Serif made its name by introducing DTP to people who, at that time, couldn't afford PageMaker. With WebPlus, it does the same thing today for people who can't afford Dreamweaver. WebPlus also takes a lot of the complication - that is, HTML - out of web design, although you can still get your hands dirty with a bit of hard coding if you really want to.
WebPlus is based very much on the desktop publishing paradigm, although it's clearly geared towards electronic rather than paper pages. Many of the tools are similar, with lines, simple graphics, artistic text and text frames, but there are also web-specific ones such as HTML and Java fragments, HTML tables and sound and video clips.
The interface now relies heavily on tabbed dockers down the right-hand side of the screen, so you can get at a huge range of attributes without having to dive deep into the menus. A good deal of assistance is provided in the form of professionally designed colour schemes and style sheets, and there are even a number of templates for complete sites. If you're really pushed for time, you can call up a template and simply modify it with your own text.
Despite it being intended for newcomers to web design, parts of WebPlus 10 have become quite complex in themselves. It's good, then, that Serif has one of the best documentation teams in the business - the online help and user manual are exemplars of clarity, providing design tips as well as full explanations of complicated concepts.
New to version 10 are ecommerce tools, Smart Objects and the source pane. If you want to include the ability to sell goods or services from your site, you now have the basic tools to do it. You can directly add PayPal facilities - or rivals RomanCart or Mal's - to a page using a wizard.
The program adds extra pages to your site with all the appropriate buttons and graphics on them for your visitors to use. And you can even specify the style for these pages, so they don't stick out like sore thumbs from the rest of your site.
Serif has provided more behind-the- scenes infrastructure in WebPlus 10 and is offering a series of Smart Objects, such as mailing lists, polls and custom blogs, which it hosts free of charge on its servers. You can add these facilities to your pages through more wizards and include things such as RSS feeds for news tickers, or you can even create your own feed to push news that is specific to your interests out to other sites.
This version of the program also takes most of the effort out of creating navigation bars - the menus which control routing through your site. Rather than having to create them button by button, you can now specify the structure and let the program add new buttons, corresponding to new pages as you add them to your site. Navigation bars can be positioned horizontally or vertically, to fit with your design style.
One of the things sadly missing from WebPlus 10 is proper provision for designing individual rollovers so you can create your own animated buttons or image slices. You can use the pre-designed buttons and cut-ups, of which there are plenty on the separate Resource CD, and you can import graphics from Serif 's sibling product, DrawPlus 8, but that means extra expense. It would be good to have an applet within WebPlus, so you could do the whole thing in the one application.
Once you've become more familiar with web-design, you'll probably want to tweak your pages to achieve exactly the effects you're after. If you are well-versed in HTML, you'll be able to add your own code directly. While earlier versions of WebPlus enabled you to include HTML snippets in your pages, version 10 offers you complete HTML pages, so you can see and edit custom code pages directly.
In many ways, WebPlus is getting more like the heavyweight webdesigners it once tried to undercut. While still not as big and butch as Dreamweaver or Fronall thattPage, and still easier to use than either, there's certainly a steeper learning curve to negotiate now. Serif still approaches the market with the maxim, "Why shouldn't non-coders be able to do the fancy things web users expect from professional sites?" With WebPlus 10, it has provided many useful extra tools that will encourage newcomers to create their own presence on the web, and it still comes at an attractive price. Simon Williams