In Search of New Web Site Tools to Replace iWeb, Part I


My faithful readers will recall that Particle Debris is my TMO blog. To date, I have elected to use the blog for a Friday wrap-up of offbeat, overlooked news items of interest to Apple customers. And, of course, I add my own commentary. However, there’s no reason why my blog needs to be restricted to that kind of article, and so Particle Debris now expands its scope to cover my technological journeys. I hope you have fun and even contribute in the comments as we learn together.

Website building

The Journey Begins

We now know officially that Apple will not be supporting web site hosting after June 2012. Also, the iWeb ‘09 app hasn’t seen a major update in some time, and Steve Jobs in a purported e-mail has confirmed that Apple customers will need to find another web site builder. So, like many others, I have embarked on a quest to both rehost my personal web site and select a new web site development app. This is the first installment describing that journey.

I, like many other Apple customers, assumed that once Apple elected to host our web sites that Apple would remain steadfast and courteous about that service. After all, part of being a large, respectable company means trustworthiness and continuity of vital customer services.

Sadly, that’s not the case with Apple’s transition away from MobleMe to iCloud. Apple has recently published an FAQ that describes what services will be supported in iCloud, and web hosting isn’t one of them after June 30, 2012. Apple advises, “You will be able to continue publishing iWeb sites to MobileMe through June 30, 2012, even after moving to iCloud. With iWeb you can easily move a site published to MobileMe to another web hosting service and you should do so before that date.”

Apple links to a Knowledge Base article that describes how to use the current version of iWeb ‘09 to load a current web site onto another hosting service. The problem with that apparently simple solution is that one will be locked, for all time, into maintaining that web site with an app that is no longer being developed and supported. The situation cries out for a migration to a new web site building app, one that the developer will be publicly committed to for a long time.

Decisions, Decisions

That decision to migrate, in turn, creates a new problem. I spoke with Terrence Talbot of Karelia Software, the makers of Sandvox, and he told me that it is currently very difficult to import a web site from the iWeb-created data files and then continue to use Sandvox to maintain the web pages. Apple has done some proprietary things inside iWeb, and decoding that process has so far proved intractable. As a result, if one is going to select a new, modern web site builder app to replace iWeb, it’ll be necessary to rebuild the site from scratch.

Many people will point to the Apple decision as further proof that we who maintain web sites should have never fallen for a GUI-based, WYSIWYG web site builder app from a company known for great ease of use but also some proprietary tendencies. They will point a finger at us, and you know who they are, and say, “See? You should have built your web site with BBEdit (or better, vi) and learned all that CSS code yourself.”

Indeed, that may be the route some of you will take as you rethink the entire process. Others, recognizing the trade between solid, early results and the time invested may elect to do some research and pick a new tool that looks to be simple, powerful, reliable and likely to be around far longer than iWeb. That’s the approach I will take here.

The Process

On the surface, the process seems fairly simple. Pick a new web hosting service, one that is stable and expected to be around for a decade or two. Next, decide on a new web site builder app. Third, extract as much text and photos from iWeb as practical and start to design and build a new web site. Of course, I expect there to be glitches along the way. And because TMO is an Apple oriented site, I will assume that you aren’t interested in Windows-based apps.

Also, I’m not going to exhaustively review all the web site builder apps for Mac OS X. That has already been done to some extent. That would be a huge project and a duplication of effort. Instead, I’m going to pick just two or three apps based on a basic list of criteria. I will make that recommendation to you.

Along those lines, a list of features is no longer sufficient. What we’re all interested in now is the commitment the developer has shown to the future of the app. As I winnow down the field to two or three apps, I’ll be chatting with the developers in person to make sure they, at least for now, own up to a long-term commitment. That’s all we can ask.

Here is my initial list of requirements.

1. Developer Commitment:
    - Is the app under continuous development?
    - Is the app being developed for the long term?
    - Is there a beta being developed for Lion?
    - Is there a money back guarantee? How many days?

2. Supporting Tech Features:
    - Can the app import an iWeb site?
    - Can the user see and hand tweak the HTML?
    - Does the app support slide shows?
    - Does the app support eCommerce & shopping cart? 
    - Does the app support a blog?
    - Does the app support SFTP?

Since building that list, I have found, as mentioned above, that it’s currently not possible to brute force import an iWeb site into a new app. Perhaps, some day, a developer will solve that problem. So for the time being, I’ll deprecate that requirement.

The Journey

As I go through this journey, I’ll tell what I’ve learned and how I did it. I’ll not be reviewing the web site building apps per se, but I will be making comparisons and describing the operation of the apps I am working with and recommend. I’ll be looking for and reporting on gotchas. In turn, I invite all of you to add your wisdom in the comments below.

Without shame, I’ll cite the traditional charter: the journey is the reward.

Part II

On June 14, 2012, Part II of this series was published, “In Search of New Website Tools to Replace iWeb, Part II.