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Sandvox 1.6.5 Review: Develop Web Sites on The Mac

written by: CompuDav•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 10/30/2009
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Many developers, such as myself, have questioned where the graphical HTML/web editors are for the Mac. At one end, iWeb is woefully inadequate for many tasks, and at the other end, expensive software like Dreamweaver is overkill for most developers. Sandvox tries to find a balance, but does it work?

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    The Eternal Dilemma: Power vs. Simplicity

    For as long as software has been around, developers and software designers have long had to make trade-offs between power and simplicity. Writing powerful software generally involves making it less easy to use, whereas writing software that's too simple won't provide enough options for the power user. Design tools are particularly susceptible to this issue because they want to provide their users with adequate options, but at the same time, they can't make finding and using these options too cumbersome.

    Despite the Mac's reputation as a graphics and video design platform (rightfully earned by stellar applications such as Final Cut and Photoshop), the Mac has never really gained solid ground in the web design area. The excellent tools like Expression Web (formerly FrontPage) on the PC never seemed to be adequately duplicated on the Mac. Expression Web offers, in my opinion, a near perfect balance between simplicity and power - you can design virtually any site quite rapidly in the graphical mode, but if you want to customize it, you can always modify the code yourself. Plus, the software plays quite nice with PHP, ASP.net, and Javascript making it incredibly versatile. By contrast, Apple's design tool, iWeb, is too fixed for all but the most simple sites, so we'll see if Sandvox does a better job in this area.

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    A More Powerful iWeb

    It's worth noting now that this review will be conducted from the standpoint of a developer. That is, I'm targeting this review of Sandvox at someone who knows how to code, but wants a rapid design tool to use since, naturally, it's extremely tedious to code all the HTML by hand - especially if all you want is a demo site for a client or just to try stuff out.

    From this standpoint, Sandvox feels very much like a glorified iWeb. You must choose a theme (which includes a pseudo-blank theme) and you cannot really edit or modify how that theme feels, unless you feel like creating your own package and learning how Sandvox reads templates. Although you're welcome to add your own custom HTML, you can only do so within the confines of the theme you're using. Put a different way, if you don't like the theme you're using, you'll have to buy one from their site and if you don't like those, then you're SOL.

    Fortunately, however, Sandvox includes a truly impressive set of themes, so the average person is more likely than not to find something that they like and most, if not all, can be customized with a corporate logo or something of that sort. In addition, all themes seem to render excellently on the standard browsers, which should suppress worries about cross platform compatibility. So, while it is a more powerful iWeb, there is a decent amount of flexibility that those who are looking to design a site rapidly will enjoy.

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    Collections

    Although there isn't the customizability of Expression Web for the PC, that's certainly not to say that Sandvox doesn't do some things very well. Perhaps the best feature of Sandvox is the concept of "Collections". Collections are groups of web pages that are interrelated in some way (like a blog has a home page and then sub pages, or a photo album shows the photos and then has a sub page for each photo). This means that Sandvox does a great job of essentially making sites that might be difficult to code on their own, very easy to implement using this tool.

    For example, suppose you wanted to start a blog and a photo gallery. Doing this might be kind of complex on its own. You'd want to install WordPress on a host for your blog and then find some other script to do your photo gallery. In Sandvox, this becomes as simple as adding a couple of collections and posting it to the server. Naturally, it's not too hard to see that this idea is only good as long as there's a collection that serves a purpose you want. Professionals will note how tedious it can be to install WordPress and photo gallery software, so the concept of collections to make this easier is certainly welcome.

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    Some Final Thoughts

    Those who have used tools like Expression Web or Dreamweaver will find Sandvox to be woefully inadequate for many scripting and web development tasks. However, for those looking for a more "powerful" iWeb, Sandvox definitely fills that void as it is fairly easy to use and comes with quite a few awesome looking templates. In addition, the fact that all pages dynamically update with navigation bars definitely makes site management much easier for the beginner. The addition of Google integration in the pro version also makes letting customers find your site much simpler.

    So, given that the professional version of Sandvox costs $97, the question becomes: is it worth it? The answer to that isn't obvious. For the professional who's looking for a tremendous amount of customizability, Sandvox definitely isn't worth it. For the novice who's looking to get a quality site up and running for his/her business, Sandvox presents a serious package that fills the void of iWeb.

    My advice would be to download the trial of Sandvox. If you find that you create a site that you like, you can always buy it; but if you find that you can't find a theme you like, you've just saved $97.

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    Site Themes

    Earth & Sky ThemeDolphin Dance