Review of Xara Web Designer Premium 9
Xara Web Designer is built on 4 key
bases: 1)Xara Graphic Designer for
providing vector, bitmap photo and
basic DTP editing capabilities;
2)dozens of complete live web
theme templates as a better
starting point for web design than
an empty blank page; 3)very fast
operations throughout the Designer
interface; and 4)simple click, drag
and drop plus wizard assisted
operations throughout. The result is
a versatile and very quick Web site
development tool which vies with
some of the best online development
tools for delivering complete websites
in very short order.
Thus Xara Web Designer competes well not only with CoffeeCup but also online editors like Weebly and Wix. In fact for sheer
speed of learning and delivery of working websites, Xara Web Designer puts major tools like Adobe Dreamweaver and
Microsoft Visual Studio to shame. Think huge learning curves in both cases for the “Pro tools”. And though Visual Studio and
Dreamweaver do deliver sophisticated sites with complex features, their building time+costs and design change processes
are not for the faint of heart.
So like Weebly and Wix or Google Blogger and WordPress, Xara Web Designer can deliver quickly very useful websites for a
variety of small to large business applications. Portfolio sites, Event and Travel, basic Store with eCommerce, and Tutorial
site with explanatory videos, drawings, text and images are typical sites where Xara Web Designer excels But Web Designer
falls short with the lack of a native database facility like in WordPress and Joomla or Weebly and Webs.
However, through 3rd party widgets, Xara Web Designer supports sophisticated apps like calendars, complex form processing,
or data charts and numeric analysis/manipulation. But these 3rd party tools often charge for their advanced features while
storing and processing the underlying data on their servers in many cases. In addition, News blogs and bulletin board/wiki
services can be emulated in Xara Web Designer but are handled much better in say WordPress or Blogger. So the question is
what type of website app best fits the Xara Web Designer rapid development capabilities?
Media Rich Websites
One of the major advantages of Xara
Web Designer is its built in photo
editing capabilities with image
preserving operations. This means one
can use full scale multi-megabyte
images while clipping, rotating,
resizing, and refining those images
with over 3 dozen photo-finishing
operations - and all the while the
original image is preserved.
So to the left, a bevel edit is being
made on 2400 x 1400 pixel image
which has been resized and contrast
This means the original image is preserved so that edit operations can be changed or removed with the highest fidelity. And
these photo editing operations are done very fast as the basic photo editing code is using the very swift and versatile Xara
Graphic Designer tool. Users can change the transparency, drop shadow, bevel, mould, and/or 3D outline of an image with
drag and drop ease. In addition, Xara Web Designer supports creating GIF animations for banner-ads or incorporate Flash
animations from 3rd party tools like Adobe Flash, SwishMax or Swift3D. In addition, this Help section describes all the different
photo manipulation capabilities of Xara Web Designer. Read in the Help section on how to setup multi-image slideshows with
many transition effects, auto display option and slide controls.
In sum, Xara Web Designer is an image processing powerhouse where photos can be cropped, rotated, and resized on site.
Designers can use any gif, jpg, bmp, or png image that has been prepared for the Web or do so immediately in Xara Web
Designer. But there is more media styling - a commitment to basic DTP-Desktop Publishing layout capabilities.
DTP -Desktop Publishing Page Designs
A web developer colleague had a very nice client who always paid promptly and was delighted with the Sewing Craft website
he created and helped
maintained for her in Blogger. But Nell drove him crazy because she
constantly wanted to
change the layout of her pages. She used a simple header and
sidebar with the body of
the page using 3 snaking columns in newspaper or magazine style.
Most of the time. But
occasionally, Nell wanted a big 3 all column headline header
followed by two column
layout underneath - announcement of the new embroidery machine,
big news in the sewing
community. And then for a series of tutorials, she wanted to insert a
series of how-to-panels
every which way on the 3 column page - text underneath should just
“flow around” the how to panel. The illustration panels were to be dragged and dropped next to the paragraph describing
their use. Nell insisted “It should be simple to do”.
Providentially, I stayed out of my colleagues problems because I didn’t think even such powerhouse WordPress themes as
Headway and PageLines would be able to handle these ever changing page layout demands even with their powerful page
templates. There were just too many different page templates required. What Nell needed was a Web Designer that delivers
unique customized DTP layout for every page. And DTP styling and layout is the second Xara Web Designer advantage.
First and foremost, Xara Web Designer supports layers and repelling of text under layers as seen in the Text Panel example
above. Note that the Text Panel can be quickly dragged and dropped any where on the Web page and text will automagically
flow around it. Also being able to arrange overlapping layers for different “visibility purposes” is quite useful given the image
transparency control possible with Xara Web Designer . Layers can be arranged higher or lower in visibility But also the tool
supports automatic text flow between text blocks. Users just drag the small arrow head at the bottom right of the overflowing
text block to the text block one wants the overflow to go to. This text flow re-direction is essential for column layouts.
Vector graphics tools like lines and a variety of shape tools make it easy and simple to add a sophisticated drawing on a Web
page. Also the ability to link text to the edge of a curve allow for nifty effects. But the biggest asset is the large number of
pre-built Web elements available in the Design Gallery. In fact, this is part of the Xara development advantage.
The final DTP advantage for Xara Web Designer is its ability select and group objects together. This is useful in itself in copying
those object groups and placing them on other pages. But Xara goes one step further and has a prompt whenever a group is
created asking whether users want to add this to every page or just the current one. ery nice! Now it is easy to create a
sidebar for every page. Likewise if you delete an object, Xara asks whether you want to delete it for this page only or on all
the other pages where it may be found. This is the type of flexibility that theme generators like ULTIMATUM and Genesis are
striving for and Xara Web Designer has now.
Speed of Development Advantage
One of the distinct advantages of Xara Web Designer is an overall speed of
development. It certainly helps to have so many pre-built Web resources in the
Design Gallery. These objects include dozens of well designed theme templates with
multi-page layouts that can be quickly customized to users need. This review is an
example - where an existing Xara website template has been modified and extended
using a theme template as the starting point. But there many more resources in the
Design Gallery [see screenshot on the right] including page element, clip art,
prebuilt animated banners, presentation layouts, and a variety of graphics including
buttons, navigation bars,stickers, icons, charts, and other graphics. Xara Web
Designer gets developers well started.
And there are 3 keys to kicking this start into rapid development. First, Xara provides
excellent help documentation with both overviews and detailed local help files. All
of the Xara wizards and special editors have help buttons which take users to the
appropriate section of the help file. Also there are dozens of movies on the Xara
website that are packed with helpful hints - if you get stuck, go to the movies.
Second, there is no doubt that the Xara interface is busy, but so too are
Dreamweaver, Visual Studio, even WordPress when you have 5-6 plugins loaded. The
difference is that many operations within Xara Web Designer are drag and drop
simple to do. Many of the photo editing commands; adding elements from the Design
Gallery to a web page; dragging colors onto a Web object; or dropping an external image onto a page - all are drag and drop
simple to do.
Next ease of use tip - right mouse clicking on any object
on a web page brings up an object specific menu of
commands. Often special wizards are just a click away
from immediate use - as in the the navigation bar wizard
below. Ditto for slideshow widgets, forms, charts,
audio/video resources, google map widgets, etc. As one
becomes accustomed to the Xara Web Designer, the logic
of its workflows become intuitive.
The third key to speed of development is the simple fact
that program operations are uniformly fast. As previously
noted, Xara’s photo manipulations of huge bitmap files
are thebest I have ever seen. But also complex vector
drawings are remarkably snappy. This carries over to the
DTP and Wizard operations. Even more important, file
saves are quick too as well as previewing of pages in the
Xara controlled IE browser[you can switch to Chrome or
any of the other major browsers that are installed on your
machine with a click].
The net result is that for Websites that are in Xara Web Designer’s sweet spot, this is by far one of the best tools available for
Xara Web Designer’s Sweet Spot
The better question to ask is “where is Xara Web Designer’s weak spot relative to other tools?” And there is no question that
Xara’s lack of a database interface and API is a glaring weakness. So Xara does not support a true Blog or Wiki or Bulletin Board
or eCommerce system with posts, comments or other “unlimited” references and/or transactions. Yes you can do everyone of
these systems with Xara Web Designer but with two big disadvantages - a)they do not scale up well to hundreds or thousands
of instances and b) the posts and other transactions are not communicated well like in a WordPress or Joomla database which
are easily searched, reported on or transmitted by permission to other applications like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Apps and
Plus, Twitter and other 3rd party social media.
Now for many websites this inability to scale to thousands of posts or even hundreds of thousand of messages simply does not
matter. Nell on Sewing Craft is more than happy with the Xara Web Designer messaging by forms that has been installed for
her. And the approach that Xara has taken which is to use 3rd party supplied widgets and use the SaaS - Software as a Service
approach to Web delivery has some clear payoffs. Why not let the best Forms Supplier or eCommerce agent serve your
customers and store the data. The trade-off is twofold. First, there are now two or more masters of your system when things
go wrong and you need to find who to blame. Second, getting access to “your data” simply will not be as straight forward as if
its on your database. But as the Web Trends posting part of this review indicates using SaaS and Web Components will make
the SaaS model more attractive to Web developers.
Two other problems are that Xara Web Designer does not run on Apple machines and does not support mobile devices well. But
the first situation is partly alleviated by the fact that most Apple based web developers also run Windows as a virtual machine
on their laptops and desktops. Ironically, Apple has steadfastly refused to bring touchscreen operations to MacOS. This is
terribly short sighted. This review is being done on a Windows 8 machine where touchscreen operations make Xara Web
Designer even more productive with drag and drop plus direct touchscreen photo manipulations even more convenient. The
second situation is that Xara does not have mobile or responsive templates. As smartphones and tablets become ever bigger
this need for responsive Web sites will become less demanding. But also there are jQuery routines that will automatically
detect and convert page layout to fit mobile or other novel screen dimensions.
A final ”problem” is that Xara Web Designer generates some pretty dense HTML[just do a CTL+U of a Xara web page to see the
code generated]. Customers looking to make a quick spelling error fix or to add or delete lines from the website directly to
the associated HTML file will find the task challenging. As well the master copy will be out of synch with the operating HTML.
Now this fact plus good version control discipline should keep the problem of updates in check. But the larger question is how
Visual WYSIWYG editor has an HTML tag allowing for HTML-savvy users to make changes to a post or page using direct HTML
plus CSS using the style=”” inline styling. My inclination is that Xara should not try to switch to more coding tolerant interface
unless a database and API is exposed at the same time.
So the sweet spots for Xara Web Designer are websites that demand a lot of customization for many pages; where innovative
use of photos and media are essential selling points; and where rapid development is part of your competitive advantage.
With the growing trend towards Web Components, SaaS and Cloud Services it appears web development is coming to the Xara
model. That model puts emphasis on rapid development of media savvy and DTP versatile interfaces with major transaction
and database services done primarily through 3rd party Saas services. Currently those third party widgets are strong in some
areas such as image slide shows, forms, and audio+video services but less than exemplary in eCommerce or Blog/Bulletin
Board or charts and data display. I will be watching carefully how well Xara improves its library of widgets.
Xara Web Designer is ideal for customers who want a distinctive design and styling, will have you or an internally trained staff
manitain the site, and will have lots of customizations in the look and feel of their websites. You will be able to offer them
very reliable and superbly performing websites with SEO smarts and Google Analytics so they can trace and improve their
performance. But what should win their enduring loyalty is your ability to respond quickly to all their customization and
Text Panel in DTP Style
This panel stretches
horizontally and also
vertically. It also repels