capsule review

WebsitePainter 1.4.1

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At a Glance
  • Ambiera WebsitePainter

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.

Whether you edit a template or start a site from scratch, you can easily add elements like text boxes, shapes, YouTube videos, or even forms and checkboxes by selecting the element, then clicking inside your page. A hyperlink editor turns objects into links and lets you customize and reuse URL styles. For more interesting page designs, you can contain multiple objects in div elements and position them in dynamically sized layouts. WebsitePainter supports a wide range of widgets that can add HTML, JavaScript, and PHP code to your pages. You can also add additional code to the body or header of your pages (to add Google Analytics to your site, say), but you can’t freely edit your pages’ code as an alternative method of designing a site.

Design difficulties

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.

WebsitePainter lets you easily add useful objects to your pages, but its clunky design makes building sites difficult––especially for MobileMe users.

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.]

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Toolbar puts page elements in easy reach
    • Wide range of widgets
    • Can save pages as templates


    • Missing many common Mac commands
    • Customizing objects can be finicky
    • No MobileMe support
    • No layout auto-align features
    • Uninspiring templates
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