in Mac apps, review, web design

RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress IV: Wrap Up

Realmac’s RapidWeaver and WordPress, two popular web publishing choices for the Mac. I would have posted this sooner if not for the recent releases of WordPress 2.5 and RapidWeaver 3.6.6. I’ve now spent a few days with these new versions, so I’ll recap what’s new and provide my impressions here.

As I’ve worked on this comparison, it’s become even more apparent how different the two tools are: in terms of user base, RW is a flea to the WP gorilla. In terms of the platform, RW is a Mac-only application that is tied to the desktop, while WP is a free roaming, web-based platform comfortable on a variety of operating systems. And in terms of usage, RW attempts to be an all-inclusive website creation tool while WP specializes in blogging and dynamic content management. Still, I maintain that this is a handy comparison, mainly because RW is more than capable as a blogging platform — and it seems to be gaining in popularity for Mac users. And for bloggers and those who want to blog, WordPress is known to be a widely popular and flexible choice. So I hope to place both tools in context to help you make a better-informed decision. To get the most out of this, I recommend you start by reviewing the other entries in this series.

Now let’s wrap it up:

1. RapidWeaver | Developer’s site | full review

RapidWeaver Inbox

Recap:

RapidWeaver targets people with little to no web design experience seeking a simple way to produce a professional-looking, standards-compliant, and highly customizable mixed-content website. It’s a stand-alone, client-side web design tool. As a content management tool, the built-in capabilities of this app are easy to use; and the user interface is much friendlier than most other web-based content management systems. It’s also easy to set up and maintain. It’s used by experienced developers, too, because it’s a handy way to quickly build and deploy a site with minimal fuss, and it’s fairly easy to create custom templates.

Pro:

great themes from RW and third-party developers; customization options are outstanding for most themes; dedicated user base; great forums and customer support; outstanding third-party add-ons; easy to modify a site for beginners; frequent updates and improvements; Snippets library makes it easy to drag and drop bits of often-used code

Con:

Not free like WordPress; blog commenting is handled by HaloScan, so it’s not well-integrated with the app; many third-party plugins are relatively expensive; some paid plugins seem like they should be core features; occasional quirky and/or buggy behavior; loading up a large site is slow; publishing a large site is still a bit slow and occasionally doesn’t work (see next paragraph); some of the site customization/configurability options are not very obvious or well-explained; not easy to mix and match dynamic/static content on a page; doesn’t integrate with MarsEdit for blogging

Latest Update:

RapidWeaver 3.6.6 is now out. While this is a relatively modest update, the developers claim that upload speed is now significantly enhanced. I tested this claim out on my wife’s site by inserting some custom javascript for her blog page and then publishing the changes with the previous version of RW (this forced an update on 140 files for her site). I then deleted the change, updated the site again, then applied the update. Finally, I reapplied the javascript update and published changes again to see if it was substantially faster. In this case, publishing speeds were marginally, but not significantly, faster. On 3.6.6, I had to publish changes twice because one of her pages failed to upload. Once this happens, RW times out and simply stops updating. The only way to get out of the publishing mode is to Force Quit. So I’ve concluded that progress is being made, but I’m still seeing a bit of bugginess with my wife’s large site. My wife still maintains that she must quit all open applications on the Mac prior to publishing her RW site in order to minimize the odds of a publishing error. Perhaps we have a third-party conflict. It’s hard to say. All I’ve concluded is that most times the site publishes without a problem, but sometimes it fails. Final word: Realmac quickly released 3.6.7 to address a Tiger-specific problem days after 3.6.6 hit the streets. The developers recommend that Leopard users also update to this latest iteration. The catch is that Leopard users are not notified of the update through RW’s software update feature. You can get it here.

The Verdict

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (preferably without referring to documentation)?

Like chess, RapidWeaver is easy to learn but hard to master. It takes some time and dedication to learn how to customize sitewide preferences, page-specific preferences, sidebar content options and meta options. This is mainly because it takes a while to get used to the wide array of pop-up menus that contain all the customization and optimization tools. While it’s easy to get a site up quickly, most users will need to dig into the manual and online forums to take advantage of all that RW offers.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?

Oh yeah. I really enjoy using it. It may be daunting for newcomers to grasp how some aspects of the program work, but it’s still much simpler than most other tools out there relative to the sheer amount of user-control possibilities.

3. How easy is it to modify?

It’s among the best. The coolest part is how a user with no CSS experience can robustly adjust site appearance (to include drop-dead easy manipulation of sidebar location, as well as page width for many themes). The developers have clearly put a tremendous amount of effort into creating a user interface that makes it possible for novices to customize a site beyond what most other website creation tools offer; added to this, the developers freely share developer kits to give more experienced users complete control over their sites, or to develop commercial plugins and themes.

4. How easy is to set up a website and publish content?

Quite easy, but you will need to have a web host and know how to set up an FTP account (you can also publish to .Mac).

5. How well does it handle lots and lots of pages and blog entries (scalability)?

I’ve previously noted that I have some concerns about this. According to the developers, this issue is a top priority for future releases. I’m confident they’ll work it out.

6. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

This is where RapidWeaver really stands out. I think the developers do a great job at striking a balance between simplicity and power to meet the need of most users. The design is clean. Mac users will find most controls are familiar since the tool is built with Mac OS X’s native language. That also means that it integrates tightly with the Mac OS. I say it’s as slick as Apple’s iWeb, just twice as powerful.

7. How many plugins, add ons, etc. are available (expandability)?

Better by the day. Check out the Add-Ons on the developer’s site for a taste of what’s available.

Overall, I think RapidWeaver is a wonderful tool. It focuses on simplicity, minimalism, and style — but it packs a lot of choices, features, and customization options within. While there is certainly room for improvement, RW is rapidly evolving: since version 3.6 launched at the end of last May, seven significant updates have already been released. And version 4.0 is just around the corner. If you want to get a great-looking site up fast and want a simple way to maintain it, this is probably the best tool out there for the Mac.

 

1. WordPress | Developer’s site | full review

WordPress

Recap:

I reviewed the WordPress.org open source package (not to be confused with the WordPress.com installation), which is a free blog publishing system for Mac, PC, or Linux. It is first and foremost a tool for the weblog, designed to support things that bloggers need most. If you don’t want to pay any money upfront, flexibility and customization options are important to you, and you have some (or great) knowledge of CSS and HTML, it’s a solid choice. If you don’t know anything about web design, you will still get a lot out of it because the basic administration tools are robust and there are tons of plugins and themes available to make your site unique. Also note that there is a multi-user WordPress option if you want multiple blogs from one installation.

Pro

free; easy to set up; tons of free templates; plugins abound; edit your site from anywhere, or mail in updates; great integration with MarsEdit; fairly easy to upgrade; newly redesigned Dashboard much cleaner and easier to use; one-click updating now available for most plugins; great online documentation

Con

theme modification difficult for those with no web design experience; limited support if you use WP.org installation; the multitude of site settings may be daunting for some users; web interface is great, but no match for simplicity of RapidWeaver

Latest Update:

A major new version of WP was released hours after I posted my review. I posted a summary of the big changes and have spent the past week getting used to the new features. The big news with WordPress 2.5 is certainly the Dashboard (admin Panel): it’s completely different. I have to say I think it’s much better than the old design. The starting page of the Dashboard is now much more useful and is now user-customizable. Another nice feature is that you no longer need to update plugins manually, which saves time and effort. I also like the new built-in function that enables easier gallery creation. And if you upload images with EXIF data, WP now reads this metadata automatically so you can integrate it into your template. Check out this WP blog entry for a full list of new features and a great screencast.

The Verdict

1. Could I figure out how to use the application with minimal fuss (preferably without referring to documentation)?

I initially had to refer to online documentation to set up my site and to learn how to upgrade it, but it’s not too hard. If you need help with the installation, many web hosts now offer automatic installs. With the release of 2.5, the Dashboard (Admin Panel) is now much easier to grasp, mainly because all of the plugin management and back end settings have been moved out of the main Admin area to, appropriately, a separate ‘settings’ section. I think most users will find the basic admin tools are very easy to use. Fine tuning a site’s settings takes a little more patience and time to get right.

2. Was I still enthusiastic about using the application after a week of use?

Certainly. I’m still using WP for this site. I have long thought I’d like to switch to different platform called ModX, but I’m reconsidering this now. One reason is that I have a lot of time and energy invested in my WP site and it would be a major inconviencence and time-sucker to make the switch. Second reason is I’m not sure how I’d migrate over the posts and comments to this new platform. Last reason is that the new version of WP offers a lot of nice new features. Like RW, WordPress releases updates quite frequently, so I’m optimistic that this is a platform that will continue to get better and better over time.

3. How easy is it to modify?

This is perhaps the weak link in WordPress. While content management is easy, WP themes are not as easily customized as they are in RapidWeaver. To be fair, some themes do offer some easier-to-use style editing options (e.g. Kubrick offers a fairly easy way to modify header image, fonts and color), but choices are limited. In order to access all theme customization settings, the Dashboard Theme Editor presents your theme’s style sheet and PHP page code within a text window; the problem is that most novice users probably won’t be comfortable modifying this code. Still, I’d bet that most users are probably quite happy with picking a theme and sticking with it, and those who want to create a custom site will likely know what to do. What’s nice about the built-in view of your site pages is that you can remotely make changes if you’re away from your Mac. I personally never use the built-in WP theme editor functions. I maintain and adjust my theme on my Mac using CSSEdit and TextMate. For novice users who take the time to learn a little bit about CSS, simple color and font changes can be made relatively easily within the WP Dashboard.

4. How easy is to set up a website and publish content?

It’s quite easy if you’re using the web-based Dashboard editor (version 2.5 now offers a greatly improved WYSIWYG editor that works better and is expandable so you don’t have to work within such a tiny window. It’s even easier if you use MarsEdit. The nice thing about WP, of course, is that it’s a pretty simple to use Content Management System — all of your core content is easy to get at and relatively easy to modify via the Dashboard’s Write, Manage, Design, and Comments tabs. I can’t speak for uploading images, video, etc. via the Dashboard. I upload all external files using Transmit, an FTP client. I should note that version 2.5 now offers multi-file upload with progress bar indicators, so it sounds like it’s now easier than it’s ever been to upload files via the Dashboard.

5. How well does it handle lots and lots of pages and blog entries (scalability)?

I’ve never heard any complaints in this department. My site, while not huge, is still fairly large. I’ve never had any issues or problems that I’ve associated with the size and complexity of my site.

6. How did the program ‘feel?’ How ‘Mac-like’ is it?

If I were managing my site design and content solely via the WP Dashboard, I don’t think I’d be as happy with WordPress as a blogging platform. However, adding in some additional tools, as I noted in the main review, makes WP fly. It’s no small thing that some of my favorite Mac apps (CSSEdit, TextMate, MarsEdit, Transmit) work seamlessly with WordPress, so this makes managing my site a real pleasure. As for the Dashboard, it’s better than ever with version 2.5. And it’s better than most web-based CMS panels. But in comparison to the third-party apps I use to manage this site, the Dashboard just doesn’t compare. All I really use the Dashboard for, in fact, is to manage my plugins and check my WP stats. Regardless, the best thing about it is that I can access all of my site anywhere, anytime. That’s something I can’t do with RapidWeaver.

7. How many plugins, add ons, etc. are available (expandability)?

Enough to make your head spin. If you want a feature in your sidebar, chances are a widget already exists to meet your needs. The built-in Text widget also allows one to cut and paste HTML, text, and javascript on the fly to create new widget functionality. It couldn’t be easier. There are a mind-numbing array of themes freely available. As for plugins (beyond the Widget), there are tons of options to choose from. Plugin variety and ease of use are the killer feature of WordPress.

In summary, WordPress is hard to beat for blogging. It’s powerful, adaptable and simple enough to use. One of the best parts about it is that the user base and plugin/theme developer base are huge, which means that an answer to a question you may have or an extended feature that you may want are only a quick web search away.

 

Conclusion

I started this series because I noticed that a lot of people were reaching the site upon searching for a comparison of these two applications. What’s apparent to me after taking a closer look is this: if you want the easiest possible solution and you don’t mind paying $49, RapidWeaver is the way to go. If you want open-ended flexibility and care primarily about blogging, you may prefer WordPress.

And now, a message from our sponsor. Just joking. There are no sponsors. I’m looking at these two web publishing tools solely because I want to and I’ve used both of them quite extensively. I have no ties to the developers. Of course, there are many other website creation tools, blogging tools and CMS platforms out there. My recommendation: try out two or three before making up your mind. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: you can easily test out a variety of web-based platforms locally on your Mac using the freely-available MAMP. And, of course, RapidWeaver offers a timed trial (as do almost all Mac third party apps) which will give you plenty of time to make up your mind.

If you were expecting a clear winner between these two publishing platforms, you may be disappointed by my conclusion that WordPress and RapidWeaver are both great choices.

In fact, you might consider using both tools: WordPress for your blog and RapidWeaver for everything else. This great suggestion came from reader Brab, who runs Moveable Type in tandem with a RapidWeaver for his site. It’s a good way to go if you’re looking for total blog control but also want the style, ease and flexibility of RapidWeaver. The idea of combining the best of both tools is very appealing. My biggest concern is how well I could integrate the two, but I came across a tutorial which indicates it’s entirely possible to make WP and RW coexist seamlessly. I might have to try this out.

So, that’s about it for the RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress series. Hope you get something out of it.

  1. May I Ask you something chezfugu. Is MarsEdit the best tool to use with WordPress? Have you tried MacJournal? Which do you prefer?

  2. Great review of two tools, which I’ve found interesting to tinker with over the years (I’m a Dreamweaver guy looking to deploy simple user-controlled sites).

    It’s interesting that you mention ModX in your conclusion, and thank you for doing so as I have a new toy to tinker with!

    Cheers!
    Chuck

  3. Interesting analysis, thanks! I’d be curious to see it updated for RapidWeaver 4.

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