CSS Lint. It's an open-source online tool to check for typos, bad practices, incorrect properties for rules, inefficiencies, and other potential problems in your code.
I pasted in the primary style sheet I use for my work website. CSS Lint returned one error and 173 warnings. The error was a missing colon in one selector. As for the warnings, they could be grouped into the three main problem areas: using IDs in selectors, broken box models, and qualified headings.
It's an instructional and helpful tool, especially for lengthy style sheets that have been used and abused for years. While you may not need or want to take action on every warning, CSS Lint will help you write better code moving forward. Users are welcome to contribute new rules to the tool.
CSS Lint. It's an open-source online tool to check for typos, bad practices, incorrect properties for rules, inefficiencies, and other potential problems in your code.
Like many online tools with staying power, 'filling a simple need' is often the first litmus test for success. The second is filling a simple need well. And this site does the job very well. Huffduffer is an easy-to-use, elegant, friendly way to create your own personal podcast stream from found audio on the web. The part that makes Huffduffer so useful is RSS feed creation. It's easy to bookmark audio, but not so easy to create an iTunes-compatible RSS feed. I think of it this way: Huffduffer is to audio what Instapaper is to text.
I must admit, though, that I have only just started using this tool as intended. So far, I've primarily been using it as a discovery tool to find audio content I otherwise would not have known existed by subscribing to Huffduffer's 'Popular' feed. As you may surmise, this feed delivers a steady stream of what other people are 'Huffduffing.' The downside to this stream is that there are often many duplicate posts, so you'll find yourself often deleting entries that you've seen before. The upside is that the content is usually interesting and there's plenty of new content every day. For my long daily train commute, this feed is most welcome.
You'll find that much of the 'popular content' tends to be in the vein of tech, design, web design/development, science fiction, speculative science, and hard science. This surely says a lot about the core users of the site. And this makes sense given who created it: I surmise that site usage has spread mainly by word-of-mouth and via conferences. I, for instance, discovered it a web design conference where Jeremy Keith was speaking. So if you are particularly interested in this type of content, you'll get a lot out of this feed. As a secondary benefit, the popular feed has helped me find many a new podcast to subscribe to via iTunes. Now I need to start huffduffing some of my own 'found audio.'
Here are a few recent items from the 'popular' feed that I really enjoyed:
Conversation with William Gibson — A discussion with William Gibson about where we are headed in the post-internet age.
Arthur C. Clarke, Alvin Toffler, Margaret Mead — A talk recorded in 1970 about the future. From the show notes on Huffduffer: "At the time of this recording Arthur C. Clarke had recently collaborated on the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick. Alvin Toffler’s mega-influential book, Future Shock, is about to be published. And Margaret Mead is the world’s foremost cultural anthropologist."
Aside from the lovely illustrations and easy-to-understand prose, what's most intriguing is that this site is entirely built with HTML5. Amazing.
Xyle scope for free. Not sure when this happened. Used to cost $20. I'm guessing this choice has a lot to do with the great success of Things. I wrote about Xyle scope in Jan. 2008. My conclusion then:
I almost bought this application but, in the end, I decided to stick with two free tools that perform most of the same feats as Xyle, even though I think they are much less elegant. I use Firefox when I'm working on websites, and have grown to rely on Chris Pederick's Web Developer and Joe Hewitt's Firebug.
I'm definitely adding Xyle scope to my toolbox now.
Grab a cup of coffee. We already have Bean, the excellent and free rich text editor. Soon, we will have Espresso from MacRabbit, creator of the best-in-class CSS editor, CSSEdit.
Reading through the features, it looks like Espresso will be a hybrid application that combines many of the coding-friendly features of BBEdit or TextMate with the great UI and navigation of CSSEdit (to include CSSEdit’s live preview functionality). It also offers built-in publishing tools. It is geared towards web development, so it will surely be a strong Panic Coda alternative as well. Can’t wait to test it out.
I’ve signed up for the beta.
1. Things integration, tagging
Cultured Code's Things is slowly and methodically nearing release — something I suspect many people eagerly await (or not, considering we now get to use the Beta for free!). Last saturday, Cultured Code released a small version update with a big new feature: system-wide To Do integration. Enter a To Do in Things, and it's instantly in Mail and iCal. It's a significant step in the evolution of this task manager. It's been enlightening to watch this app progress via the updates and the Things blog. The developers are clearly focusing an extraordinary level of effort to get this right, and it shows. I can't wait to see the companion app for the iPhone/iPod Touch due out at the end of June.
I received a comment this week concerning my original (and aging) Things review. I questioned the scalability of Things in that review (i.e. ability to manage hundreds of To Dos), and reader Mark countered that Things scales just fine provided one develops a good tagging system. I think this is largely true — more so as I've become a better tag manager and better versed in how to use Things.
The trick, then, is to develop a system of tagging that works. If you have a good tagging structure for Things, you can share it on the Things wiki (on the Real-world tagging examples page). There are two useful entries there to help get you started. Hopefully more tagging gurus will share their ideas and solutions. For more on tagging, check out Ian Beck's TagaMac site (particularly his intro to tags).
By the way, wouldn't it be nice to have a dedicated wiki for community-contributed tagging solutions, usage examples, and tips for all Mac apps that support the venerable tag?
2. RapidWeaver 4 first impressions
You may have heard that RealMac Software's RapidWeaver 4 came out this week. The most noticeable difference in this Leopard-only upgrade is the user interface, but there are also some significant under-the-hood improvements. If you are upgrading from an earlier version, ensure you update your third party plug ins first, then install the upgrade.
The new interface meshes well with the 'Leopard look' and is sleeker and easier to look at. It also includes a far amount of eye candy (e.g. black pop up windows, iconic representations of your files flying past during file open and upload). In short, it looks good. Note to RapidWeaver: I don't need to see each file loading when I start up RW. Just show me the progress bar. All those file icons whipping past is a nice use of Core Animation, but it's superfluous. Same goes for the file upload progress indicator.
I like the new toolbar that runs across the top of the app. At first, I was lamenting that I could not customize the shortcuts on the toolbar. Then, upon further inspection, it dawned on me that everything I need is already there. Good design.
The left-hand sidebar icons that represent individual pages of your site are now easier to recognize. RW pages are easy to pick out, as are third party plugin pages (e.g. a Blocks page now looks, appropriately, like a big yellow block).
One thing I don't like is the 'Add a new Page' view in the UI — it looks pretty, but I can't see the version number of my plugins as I could in earlier versions of the app (I tried clicking on the plugin name, as I would in Finder to reveal a long file name, but this had no effect). This used to be an easy way to see if I had the most current plugins installed.
There are now four new themes. You can now search through your themes or filter them (based on RW version, or if they originated from a third party). I like this. The one minor problem I've noticed is this: if I change the theme view to display smaller icon sizes, it doesn't stick. Once I close the document and open it up again, the theme previews are once again set to the default size (which are a bit too large).
One of the biggest changes is the adoption of a new file format based on standard XML. This is good news for people with very large sites, and good news for third party integration possibilities. I can vouch for this: publishing is dramatically speedier.
Be sure to check out the new Extras folder in the download. It includes a well-designed new PDF manual, the SDK for Theme development, and an assortment of web badges to add to your site.
I'm quite happy with this update, although I could not find a changelog anywhere on the RW site that clearly delineates what's new. I'm sure it's there somewhere.
And speaking of the RW website, it also received a major refresh (RealMac does this with each major release, offering up their previous site design as a new RW template).
The RapidWeaver forums have also been totally revamped. There is now a main community discussion section, a technical support section (which is now the primary means to get technical support for RW), and community forums in various languages other than English. A note for people who were used to the old forum: look for the search function inside the categories. It looks good, but I was disappointed to see that my account indicates that I've not made any posts (i.e. it appears my account was reset with the new launch. I don't know if other users face the same situation).
Here's a project idea for the long weekend. Have you heard of scanner art? The basic idea is this: you scan things and you try to make something something artistic with it. Is it art? Is it really photography? Some say yes, some say no. I say, 'Who cares?'
I have found that I can get some extraordinary results with my trusty scanner (the Epson Perfection 4490). I particularly like how the scanner captures intricate detail in natural objects. Here are a few samples of items I've created (click for a larger view).
Edge.org, where the stunning work of Katinka Matson is often featured. Intrigued, I started experimenting with my scanner. I don't have any sage advice about creating scanned artwork, but I do have a few tips:
• Ensure you clean the scanner bed really well before you scan
• Be prepared to spend several hours cleaning up dust and artifacts from each image you scan with your image editor of choice (even if you DO clean the bed well, you will spend a good deal of time on this task).
• I prefer to scan in the dark with the lid of the scanner open. It produces nice clean lines and a black background, which makes it easier to extract the image.
• This is a great way to experiment with your image editing program (I use Photoshop), particularly for creating interesting backgrounds, arrangements and frames.
• Try scanning anything and everything. For items that might damage your scanner bed glass, some say to try using a transparent film (e.g. a rigid piece of clear plastic of the type used to protect business reports in days past). Haven't tried this myself — I just use the 'be really, really careful when scanning' method.
• Try playing around with arrangement and layering of your scanned items.
• Scan the same item from different angles, then try piecing it together the various images into one montage.
• Scan the same item at different resolutions, then try assembling something interesting from these scans.
But first, I want to say how happy I am that my offline experiment is over. The TV part was easy, since I don’t really watch TV. The Mac part was quite hard. I’m happily back online now, with no great lessons learned (other than I prefer to be connected; no great surprise there).
Now, about my impending series on Mac organizers: I agree with those of you who suggest I tackle Together (formerly known as KIT) rather than Evernote. Together is clearly in the same class as DevonThink, EagleFiler, and Yojimbo. Evernote is clearly not. Together is also quite popular, so it’s a good target for this series. Thank you to those who commented for steering me straight.
Of these apps, I have substantial experience using DevonThink and Yojimbo. This will give me a good baseline. However, I have no experience using EagleFiler and Together, so I’ve downloaded the trials to test them out. I want to use them each intensely for at least a week to give them a fair shake. I also have decided I will add VooDooPad to the mix because I use it, I really like it and it’s substantially different from the others. It deserves to be in the lineup.
Now that I have identified the five apps I wish to review, I must say that I’m still pondering how to tackle this series. I just read through some existing review series suggested by reader brab. These reviews are excellent and I highly recommend you give them a read. In fact, these posts were so informative and thoughtful that I have to take a few days to rethink how I want to approach this. I want to write something that is value-added. I don’t want to rehash what’s already out there. I want to try to take a fresh look. More to come.
The highlight of this gathering was a keynote speech by Matt Mullenweg of WordPress.com fame. Most of his talk focused on the capabilities of WordPress, which I’m already familiar with as a WP user. I did, however learn a few interesting things:
First, WordPress is about to launch an interesting new theme called Monotone that’s geared towards displaying photos in a blog. It is interesting because it’s dynamic: the theme samples your top photo in your most recent post and automatically generates complementary colors for the layout of your page. Each time you post a new photo, your base theme colors change to match that photo. It’s a nice idea, and I expect variations on this dynamic sampling to generate more interesting themes in the future. I look forward to taking a peek at the code behind this.
Next, I learned about Gravatar.com. While I was aware of the Gravatar concept, I was unaware that WordPress hosted the Gravatar service. Apparently Automattic, Mullenweg’s WP.com company, acquired Gravatar last October. If you sign up for a Gravatar, your unique little photo will follow you around the web when you’re posting comments on any site that supports the Gravatar feature. Yet another example of how the web is turning into a more cohesive entity for the individual.
Following that, I learned of bbPress and BuddyPress — two WordPress.com offshoots. The first service is a free package for simple forum hosting. It purportedly makes setting up a forum as easy as setting up a WordPress.com site. I’m curious about how well it will integrate into a current WP installation. The second is a set of WordPress plugins (for WordPress MultiUser) which offers a very simple and easy way to transform any blog into a social network platform à la MySpace. The difference is that you don’t have to sign up for a social service with this — you create your own social center.
BuddyPress is still under construction, and Mullenweg doesn’t recommend you launch into it yet. But he said a stable package will soon be available. I like the idea of segmented user-level social networks. While it’s not a new idea, Mullenweg argued that this package will make it simple enough for anyone to create and maintain — which would be something new.
What this all added up for me was a clearer vision of how WordPress is positioning itself to lead the market with free, simple and easy to use blogging and social forum platforms in a variety of flavors. When I add up the myriad of options presented by WordPress.org, WordPress.com, WordPressMU, bbPress, and BuddyPress (all free services, by the way), I get the sense that this is developing into something very special.
I’m also struck by the aggressive development-and-release schedule of the WordPress team. That I can expect a major upgrade with significant improvements every few months is a tangible benefit that has so far kept me from leaping to another platform. I especially like that I have full access to this platform for free. Since I use the ‘.org’ version of WP, I can do whatever I like with it. I can even try to make a better commercial platform to compete with WordPress. I like the WP business model. As Mullenweg put it, anyone can use and exploit the open source WP package. It’s up to the WP.com team to make their commercial implementation of this package a top consumer choice (they make money, by the way, by offering premium upgrades).
Finally, Mullenweg showcased a site produced by Ford (yes, that Ford) on WordPress. Wow. I took one look at this site and was inspired to see if I could push my WordPress installation a bit further. I’m amazed that this site is based on WordPress. I’ve toyed with moving to a new platform (recently I tried porting this site over to Drupal — you can see the test result here), but I’m more inclined now than ever to stick with WP. Especially when I consider how much time and energy I’ve put into understanding how this package works (and how little time I have to delve into another package!).
If you’re interested in seeing Mullenweg’s talk, HMAUS is planning to post a videocast of the talk soon. As a side note, I put down five bucks on a raffle at the HMAUS event, hoping to win one of two iPod Shuffles or the Belkin USB hub. I walked away with an extra-extra large University of Hawaii football jersey and a can of Chef Boyardee Mac and Cheese. Hmm.
Realmac's RapidWeaver and WordPress, two popular web publishing choices for the Mac. I would have posted this sooner if not for the recent releases of WordPress 2.5 and RapidWeaver 3.6.6. I've now spent a few days with these new versions, so I'll recap what's new and provide my impressions here.
Now let's wrap it up:
I started this series because I noticed that a lot of people were reaching the site upon searching for a comparison of these two applications. What's apparent to me after taking a closer look is this: if you want the easiest possible solution and you don't mind paying $49, RapidWeaver is the way to go. If you want open-ended flexibility and care primarily about blogging, you may prefer WordPress.
And now, a message from our sponsor. Just joking. There are no sponsors. I'm looking at these two web publishing tools solely because I want to and I've used both of them quite extensively. I have no ties to the developers. Of course, there are many other website creation tools, blogging tools and CMS platforms out there. My recommendation: try out two or three before making up your mind. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: you can easily test out a variety of web-based platforms locally on your Mac using the freely-available MAMP. And, of course, RapidWeaver offers a timed trial (as do almost all Mac third party apps) which will give you plenty of time to make up your mind.
If you were expecting a clear winner between these two publishing platforms, you may be disappointed by my conclusion that WordPress and RapidWeaver are both great choices.
In fact, you might consider using both tools: WordPress for your blog and RapidWeaver for everything else. This great suggestion came from reader Brab, who runs Moveable Type in tandem with a RapidWeaver for his site. It's a good way to go if you're looking for total blog control but also want the style, ease and flexibility of RapidWeaver. The idea of combining the best of both tools is very appealing. My biggest concern is how well I could integrate the two, but I came across a tutorial which indicates it's entirely possible to make WP and RW coexist seamlessly. I might have to try this out.
So, that's about it for the RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress series. Hope you get something out of it.
Just a few short hours after I posted my WordPress review, version 2.5 was released. Of course this is a very major update, and of course my review is for version 2.3 (the prior version — there is no 2.4).
The new release offers, among other improvements: simpler plugin updating, easier gallery creation, a much better Dashboard (admin panel), enhanced security features, full-screen writing capability, a better WYSIWYG editor, and better searching capability (that now indexes static pages in addition to posts). Check out the full list of improvements here.
I just completed the upgrade. It installed flawlessly. The changes to the admin panel are indeed very substantial. It’ll take some time to get used to. The automatic plugin updating is quite nice, I have to say. Also, the Dashboard ‘start’ page is much more useful than the previous version.
The only minor problem I’ve noticed so far is that the WP Archive widget named has changed from ‘Archives’ to ‘Archive.’ This is significant if you use image replacement for the widget title — you’ll have to update your CSS to reflect the new name.
I also noticed that the new wp-config.php is different from previous versions, so be sure to use this updated file (this file hasn’t changed in a long while, so I’m guessing that many people are in the habit of keeping their existing config file during upgrades).
The easiest way to do this is to copy over your old MySQL settings (user name, password, database name) into the new file (which is called ‘wp-config-sample.php’), delete the old config file, then delete the word ‘sample’ from the wp-config-sample.php file.
The difference in this file is the addition of a secure key field. Enter a long, complicated key in this field as indicated (no need to remember it). This is part of a new secure cookie encryption protocol.
I’ll add my thoughts on this new version when I post the RapidWeaver Vs. WordPress final wrap-up.
WordPress, a blog publishing system for Mac, PC, or Linux. I’m assuming that most people who read this probably have heard of WordPress and have perhaps noted that many blogs use it. In terms of blogging platforms, WP ranks second in use only to Google’s Blogger. That equates to millions of users. What accounts for this popularity? In short, it works. And it’s free. Not only can you get a blog up and running quickly with WordPress, you can manage your blog with one of the best browser-based administration panels out there.
The .com option is the WordPress answer to Blogger. It’s a commercial web hosting venture which employs a version of WP that allows for multiple blogs within one installation. Once you sign up, you get hosting space, automatic installation, and a fixed number of themes, plugins, and widgets to customize your site. In general, you won’t be able to modify much and you can’t put ads on it. However, you will be able to modify more than you would with Blogger. You’ll be able to choose from a palette of widgets, move them around on your sidebar, choose a header photo (this option is only available with some themes), and activate some plugins, but you won’t be able to style your page or modify the theme layout/design with the free package. Nor will you be able to choose from the wider universe of WP plugins and widgets available around the web.
The basic package is free, but there are paid upgrades if you want to customize the styles of your chosen theme, get more storage space, or change your domain name to something other than your_blog.wordpress.com. Most users choose the WP.com option because it’s easier to use, it’s just as free as the .org version, it offers better technical support, and it includes site hosting.
Last point: since you will be using tried and tested themes, plugins and widgets with this option, you will be ensured of a standards-compliant site.
The .org option offers an open source package of core files to run a WP blog. It is free to use and abuse however you’d like within the terms of the General Public License. If you choose this option, you will get a download of the files needed to make WordPress run, but you won’t get a place to host it, you’ll have to install it yourself and you won’t get dedicated support. You will, however, have access to a veritable sea of plugins, widgets, and themes — and you’ll be able to fully customize and tweak your site. In other words, you have a level of freedom unmatched by what you’d get from a WP.com hosted blog. If you want the full features of the .org version, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of setting it up, there are many hosts that offer automatic installation (or you can get a WP expert to install your blog for free if your web host meets the requirements).
Last point: you may also choose the multi-user version of WP if you want the ability to have limitless blogs with unlimited authors with only one installation. It’s freely available as well (and, in case you are wondering, it’s the same platform used by WP.com).
This rest of this review will focus on the WordPress.org package because the flexibility inherent in this version most closely approximates the full capabilities of RapidWeaver.
Who is it for
While RapidWeaver is a website creation tool that also supports blogging, WordPress is first and foremost a tool for the weblog. Sure, you can add static pages to a WP site, but it is primarily designed to handle dynamic content. And it’s designed to support things that bloggers need most (moderating comments, managing posts, adding categories and tags etc.) right out of the box. While you can add photo pages, videos, and a variety of other content to your WordPress blog (either in posts or on stand-alone pages), it is generally not as easy of a task as it would be on RapidWeaver. And that’s the main difference. If you don’t want to pay any money up front, flexibility and customization options are important to you, and you have some (or great) knowledge of CSS and HTML, it’s a superb choice. It doesn’t hurt to know a bit about PHP and MySQL, too. If you don’t know anything about this stuff, you will still get a lot out of it because the basic administration tools are quite simple and robust. You just won’t be able to customize your site design/layout as much as you might like without a bit of research and studying.
About Themes, Plugins, and Widgets
Just like RapidWeaver, WordPress is based on the template (WP calls them themes). As I’ve noted before, templates are great because they are generally designed by people who know something about, well, design. Most of the hard work is done for you. However, if you roam far and wide for WP themes, you may find that some of them are not standards-compliant. Most are, though. However, they may no longer be compliant once you’re done modifying them. Fortunately, your can test this out compliments of the free W3C validation tools.
In addition to themes, WP offers plug-and-play extendability with plugins and widgets. Plugins are bits of code created by clever individuals that extend your site’s functionality. There are a ton of them out there and they are generally extremely easy to deploy. Some of the most popular are Askimet (a very effective spam filtering plugin), the ‘All in One SEO pack’ (to easily optimize your site for search engines), Google Analytics (to get some site stats), WordPress.com stats (more stats — you need to sign up for WP.com to use them on your site but that doesn’t mean you need a WP.com-hosted site), and Lightbox (responsible for the screenshot behavior of this site). But that’s just the very tip of a large iceberg. The WordPress plugin page is a good place to start your search.
Widgets are a special type of plugin. They are basically chunks of code that you can mix and match with ease to customize you sidebar content. WordPress comes with a bunch of widgets out of the box (search tool, calendar, recent posts, etc.), but that’s just the start. In addition to the standard WP widgets, for instance, this site uses an enhanced blogroll widget (which rotates links every time the page is loaded), an enhanced recent comments widget (to display chunks of the most recent comments) and a Feedburner widget (to optimize this site’s RSS feed).
Adding plugins, themes, and extra widgets to your site is easy. I’ll touch on this in the next section.
The basics of how it worksNow let's take a step back and take a deeper look at how WordPress is setup and how you manage it. I'm not going to go into great detail here, but it's important to have a basic understanding of how it's put together. Once you install WP at the desired location on your web host, the first thing you notice is that there are a heck of a lot of files and folders. Fortunately, pretty much everything you need to access is located in one folder labeled wp-content.
Inside there, you’ll find a plugins folder, an uploads folder, and a themes folder. My assumption here is that you have some sort of FTP client with which to install and view these files. If you don’t, you’ll need one. I use Panic’s Transmit.
Installing new themes and plugins couldn’t be easier (remember: extra widgets are also installed as plugins): you drop your new theme files in the themes folder; and (you guessed it) you place plugins in the plugins folder. The uploads folder is a good place to store images and other files that you want to place on pages or in posts. This organization scheme permits you to change themes on the fly while ensuring that your plugins and extra files remain properly in place. In other words, all of the images, files, and plugins are separate from your theme. That way, you can change your theme and your site maintains the same functionality and content, just with a new look.
All of your posts, comments, tags, etc. are also separate from your theme files — they are stored in a MySQL database. WordPress works its magic with PHP, an open source language that dynamically calls up and displays data and content from your database. It’s a bit complicated if you’ve never worked with it, but WordPress offers extensive documentation to help you understand how a site is managed. In a nutshell, the theme files control the layout/design and styles of your site (and you can manually add static content in here, too). The theme also contains all the PHP functionality that makes your blog dynamic. If this all sounds complicated, it is. It takes some getting used to. Once you get it down, though, you’ll find that WP is perhaps more robust and flexible than RapidWeaver, mainly because all of WP is accessible for modification and the pool of people who make plugins and themes for the WP platform is huge.
The hardest part to get used to with WP is how the PHP pages are split up into sections (into separate header, footer, index, etc). When you load up a WP blog page, all these disparate parts are called into play via the PHP code and then reassembled on the fly to spit out a dynamically-generated HTML page in your browser. When I first started to understand how all of these PHP files work together (and I confess I don’t understand all of it) it struck me as quite ingenious. It reminds me of an analog watch: looked at from the front, it’s a stylish, simple interface that tells the time. But open up the back, and you reveal a blur of cogs and springs and little gears somehow working together to create the time. Anyhow, to really get it, be prepared to spend some time with it. My suggestion? Try installing two copies of WP on your web host (one to use for your blog, one to hide and play with) or install MAMP on your Mac and install a copy of WP there. MAMP, by the way, is a great tool to set up a personal webserver.
While RapidWeaver content and user options are manipulated on a page-by-page basis and via inspector panes, WordPress is managed from a browser via a web-based Admin panel. The obvious benefit of this approach is that you are not tied to your desktop to manage your site. The Admin panel is the heart and soul of WP. It’s designed to give you the tools you need to effectively manage a site, even if you’ve never done anything like this before. For the most part, it succeeds. There are many aspects of the admin panel that I really appreciate. For instance, it’s very easy to activate and deactivate plugins. It’s as simple as turning them off and on. The discussion (comment) moderation is also excellent. You can choose to moderate every comment, just moderate comments from new users, or choose many options in between to get your settings just right. The built in commenting options blow RapidWeaver’s external Haloscan.com comment solution out of the water. In fact, many say it’s the best of any platform.
In fact, the level of fidelity with which you can control almost every aspect of your blog is superior. Given this tool is specialized for blogging, perhaps that’s not too surprising. You will also appreciate how easy it is to delete or edit a comment, monitor registered users, and move Widgets around (which is a pleasant drag-and-drop experience). You can also email posts in remotely with a few simple set-up steps. Like RapidWeaver, though, some of the admin windows are so chock full of options that it can be confusing to grasp.
For me, the weak link in the Admin panel is the tab for writing a new post. WP allows you to enter your post via a WYSIWYG or code-based window, but I find it to be clunky and limiting. At times, I’ve made changes to my posts via this panel only to find that other parts of my code changed in unexpected ways. I shudder at the thought of typing up a lengthy post (like this one) through the Admin panel. Likewise, I don’t care for uploading images or files for my posts via the Admin panel. I think it’s tedious; and it’s awkward to go back and move or change file names using the panel. My preference for editing and modifying posts? More on that in the next section.
To summarize the basics: you add themes and plugins by dropping them into folders on your web host using an FTP client; you manage all of your content, presentation options and plugins via the Admin panel; you change the design of your site by modifying the PHP and CSS files of your theme. Easy right? It’s actually not as complicated as it may sound, and it’s much easier if you use some good third party Mac apps.
Using Third Party Apps
Much more so than RapidWeaver, WordPress benefits greatly from the addition of third-party editing tools. For instance, I previously noted that I find writing posts on the web-based Admin panel a little annoying. It’s not that the WP Admin panel is bad. It’s actually quite good, especially compared to other CMS admin panels I’ve used. Still, once I tried MarsEdit I discovered how much better the experience could be. If there is one companion tool that is a must-have for writing, editing, tagging, and categorizing posts, this is it. Some people choose to set up MarsEdit to accurately preview what the post will look like. As I’ve mentioned, I post to a local server on my Mac on a mirror copy of this website using MarsEdit. I polish it locally, then publish it once I’m done. I find this to be an ideal set up.
Another third party tool you will need is a good FTP client. This will be useful when you need to update WP to a newer version (make sure you back it up first!), add new plugins or upload images.
If you are inclined to create/modify your theme, you will also benefit from an external editor such as TextMate or BBEdit/TextWrangler and a CSS editor like CSSEdit. I don’t want to go to deeply into this topic, but I want to point out that WP really rocks when you get a good workflow going with some extra tools. Of course, this comes at a cost. If I add together all of the third party tools I use to manage the site, WP actually cost me about as much as RapidWeaver! I have to ask myself how much of the pleasure of working with WordPress is due to these additional Mac apps. Tools like CSSEdit, TextMate, MarsEdit, and Transmit truly make it a pleasant workflow. In fact, one of the main reasons I stuck with WP for this site is because I really like to use these tools. Sounds kind of silly, perhaps, but I’ll stick by it.
Here’s one final tip: you can set up your WordPress admin panel to appear as a desktop application (and put it in your Dock) using a little app called Fluid. It’s still in Beta, but I’ve found it works great. With Fluid, in fact, you can set up any web-based app to function as a stand-alone application. Very handy.
So here’s the thing about WordPress: it’s a question of how far you want to take it. Pretty much anything you want to do is possible, but the need to understand a bit of what’s going on with the code behind the scenes increases exponentially the more you deviate from the standard WP model. In this sense, WordPress is an excellent training tool to learn about PHP, MySQL, CSS, and XHMTL. As I’ve said, I strongly recommend installing a version locally on your Mac using MAMP just for this purpose. Over time, you’ll start to gain the ability to bend your site to your will with greater skill. Until that time, however, you’ll be surprised how far you can get with existing themes, plugins and widgets.
While it’s certainly harder to set up (if you do it yourself!) and has a steeper learning curve than RapidWeaver, where you can take your blog with this version of WP is limited only to your ability, imagination and experience level.
What do I love about WordPress?º It's free º It's easy to set up and maintain º Templates, plugins, and widgets abound º The admin panel is full-featured and about as intuitive as any that I've seen º It integrates exceptionally well with other editing tools, particularly MarsEdit
If you are looking for a free and flexible tool to fire up your own blog, WP is a solid choice. It’s not only free and flexible, but there are just tons of user-created add-ons that you can quickly drop right in to your site. If you get stuck, you’re in luck: the web is rife with tips and tutorials and fixes for WordPress. I haven’t come across a problem yet for which I couldn’t find a ready-made answer online within a few minutes of searching. The user forums are great and instructions are comprehensive. The last thing I’ll note is that WordPress could do a better job at explaining the various options available for new users (.org, .com, multi-user, etc.). It took me a while to sort it out. I hope this review helps some readers make an informed choice.
That wraps it up. Next, I’ll conclude this series with a final summary comparison of RapidWeaver and WordPress.
Here are two apps that recently caught my interest:
1. Iguania:I heard about Iguania while listening to Adam Christianson's MacCast, which is incidentally one of the best general-interest Mac podcasts out there. Iguania is a novel application to edit your photos without all of those popup boxes and sliders. Instead, you use the keyboard to select the function you want, then adjust that value with your mouse. I've tried it out and love it. I found it to be quite intuitive. I couldn't help but think of how this idea could be applied to the iPhone/iPod Touch 3-axis accelerometer and the new Apple multi-touch trackpad. Some real innovation happening here. It's still in Beta, so give it a try and send some feedback to the developer.
2. Flux:I came across Flux the other day while perusing my RSS feeds. It's a new website design tool just out of Beta (...and yet already at 1.1.1). I downloaded it, then went to the developer's site to read more. I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting to see the developer blog hosted on a Blogger site. Then I clicked on 'About' and landed on apple.com. Hmm. Still, I pressed on. Thirty minutes later, I concluded that the app has potential but still needs work. It just didn't feel complete to me. I pondered if I should post this or not, but decided I would. I think there are some interesting ideas here — the CSS view alone is worth a look.
Realmac’s RapidWeaver, a Mac-only web publishing tool.
Who is it for?RapidWeaver targets people with little to no web design experience seeking a simple way to produce a professional-looking, standards-compliant, and highly customizable mixed-content website. By 'mixed-content,' I mean that it handles both static and dynamic content. But it's not just for those new to web publishing. It's used by experienced developers, too, because it's a handy way to quickly build and deploy a site with minimal fuss, and it's fairly easy to create custom templates.
What is it?It's a stand-alone web design and Content Management System (CMS) that runs locally from your computer. As a content management tool, the built-in capabilities of this app are easy to use — and the user interface is much friendlier than most other web-based content management systems. It's also easier to set up since you don't have to worry about potentially complicated installation procedures. For instance, you don't have to set up a database on your server to get your blog up and running. The down side to this is that you can't manage your content remotely from a web browser (with a few caveats, which I'll go into later). For the most part, you need to be sitting at your Mac when you want to work on your site.
Like iWeb and WordPress (and other CMS solutions), RW is built around the assumption that it’s desirable to start out with well-built, professionally-designed, battle-tested templates. This is desirable because (a) most people don’t have the time, inclination or ability to produce a site design and (b) templates help ensure that sites meet web standards.
What I’ve just labeled a ‘template’ in the previous paragraph, RapidWeaver calls a ‘theme.’ What’s the difference? Themes are flexible templates. For most blogging tools or content management platforms, a user will find a theme he or she likes, apply it to their site and that’s pretty much it. The average user may change some basic colors and fonts for a given template, but they typically don’t have the ability or the inclination to readily modify much else. A RapidWeaver theme, on the other hand, empowers the user to really dig in and modify the template to make it his or her own.
For the novice, themes may be the killer feature of this program. With themes, some of the style variables that may be modified with ease include site colors, font families, page width (to include flexible and fixed width options within one theme), header image, and sidebar position. Most themes also offer several pre-defined styles from which you can choose as well, which is nice for those who have trouble picking complimentary colors or matching thematic elements.
The customization parameters of a theme are really only limited by how many options the theme developer builds into it. RapidWeaver comes with a slew of nice themes. If you don’t find what you like within these options, there are many top-notch third-party themes available (most will cost you around ten dollars or so, but many are free).
While most people will use a pre-designed theme, the RealMac developers provide a great tutorial and a software development kit for those who wish to create their own (for their own use, to give away, or to sell). Note for those of you who are interested in creating a theme: RapidWeaver works this magic by saving theme variables within an Apple property list (plist) file. It’s a standard XML file, which makes it a breeze to add to and modify theme properties.
Conceptually speaking, RapidWeaver places the design and management of your site in the background so you can concentrate on content, content, content. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t offer robust design/management tools. On the contrary, the app provides very effective management and customization tools, support for search engine optimization and advanced-user options (such as adding your own java, PHP, special assets, or custom CSS on a per-page or site-wide basis). Most of the configuration and customization options are deployed through a plethora of tabbed pop-up windows (commonly referred to as ‘inspectors’ in Mac parlance). You open them up when you need them; otherwise, you close them up and they stay out of your way.
All things considered, the developers have created a clean interface to manage just about all aspects of a site — which will especially appeal to those new to web development. The idea is that you won’t ever need to get at the code behind the scenes (if you don’t want to, that is). RW is so confident that most users will never have to mess with underlying code that the developers don’t even present an option to view the code through the application’s user interface ( actually, they used to have an option to view the code in earlier versions of the program, but no longer do. This was a good choice because the displayed code in the earlier versions was not directly editable. That was just annoying). Not to worry though — you can get to the code if you need to. UPDATE: I’ve learned from the RW forums that you can still toggle the code view by invoking the shortcut ⌘-Alt-U.
If you’re used to directly editing style sheets and web code, you may find the ‘RapidWeaver method’ a little awkward and limiting; the developers took many of the common things you would normally do ‘under the hood’ and gave them their own front-end user interface. If you’ve never hand-coded anything, no need to worry: RW’s built-in tools allow even the most novice user to jump right in and start modifying site colors, fonts, sidebar position, site metadata, etc. without ever needing to access the code. There are also some third-party tools you can buy to help you access images for easy modification (see RWmultitool). Alternatively, you can modify a theme by locating it’s associated package at /Your User Account/Library/Application Support/RapidWeaver/ and opening up the associated HTML and CSS files in the editor of your choice
The workflowThe RW workflow is simple: you choose a template, you add pages, you publish it to your web host. All you need to get started is a copy of RW, a remote web host and an FTP or .Mac account. What makes it special is how easy it is to do this, the good looks of the resulting site and the versatility of the 'theme' framework. RW also stands out in terms of how quickly you can deploy a site. How fast is it? It depends on how much customization you want to do. I was able to launch a site with a blog, multiple static pages and a photo album page in about 30 minutes. That's not too bad. I set up a fairly complex website for my wife that features a blog, dozens of static pages, customized graphics, and a highly modified template in about 6 hours of non-contiguous work. That's pretty good, too.
The core of this editing area (the main place where you add your content) is the RW page. You can add a variety of pages, ranging from a fully-featured blog to straight HTML code. Each page type you choose defines how you add content to that element. If you choose to create a blog page, for instance, the content area is specialized with fields unique to things you need to add for blog entries. Makes sense. If you choose a photo album page, you get a totally different content area, specialized for iPhoto integration and drag-and-drop simplicity. The designers have obviously put a lot of thought into creating simple interfaces for a wide variety of page types. Chances are that you will not need to refer to the manual very often, except when it comes to understanding all of the options in the RW Inspector panes. That is, each page type is associated with a specific inspector pane, and each inspector pane is chock full of customization options.
While this equates to a platform that allows users to quickly and easily deploy a site, there is a downside. Since RW makes it so easy to publish a site, many users won’t bother to (or won’t know that they should) fill in site metadata and other details. I have a suggestion for the RealMac developers: it it would be a good idea to provide some tooltips or otherwise-integrated instructions to better explain the myriad customization options available for each page type, the page inspector, and the site inspector.
For example, it’s very quick and easy to create a page. However, it may not be readily apparent to users with no web design experience that you also need to name the folder and file for that page. It would be helpful if the developers built in some sort of warning message when users hit the ‘Publish’ button as a heads up that some of the parameters have not yet been defined.
In the example above, for instance, a helpful message might say ‘Wait! Before you publish your site, you should name your folders and files for the pages you’ve created. This is an important step that will make your site easier to index by search engines. It’s also necessary for blog entries so your permalinks are meaningful.' Or something like that…
There are many other examples of instances where tips and other helpful messages would be helpful to ensure the site is properly set up. Imagine you’ve never published a website before. You may wonder: What’s a meta tag? Why should I worry about this meta stuff? What’s ‘page expiration?’ What’s the difference between optimized, tidied, and default code? And so on. I think the program would really benefit from some additional cues to help users along. This, of course, assumes that most people won’t read the manual or dig into the forums. I think that’s a safe assumption, especially for an app that draws so many people with little knowledge of these things precisely because it’s supposed to be so simple to use.
Remote management (for Bloggers only)I mentioned that there were a couple of caveats to the statement that "you can't manage your site remotely." There are two exceptions that I know of. The first is with the built-in RW blog: while you can't manage your blog posts remotely, you can manage your comments remotely. That's because RealMac partners with HaloScan, a third-party commenting system, to deliver blog comments.
If you want comments on your blog posts, you need to sign up for this service. And if you sign up for this service, you can manage your comments via HaloScan’s web-based interface. You don’t need to be at home to do that.
The other exception? You can buy a third-party blog plugin called RapidBlog from Loghound.com. RapidBlog is basically a front-end for Google’s Blogger that seamlessly integrates into RapidWeaver. Using it requires you to sign up for a Blogger account. The only weird thing about it is that your posts will appear both on your website and on your newly-created Blogger site (you can choose to hide your Blogger posts, or you can just leave them there — who knows, it may generate more readership for your primary site). If you use RapidBlog, you can remotely edit your posts or email a post from a remote location.
The Small PrintRapidWeaver has been around since 2004 (the same year that WordPress hit the streets, incidentally). It's now at version 3.6.5. Note that this app is not free or open-source (like WordPress). RW costs $49 per license. That's pretty cheap, but if you want to really take it to another level, you're going to want some third-party add-ons. And when you decide to buy some, you'll soon discover that it's not as cheap as it first appears.
In my opinion, you need to buy some third-party plugins to really get the most out of this application. And one thing I really ike about RW is how well it integrates with third-party plugins, add-ons and themes. I mentioned earlier that the RealMac team offers a SDK for themes. Well, they also offer a SDK for anyone who wishes to try their hand at creating a plugin as well. What fun. True, there are many, many great third-party themes out there. But there are also some killer plugins.
Two complaints I’ve heard from RW users is that (a) some plugins should be part of the application from the start and (b) the cost of the plugins quickly exceeds the costs of a RW license. My view? There are some plugins that are so essential, I wouldn’t consider RW complete without them. They are just too handy to pass up. I could complain that RealMac should include some of these plugins as core parts of the application, but I honestly don’t mind paying for some third-party extended options (note that most of these plugins are different page types, each with their own Inspector pane full of options and choices). The app is still quite cost-effective, and it’s definitely generating some very great third-party software development.
ConclusionI think RapidWeaver is a tool with a great future. It offers slick themes, powerful customization options, ease of use, a dedicated user base (check out the RW User Forum when you get stuck), and top-notch third party add-ons. It's cheap. It's easy for novices to use. It's fun for more experienced people to use.
What’s not to like? Well, as I mentioned, a case can be made that RW is feature-weak and not powerful enough, evidenced by all of the third-party plugins. Do you really need these plugins? No, but they will make life easier for you and they are pretty cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if the RealMac team bought out a few of the add-ons in the future. Yourhead Blocks, for instance, adds WYSIWYG freeform layout functionality to RapidWeaver. I know that my wife, for one, could not live without it for her site. She’s so used to using Blocks, in fact, that she forgot that it’s not actually a part of RW.
Speaking of my wife, I quizzed her on her RW experience as she’s the primary user of the app in our household. She reports that the program is, on the whole, a great tool. However, she has faced some problems with the app crashing while she’s trying to publish changes to her site. She’s taken to closing down all other running programs on the Mac when she’s uploading content, which she says helps. She also notes that publishing times can be quite slow, and the site itself is pretty slow on the initial load. These issues have gotten worse as her site has grown. It raises the question of scalability. How big can a RW file get before it becomes unreliable? I trust the developers will keep refining the loading/publishing issues as development moves forth.
I’ve personally noticed that RW can be limiting when it comes to adding or creating complex mixed content on a page. In addition, some things are tricky to do if you want to push the boundaries of a theme or mix up how your content is presented. I can best explain what I’m talking about here by way of example. Say you want to add a third column to only one page of a site. This isn’t so easy. One solution that many people use is to add a ‘faux’ column on a Blocks page. That works, but it would be nice to have some themes with one, two, or no column options per page. I’m not aware of any limitations that would prevent this.
I’ll close by noting that it’s a tool that certainly rewards the patient user — I mentioned that RW has a good user forum, and this is where you should head first to answer any questions you have, or to see if anyone has already posted a fix for a vexing problem you may be having. It’s a vibrant, friendly community and if you have an issue, chances are it’s already being discussed.
For the next installment in this series, I’ll present an overview of Wordpress. Then, in the final post, I’ll compare the two based on some criteria of my invention. Cheers.
Postscript: A forgot to mention Snippets! This is one of the coolest parts of RapidWeaver. This is a simple but powerful feature: open up your Snippets inspector pane to reveal stored bits of code. Drag and drop these ‘snippets’ directly onto your page. RapidWeaver includes many handy snippetized code bits, you can easily create your own, or you can download third party snippets from the RW site. If you find yourself typing bits of code over and over, this can be a huge time saver. Added to that, many people are integrating snippets functionality to create unique add-ons. For example, I just used Snippets yesterday to place social bookmarks on my wife’s blog. I works great. By the way, if you use the social bookmark snippet referenced here, be sure to check out this thread on the RW forums. Happy weaving.
Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ve discovered that many people reach this site upon searching for ‘RapidWeaver vs WordPress.’ I offer my apologies if you are one of these people: I posted some short comments on this topic last November, promising to follow up with a complete comparison…but I’m only getting to it now. Why the long delay? I’ve needed this gestation period to think about what I wanted to say.
Comparisons of these two publishing platforms are scarce (my proof: it’s the only search term that I’m aware of for which this blog appears near the top of the charts on Google).
Perhaps this is because they are quite different tools. Perhaps it’s because review sites, in general, don’t offer much in terms of application comparisons.
At first glance, it appears that WP and RW serve different audiences. WordPress is specialized for blogging; RapidWeaver does blogging too, but it’s more of a complete website design tool. WordPress offers web-based content management (server-side); RapidWeaver is managed locally, from the user’s computer (client-side). WP is a free, open-source tool. RW is an application that costs money.
Should they be compared? I think so. That so many people have searched for comparisons of the two to reach this site is a testament to this.
I’ve used both WordPress and RapidWeaver to develop many sites. Despite their apparent differences, I’ve found that both platforms can do just about anything I want them to do when I need to develop a personal (or even small business) site. Both offer great blogging support. Both can handle static/mixed content. Both can be used to create complex, great looking sites for people with little to no web development experience. Yet, these tools remain radically different in many ways. What differentiates the two? Which is best?
I want to start by defining the problem. What are people looking for when they seek a comparison of RW and WP?
Here’s my best guess:
You’re in the market for a good, inexpensive tool to create a website. You want your site to be flexible, easy to use and easy to maintain. You want it to look like it was designed by a professional, but you don’t have the time, inclination, or experience to create something from scratch. Still, you’d like to be able to customize your site with relative ease. Moreover, you want the ability to create, tweak and modify at will, should you decide you want to ‘get under the hood’ at some point in the future.
You want to start a blog, but you also want a system that easily allows you to add static content. You want lots of template and plugin options to expand the functionality and appeal of your site. You want a platform that is powerful, but you don’t want to be overloaded with options. You abhor the notion of navigating a complex user interface. You abhor the notion of reading a long user manual even more. Most of all, you want your site to look beautiful.
You’ve searched the web and are overwhelmed by the many choices out there from which to choose. You want to make the right choice the first time. You look at Blogger and other basic web-based personal blogging solutions, but you think these are a bit too simplistic. You want something more robust. So you look at open source Content Management System solutions like Drupal or Joomla, but these solutions are just too complex for your needs. You consider DreamWeaver, but it’s too expensive, bloated and complicated. You try iWeb, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. It’s nice, but you feel that it’s just a bit too limited, too tied to .Mac and perhaps tries so hard to be drag-and-drop simple that you worry that it may limit your future options as your site (and your experience) grows.
Enter RapidWeaver or WordPress. Both platforms are very popular. Both have dedicated, passionate users and solid documentation. Both are capable of producing great looking sites and offer the flexibility and ease-of-use you seek. Both offer tons of great-looking templates and plugins.
For my next post, I’ll start the comparison with an overview of each publishing platform. I’ll follow this up with a post on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Finally, I’ll offer my opinions and conclusions about which tool I think is best for which type of user. If you have any specific issues, needs or considerations you’d like to see addressed in this comparison, let me know.
A friend emailed me last night to ask if I had tried ‘Things’ from Cultured Code. I have — this is one of the GTD-based task management applications I will review in the coming weeks. So far, I’ve written about iGTD and OmniFocus, both excellent applications. The View from the Dock ‘Getting Things Done’ task manager series is taking more time than I anticipated, mainly because it takes a while to understand and fully evaluate each application.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. In this same email, I was also asked if I had tried Cultured Code’s other product, Xyle scope. I thought I’d post a few thoughts on this.
I tried out the full-featured trial of Xyle scope this past summer. I think it’s is a really great application, especially if you’re learning HTML and CSS. What is it? I think of it as an all-in-one tool to dissect a web page. It offers a quick, clean and tidy way to view underlying code, which is very handy if you’re trying to figure out ‘how’d they do that?’ for a particular website that you like. It’s also great if you’re trying to match selectors with elements on a really complex page, or if you’re trying to locate a bug.
I really like how Xyle scope displays HTML in a hierarchical view (a tree structure). It’s much easier to grasp the structure of a page with this handy view. And if you click on any element on the page, you can readily see the code for just that element in the HTML pane. It’s a very well-ordered, visual way to present code. The CSS views built into this tool are also very well designed, easy to navigate and powerful.
What strikes me most about Xyle scope is how attractively it’s designed. I really like how it combines the ‘what you see’ on a given web page with the ‘what’s behind what you see’ in the code. It’s a real pleasure to use.
I almost bought this application but, in the end, I decided to stick with two free tools that perform most of the same feats as Xyle, even though I think they are much less elegant. I use Firefox when I’m working on websites, and have grown to rely on Chris Pederick’s Web Developer and Joe Hewitt’s Firebug.
Given that these two tools perform similar functions for free, I decided to stick with them. I also found that I preferred Firefox integration to opening up a separate stand-alone application when I want or need to quickly dissect a web page. It’s just easier, and I’m lazy.
What would convince me to reconsider? First, I should make it clear that I want Xyle scope in my toolbox for web development. I love it, I really do. Yet, I’m held back. It’s not really the price ($19.95). I think, rather, it’s that Xyle scope stops short of what could be a great all-in-one application. In other words, I want to use it to edit XHTML and CSS, too.
I would like to be able to use Xyle as an analysis tool with tight browser integration: I want all of Xyle’s power available within Firefox. Then, when I’m ready to edit, I’d like to flip a switch and start editing in a companion stand-alone application that integrates seamlessly with the analysis tools. Given the great design and sense of style of Xyle scope, I would love to see what Cultured Code could do if they took it to the next level. I would consider buying that — and I’d be willing to pay a higher price for it.
I had two problems with this website over the weekend.
First, I was unable to view or send files to this site for over 48 hours. I was able to see my files via the online 'control panel' of my web host. However, I could not connect using HTTP (viewing from a web browser) or FTP (transferring files using an FTP application). I only had this problem for this specific website. My internet connection was working just fine, and I could connect to my other sites without a problem.
Second, when I viewed the files for this site via the online host 'control panel' of my web host (during the period of no-access, I could still see the files this way and only this way), I discovered that my style sheet...the one I had painstakingly and lovingly created over weeks...was zero kilobytes in size. All of my CSS information was gone. My most recent backup was a week old, and I had changed a lot during that week. Mea culpa. I probably will never know why this file was erased. It could have been an FTP transmission error, it could have been the fault of the (previous) company hosting this site. The point is it does not matter – I should have had it backed up.
I'm happy to say that my problems are solved. My connection is up and running on a brand new web host. I decided to switch to a new host as a result of this bad experience. I also have my style sheet back in order, which I had to manually re-create. Here are the lessons learned.
If you're having a weird connectivity problem, check your router first (if you have one). It turns out my problem was not with my service provider, but was with my router. For some reason it was blocking my access to this specific server space on my web host only. My host (1&1) never figured this out, and I wasted a weekend talking to tech support. All they could tell me was that it must be my problem because they could not find any errors on their end (more on how they told me this later).
My solution was not as simple as resetting the router. I tried this early on. I unplugged it, then plugged it back in. I rebooted my mac. I tried to force a change to my external IP address in case that address was being blocked by 1&1. Nothing worked. Then, over two days later, I thought, 'Hey, what if I plugged my Ethernet cable directly into my primary mac?' If you are a network-saavy person, perhaps that would have been the first thing you might have tried. For me (definitely not network-saavy), it didn't occur to me to take the router entirely out of the equation. Why? I had online access for all my macs in the house through this router, and I could access all sites ... except this ONE SITE. I thought resetting it would fix any issues.
At any rate, my connection worked just fine after I connected my ethernet directly to my mac, and now I had isolated the problem to my router. The lesson here is this: if you try resetting your router and rebooting your mac and you still have a connectivity problem, it's worth a shot to take your router out of the loop to see if that helps (and thus isolate your problem). This is easy to do and it's a good first step before you call tech support. In my case, I discovered that there was a firmware update available for my router (I'm using the Linksys WRT54G). Once I updated my firmware, the problem was solved. I'm not sure if the fix was the firmware or because the firmware wiped out some corrupt settings or data. In either case, I learned that there is no way to tell if you router is up to date unless you go online and manually check. There's no auto 'check for update' feature in this wireless router model, at least.
Since we're talking about routers, I'll add that a hardware router is your best firewall defense - it effectively hides your internal addresses and devices from the outside world. In other words, all the outside world sees on my home network is my router - nothing else. It's worth getting one, in my opinion; and it's necessary if you want wi-fi in your home and/or you are sharing one connection with multiple macs). The built-in Mac OS firewall is good (don't forget to TURN IT ON - it's not on by default when you install Leopard!), but you're first and best line of defense is a hardware router. My Linksys was cheap ($50) and it's worked well for me, save for this weekend. When I'm in the market for a new wireless router, I think I'll go with an Apple product. Why? Ease of setup, ease of configuration. Period. If you have a Linksys, you know what I mean. The browser-based interface isn't very intuitive. (Note to Linksys wireless router owners, check your web-based admin panel for the link that says 'firmware update' if you find you need such an update. It's pretty straight-forward).
Choose a web host carefully.
Cheapest is not always best. I know this to be true, but I admit I choose 1&1 because of the price. I have to say it worked well for me until I needed support. I called 1&1 three times this weekend. Each time, a live person answered the phone within a minute. That was impressive, but my experience went downhill from there. When I called 1&1 on Friday, I was told to wait four hours before trying to connect to viewfromthedock.com and it would probably work. When I tried to get a bit of an explanation of why this might be so, I was told that I must have been trying to connect to my files too many times in too short of a period of a time. Because of this, my IP address was temporarily blocked. I thought this was strange, since I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. Alas, twelve hours later I had the same problem. I called 1&1 again. This time I was asked to try a 'traceroute.' The tech support guy then proceeded to explain how to do this on a PC. When I said I was on a mac, he told me to forget it and that my issue would be sent to 'Level 2' tech support. I was also told I would be contacted. Lastly, he told me to wait for 24 hours until I tried to connect to my site again. Quite frustrating. I was annoyed that I still could not transfer files to my site. And I was annoyed that my use of a mac seemed to stop tech support dead in their tracks - this despite me telling him that I knew how to do traceroute and could take a screenshot for him of the result. By Sunday night, I had still not heard from anyone, so I called again. This tech support helper seemed to have no prior knowledge of me ever contacting 1&1. I don't blame him, of course. I do fault whatever tracking system they are using. All he could tell me was that the problem was likely located at my computer, not with 1&1. This was actually quite helpful, and led me to the router solution. I then switched to 1&1 to Bluehost.
Why? I had actually been pondering a move to this hosting company for a while. This gave me the push I needed. Bluehost is known for good customer service, and they are known to be mac-friendly. The biggest reason for me, though, is that they support Ruby on Rails development. 1&1 does not officially support this. Since I'm trying to learn Ruby on Rails, it made sense to jump to a host with good built-in support. Price-wise, it's not that much more expensive if you sign up for the two-year package. I'm not crazy about the two-year lock-in, but it did lower the price to the equivalent of $6.95 a month. That equates to $50 more than 1&1 for a two year time block. Not too bad. The control panel is a little confusing. My friend Brandon, a Bluehost user, pointed this out. The vote's still out for me. I can say that I love the ease with which one can backup files and databases with Bluehost. As you might imagine, I checked out this feature first! I'll post on my Bluehost experience more at a later date after I've used it for awhile. I think the web is lacking good third-party reviews of hosting services. If you've ever searched for an independent review of a web host, you know what I mean. Search engines generally return dubious 'top 10' lists — I say 'dubious' because I don't trust these sources.
Transferring a WordPress installation from one host to another is surprisingly simple.
The easy part is copying all your WordPress files from the old server to the new one. There's nothing to it: you just copy them over. The more difficult part is transferring your MySQL database. Conceptually, it goes like this: you copy all of your files over. Then you export your MySQL database that holds all your WordPress posts, comments, etc. Then you import that information into a new MySQL database on your new host. Lastly, you change your WordPress configuration file so it properly points to this new database (if you use Wordpress, this is the same wp_config.php file that you modified when installing WP. I've included four screenshots here to illustrate what this looks like. Note that your host may have a set-up that looks different than mine, but the options will be the same if your host uses MySQL and phpMyAdmin. For a quick checklist, check out these Wordpress Codex instructions.
Develop your site design locally on your mac, then transfer the finished theme over to your live site. Fortunately, this is easy on a mac. Why did I not do this for my site? I actually did, but once I uploaded my 'finished' theme I decided to totally change it. I was lazy, in short. I decided to just kept editing my live WordPress installation directly on the server using the Panic Transmit. The easy mac solution for running a virtual server on your mac is called MAMP. It's dead simple to set up. It includes a dashboard widget that allows you to easily start and stop your local server. What a cool tool. And it's free.
That's it for this post. Oh, and don't forget to back up your data .
Now that I've finally settled on a layout for this new site (after toying with it for a few weeks), I am going to polish it up so I can offer the basic design as a free Wordpress template. Trust me, it needs some serious polishing. But I think it's almost there. I've got to know Wordpress pretty well during the exercise of designing 'View from the Dock'. I'll share some of what I learned in Wordpress in future posts. Next, I'm going to migrate this design to RapidWeaver. The RW site will be a little different, because I want to offer it up with user-controlled colors and such.
I've been using Wordpress and RapidWeaver for about the same amount of time. In future posts, I'm going to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each. In the end, I hope to provide a good overview of the capabilities of each platform. I can say that, while I really love the countless ways I can modify and tweak a Wordpress theme (this site began life as the Kubrick Default theme that we all start out with when installing WP), I miss the simplicity and style that RapidWeaver offers. However, RapidWeaver isn't quite as extensible or as easy to bend to your will. Which is the better choice? The answer, of course, depends on your needs. Certainly these two platforms are not the same animal, but they do offer roughly the same capabilities — I know that some might argue that WP is a blogging platform while RW is a web design tool that includes the ability to add blogs ... While this is true, I've found that both packages can, more or less, do the same thing. More to come on this. I've spent pretty much this entire weekend on this site design, so I'm going to call it a night and get away from the mac for a while.