Anyone with a text editor, a good grasp of HTML and CSS, and enough time on their hands can create a beautiful website. But what if you don't have time to brush up on your coding skills? What if squinting at a page full of code makes your head hurt? Or what if you're, you know, lazy?
A bumper crop of Mac apps has sprung up to help people in just such a predicament, applying a friendly front end and familiar tools to the ever-more-complicated word of web coding. While none of the three polished apps we review here will be perfect for everyone, chances are that one of them has the right feature set to fit your needs.
Though it's by far the least expensive option in this roundup — roughly $60 cheaper than its two rivals! — TurboWeb packs an impressive amount of power for its low price. It offers a freeform, drag-and-drop interface for placing text, images, and more. I particularly liked the customizable grid and guides that let you impose some order on what might otherwise be chaos. Each element you place on the page snaps automatically to the nearest guide, or into alignment with neighboring elements.
Unique among this lineup, TurboWeb boasts a huge, searchable library of royalty-free stock photos — a big help for zero-budget designers who want to spice up an otherwise text-heavy site. I also enjoyed TurboWeb's instant access to my personal Pictures folder and iPhoto or Photos library. That said, you can't search through those libraries from within TurboWeb, so if you've got a pile of pictures on your hard drive, be prepared to do a lot of scrolling until you find the one you want. I also found it odd that I couldn't use any of the program's stock photos in its photo-carousel widget.
On the whole, TurboWeb does most of what you'd want it to perfectly adequately, including a bare-bones but functional way to upload your site to the FTP server of your choice (or sign up for TurboWeb's own recommended hosting provider). The online help files are simple but sufficient as well.
Nonetheless, TurboWeb fell short in a few key areas. I couldn't get text to wrap around an image for the life of me. I couldn't create a button with different active, hover, or default states. TurboWeb's short list of font options can't be changed or expanded. Responsive design support — allowing you to display the same pages differently on devices with different-sized screens — was rudimentary at best; you can swap between desktop and tablet versions, but if you've finished creating one layout, you'll have to start all over from a blank page to create the other. And TurboWeb's ability to edit and apply custom classes is rudimentary at best. It applies only to text — not images, buttons, or anything else — and offers no control over margins or padding.
- $19.99 - Download now
Like TurboWeb, EverWeb offers a similar drag-and-drop interface (albeit without the handy grid or guides) and overall feature set, with the same limitations when it comes to customizing CSS style elements on your pages. And it shares TurboWeb's somewhat clunky approach to "responsive design," requiring you to create a whole separate set of mobile counterpart pages to those on your desktop site. It lacks TurboWeb's sizable stock image library, but makes up for it by automatically supporting any of Google's extensive library of free fonts, once you've downloaded and installed them on your Mac. So why should you even consider shelling out $60 more than TurboWeb for EverWeb?
First, EverWeb boasts outstanding help files, including an extensive and well-written manual running more than 100 pages, along with handy video tutorials available right from the app's opening screen.
Second, EverWeb's publishing tools are somewhat more robust, with more options for FTP server info, and the ability to add custom header/footer code and even a favicon for your site.
And finally — and perhaps most importantly, if you need it — EverWeb builds in the ability to set up a basic online store, including buy buttons and a shopping cart, using PayPal. Few other web design apps offer anything like this — neither TurboWeb nor Blocs do — and those that do often charge extra for the privilege.
With the few exceptions I've noted, like TurboWeb's searchable stock photo database, EverWeb does basically everything that TurboWeb does, but just a little bit better. However, unless you want to set up your own online store quickly, easily, and inexpensively, EverWeb may not be better enough to merit paying four times TurboWeb's price.
- Free, $79.99 after trial - Download now
Packed with powerful but friendly features, and getting better all the time, Blocs is the app I wish I'd had back when I built sites for a living.
Rather than making you build a site from scratch, Blocs offers prebuilt page elements that you can quickly stack atop each other. Once you've roughed out the overall look of your page, it's easy to customize its content and fine-tune its appearance. Switching into "drop mode" brings up a searchable palette of individual elements — buttons, headers, etc. — that you can place within the prebuilt frameworks to further tweak them to your liking.
Blocs boasts powerful control over CSS styles, including the ability to create custom classes and apply them to any element in your site. Tweak the custom class once — change the color from maroon to gold, for instance — and the change ripples through every element with that class, site-wide. And Blocs offers pinpoint precision over nearly every CSS style parameter you can think of, all in a clean, coherent interface.
Blocs' support for responsive design also leaves competitors eating its dust. Design a page for the desktop, and with one click you can see what it'll look like on tablets or phones, too. You can change elements of the design to improve its readability in one view without affecting how it'll look in the others. And you can even change or create custom classes specifically for phone or tablet pages as well. It's only fair to note that the sized-down versions of these pages don't always render on the actual devices exactly as they look in Blocs, but they tend to be close enough to fix with a little extra tweaking.
Blocs also supports a few fancy bells and whistles such as video backgrounds. Adding Google web fonts to Blocs' menu is as easy as pasting in the right URL. And it's the only program in this lineup to include support for several popular free or paid content management systems, including October and Pulse. Blocs's excellent help files and video tutorials can show you how to quickly set up a Blocs page as a front end for database-driven content in these systems, among many other useful tips and tricks.
Blocs isn't perfect. It's the work of a single programmer, so you'll find a few hiccups, twitches, and glitches here and there. Its prebuilt components mean you won't be able to indulge your wildest flights of design fancy. And the earnest "helpful hint" blurbs that pop up whenever you try something new in the program quickly start to feel a little too much like Microsoft's notorious Clippy. But on the whole, it's my favorite app in this roundup by far.
- Free, $79.99 and up for licenses - Download now!
Which app is best?
If you just want an inexpensive way to build nice-looking, no-frills sites, TurboWeb's a solid bet. If you need to set up an online store without paying through the nose, consider EverWeb. But if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you can't beat Blocs.
If we've overlooked one of your favorite apps for web design — or if you just want to gripe about how text editors are the only way to build sites — please let us know in the comments below.
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