capsule review

SiteAssist 3.0

Powerful Web design tools such as Dreamweaver 8 (   ) give anyone the ability to create Web sites without having to know markup languages such as HTML or CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), advanced scripting languages such as JavaScript, or how to optimize graphics. Dreamweaver ships with pre-built templates that give you a good start, or you can download templates from many different sites, some for free. The trouble with most of these templates is that they aren’t very flexible, and they usually need significant manual modification to work well for your site. What non-technical Web designers need is an automated, adaptable, easy-to-use template-based tool that offers a variety of good-looking options.

Enter WebAssist’s SiteAssist 3.0.3, a wizard-based Dreamweaver extension that steps you through the process of creating the layouts, choosing the navigation menu structure, and building the pages for your site. SiteAssist lets you choose from a wide variety of appealing page and navigation bar styles, and it lets you change your mind and redo the site at any time, without losing any custom elements you may have specified. It’s a very good tool for designers who need a technical assist.

Build with a click

SiteAssist comes with 16 predefined site types, such as Administrative, Corporate, Intranet, Medical, Nonprofit, Online Store, or Real Estate, and each type contains a variety of appropriate pages. For example, the Education Site Type includes pages like Home, Course overview, Required books, Assignments, About the instructor, and more. The site that I built didn’t match any of the included site types, so I picked the one that had the closest approximation to the kinds of pages I wanted.

In the Select Layout Options step, you pick the overall look of your site by choosing one of 20 attractive designs from a pop-up menu. Eleven of these designs are table-based, and the rest—new to this version of SiteAssist—use fully standards-compliant CSS for layout. You then choose the color scheme, fonts, and the style of the navigation menus. As you make your choices, you can click either of two large Preview areas (one for Home Page and the other for Content Page) to open a sample of the page in your default browser. Windows users will see thumbnail page previews in these areas, but that feature is not yet available for the Mac. WebAssist is working with Apple to enable live page previews in a future version.

In the next step, you refine the navigation menu and page structure of your site in an outline-like form. You can add and change the predefined pages supplied by the Site Type, and you can choose from a large number of Page Types, such as Text-Only Details, Interactive Gallery, or Calendar. In the final two steps, you define what pages should be linked from the site footer, then review your choices. Clicking the Finish button builds the site, adding pages and folders to Dreamweaver’s Files panel.

Not quite what I wanted

After you’ve finished creating your site, you can open and edit pages as you normally would with Dreamweaver. If you need to change the site structure, design, or navigation style, you just reenter the SiteAssist wizard to make the changes and update the site. Because the look of your site is based on a Dreamweaver template, you can also modify the template using Dreamweaver’s tools, and when you save the template, the rest of the site automatically reflects your changes. Happily, this doesn’t stop you from making further changes in SiteAssist.

You can make more detailed changes to individual pages by applying any of the included CSS styles, or by defining your own. One difficulty that I had was that the external CSS style sheets SiteAssist created also included styles for all of the possible Site and Page types, which means that nearly 200 styles are available from the Style pop-up menu of Dreamweaver’s Property Inspector. It would be better if SiteAssist built a custom style sheet that included only the CSS styles for the design currently in use. Another problem is that the styles aren’t documented anywhere, so you need a fair amount of expertise to ferret out which styles affect your current layout, so that you know which ones to modify.

While the program includes a wide range of layouts, a basic three-column layout, often used to include advertising, is conspicuous in its absence. It’s possible to modify the existing layouts to add a third column, but it really should be built into the product.

Macworld’s buying advice

SiteAssist 3.0.3 is a good choice for Dreamweaver designers who need to produce great-looking, functional sites quickly, and for those who lack the technical expertise to produce a full site from scratch. If you are responsible for creating multiple Web sites, SiteAssist will save you time and spare you the drudgery of building a site’s navigation system.

[ Longtime Macworld contributor Tom Negrino has written books on Contribute and Dreamweaver, including the best-selling Dreamweaver 8 Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

Structure building: By using this outline-like form, you can add and modify pages, move pages in your site hierarchy, and assign Page Types to your pages.Site in progress: This home page is still being built, but it already has most elements in place. Replacing the placeholder image and text in the lower-right is all that remains to be done.
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