Adobe sent out an email yesterday inviting users to test its Muse beta. The software brings the ease of InDesign to creating HTML and CSS websites without code and could be a boon to those looking for an iWeb replacement.
While much of iWeb's strength was in its templates, Adobe is emphasizing the process of creating a site from scratch sans code knowledge. iWeb does allow you to do this, but it was always easier to start from a template, especially for beginners. Muse appears to be aimed at print designers looking to transition to web design without learning web code.
Muse feels and acts more like InDesign than Dreamweaver, Adobe's professional web-authoring program, but is a good hybrid of the programs.
The large menu bar clearly indicates the steps to publishing a website: a grid-style planning section, a design section that mimics InDesign, a preview section where you can play with your site without having to load it in a browser and a publishing section where it'll upload everything for you. At the moment, publishing a site requires an Adobe Business Catalyst account, but you can export the files and upload them to your own server using FTP.
When you create a new site, you can quickly plot out the pages using the planning section. Plus (+) buttons to the left and right of the page thumbnail will let you create individual pages or sub-pages. You can rename these pages by double-clicking on the name. Clicking the thumbnail itself will open that page in design view.
Design view is similar to InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator. A floating menu palette on the right gives you access to several features. Instead of a floating toolbar to the left, it's integrated with the menubar. Unlike InDesign and Photoshop, the menu palettes can't be anchored to the edge of the page. They can be collapsed into a single, thin bar showing icons, but selecting one item opens the entire palette.
If designing in InDesign is your speciality, then you'll feel at home using Muse. I quickly created a basic layout, though there were some InDesign-specific features I missed such as giving a text box more than one column and the align palette. There also is no line tool, which I hope is rectified very quickly.
However, there are some nice extras for those getting used to web design. For example, when you select text from the dropdown box, Adobe identifies a web-safe font and which fonts will be exported as images. The color picker will let you key in RGB numbers and return the hexadecimal for that color. The eyedropper tool will run over any image and provides the hexadecimal and RGB values in the color picket. There are palettes for wrapping text around images and spacing.
While Muse doesn't have any premade templates, it does come with basic widgets that allow you to add galleries, slideshows, menubars and a few more options. You'll also find web-specific palettes such as states, where you apply an attribute to elements like rollovers, action upon clicking a mouse, etc.
Preview mode is nice. You can test links to external websites from within Muse, and you can also preview using external browsers. The publish section is useless unless you have an Adobe Business Catalyst account. I hope that Muse gains built-in FTP client like Dreamweaver has.
Comparison with iWeb
Muse is not quite iWeb, but it's not Dreamweaver or InDesign either. iWeb holds your hand every step of the way, from a plethora of templates to colorful widgets that tell you exactly what each element does. Dreamweaver is not for novices. Even though you can work in WYSIWYG mode, you still need a good knowledge of code to fully utilize it.
While Muse hides the code, you still need a basic understanding of how a website functions in order to use it effectively. For example, if you want to click on an image and have it link to somewhere else, you need to fill out the hyperlink option when the box is selected. You must understand how anchors work, rollovers and so on.
If you're comfortable with iWeb and want to explore with designing your own elements, then Muse is a good fit and is worth a try. Otherwise, there are several iWeb replacements to consider.
Muse requires installing Adobe AIR, which can be a turnoff for some people. The program is mostly stable, and I did my testing on my 11-inch MacBook Air. While the fans kicked on, I've certainly heard them make more noise then they did while running Muse. The first time I used Muse was fine, but the second time it locked up upon launch and required a force quit. Once it successfully launches, it hasn't crashed.
Muse requires an Intel Core Duo or faster processor, OS X 10.6 or higher, at least 512 MB of RAM (1 GB recommended) and Adobe AIR 2.7 or higher.
It's worth giving the beta a shot as an iWeb replacement. You can see some screenshots in the gallery above. However, it is very much a beta product, and I expect a number of features to come out over the next few months as testers weigh in.
Muse will be available in early 2012 via Adobe's subscription model only because of expected frequent updates. If you sign up for a year, it's US$15 a month. If you go month to month, it'll be $20.