updated 03:00 pm EST, Thu January 29, 2009
First Look iWeb '09
There are plenty of options for creating webpages. Professionals typically opt for editors like DreamWeaver, while hardcore designers may choose to dive into the HTML code. It's theoretically possible to use ordinary word processors, but the resulting pages are often too simplistic. For the average person who wants to create professional-quality pages without taking design classes -- or learning the vulgarities of HTML code -- Apple offers the much simpler iWeb '09, a part of the new iLife '09 suite.
The program mimics a desktop publishing paradigm, in which you paste and manipulate objects such as shapes, pictures and text boxes on a blank slate. Since few people have experience in graphic design, you can choose from a variety of templates to create a consistent look. While such templates make page layout simple, the latest version of iWeb adds only two new themes on top of those from iWeb '08. If you were disappointed by the limited selection before (26 templates), the '09 software won't change your mind.
The most visible new feature is the ability to add functionality to pages by dragging and dropping widgets. One interesting widget lets you drag a YouTube screen to a page, enter a URL for a particular video, and have your selected clip appear with no additional HTML coding.
Place the Google Maps widget on a page, type in an address, and you've added a map to guide viewers to a particular location. The RSS widget retrieves information from other websites, and there's even an iSight widget that lets you capture a picture or movie of yourself through your iSight camera.
Another long overdue feature is the ability to send pages directly to a hosting service other than MobileMe. In the past the only option was to export files to a folder, then use a separate FTP client to upload the content to a hosting service. Now you can enter your own FTP information, and upload a site without leaving iWeb.
When you upload your pages, you also have the option of sending a notice to your Facebook profile, so friends can check out the updated site right away. This feature, along with the YouTube, iSight, and RSS widgets, makes iWeb '09 especially well-suited to crafting personal material.
If you just want to have fun and post a personal page on MobileMe, or another service such as GoDaddy, you should find iWeb '09 easy to use. If you want to design a business-oriented website however, iWeb's latest features (such as the iSight widget) may prove to be fairly useless.
In the context of the $79 iLife '09 suite, iWeb fits in perfectly as a tool to make Macs more fun for individuals. You probably won't want to buy iLife just for a copy of iWeb, but you'll find the program a pleasant, if limited, tool for novice web design.