Hands On: Designing websites with Sparkle, the spiritual successor to iWeb

Posted:
in Mac Software edited July 2018
Sparkle wants to make it easy for anyone to build a website yet also be comprehensive enough for professionals. AppleInsider builds a site.




There are enough websites in the world now, you know. If you must make a new one, though, then Sparkle 2.6.3 wants you to use it. The app is meant for speed and ease of use so that any of us can create any website in a very short time. We've been here before, however, and too often ease-of-use means not-very-powerful.

That is true of Sparkle to an extent. You won't use this tool if you're already a die-hard fan of Adobe Dreamweaver. Yet the differences between this and more pro tools are often slight and the speed of trying out ideas in it is compelling.

You might not use Sparkle if you're a total novice, either. It's got a similar feel to Apple's iWeb in how it's chiefly a drag and drop kind of app. However, the app itself doesn't have any templates as iWeb did or as online services like WordPress or SquareSpace do.

You can get templates online, though. Also, what the Sparkle app does give you is a core simplicity but with at least a little extra power when you need it.

From scratch

No one in the world would ever design a website by turning to their computer first. Okay, we just did. Here's a two-page website we created from scratch with only the most cursory look at Sparkle's documentation.




That took 12 minutes and some portion of that was trying to remember how PayPal does its Buy Now buttons.

It's not that we set out to race, though, and knowing the time it took is more chance than stopwatch. Instead, this is how quick it is to step into the app and start doing useful work.

True, when you open Sparkle for the very first time and see just a blank canvas, it's a little daunting yet only for a moment. Then you see the row of six buttons such as Text and Image and that's it, you get it.

You get that you can click on any of these and start adding the content you want to your site. There's also a More button which is peculiarly enticing because when you click that, you get this:




That's like a tray of the most common things you could want to add to a website. You choose them just by clicking.

So you click on one of these options and now you've got a text box on the screen. Or a placeholder for an image that you then drag in. Or a box to divide the page up.

Once they're on the screen, you can then drag them around anywhere. You can resize them or delete them. Click into one like a text box and you can start typing or pasting in writing you've already prepared.

You don't get a great deal of control over the font faces: by default you're shown only ones that are considered safe for the web because all computers have them. It's far from bad discipline to stick to these, though, and there are ways to add more if you delve.

Sparkle isn't about delving, though, it's about creating sites that are useful and functional. It's just that this can also mean options that have previously been complex such as adding e-commerce.




We did this in a thrice for ours because we've previously done it via PayPal for other sites but ultimately it's the same process. You need to work with an e-commerce site and then when that has given you the settings you need, you pop those into Sparkle.

Typically that means copying a block of HTML text and pasting it in to where Sparkle is waiting. You don't need to know or care about the HTML exactly, you just need to be certain to copy all of it in.

Here's how our shop page looked within Sparkle. Notice the coding we pasted in under the Embedded Content heading at the top right. You've probably just paid more attention to it than we did: we copied that from PayPal, pasted it in to Sparkle and then worried more about the Buy Now button beneath the main image.




For that code calls up a Buy Now button image from PayPal and that's fine but for some reason it appears in a box that's the wrong shape. You can see it on the final website but in Sparkle, Buy Now is ranged left in an image box that's too wide.

We're being a bit fussy: you can drag that box anywhere so we could center the button as we liked. However, it meant that Sparkle's usual automatic guidelines wouldn't work correctly. We couldn't line up the box via guides, it had to be by eye. We could resize that box but it shrunk or grew the Buy Now button.

Then these days you cannot just design a website to look great on your Mac, you have to make it at least passable on iPhones. Or even Android. Sparkle makes this quite easy but it doesn't give you all the control you may want.

The process feels a little unnecessary, too. When you're done with your desktop website, you click on Device and choose a layout such as Smartphone Portrait. You have to choose that by clicking on the + button to add it and then clicking the radio button to select what you've just added.




What it's doing is separating the mobile page from the desktops so that you can change things to look good on one without affecting the other. Yet still it feels like too many steps. Plus each entry like Desktop or Smartphone Landscape does give you a size in pixels but there's nowhere to change that.

Doubtlessly that's deliberate because it means you have one basic option instead of a hundred different screen sizes. Yet when you know you're developing a site for iPad users, it would be good to be able to say which iPad.

At least this is all better than iWeb ever got to be: that Apple website design tool was last updated in 2011, less than a year after the iPad first came out.

In so many ways, Sparkle is iWeb: the Next Generation with that application's relative ease of use coupled to more modern needs like designing for cell phones.

Sparkle 2.6.3 is available directly from the developer or via the Mac App Store. It's free to download and if you never paid a penny, you could still design a basic website. Just the one, though, and it will be limited to three pages. It'll also be branded as "Made with Sparkle".

There's one more issue with the free one. Sparkle is a design tool, not a web hosting one so whatever you make with it, you have to separately have paid for web space from some provider. Sparkle is able to connect to very many of them and make publishing your updates swift.

If it isn't compatible with your provider, though, then the usual way around that would be to have Sparkle export all the files to disk. Then you can upload them in whatever way your site space provider tells you.

Sparkle's free version won't export to disk. Nor will the first paid tier called Sparkle One which costs $44.99. That version removes the branding, though, and while it still allows you only one site, there's no limit on the number of pages.

To get an unlimited number of sites plus that export to disk feature you need Sparkle Pro which is $89.99.

Sparkle One and Sparkle Pro are available as in-app purchases within Sparkle Free. All three versions require OS X Mavericks or later.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 37
    irnchrizirnchriz Posts: 1,571member
    omg, ban that now, its like going back in time 20 years to crappy website templates.
    SpamSandwichrepressthiscgWerks
  • Reply 2 of 37
    grifmxgrifmx Posts: 76member
    Hype is better and cheaper
    cornchip
  • Reply 3 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,888administrator
    irnchriz said:
    omg, ban that now, its like going back in time 20 years to crappy website templates.
    AppleInsider is for everybody, not just web designers and the like.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 37
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,864member
    I'm curious how Sparkle directly compares to online authoring tools and hosting services like Wix and Weebly? Both Wix and Weebly are free web based tools and have a free hosting tier inside their domain. The free layers have some storage and feature limitations but can be upgraded with more storage and features and also linked to a separately purchased domain name outside of their own domain.     
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 37
    I recently had need to put together a really basic web site just to show samples of my work. iWeb probably would have been fine, but I didn't know if it would work with High Sierra so I figured I'd try something new just for giggles.

    I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, so I figured I'd use a template system like Wordpress of Joomla. The more I looked into them, the more confused I became. I also found that the price of decent templates got me close to the price of Sparkle Pro, so I just got that instead.

    One of the things that attracted me to it was I thought it would automagically reformat the site I created for computer screens to one optimized for tablets and phones. I don't know why I thought it would, but in case anyone else has the same impression, it doesn't. It DOES let you create separate versions for different devices, but you have to do all the formatting for each device type manually.

    I don't know how it compares to anything other than iWeb and the now-discontinued Adobe Muse, but it offers many more flashy effects than iWeb and is easier to use than Muse. Operation is straightforward and intuitive, and while it doesn't get as granular as some might like, the amount of flexibility and customization it offers is pretty good.

    If you want an example of what an amateur put together in about 16 hours, here's mine: http://v5vaudio.com
    fastasleep
  • Reply 6 of 37
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,417member
    I recently had need to put together a really basic web site just to show samples of my work. iWeb probably would have been fine, but I didn't know if it would work with High Sierra so I figured I'd try something new just for giggles.

    I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, so I figured I'd use a template system like Wordpress of Joomla. The more I looked into them, the more confused I became. I also found that the price of decent templates got me close to the price of Sparkle Pro, so I just got that instead.

    One of the things that attracted me to it was I thought it would automagically reformat the site I created for computer screens to one optimized for tablets and phones. I don't know why I thought it would, but in case anyone else has the same impression, it doesn't. It DOES let you create separate versions for different devices, but you have to do all the formatting for each device type manually.

    I don't know how it compares to anything other than iWeb and the now-discontinued Adobe Muse, but it offers many more flashy effects than iWeb and is easier to use than Muse. Operation is straightforward and intuitive, and while it doesn't get as granular as some might like, the amount of flexibility and customization it offers is pretty good.

    If you want an example of what an amateur put together in about 16 hours, here's mine: http://v5vaudio.com
    If a person wants to avoid nearly all of the pitfalls of coming to web site design from a no-experience point of view, I'd recommend Blogger.com. Free and pretty easy to set up something very basic.
  • Reply 7 of 37
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,417member

    I recently had need to put together a really basic web site just to show samples of my work. iWeb probably would have been fine, but I didn't know if it would work with High Sierra so I figured I'd try something new just for giggles.

    I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, so I figured I'd use a template system like Wordpress of Joomla. The more I looked into them, the more confused I became. I also found that the price of decent templates got me close to the price of Sparkle Pro, so I just got that instead.

    One of the things that attracted me to it was I thought it would automagically reformat the site I created for computer screens to one optimized for tablets and phones. I don't know why I thought it would, but in case anyone else has the same impression, it doesn't. It DOES let you create separate versions for different devices, but you have to do all the formatting for each device type manually.

    I don't know how it compares to anything other than iWeb and the now-discontinued Adobe Muse, but it offers many more flashy effects than iWeb and is easier to use than Muse. Operation is straightforward and intuitive, and while it doesn't get as granular as some might like, the amount of flexibility and customization it offers is pretty good.

    If you want an example of what an amateur put together in about 16 hours, here's mine: http://v5vaudio.com
    That's not a bad looking site, Lorin!
    repressthis
  • Reply 8 of 37
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,102member
    One of the things that attracted me to it was I thought it would automagically reformat the site I created for computer screens to one optimized for tablets and phones. I don't know why I thought it would, but in case anyone else has the same impression, it doesn't. It DOES let you create separate versions for different devices, but you have to do all the formatting for each device type manually.
    Ugh. The lack of a proper responsive grid would be an instant dealbreaker for me. I'm actually really surprised at the lack of that in a $90 app, in 2018.
    repressthiscgWerks
  • Reply 9 of 37
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,215member
    I’ve never forgiven Apple for denigrating iWeb. I used it to teach my online classes. Fortunately I retired about the time it became basically useless. The built in hosting was heaven. Still, I’d liked to have continued using it for personal stuff. Tried a few early alternatives but the ease of use just wasn’t there. 
  • Reply 10 of 37
    jdwjdw Posts: 663member
    Great article.  Please also do an article on Blocs, which from what I've seen is even easier to use than Sparkle for creating responsive websites.

    For now, I'm still using SoftPress Freeway Pro 7.  It's not easy to design responsive sites in Freeway, but the DTP design model is great for traditional sites.  I've been eyeing Sparkle and Blocs for a couple years now and consider them better alternatives to Freeway than Rapid Weaver and the now defunct Adobe Muse.
  • Reply 11 of 37
    I’ll give it a try. Half a year ago I read all the reviews I could find on iWeb replacements and user friendly site builders - Yes, there are a lot of “spiritual successors” - and chose Everweb. I used it for two relatively simple sites. The first hours it was great. A lot like iWeb (I still use iWeb for my main site with lots and lots of pages and pictures). And of course with new functionality like mobile versions. But soon reality set in. Small glitches, unexpected limitations, problems uploading. The end user won’t see it but... annoying. I still use it, but for my main site the chase continues. And.. my admiration for the iWeb team has grown, a lot. All the details I took for granted, the robustness, speed... iWeb just works, even now.

    What I would like to say: I know a few hours of ‘hands on’ is not a review, but... in this case I think the AI-recommendation is a bit too strong. A full review maybe?

    I’ll check it myself anyway. So the article served it’s purpose :-)
  • Reply 12 of 37
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,587member
    I’ve never forgiven Apple for denigrating iWeb. I used it to teach my online classes. Fortunately I retired about the time it became basically useless. The built in hosting was heaven. Still, I’d liked to have continued using it for personal stuff. Tried a few early alternatives but the ease of use just wasn’t there. 
    Did Apple denigrate iWeb as well as abandon it? I too cannot understand the attitude of this fabulously wealthy company to its own (non-OS) software. I used iWeb many years ago to create a core web presence and then moved on in my learning of HTML. However, I keep the original site alive through the adding of code snippets etc to take advantage of modern features. 
  • Reply 13 of 37
     Apple implemented progressive web apps in iOS 11.3 and MacOS 10.3.4.
    This  should help in increasing the lifespan of older iOS devices which have less storage for native apps .Will Appleinsider  be releasing one ?
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 14 of 37
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,888administrator
     Apple implemented progressive web apps in iOS 11.3 and MacOS 10.3.4.
    This  should help in increasing the lifespan of older iOS devices which have less storage for native apps .Will Appleinsider  be releasing one ?
    I can ask.
  • Reply 15 of 37
    volcanvolcan Posts: 1,749member
    WYSIWYG website builder apps have always been crap and probably always will be, especially now since modern websites commonly use things like include files, scripting environments such as PHP, Javascript frameworks, database connectivity, responsive design and remapped directories. Hell, most of those types of applications can't even build a custom form or validate it and also leave mailto: contact information in the clear for every screen scrapping scammer to add you to their spam list.
    leehammcgWerks
  • Reply 16 of 37
    leehammleehamm Posts: 21member
    At these prices, I'd expect the free version to at least work. You know, important stuff like links between pages. The free version allows you three pages on one site...and you can't link them together? FFS.
  • Reply 17 of 37
    lorin schultzlorin schultz Posts: 2,454member

    I recently had need to put together a really basic web site just to show samples of my work. iWeb probably would have been fine, but I didn't know if it would work with High Sierra so I figured I'd try something new just for giggles.

    I didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, so I figured I'd use a template system like Wordpress of Joomla. The more I looked into them, the more confused I became. I also found that the price of decent templates got me close to the price of Sparkle Pro, so I just got that instead.

    One of the things that attracted me to it was I thought it would automagically reformat the site I created for computer screens to one optimized for tablets and phones. I don't know why I thought it would, but in case anyone else has the same impression, it doesn't. It DOES let you create separate versions for different devices, but you have to do all the formatting for each device type manually.

    I don't know how it compares to anything other than iWeb and the now-discontinued Adobe Muse, but it offers many more flashy effects than iWeb and is easier to use than Muse. Operation is straightforward and intuitive, and while it doesn't get as granular as some might like, the amount of flexibility and customization it offers is pretty good.

    If you want an example of what an amateur put together in about 16 hours, here's mine: http://v5vaudio.com
    That's not a bad looking site, Lorin!
    Oh good, there was a better-than-even chance of it looking terrible!

    A lot of the 16 hours I spent on it was experimenting with different layouts. That's one aspect in which WYSIWYG editors have a slight advantage over coding -- they allow faster and easier changes to element positions.

    Thanks for the feedback.
    SpamSandwich
  • Reply 18 of 37
    cgWerkscgWerks Posts: 1,827member
    irnchriz said:
    omg, ban that now, its like going back in time 20 years to crappy website templates.
    AppleInsider is for everybody, not just web designers and the like.
    I'd second that advice, though, even if it could have been said differently.

    Building a website in iWeb, Sparkle, or even Dreamweaver is just setting up a future mess to be fixed.
    If you aren't a web designer, then just setup a SqureSpace account, or establish a blog on one of the many 'free' services.

    fastasleep said:
    Ugh. The lack of a proper responsive grid would be an instant dealbreaker for me. I'm actually really surprised at the lack of that in a $90 app, in 2018.
    No doubt... desktop and mobile version? Yikes.
    edited July 2018 leehamm
  • Reply 19 of 37
    leehammleehamm Posts: 21member
    jdw said:
    Great article.  Please also do an article on Blocs, which from what I've seen is even easier to use than Sparkle for creating responsive websites.

    For now, I'm still using SoftPress Freeway Pro 7.  It's not easy to design responsive sites in Freeway, but the DTP design model is great for traditional sites.  I've been eyeing Sparkle and Blocs for a couple years now and consider them better alternatives to Freeway than Rapid Weaver and the now defunct Adobe Muse.
    I'd second the request for an article on Blocs. I hit a wall with Sparkle, after a few hours. Blocs has some glitches but offers much more, at a lower price, for a longer eval window.
    Thanks, Jdw, for the lead to Blocs.
    jdw
  • Reply 20 of 37
    leehammleehamm Posts: 21member
    iqatedo said:
    I’ve never forgiven Apple for denigrating iWeb. I used it to teach my online classes. Fortunately I retired about the time it became basically useless. The built in hosting was heaven. Still, I’d liked to have continued using it for personal stuff. Tried a few early alternatives but the ease of use just wasn’t there. 
    Did Apple denigrate iWeb as well as abandon it? I too cannot understand the attitude of this fabulously wealthy company to its own (non-OS) software. I used iWeb many years ago to create a core web presence and then moved on in my learning of HTML. However, I keep the original site alive through the adding of code snippets etc to take advantage of modern features. 
    Ha ha. I assumed Robin meant deprecate, rather than denigrate...
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