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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 adjusted non-destructively.
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 web development. 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 much HTML, CSS, and JavaScript should Xara expose to its developers. Right now its a lot less than say WordPress where the 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. Summary 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 stylings.
Text Panel in DTP Style This panel stretches horizontally and also vertically. It also repels text underneath    
Xara Web Designer 9 Review