Adobe has revealed the first public beta of a new WYSIWYG web design tool, code-named Muse, which allows you to build entire sites without worrying about HTML, scripting or other low-level complexities.
The AIR-based application is a little short on features right now, no surprise for a first release. But as we discovered when we took a closer look at Muse, there’s more than enough functionality to get a feel for how the program is going to work.
And so when we first clicked File > New Site, for instance, we were a little disappointed to see that Muse doesn’t yet offer any site templates. But this doesn’t actually matter as much as you might think, as smart site design tools get your project underway with surprising speed.
The Muse “Plan” stage, for example, works something like a simple org chart generator. You start with your home page, then add others below it, or at the same level, just by clicking buttons. Every page you add can be further customised in the same way, and within a few minutes you’re able to generate a complex site map.
Visualising the design in this way may reveal some problems, of course, but they’re easily resolved; drag and drop a section of the map from one area to another and Muse will reorganise everything for you.
Once you’ve created the general outline of the site then you may quickly give it a common look and feel with Adobe’s Master Pages. Customise your default Master Page with a background, a logo, a menu perhaps, and these changes will immediately be reflected throughout the site.
After that, customising each individual page with its core content is straightforward. Add a text panel and start typing to create your text, for instance (formatting is strictly basics-only but there’s enough to get by, at least for the moment). And clicking File > Place allows you to insert and arrange whatever images you’d like to include.
If you’re aiming for something a little more ambitious, though, the Objects menu is a good place to start, as it allows you to insert various interesting widgets into your page. There are tabbed panels and presentation layouts, a variety of slideshow layouts, navigation bars and so on; not a wide selection when compared to some of the competition, but again, enough to provide a taster. And if you do need more then the ability to insert custom HTML means you can enhance your pages with Google Maps, YouTube videos, or any other embeddable resource that suits your needs.
If you’d like to see how this works at any point then clicking the Preview option will let you try out the site so far in the program’s internal browser. (There’s no option to open it in other browsers yet, though.)
And once you’ve finished, Muse can publish the site directly to Adobe’s own Business Catalyst hosting service, or export it to HTML, ready for uploading to your own web host.
This all works reasonably well, at least for a first beta, however there are a few problems. Muse feels a little short on features, for instance. There are a few beta-type glitches – features that don’t yet work as you expect – and the program is occasionally less than intuitive (though the online help quickly pointed us in the right direction).
Perhaps most seriously, Muse generates relatively messy, low-quality HTML code, which means that editing your site in anything else could be a problem. Hopefully Adobe will address this issue, in particular, as the beta progresses.
Overall, though, Muse is already an interesting and capable web development tool, and if you’d like to take a closer look then Adobe has said it will remain free until the first 1.0 release in early 2012. The company’s generosity then fades considerably, though, as Muse will be made available on a subscription basis only, which is expected to be priced at $20 a month, or $15 a month if you opt for the yearly contract.