A WYSIWYG Website builder needs a polished interface, a solid set of tools, and a flexible canvas. Without those basic features, you may as well code your pages by hand. Ambiera's WebsitePainter 1.4.1 lets you create Web pages without knowing HTML, but its missing features and limitations stand in the way of getting the job done easily.
Some hits, some misses
WebsitePainter’s single window is built around a tabbed workspace. Beside it, resizable panes contain a Toolset with elements you can add to your pages, a Properties editor to customize them, and a directory of all pages in your site for quick access. Twelve simple templates are included to get you started, but each contains only a few pages, and they look humdrum compared to offerings in applications like iWeb ( ) or RapidWeaver ( ). You can design and save your own pages as templates, however.
Editing and positioning objects can be frustrating because WebsitePainter doesn’t take full advantage of the Mac’s easy to use interface conventions. Common commands like Group, Duplicate, and Select All are missing or inconsistently used, and other features don’t work as you’d expect—some selected objects can’t be deleted with the Delete key, for example (though mileage may vary depending on which keyboard you're using). QuickTime movies added to your site appear cropped at first, and must be manually resized to display at the proper dimensions. There are no guidelines or auto-align features to help you position multiple objects precisely with the cursor.
Editing an object’s properties can be similarly clunky. Some settings can be changed by choosing from drop-down menus of preset options, like different border designs for text boxes. That’s fine, but too many properties require you to edit cryptic text fields to make changes, like the photo slideshow’s default transition time of "250" (I had to contact the developer to learn that the time is measured in milliseconds). Experienced users will be able to figure these things out, but lack of clear labeling and consistent tools needlessly complicates the design process.
Preview and publishing shortcomings
WebsitePainter’s window doesn’t display live previews of dynamic objects like movies or code widgets, so it can take trial and error to properly size and place them on your page. Previewing your work in a browser is just a click away, but pages only open automatically in your Mac’s default browser. To test pages in other browsers, you must open them yourself.
Uploading has its own limitations. When your site is finished, it can be sent directly from the application to an FTP site, but not your iDisk. MobileMe subscribers must first export their site to a local disk, and then mount their iDisks and copy the files manually, to post sites.
Macworld’s buying advice
Despite a straightforward approach and some handy features, WebsitePainter 1.4.1 feels too much like a rough draft to recommend. Other Web design programs strike a better balance between power and simplicity without quite so many sacrifices.
[Adam Berenstain is a freelance writer in upstate New York.]