Spinning the Web Part 6: Linking up with Site Managers
This ever-lengthening article series should be giving you a broad view of what’s available for Web publishing tasks. In previous issues, I toured the world of Web publishing from a page-centric view. Last week, in TidBITS-389, I switched to a site-centric approach and examined UserLand Frontier. This week, we move from Frontier’s complexity to look at a few simpler options: SiteWeaver by Miracle Software, SiteMill by Adobe Systems, and CyberStudio by GoLive Systems.
SiteWeaver — SiteWeaver takes a bare bones approach to site management. Instead of providing a kitchen sink of tools for cleaning up a site, it sticks to the singular task of moving items within a Web site without breaking relative links. The software minimally requires a 68020-based Macintosh running System 7 or later with about 5 MB of free RAM.
SiteWeaver’s main window, called Current Web Site, enables you to move files around the site and acts as a jumping-off point for working on site elements. The window displays items in an outline format, with different levels corresponding to different folders. Unfortunately, there’s no way to expand or contract the outline, so if you have a big site you’ll be doing a lot of scrolling. Once you locate an item in the outline, you can open it by double-clicking it, or load it in Netscape Navigator by Option-clicking it.
SiteWeaver is handy for setting up a site’s structure from scratch. You can add new folders or pages to the outline at any time; the pages can be blank or based on templates; and pages can come from any program you like. If you work in new pages, however, you must be careful to close them, because if they remain open while you move other items, links to those items are not modified, and SiteWeaver does not notify you of the problem.
SiteWeaver can identify existing bad relative links in a site and provides an easy way to fix them. It has no features for working with external links (usually links to other Web sites). It can create reports that summarize all links in a site, list bad relative links, and note orphaned items that have no links leading to them.
In summary, SiteWeaver provides a simple set of handy features, and it does not lock you into using any particular HTML editor. (As you’ll see, many of the more sophisticated packages lock you into – or at least strongly encourage you to use – a particular editor.) Regrettably, though, Miracle Software is charging too much for SiteWeaver. If you own World Wide Web Weaver (reviewed in TidBITS-385), SiteWeaver costs $59. If you don’t, prices range from $109 to $139. For those prices, I’d expect more features for manipulating the site outline, professionally edited documentation and dialog boxes, and more features (such as FTP or remote link checking). Miracle Software plans to release SiteWeaver upgrades; perhaps Miracle will price these versions more appropriately, given the competition.
SiteMill — In terms of features, Adobe SiteMill 2.0 picks up where SiteWeaver leaves off, though it lacks the ability to create new pages, so you cannot quickly build a site’s skeleton in SiteMill. Like SiteWeaver, SiteMill displays a site in a Finder-like outline view. Unlike SiteWeaver, SiteMill offers conveniences for working with the outline: the outline can expand or contract to reveal and hide folder contents; items can be sorted by name, kind, date, and so on; and – if you sort by name – you can quickly move to items beginning with a certain letter by typing that letter. As in SiteWeaver, you can open a file by double-clicking it, and you can Option-click to open a file in your preferred Web browser (SiteWeaver is limited to Netscape Navigator).
Along with the Site view window, SiteMill also offers an External URLs window that lists all external URLs. There’s a command for verifying them (thankfully in the background), and you can update a changed external link once and then SiteMill will change it throughout the site. SiteMill can also identify problematic relative links in a site and help you fix them.
SiteMill can operate as an FTP client, making it possible to upload a completed site to a remote Web server. You must set up your exact path in SiteMill’s preferences – there’s no way to first connect to the server, see where you are, and then upload. This streamlines operations once everything is set up and working correctly, but it’s hard to troubleshoot and options like Synchronize are a little scary. (Synchronize modifies a directory on a server so that it exactly matches a folder on your desktop, complete with deleting files that don’t match those in the folder.) There’s an option for uploading only files that have changed, but there is no download option. In my testing, I’ve been unable to make SiteMill upload to any of three different server programs. Given the troubleshooting and testing I’ve done, I suspect the problem may be local to my machine, but I suggest making sure SiteMill works with your FTP server before buying, especially if your server is not mainstream.
Unless you upgrade from SiteMill 1.0 (a free upgrade) the only way to get SiteMill is as a component of the PageMill 2.01 package. Not surprisingly, SiteMill picks PageMill as its HTML editor of choice. For example, SiteMill automatically incorporates changes made to PageMill documents, but changes made in other HTML editors require that you reload the site, a process that would grow tedious if done frequently. As another example of SiteMill’s synergy with PageMill, dragging an item from SiteMill’s Site view window to a PageMill document creates a link from the document to the item. If you use PageMill for basic layout, but then tweak files elsewhere, you must tread carefully in SiteMill, because some actions will trigger PageMill to examine and potentially alter the HTML in those files.
Adobe continues to emphasize Adobe Acrobat’s PDF as a file format – SiteMill lists Acrobat files as site resources and can work with links in Acrobat documents. Adobe recommends optimizing Acrobat 3.0 files after working with them in SiteMill; SiteMill cannot perform this function automatically.
SiteMill’s Find and Replace, though functional, is limited. It lacks wild card options, and doesn’t offer a technique for replacing in only a portion of a site or to approve individual replacements.
SiteMill requires (minimally) a 68020-based Mac running System 7.1 with at least 2.5 MB free RAM and a 4-bit monitor. For "best performance" the requirements increase to 68040-based Mac running System 7.5 with 3.5 MB free RAM.
Although my impression of SiteMill is mixed – for every new good feature, I’ve thought of at least one way it could be better – the fact remains that PageMill users should find SiteMill a handy way to manage their sites, certainly better than SiteMill 1.x or managing them by hand. However, If you already use other site management tools, I’m not convinced that the PageMill/SiteMill package represents a compelling solution. If you can’t decide between PageMill and its closest pre-SiteMill 2.0 competitors (Claris Home Page and Symantec Visual Page; see TidBITS-386), or if you are teetering between PageMill and other software that includes site management options (such as CyberStudio), the fact that PageMill 2.01 lists for $149, but is commonly available for under $100, may tip the scales in PageMill’s favor.
CyberStudio — That said, it’s time to revisit CyberStudio. The $349/$149 (suggested retail price/academic) CyberStudio integrates text-based and visually oriented tools for composing Web pages with site management tools (for a look at its page composition features, see TidBITS-387). Like SiteMill, which prefers that you use PageMill, you wouldn’t buy CyberStudio for site management alone – you’d buy it if you plan to use CyberStudio for the majority of your page development.
CyberStudio forces you to surrender control over the directory structure of the final site. When CyberStudio "renders" a site, it creates a site folder containing a default page, plus a Pages folder for other pages and a Media folder for other site resources.
CyberStudio displays a site in several views; the one that best parallels the view in SiteMill is the tabbed Project View, which has different tabs for different resource types: pages, media, URLs, and so on. You can group items in mock folders in these views (which expand and contract, much like Finder outlines), and items can be renamed without harming relative links. The URL view stores full URLs, and if you modify a URL stored there, all such URLs in the site can update automatically. Unfortunately, CyberStudio lacks a feature for checking external links. Further, although CyberStudio can import a site, the process for adding external URLs to the URLs tab is cumbersome and by no means automatic. Other views offer a look at a site’s hierarchy, with the ability to drill down on any one page and look in detail at resources linking to and from it.
CyberStudio has a built-in FTP feature, and though it didn’t work with NetPresenz (an FTP server from Stairways Software), it did work generally for me, and let me move around in a server’s directory structure as well as download files. CyberStudio lacks automation for uploading only changed files or for synchronizing directories – in fact, to upload, you must drag in items from the Finder, a fact that renders the FTP feature more show than substance.
Like SiteMill, CyberStudio has a site-wide Find-and-Replace that misses the boat. In CyberStudio’s case, the feature runs extremely slowly on my Power Mac 7600 and lacks wildcard searching. Another feature found in CyberStudio (and one that PageMill lacks) is the ability to label files (for example, you might label them to indicate if they’re ready to be published).
Summing Up — In the end, SiteMill brings to PageMill a stronger set of site management features than CyberStudio offers, but neither program’s site management features are must-haves. SiteMill works best in conjunction with PageMill (which isn’t my favorite HTML editor) and CyberStudio’s site-related features need fleshing out. Even so, both these products have much to offer. As I noted earlier in this series, if you live in the Adobe milieu, you’ll find PageMill especially easy to work with, and now that it includes SiteMill you get a lot of bang for the buck. If CyberStudio’s marriage of text and visual tools appeals to you, you’ll find plenty of useful features, with the bonus of some help with site organization, help that – if you wish – you can easily work around, thus maintaining a site’s structure independently from what CyberStudio thinks is happening. Next week, space permitting, I’ll examine a few more applications that fall under the umbrella of site management, and then we’ll take a few weeks off to make room for Macworld Expo coverage before finishing with a look at handy Web publishing utilities.
DealBITS Discount — We’ve arranged for Cyberian Outpost to offer TidBITS readers PageMill 2.01 (which includes SiteMill 2.0) for $97.95, a $2 discount off Cyberian’s regular $99.95 price. We’ve also negotiated a $295.95 price for CyberStudio, $2 off Cyberian’s regular $297.95 price.