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Review: Xara Web Designer 6

21 April 2010, Mike Williams

Xara Web Designer 6 is a template-based WYSIWYG web editor that makes it quick and easy to build websites, even if you’ve no HTML skills at all.

If you’ve tried other programs that make similar claims, then you may be sceptical, because they’re usually a huge disappointment. But Xara Web Designer 6 is a very interesting exception. It comes with a lot of usable templates, your sites can be extended with a huge range of powerful features, and the program generates good quality code, helping improve performance and avoid browser compatibility issues.

The power of Web Designer 6 becomes apparent from the moment you click File > New From Designs Gallery and start exploring the sites you can create. Competing products generally offer you a single picture, giving you a vague idea of how the site will look. Web Designer 6 templates have multiple linked pages, though, so double-clicking Fusion Theme, say, will display thumbnails of all 12 pages, as well as previews of the buttons, navigation bars, headers, footers, heading styles, and the six optional colour schemes that you can choose from. It’s much easier to pick out exactly what you need.

Double-click your template of choice and it’ll be quickly displayed. There’s no need to master some complex navigation scheme to find your way around all the pages in your site, either, as they’re just shown one beneath the other, word processor-style. Just scroll up and down to locate the page you need.

Replacing the default site content is equally straightforward. To modify text you can generally just click the default content and start typing. The default images may be replaced with a right-click option.

And if, say, you try to do something more advanced, double-clicking the menu bar to edit it – something you can’t do directly with the initial settings – then Web Designer doesn’t simply ignore you, or display an error message. Instead it explains that “you can’t edit NavBar text labels directly on the page with the ‘Site navigation bar’ option turned on”, and displays a button to load the more appropriate NavBar Dialog, instead.

The Web Designer 6 interface itself occasionally looks a little quirky, then, with tiny buttons and skinny scroll bars. But it’s obvious that considerable time and thought has been put into designing how it works, and as a result, even total web design novices are quickly pointed in the right direction.

Customisations

Impressive though the Web Designer 6 templates are, you’ll probably want to extend them beyond simple text and graphics changes. And there are plenty of options available.

The Design Gallery now includes “Widgets”, for instance, add-ons that can be dragged and dropped onto any page to provide a range of new features. There are widgets to display Google maps, news headlines from various sources, clocks, currency converters, RSS feeds, chat tools, simple e-commerce tools (PayPal buttons, eBay To Go, Amazon widgets and more), web forms, media players – and the list goes on.

Many of the widgets can be further customised. Choose the Facebook widget, for instance, and you can use it to display your basic profile details, your Facebook photos or favourite pages; visitors can share your content on Facebook, become a fan and view your page stream, there’s even an option where a widget can automatically post your Facebook status updates to Twitter.

Once you have the basic site you need, then it’s easy to customise colour schemes, navigation bars, backgrounds and other details. If you want to provide files for your visitors to download – PDFs, say – then you can now just drag and drop them onto a page. They’ll automatically be embedded in the website, and uploaded next time along with a PDF icon, which when clicked by a visitor will be displayed in their browser.

And new support for HTML snippets lets you customise your pages with chunks of custom HTML. Web Designer even recognises the snippet, adds a placeholder to the page and displays a static preview of it.

Publishing performance

Browse around the menus and toolbars and you’ll find plenty of other options for managing and optimising your site.

If you don’t like the current colour scheme, for instance, then you can now drag and drop a colour swatch from the Design Gallery and see your site updated immediately.

An extensive list of image tools, will help to make the most of your graphics: you’re able to tweak brightness, contrast or colours, fix red-eye, blur or sharpen a picture, even optimise all graphics to use common resolution and quality settings (JPEG and PNG are supported).

Web Designer 6 now automatically backs up open documents every 10 minutes, or when you close the program, so there’s much less chance of accidentally losing your work.

While previous versions of the program uploaded your entire site when you clicked Publish, Web Designer 6 now uploads only new or modified files, potentially delivering a huge performance increase.

And if you don’t have a host yet, no problem – a free offer from MAGIX gives you 500MB of web space and your own URL, the perfect way to begin honing your web development skills.

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