It seems like ancient history, but it was just six years ago – Macworld Expo 2006, to be precise – that Apple launched what many hailed as the linchpin of its iLife suite: A web design tool called iWeb joined iPhoto, iMovie, Garage- Band and iDVD. As the newest member of the digital hub, iWeb was the missing link that bound all iLife apps into a single organic unit. Paired with Apple’s networked sharing tools – first .Mac and later MobileMe – this ecosystem provided a quick, painless way to create captivating and complex websites incorporating iLife app elements like text, photos and albums, videos, music, blogs and podcasts. With a few mouse clicks and some simple configuration, MobileMe put your iWeb site online.
Of course, that’s not all MobileMe did. The service provided ad-free, private and cloud-based access to your email, contacts, online storage and photo albums and also provided a way to share and back up your assets. It was a closed garden – maybe not Eden – but many Mac users grew attached to it.
Now both iWeb and MobileMe are going extinct. MobileMe will end on June 30 and users can move to Apple’s new, free iCloud, which offers only some of MobileMe’s attributes. While iweb is not going away immediately, its eventual demise is assured: Apple is no longer updating the app and has removed it from the Mac App Store. But from this transition comes a new beginning. The following stories guide you through the steps needed to update your iWeb site and host it with some slick tools.
It’s sad. But it’s a fact. With the departure of Apple’s MobileMe online service, it’s time to think not only of moving your site to a different webhost, but of eventually moving away from Apple’s iWeb website builder altogether. All indications point to iWeb’s future demise as the Mac OS advances and iWeb doesn’t get any upgrades.
During this transition period, remember that switching design tools is not urgent. You don’t have to make a radical change right away. All you have to do when MobileMe goes away is save your website to a folder and move it to another webhost.
However, now is the time to check out other options. There are many Mac website tools to choose from – both desktop software and online services. Eventually, you’ll have to choose one.
Your choice will hinge on whether you’re married to your current site design – or you’re willing to shake things up. We suggest shaking things up, because websites, by their nature, should constantly evolve. Like all good publications, sites should be redesigned periodically to leverage new technologies and to enhance visual and contextual interest.
Here are some steps you can take to get started.
Choose a New Design Tool
The tool you select will be either a native Mac application, like iWeb or web-based software. Most Mac-native apps offer benefits like the familiar look and feel of OS X, local Time Machine backups and the ability to edit sites offline. You’ll have to pay for both the app and site hosting, much as you did with MobileMe; fortunately, you will be able to apply some of the money that you were paying for MobileMe to a new webhost.
Web-based site-building tools are typically free and they let you construct and edit sites with the service’s Flash- based design tools in any modern browser. This means that, although you can’t edit your pages on an iOS device, you can view them on your iPhone or iPad either full size or in an optional view that automatically reformats your content for mobile devices. However, most web-based services can’t compare to native apps for flexible WYSIWYG editing and integration with iLife.
The most important step in picking an iWeb replacement is assessing your site’s purpose and appearance. Do your pages contain text-heavy blog posts or do they consist mostly of photo and video galleries? Are the designs from stock Apple templates or have you heavily tweaked them? Answering such questions will help you choose the right tool. The simpler the site, the easier it is to re-create.
Among Mac applications, casual bloggers should consider Realmac Software’s RapidWeaver (US$80). Its iLife-inspired interface is clean and powerful. The blogging tools in Karelia Software’s Sandvox (US$80) aren’t as stylish, but its built-in widgets for Twitter, Skype and IM can turn your blog into a social media hub.
Free web-based designers like Jimdo and Weebly also offer robust blogging tools. Posterous Spaces, now owned by Twitter, provides free microsite-creation tools and an iPhone app that make blogging on the go a snap.
If you want to create media galleries on your Mac, you’ll find RapidWeaver and Sandvox handy thanks to their integration with iLife’s media libraries. Jimdo’s Dropbox integration lets you turn a folder full of images in the cloud into a photo gallery, but to add videos to your site you’ll have to upload them to a service like YouTube first and then add them to your pages as HTML widgets.
Designers looking to break away from iWeb’s themes and templates will appreciate Tumult’s Hype (US$50). This user-friendly tool for creating code-free interactive HTML 5 animations lets you build entire sites from scratch. If templates are a better fit, Weebly’s intuitive interface makes it a snap to change your site’s look and features.
Free trials of all these tools are available via download or, with web-based services, as free sign-ups.
Pick a New webhost
If you’ve used MobileMe to host your iWeb site until now, you’ll also need to find a new hosting plan. Most plans cost under US$100 a year, depending on storage and monthly bandwidth. If you choose a Mac app for your new site, consider a hosting service suggested by the application’s developer. That way the people behind your software and hosting service will be familiar with each other’s products.
Web-based design tools provide free hosting, but still include pricing tiers based on plan features. Weebly’s free plan offers unlimited storage and bandwidth, but it limits uploads of data such as photos to 5MB. Its Pro plan starts at US$27.50 for six months and increases that limit to 100MB. Jimdo’s free plan includes 500MB of storage and unlimited bandwidth. Annual paid plans for US$90 and up offer more storage, starting at 5GB.
Replace MobileMe Features
Moving from iWeb to a new design tool means more than just learning new ways to create and customise websites. Some handy iWeb features you may have relied on – specifically, sitewide password protection, blog and photo comments, blog searching and the humble hit counter – required MobileMe hosting in order to work. Fortunately, you can get most of those features, even improved ones, by using similar components from your new design tool and host.
While Sandvox doesn’t currently offer password protection, Loghound.com’s US$10 Lockdown, a RapidWeaver plug-in, keeps specific pages hidden from public view (loghound.com/lockdown). It requires that your site host use particular software on its servers, but a free trial lets you try before you buy. Jimdo offers limited password protection with its free plan, but Weebly requires a paid account to password-protect your site.
Sandvox comes closest to implementing iWeb’s blog and photo commenting system by letting you add Facebook, Disqus and IntenseDebate comments to any page – even to individual photos in an image gallery. RapidWeaver supports Disqus commenting, but only on blog pages. Weebly and Jimdo offer similar commenting on their pages. None of these tools offer iWeb’s blog-search feature, though each can generate RSS feeds that visitors can search with an RSS reader.
Duplicating iWeb’s old-fashioned hit counter is easiest with Sandvox’s Page Counter widget. None of the other design tools offer quite the same built-in feature, though each can use third-party HTML widgets that do the job. Each can also use Google Analytics for much more detailed visitor tracking.
Transfer Your iLife Media
No matter what kind of site you’ve created with iWeb, it probably contains photos, movies and other media you’ll want to transfer to your new site. How you do that will depend on the design tool you’ve chosen.
If the media files are still in their respective iLife libraries, using a tool with iLife integration will let you access them quickly, much as you did in iWeb. Without iLife integration, you’ll have to first export the files to a Finder folder and then upload them manually to your site. Alternatively, you can upload iLife media to services like YouTube or Flickr and then add those files to your webpages via an HTML widget. The Share option in iPhoto’s or iMovie’s menu bar makes this easy.
If you’ve added media files to your iWeb site from other sources (dragged them in from a Finder folder, for example), you may have since moved them from their original locations. They’re still available within your iWeb document, however and you can quickly access them by publishing your site to a folder on your Mac. This adds the benefit of exporting your site’s assets in an accessible form in case iWeb doesn’t launch or other- wise fails in future versions of OS X.
Select your site in iWeb’s sidebar and then choose Local Folder in the Site Publishing Settings’ Publish To menu. Choose a destination and click the Publish Site button. In the resulting folder, you’ll find folders named for each photo gallery on your site. Within each gallery folder is a Media folder containing folders for that gallery’s pictures. The highest-quality images in them will be named for your photo file. You can find podcast and movie files in your site’s Media folder.
Re-create Your iWeb Site
How easy it will be to reproduce your iWeb site ultimately depends on your site and the tool you pick. That’s a subjective decision you’ll have to make for yourself, but some general rules apply. The most important is that you’ll have to rebuild your entire site.
For example, I chose to reproduce my site in Sandvox, which – like most site design tools – offers blog, gallery and basic text pages like those in iWeb. Using those pages was a relatively straightforward process of matching page styles with my site’s pages and then filling the new pages with media. Copying text from my old site and pasting it into the new one took a little more effort, but I more or less completed my new site in less than two hours. Your mileage will vary, but the work will be worth it.
Not only will you learn a new way of creating a website, but you’ll get a chance to reconnect with your great content.
No one is thrilled with having to rebuild a website they worked long and hard on to get just right. Fortunately, if you have to rethink your site, the tools available to you can make the process convenient and even fun.