6 best Mac web design apps for beginners

Blogs and media

Sadly, Freeway Express and Flux barely acknowledge time-based media and ignore blogs entirely. Given the popularity of these things, such exclusions are problematic. And while ShutterBug can attach video, the process is convoluted.

The remaining applications all offer video integration and blogging to some degree. iWeb's blogs are the prettiest, and the RSS feed is dealt with flawlessly. Podcast and movie page types are also available, as is a user-friendly YouTube widget. iWeb can also announce updates on Facebook, which is a nice touch.

iWeb screen

CLEVER BLOGS: iWeb offers the prettiest-looking blogs and also posts updates on Facebook for you

By comparison, Sandvox's blog pages are plain and the system for creating them basic, but, importantly, commenting functionality is built in and simple to use. YouTube and other video pages also exist, although, again, the results look a little bland.

RapidWeaver's penchant for pop-up video-windows irks, but it matches iWeb in terms of blog functionality, if not layout, and betters it for tagging, also offering strong RSS and permalink support.

Flux 1/5
iWeb 4/5
Sandvox 4/5
ShutterBug 1/5
RapidWeaver 4/5
Freeway Express 1/5


Entry-level tools are often considered 'locked down', and that's largely true of ShutterBug, which proves limited in functionality. Flux, despite enabling you to code directly, presents a barrier via shoddy UI elements and a lack of automated functions. Sandvox is rigid in dealing with layout and page components, but it at least benefits from useful extra page types, including contact forms and download pages.

Flux screen

CODING: Flux enables you to code directly but unfortunately comes with a shoddy user interface

iWeb is more versatile than many give it credit for – layouts can be heavily modified, and perceived holes can be plugged via output from a vibrant developer community. The same is even truer of RapidWeaver, which has a slew of extras available. Crucially, it also enables more experienced designers to create HTML/PHP pages, vastly increasing scope, and bettering iWeb's comparatively limited HTML widget.

Freeway Express also impresses: it may not be easy to use, nor offer drag-and-drop components, but layout is unrestricted, and HTML can be embedded.

Flux 3/5
iWeb 3/5
Sandvox 3/5
ShutterBug 2/5
RapidWeaver 5/5
Freeway Express 4/5


Our benchmark for publishing was strict: straightforward configuration; the ability to use MobileMe or FTP; a means of publishing to a local folder and previewing a site locally prior to upload; incremental publishing when few changes have been made; and a progress meter.

Flux hit us with bugs and a bizarre interface, and Freeway rattled along slightly unintuitively, but every other app impressed, bar the occasional cryptic error from iWeb when something wouldn't upload. However, Apple's app's clear configuration screen and large Publish Site button ensured the good far outweighed the bad.

Sandvox screen

NEARLY DONE: Sandvox impresses when it comes to publishing, with a clear upload progress meter

Sandvox and RapidWeaver beat iWeb, though. Both offer superior local previews to iWeb, and each has a unique and extremely clear means of showing upload progress: RapidWeaver offers an almost ostentatious animated sheet, showing files flash before your eyes as they upload, and Sandvox provides a sheet with collapsible lists that detail progress on a per-component basis.

Flux 2/5
iWeb 4/5
Sandvox 5/5
ShutterBug 4/5
RapidWeaver 5/5
Freeway Express 3/5

The winner: Realmac Software RapidWeaver

It's important to reiterate that this conclusion and our ratings are based on the suitability of these applications for beginners. To that end, three apps can be immediately dismissed: Flux, despite its templates, wants to be Coda and is too complex, as is QuarkXPress-for-web wannabe Freeway Express. Meanwhile, ShutterBug's lack of user-friendliness and range counts against it, although if you're only interested in web photo galleries it's worth a look.

Of the remaining three, each application has its pros and cons. iWeb '09 is fantastic for galleries, has great templates, and enables you to get a site online fast, but it's a bit inflexible and has curious omissions (not least the inability to import iWeb sites from another Mac). RapidWeaver feels the most grown-up of the apps on test, and offers an excellent range of features, but comes unstuck with rather poor galleries and a slightly awkward editing mechanic. Sandvox sits between the two, with fewer restrictions than iWeb, but also less class.

RapidWeaver screen win

WINNER: RapidWeaver wins the race as the perfect app for the novice

By a nose, RapidWeaver takes the gold. It's easy enough to use for a beginner, but offers great value in its scope for expansion. However, Sandvox also comes recommended, and if you're a dedicated iLife user primarily looking to get galleries online, iWeb will be enough for your needs.