Site redesign with RapidWeaver

The site was getting a little long in the tooth. It ran on Mambo 4.5.2, and would have been a nightmare to upgrade to Joomla or similar, so I thought I’d give RapidWeaver a try for the redesign. RapidWeaver 4 is a WYSIWYG web development application for OSX that sits somewhere between Apple’s iWeb and Adobe’s Dreamweaver.

RapidWeaver sports an iTunes-like overview of your site. Ordering pages with drag-and-drop is simple and intuitive. Page creation is also dead simple -- you simply select from a range of function-based templates and fill in the blanks. There are templates for Styled Text, Blogs, Photo Galleries and Movie Albums. There are more advanced templates included, and additional plugins are available from the RealMac site (mostly commercial, but a few good free ones). For example, I’m using the excellent and free RapidRSS2 to handle the security news-feeds here.

There is a selection of around 40 site themes included in Version 4. Many appear quite dated, but some are decent. You need to copy themes and edit them manually to make non-trivial changes to the design. (Disappointingly, you can’t edit source code in the program -- you need to open an external editor *cough, TextMate* to make your changes.) Site navigation is automatically generated.

Publishing your site to a PHP host with FTP is painless. I couldn’t get the program to publish successfully to my .MAC site. The problem seems theme related, and I don’t know whether it lies with RealMac or Apple. The ability to seamlessly deploy to PHP based hosts is huge. I’ve struggled mightily getting Ruby on Rails apps deployed. This is refreshing.

Overall, the program does what it was designed to do, which is to get a serviceable site designed and deployed quickly. The resulting site is well organized and the pages load quickly. Out of the box it’s a good tool for novice-level site design. I’m sure it’s capable of much more advanced usage, but right now I don’t feel like reading the 100 page Theme SDK document, nor paying for additional plugins.

Sadly, the entire RapidWeaver ecosystem is almost all commercially oriented. There is only a handful of open-sourced themes and plugins available. The RapidWeaver program itself is $80 US, and any plugin or theme of merit seems to have a minimum price of $15 US. While I’m not a huge fan of mostly closed systems such as this, you could assemble a good repertoire of utilities for less than the cost of Dreamweaver. The plugins I’ve tested are of high quality.