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Xara Web Designer 7

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If you or your business has no Web presence--either through a blog or traditional Web site--you are practically invisible in today's digital world. Xara Web Designer 7 is an affordable way for a small business owner to build a basic Web presence---no knowledge of code/markup, experience maintaining Web pages, or Web designer fees required.

Xara Web Designer manipulates text as easily as any text editor, but also includes WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop page design features that let you add images, animation, popup windows, buttons, and widgets. Changing colors and design features that reoccur throughout your template takes little more than a few button and mouse clicks.

By providing a simple way to make traditional Web pages with options for adding dynamic content through widgets, Xara Web Designer has hit the exact middle ground between using a free blogging service and paying thousands for a complex pull-out-all-the-stops Web site. And it's really intuitive and easy, even for someone with no Web design experience.

Once you purchase the full license (and download the 175.74 MB content pack), Xara gives you more than thirty themed templates. The themes are more functional than exciting, but the templates are a good jumping-off point, from which you can easily tweak as much (or as little) as you want. You can also start from scratch with options to create 760 pixel (SVGA), 640 pixel (VGA), or 955 pixel (SGA) web pages.

Xara Web Designer allows you to effortlessly preview your designs using Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Internet Explorer. In doing so you realize how flawlessly WYSIWYG Xara is. The fact that the page source code is not directly viewable through Xara may frustrate some advanced users. You can, of course, view the source code in any browser when you load the preview, and like most WYSIWYG Web design programs, the code isn't always pretty or concise, but Xara isn't really a program for people who like looking at the page source code.

Compared to Xara, using a "pro-designer" Web site creation tool like DreamWeaver is like trying to build the space shuttle out of matchsticks: Daunting for someone with no experience, but you could probably do it with years of work, a desire to learn, and maybe a few lessons.

A few tweaks in Xara Web Designer have a bit of a learning curve. With no easy way to optimize Web pages for mobile devices and just three sizes of fixed-width-frame Web page templates on which you can build original designs, it's only a very advanced (or patient) user who'd be able to create a really technologically savvy Web site with Xara. Even adding blog content is a multi-step process that's not outlined in the tutorial or help menu.

Even so, Xara Web Designer is as easy to use as any word processor, and is a cheap and efficient program for creating very professional-looking--if basic--Web sites.

--Clare Brandt

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