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Build It Up, Tear It Down

October 30th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Technology · No Comments · Technology

Last week I went a little outside my comfort zone when selecting products from Amazon’s Vine programme to review and chose a software package – something called WebSite X5 which is, not surprisingly, a website creation package.   This site runs under WordPress so there is no point using another package here, but I do have various other bits of webspace available to me that are not really used and suitable as a playground for such a package.  Here is what I thought of it.

This could be a frustrating package for anyone who really knows what they are doing, but a very good buy for somebody who doesn’t know any HTML, doesn’t really want to, and wants or needs to get a web site up and running quickly.

At first the indications were not good.  The installation was a little bit quirky, and early on in the process I spotted a few typos and mis-translations.  Nothing serious, but enough to make it apparent that this was written in German and then translated.  Mind you I have used serious expensive applications at work that have been translated much less well.  After a little bit of confusion about how to activate/registerthe program it all went smoothly and I was soon able to start using it.

The program itself opens in a fairly small window which is not re-sizable, which is not something I am used to.  Actually it does make some sense as this is not really a program like Frontpage or Dreamweaver where you design a website.  It is really more like a wizard where you choose from various options, although there are quite a lot of options.

This is supposed to be a product that lets you create websites without any knowledge of HTML so I tried to forget that I do know some HTML which was difficult at first.

The concept of this program is that you work through five steps to create a web site.

Step one is the basics: the name of the site, contact email address, basic layout and choice of templates. There are quite a few templates but they all look fairly similar. All of the designs are based on there being a banner across the top and buttons for pages being either across the top or down the left-hand side.

Step two is to define the structure: the structure is that there is a home page with further levels of detail, all in a tree layout.  I was rushing through so I just created a handful of pages and sub-pages at random, coming back to rename them later.

Step three is the main part: defining the pages themselves.  This works in a WYSIWYG fashion.  Each page comes up as a grid.  You can add new rows and columns to the grid and then drag & drop elements into the cells.  Elements could be text, images, animations, tables, videos, etc. and can either be dropped into a single cell or spread across rows or columns. After placing elements you open them to insert the details of them.

Step four is advanced settings: you can just skip this or do some tweaking of things like how the buttons and scrollbars look and also add information for a rudimentary e-commerce cart.

Step five is to upload to the Internet: obviously you need to have some webspace to upload everything to – either some sort of hosting arrangement or just the free personal webspace that comes with most broadband packages – and you need to know the ftp details (account, username, password)

I whipped through all this fairly quickly to get an idea of how it works, then went back through to populate the pages a bit more.  Although the program works in a very linear way you can go back to previous stages at any time to make changes. After about an hour of playing around I had a website all uploaded (  Not the best website in the world, but it looks like it took a lot more than an hour to do.

As I do have some experience with HTML and more flexible (and expensive) packages I probably will not use this much for my own sites, but I would happily recommend this to anybody who just wants a website and does not want to spend a lot of cash on software.  Something like Frontpage can do a lot more, but it can also be daunting. This is quite friendly and easy, and the linear nature of it means that a relative novice can proceed in an orderly fashion.

I think this would be ideal for anybody who is not sure whether they need a website, or for somebody who just wants to get something online without the trouble of learning any HTML. I may continue to use it for one of my ‘spare’ websites just to play around with.

There are plenty of limitations, but really what do you expect for this price?  It represents good value for money in the market it is aimed at.  It may not appeal to professionals, but I don’t think they are the target market for this.  I do know a couple of people for whom this package will be ideal and I’m going to be recommending it to them to get me out of managing their sites for them!

I was quite pleasantly surprised by the results and I have only really scratched the surface of the features.  Not only that, I just ploughed ahead without looking at any of the online help that is available. Although there are limitations I have not reached them yet.

It is very easy for somebody who has some skills or knowledge of HTML, even as limited as mine, or somebody used to using well-known web-creation software to look down on a simple little piece of software like this, but actually it is quite good for what it is, and for the price.

A valid criticism is that it it limited in what it can do but what it does do it does well.  And it seems to be suitable for the sort of limited-facility webspaces that come with most broadband accounts as there is no reliance on ph, MySQL or anything like that: its all just HTML and some scripting.

I may recommend it to the Broadfield community centre.  Its so cheap I might even buy them a copy as a charitable donation.  Their web site has not been touched for a couple of years.  The problem is that, although it is a simple site, it is all done in plain HTML.  I used to keep it up-to-date, editing everything in Notepad but it can get a little fiddly, and I am a bit out of touch with what is going on there.

I always intended to show the staff there how to do it themselves, but that would mean teaching them HTML and how to use ftp packages.  WebSite X5 would, I think, be easy enough for them to use themselves and the current layout of the site would lend itself very well to the format of the templates.

In fact I would happily recommend it to anyone who wants to set up and manage a simple site for a club or small organisation, or even for personal use, where they are more interested in the content than in learning much about how the web works.

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