Serif WebPlus 10 review

Price when reviewed

The days of tags and angled brackets are gone. Whatever your budget, code-free web pages are no more difficult to produce than a printed flier, menu or birthday card. And, at £59, WebPlus looks like an unqualified bargain.

Serif WebPlus 10 review

Taking its cues from DTP software – and particularly its paper-based sibling, PagePlus – it immediately feels familiar. It has excellent colour management, with plenty of preset schemes or, for the more discerning web designer, sliders for RGB, CMYK, HSL, greyscale and tinting let you mix your own. Combine them with the impressive built-in drawing tools and you’ll soon be producing complex layouts without the use of vector art software, which most low-end designers (the WebPlus target market) won’t have in their toolset.

To hit the ground running, the pre-defined templates are an excellent option: they’re both smart and anonymous enough to not look like they were bundled free, although they’re also not entirely web-standards compliant. We ran the business template through the W3C’s validation service, which threw up seven errors. They weren’t particularly serious, but they could spook a less knowledgeable designer and deny them a compliancy badge.

They can be extensively customised, and you can also add so-called Smart Objects. These are interactive elements such as hit counters, shout boxes and blogs, which are only available once you’ve signed up for a Serif account. Assuming you’re willing to hand over your email address, they’re impressive, low-maintenance additions that greatly enhance the suite’s appeal.

Text, on either the templates or your hand-designed pages, can be formatted to an impressive degree through the dialogs, and quickly resized by stretching the bounding box, which will reformat the characters to fit. This is a smart idea, in principle. Online text can be sized in four ways, using pixels, ems at a decimal percentage of a specified base size, a relative measurement specified as a positive or negative proportion of a default text, or plain English descriptors like large, small or xsmall. That’s potentially too many choices for a novice, and they’re all easily side-stepped by the box-stretching metaphor. However, our tests threw up a minor anomaly here, where resizing disproportionately called a JavaScript that upset Internet Explorer, throwing up yellow-barred warnings about risky content. Under the hood, then, this is a messy fix, and one we’d rather Serif had solved by re-coding the document stylesheet whenever a box is resized, or by sticking to proportionally resized text.

Despite not needing to understand HTML code, there’s an option to add your own tags if you want. However, there’s also an arsenal of easily added snippets that would otherwise induce some coding headaches, like image hotspots or navigation strips. These latter elements are particularly impressive, since they hook into the site-management tools. Adding a new page to the WebPlus sidebar automatically adds it to the navigation strip, even if it’s currently blank. Likewise, changing the page order by dragging them around in the sidebar re-orders the strip to match.

Sites can be checked before uploading in the same way that you’d pre-flight a DTP page, but the pre-defined directory structure caused some problems on one of our test accounts. While we had no issues publishing our test sites on commercial, paid-for webspace, they wouldn’t upload to free space supplied with a consumer ISP email and access account. Images and block graphics, such as the shapes the built-in tools can add to your pages, are stored in directories with a leading underscore, which our host refused to accept. The result was a failed upload on every attempt. As we were using one of the most popular ISPs in Britain, it’s far from inconceivable that Serif’s home users will find this application falls over at the final hurdle.

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