Review: Serif WebPlus

I’m a big fan of Serif software – I’ve been using their PagePlus DTP program since v2 – which came out sometime in the mid-90s. Since then I’ve also added two other Serif programs, Photoplus and Drawplus. I’m happy with the performance of all three and use them all the time; I do the entire Elfin Diary in PagePlus, for example. But until now, I’ve never bothered with their web design program, WebPlus. That’s because I’m entirely self-taught in web design and consequently learned to code in Notepad and other text editors and never had any need for a WYSIWYG editor like WebPlus.
But the other day I got a phone call from a prospective client; she had a site that she was designing in WebPlus and was having trouble with it – could I do anything with it? So I told her to send the files over and I’d look at them. Then I went to Serif’s site and dug around for a copy of Webplus. I started with the free “lite” version; I downloaded it and quickly had it up and running. And was taken aback by the sheer mess and crudity of it. It was a totally WYSIWYG interface – you dragged and dropped various elements onto the page until you were satisfied with the look – with no code editor whatsoever. And worse still, the finished web page was a total mess of inline styling, loaded with of kilobytes of completely unnecessary code. And everything was absolutely positioned, with no flexibility.
Aghast, I went back to Serif and pondered buying the latest version – V7. Surely it had to be better in all respects than the lite version?
Another of the things that has kept me a Serif customer through the years is that existing customers get big discounts, not just on upgrades, but on all Serif products. However, even with the discount, the price for the latest version was a bit hefty. In any case, the prospect had mentioned that she was using v6 and intended editing the pages further once I had sorted out the problems. So I dug around the site a little more and found V6 on sale for a very reasonable price. The woman and I hadn’t discussed payment,but the work sounded simple and I had already decided I wouldn’t be charging her much. But, I thought, I would at least get the price of this new software back, and it could come in useful for other work.
But, but, but, BUT. The paid-for version certainly had more bells and whistles and a slightly better interface. But it was still totally WYSIWYG – there was still no way of directly editing the code inside the program. And the output was still a mess of inline code and absolute positioning – it was impossible to create or link a separate stylesheet. And as for responsive design – oh look, they’ve given us mobile versions of their templates!
Finally, I tried importing a web page from one of my sites. The program was unable to import the linked stylesheet and, for good measure, turned the body background colour red. So much for it’s editing capabilities.
Hmm. Maybe V7 was better? But a look at the Serif forums wasn’t hopeful – plenty of people on there were complaining about the lack of responsive design capability in the latest version. And looking at the gallery of sites designed with V7 was depressing – the source code revealed the same incredible code crud.
A passing remark from one poster drove me to check the source code of the serif.com site itself. It’s beautifully designed and fully responsive, adapting smoothly to all screen sizes. But it wasn’t designed in WebPlus! The source code is clean, elegant HTML5 with linked stylesheets, as they should be; there’s no generator tag, so its evidently custom-made.
If Serif has so little faith in it’s own product, then I certainly won’t be using it. Since I paid for it, I’ll be hanging onto it just in case. But I’ll be sticking my my old web design editors, thank you very much.

PS: Looks like I won’t be using it in any case, as the woman hasn’t got back to me. Oh well.
PPS: If anybody is interested, here’s a list of good web design editing programs. Some free, some paid-for, some WYSIWYG, suitable for all levels of expertise. WebPlus, I notice, isn’t in the list.

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