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Review: Sandvox - Website Creation Tool for Mac OS X

sandvoxSandvox is a tool for creating a complete, professional-looking website without needing to ever have to look at HTML code. Karelia software has done a nice job in making the experience of creating a website both easy and fun for people of all skill levels.

Let's face it, not all of us have time to learn HTML and CSS to produce the kind of beautiful web pages Sandvox allows us to make. Even for those that know HTML, they may find Sandvox more convenient than hand coding.

On first launch, Sandvox gives you the option to watch a well produced screencast video of the application in action. The screencast, which has chaptering for easy navigation, shows off the features of Sandvox and how to use them. It definitely beats reading the manual. It adds to the experience of the user and gets them familiar with the application even before they start using it. However, you may find that midway through, you just want to jump into making a website out of pure excitement. Sandvox has the quality that should be expected of all Macintosh applications. Sandvox is the type of third party application I would bring up that distinguishes the Macintosh developer community from the Windows one. It's all about the experience of the user, not features and sales.

With Sandvox, you don't need to have any background in web development to make gorgeous web pages. If you can navigate the web and you know how to type into text boxes, you can create almost anything you can conjure up from your head. This is really where Sandvox pulls ahead of iWeb and really distinguishes itself.

The hardest part for a lot of people is not the actual creation of the web page, but uploading it to a server. Like most web creation tools, Sandvox has one-click publishing to your server. However, Sandvox maintains a list of the most popular web hosting servers so most of the time, all you need to set up publishing is give Sandvox your username and password. If you have .Mac its even easier. It's better than publishing to a folder on your hard drive, like iWeb does, if you don't have .Mac.

Another difference between Sandvox and iWeb are the templates. iWeb has templates that you can mix and match, but once you choose a theme, you can't change it later. Sandvox lets you choose one for all of your pages, but you can change the look and design at any time after the pages are created.

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What Karelia is calling 'collections' are groupings of pages that are related to each other. For example, all your blog entries are located under a blog collection, photos under a photo album collection and so forth. This makes organizing and conceptualizing your website very convenient. This idea is very innovative but at the same time its an incredible step in abstracting web pages as files. No longer does the user have to see file names and understand that putting spaces in a filename is not a good idea. Sandvox abstracts those concepts so the user has to learn one less thing about making a website.

If you want to do some of your own HTML editing, Sandvox has nice, but limited, HTML editing abilities which can be found in the pro version ($79). Unfortunately they stuck the HTML editor in a tiny inspector window with no syntax highlighting for the code. The designers obviously didn't mean for Sandvox to be a Dreamweaver clone, but to have a pro feature that is less than professional is disappointing. However you can make your own themes (if you know CSS), so you might not even need to use this feature. I'd stick with the standard version ($49) as the pro features seem rather thin for the $30 price difference.

Considerations

Sandvox is a brand new type of application and along with that distinction comes very challenging obstacles for its developers. There are a bunch of little bugs that are both frustrating and annoying. Adding pictures to text boxes seemed a lot more complicated that it should have been and it only seemed to work if you did it in a particular way. Windows sometimes pop up telling you an exception has occurred. The great thing about this is, that the developers spent a lot of time handling these so that the program does not crash and you lose all your data. Instead you can report the problem to Karelia which they'll hopefully fix in the next update and you can continue editing your website-- though you may want to restart the application just to be safe.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately Sandvox has a huge dark cloud over it, known as Apple's iWeb. The pro features, are entirely not worth the $30 price difference. For the $49 worth of features that the standard version gives, it will be more than enough for 95% of users. The price does seem a little steep considering for $30 more (retail) you can get iLife and all the other applications it comes with. However, and this is a big however, if you're unsatisfied with the capabilities of iWeb, Sandvox is probably what you're looking for.

Sandvox has the potential to become a hugely popular application. It needs to shake out some of the bugs and user interface issues it has, but it is nothing that can't be fixed given more time. It also needs to stay ahead of Apple and iWeb as a new version of iWeb will most likely be coming out in January. As it stands right now, Sandvox has more features, better user interface and more capabilities than iWeb does. For most users that already have iWeb, they may just want to stick with it as it does what it does very well, limited it may be.

Sandvox has a free trial and since I believe Sandvox appeals to a different kind of audience than iWeb does, go download Sandvox and see for yourself if Sandvox is right for you. Or check out the screencast which you can access from Karelia's website and let Sandvox speak for itself.

Ed: [While I agree with most of this review, I think Sandvox is a great application. Also notable is that it supports all of the latest web trends (podcasts, blogs, photos, etc.). I personally don't like the live updating. I would frequently try to update a page, only to have the cursor lose focus due to the update I just made. I did my testing on an Intel based iMac w/ 1.5GB Ram. Additionally, I hope to see more variety in the templates - some third party development would really come in handy here.

With that said, I think Karelia is doing a wonderful job updating this program, and it will quickly move to the top of the list for quick and easy web site publishing on the Mac. It is still a very new product, and it is quickly gathering an impressive following. -jc]

Review by: Mziray