Monday 6 August 2012

The best free tools for website sustainability.

By Ahsan Anderson, ( Nuffield Bursary Student. All views are Ahsan Anderson not necessarily the views of the blog editor.

I’ve created a few websites in the past, varying from those for business use or those to advertise bands in local areas, but with my line of work they’ve all had the same thing in common, and that’s money. When I’ve created them I have used a variety of tools; web builders for example, and one very key thing to these is that they all cost money for hosting. There are a few hurdles you can’t overcome, for example, there is no escaping the cost you will have to pay to have your domain name bought, but when building your website, sometimes there is no need to have to pay for the tools, as I will explain now.

Whether you are willing to pay for the hosting or you wish to host yourself (or use free sites like this list will narrow down the choice of good modern builders that you can use.

I was looking for a tool that was (preferably) free and had the ability to support HTML5, which allows mobile devices to be able to access the site in a more tailored version that would suit the mobile device better. A guideline that I had to conform too was that as an OSX user I am very limited by the number of applications that I can use, so I needed to ensure that it was Mac compatible. With these in mind I set out to find a tool that could live under these guidelines. Most of the builders that I mention do require upfront payment for the application but nearly all of them give you a free trial (between 14 and 30 days) for you to test the application to your needs and to see how it fairs.

Spending some time looking at the various tools that are available, I managed to narrow down the few website building methods what were promoted by almost all of the forums/sites that I had visited. The builders that I managed to narrow it down too through the public opinion based on ease of use and power were:

  1.  Freeway Pro – Freeway pro offers to be a solution to those who want a professional website built in quick time. This is something that is very appealing to several small businesses, and freeway offers to be a quick and easy solution to those who haven’t the first idea about how to code/write code for websites. Needless to say this made the builder very appealing and unlocked a lot of potential.
  2. MAGIX Website Maker – Another drag and drop web builder that is mainly based on the more beginner-levelled designer. It’s content is flash based but automatically creates mobile-based websites for your ease. This offered ease of use in the drag and drop department so could be potentially picked up by anyone. This application is an online tool that requires download of a package for authentication but means that all of the work is saved on the cloud.
  3. NVU – as a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) typed builder it focuses more on the code side of things primarily, however, it has the drag and drop functionality for many of the features, such as positioning elements of the page.
  4. Sandvox – Similar to freeway pro in terms of the use of the application and the marketing side, however Sandvox is considerably cheaper and more friendly in respects of having a blog based website as opposed to Freeways ‘drag and drop freely’ idea. If you want your website to be mainly content based and have less control but more content then this is for you.
  5.  Breezi – Free usage, free hosting, free template, easy to use, drag and drop, what’s more to say? Based on the complete novice user, even someone with no prior knowledge of using a computer could make a great website.
  6. DevHub – Much like breezi, the only difference is this one’s called DevHub and the themes are different.
  7. Wix – Flash based with the addition of many new HTML 5 features made this a modern designer that has great potential and scope for the creation of a very modern and new looking website.
  8. Weebly – A very basic drag and drop architecture that has stunning ease of use and can create very clean and tidy sites, as opposed too anything very fancy and potentially offputting.
Once I had narrowed the list down, I needed to narrow it down further to ensure that I had the best possible tool for the job, so, I spent 30 minutes with each of the programs, learning how each of them work via online forums such as Macrumors and videos on YouTube, as this meant I could make a fair judgement as to how to use the application and which benefits each of them gave in comparison to the others. My thoughts on each application are as follows:

  1. Freeway Pro – Freeway looked promising when I looked on the internet at the developer page and with some of the reviews that I had read, but upon opening the application I became disappointed with the layout of the app. It showed on the website that it’s drag and drop functionality gave the user the ability to create their own personal website to their own theme, but I quickly found out that I couldn’t move the elements around the page and was bounded by the template. This prevented me from progressing with the website as I found there were too many limiting factors that I would not overcome. However, after stripping away at the site it became clear to me that with knowledge of CSS and focus on graphic work, achieving a beautiful looking website could be accomplished, but as the title suggests it being a tool that was great for ‘stunning drag and drop’ sites, I’d tend to disagree. If your good with CSS, I couldn’t recommend this enough! It’s perfect for you then, but if you aren’t? I’d stay away, and for a price of $229, it’s not an easy price to pay.
  2. MAGIX Website Maker – The website builder was professional and very appealing and the relative ease of use was good, however, what prevented me from progressing with this website builder was the instability of the application. I found that after 30 minutes of work the application was ceased working and stopping completely, which meant it needed restarting, but the serious issue was that this builder (unlike all of the others) did not include an autosave feature so the work I was doing was lost every time the app closed. This, I felt, was not worth using since it’s reliability could not be clarified. By all means try it out for yourself and you could be lot more lucky than I was, but seeing as it failed on me I would not be recommending this as an option.
  3. NVU – With NVU, I found that the usability was fairly advanced and that I could get a lot out of the application in terms of the use I needed, however, I felt that the progression of the website would be flawed since this application is not the easiest application to use for people who do not have the most advanced knowledge of web building. I also found that after I have created a very basic website, it was just that. The visual elements of the site were poor and the website looked very amateur and this was not what I wanted, so I decided this would not be the most beneficial choice for the creation of the website. If you code and basic is exactly what you want (and we’re talking 1990’s basic) then this is perfect for you! But seeing as I could make a better website with notepad, this wasn’t for me.
  4. Sandvox – With sandvox, reviews left me feeling that this would be a powerful tool which allowed me to take complete control over the creation of the website, however, I was once again let down by the inability to have the page set up to my layout and was bound by having the templates non customisable, which was a huge let down when trying to use this software. For a basic website that could not be controlled and users who are looking for a quick and easy solution this is perfect especially if your site is blog based, but when I had a very distinct layout in mind, this was a huge issue that could not be overcome easily.
  5. Breezi – When I found breezi through the Chrome Web Store, I found instantly that the ease of use from this application was above what I had tried before. This allowed me to customize the layout of each page that I was working with, and it gave me the ability to work away and outside of a template so I can add which element I want to each part of the page in the easiest fashion that was possible. This meant that I could fully customise each individual element of the page. With breezi it was a breeze, pardon the pun.
  6. DevHub – Although fairly basic in terms of features, this was a hugely user oriented designer which with the addition of some html applets, created a very nice looking web page that was not stuck to a template so could be customised with ease, and as a general feel, the more time you invest into the details of this site, the better you can get it too look.
  7. Wix – As a user of wix prior to this, I knew that this is a powerful web builder that has a very unlimited structure and functionality with it. With the addition of HTML5 to wix it has meant that the websites can be published to wix and can be viewed on a mobile device too. With the drag and drop style wix could be customised and since you are free from templates, we could design to exactly how we vision the site to be. However, this website will have to be hosted on their servers, as Wix does not  allow the downloading of the files you use, so unless your willing to part with your cash (at a relatively low price I may add though) this may not be for you.
  8. Weebly – Weebly although a very basic drag and drop builder gave the fundamental ability of being able to download the files onto your hard drive so they could be edited using tools such as dreamweaver, meaning that if there are any specific lines of code or elements that I had created that I felt should be on the website it meant that I could add them to the website very easily.
As far as hosting goes, there are a hundred and one alternatives into hosting, a few of them I cover in my post labelled – “Hosting, how to get it out there for pennies.”

But as far as what I feel about the website goes, I could be talking rubbish because at the end of the day, it’s how comfortable you personally feel with the website builder and the outcome. My particular focus on this is how can I have the site live on after it’s date, as the idea of sustainability comes from being able to let the information that you had on the site, and all of it’s glory, stored in a safe place so should you come back to revisit the site at any point, you can refer to all of the information you had previously. It’s a shame that a website which cost money to build will go down the drain along with all of the important information you gave to your clients/customers/viewers.

Whatever the solution you choose, you have to find the tool that is designed for you, because one person can come a long and make a really great looking site from scratch, but is phased by a website builder, but the converse can easily happen, and someone who is phased by the coding element finds a website builder the way forward, and wipes the floor with others! It’s all about


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