploading to .Mac ALWAYS takes an age. I don't know why - whether it's an iDisk thing or what, but its slow.

2. Multiple machines. I cannot figure out how to manage the website from multiple machines. I don't need to do this, so I haven't had sleepless nights on it, but essentially the iWeb files live on one computer, and must be edited using iWeb on that same computer. If you were to have your site located on other than a .Mac account, you could edit the html before uploading it, so it maybe not such a limitation. But I think this would be a dangerous thing to do. I've heard the html is not a pretty sight (pardon the pun). I wouldn't use iWeb to create some basic html which I then intended to tweak.

3. Templates. This is where I started to see the biggest limitations - at least with the 1.0 version. While you have a lot of flexibility in changing the look of any page, you cannot save that page as a template to be reused again. So, for instance, on the company website, I have added a colour gradient, changed the text colour slightly, and added a blue line underneath the navigation (compared with the default iWeb template I used). But if I add a new page, it will still use that provided template, and I will have to do these actions again for this new page. Furthermore, it is not possible to edit the navigation part - font size and style is fixed for navigation elements. The best you can do is let a page be excluded from the navigation (or not use iWeb's navigation at all).

4. HTML extensions, Javascript etc. When I built my company website, I created the buttons as PNG's, without realising that good old IE still doesn't support the PNG format and that such objects display badly. I came across some simple Java code that I inserted into the site (and eventually in the CSS header) that alleviated this problem (I think). But I couldn't do such things here, and I suspect the company site looks like **** in IE (anyone care to comment?). Now is this a problem for many? Not necessarily. Nor is it Apple's "fault". Safari is now the most compliant browser out there. But unfortunately, that doesn't cut it in the real world. I can't say for sure (perhaps others can), but I'm not sure how good and functional sites built using iWeb would be in IE (it seems ok in Firefox). And, you won't be able to tweak it in anyway to fix it.

Edit 31.01.06: I have deleted blog pages/entries created by iWeb from the website as it is now in fulltime use. The blog feature is just not good enough for my purposes, so the link is back to here. The paragraph below may therefore be hard to understand without the visible example.

5. The Blog tool. Now, here is where we get to see the biggest limitations of iWeb. I had hoped to be able to make the blog tool be a reasonable replacement for this site, but it is far, far from it in the current incarnation. Where do we start? First problem is that of the template issue I identified above really causing problems. If you have chosen a style for the rest of the website, you will choose the blog sheet from that same style. But every blog entry starts with the default layout. So for each new blog entry, I had to resize and move the boxes, remove the photo (all blog entry templates allow for one photo per entry), move stuff around, add the fill gradient, blue line and text colour to match the other pages. I didn't HAVE to do this, but it means I would end up with a blog that doesn't match the rest of the site.

Continuing with blog limitations, the uploading of new blog entries is slow; there is no capability for categories (though there isn't on blogger.com either); there is no capability to handle comments (I knew of this already, but it's a disappointment nonetheless); and blog entries MUST be done in iWeb. As far as I can see, you can't add blog entries from another source. This is a huge limitation. With blogger.com I can place entries from any web browser; I can email entries; I can email entries with photos either directly or via flickr - even via the cameraphone in my camera. None of these opportunities exist to iWeb bloggers. Fair enough perhaps - its aimed at family bloggers and the like - certainly not professional bloggers. But, even family bloggers would arguably be limited. A key example used in the marketing is a holiday blog. Now how many people take away their mac on holiday and would have a reasonable internet connection to upload to .Mac on a regular basis? Finally, iWeb is touted as offering features for the new groups feature on .Mac. Once again, though it is highly limited by this file structure and fixed link to one mac. Only the group owner would be able to blog on the group site for instance. So, if you're interested in iWeb for the blogging, be VERY careful indeed.

In summary, I really like iWeb a lot for certain things, and for a particular audience it is the application they may have been waiting for. If you're reading this article however, I doubt you're in that audience (though you may know some people who are). It is an application that could be used by my mum to create a great looking family site with truly excellent photo and movie features; and it is an application that could be used by businesses requiring a simple web presence (eg landscape gardener with a portfolio of projects); or ideal for building a simple site for a scientist/researcher or student. While the out-of-box templates are really nice, those wanting a slightly unique look will find frustrations with the file structure and lack of template editing. And most importantly, those looking at incorporating even a simple blog will come up against limits very quickly. I don't see why blogging could not have been done better and with some email support for mobile entries for instance (with .Mac/iDisk handling the photos). True, this is version 1.0, and no doubt iLife07 will be there with more features.

So, I welcome iLife06 as a valuable upgrade for many users (especially .Mac holders, iPhoto users and those needing iWeb). At a price of UK£55 (£69 for family pack) inc. VAT it is probably a reasonable price if you are a heavy user of these apps. Of course, as this becomes an "annual" upgrade fee, it is more like an annual service charge (and over 4-5 years would cost equivalent to a license for MS Office). For those considering a new computer and interested in what iLife06 has to offer, it certainly presents one very compelling extra reason to go Mac over PC/Windows given that it is included for free with all new Macs. Let me know your thoughts on iLife or any questions you might have.


Anonymous said...

Nice review, clean and simple for the non mac users who are considering switching/buying as an additional computer.
iWeb seems to be pretty good on the output (although obviously not dreamweaver level), it looked pretty good in firefox and my personal opionion was the design of the company site looked nicer than the original, it was slower to load though, maybe due to the text being images rather than normal text.
But I suppose for the money you are paying there isnt really much out there that can match iLife, especially on the windows pc, and for the home user its more than enough to give them the urge to give it a go.

Anonymous said...

You might want to take a look at Rapidweaver by a company called realmacsoftware. It is a step or 2 beyond iweb, but is really easy to use as well.

43iurgndjs said...

Hi. I stumbled across your blog in search of web help. I have the updated iWeb program, but no .mac account. Can I use it to upload to blogger.com? How would I go about doing that? I'm sorry if these are really obvious questions, but you seem to know what you're doing and the internet hasn't been helpful so far... Thanks!