No more Adobe Dreamweaver, so how about Xara Web Designer?

Adobe has finished with Creative Suite and now plans to only offer the subscription-based Cloud Suite. If you don't need all the complexity of Dreamweaver, how about Xara Web Designer?

If you're doing serious Web content engineering you might well choose an all-singing, all-dancing product such as Adobe's Dreamweaver. The latest version of Dreamweaver in Adobe's Creative Suite 6 (released just over a year ago) was really impressive with new features such as an improved user interface, support for jQuery UI widgets, better cascading style sheet Version 3 support and support for PhoneGap. All in all, a very cool and comprehensive Web development platform.

Alas, DW CS6, with a list price of $399 (although I've seen it online for $140), was overkill for many people and now it's not even available. In preparation for Creative Cloud, the next iteration of Creative Suite, Adobe pulled all of the CS6 products, including Dreamweaver, from its online store earlier this month, much to the intense anger of many of its users.

[IN THE NEWS: Adobe warns customers of unpatched critical flaw in ColdFusion 

BACKGROUND: Adobe launches cloud services for content creators ]

The problem users have with Creative Cloud is all the applications will be totally cloud-based and only available on a subscription basis. Needless to say this will not be cheaper than the CS6 version, nor will it address the needs of smaller organizations. To date almost 13,700 people have signed a petition asking Adobe to reconsider.

I predict that if Adobe doesn't change course it will lose a lot of market enthusiasm, which could end the dominance of applications such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop. In fact, a new OS X-only product, Pixelmator, looks like it could well take the shine off Photoshop, and, at $14.99 vs. Photoshop CS6's list price of $699, it may well steal away many Photoshop adherents.

Be that as it may, if you're looking for a more affordable and easier to use Web development system than Dreamweaver, I may have just the thing for you: Xara Web Designer 9.

Xara Web Designer 9

Xara Web Designer 9 Premium user interface

XWD, available for Windows only, has a very clever orientation: It makes assembling Web content feel more like using a desktop publishing system than anything else. To build a page, you simply drag and drop page components (images, graphics, text and widgets) onto the page, position them, add behaviors such as mouse-over effects and how components "repel" text (this allows text to flow around, for example, an image or another block of text), and attach hyperlinks to components.

You can also place objects on layers, set objects to appear on every page of the site you create, and XWD comes with templates that you can simply drag from the template gallery onto the work area. You can even drag single pages from a different template into a website you're building and, if you want, XWD will modify the new content to match the styles you've set.

XWD comes in two versions: Web Designer 9 ($49.99) and Web Designer 9 Premium ($99.99). The latter adds, among other things, more templates, e-commerce widgets, Flash and GIF animations, embedded fonts, page turn animations, layer transitions and support for Google Fonts.

The templates are engineered to be compatible with both Android and iOS clients and touchscreens. There's also built-in HTML5 support that ensures that audio and video on your website will play on iOS. Widgets include Google Maps, Facebook Like and Twitter buttons, Picasa photo albums, Flickr slideshows, YouTube movies, forms, news feeds, photo and content slideshows, interactive charts and graphs, and e-commerce support for PayPal, eBay To Go and Amazon.

You can add videos, audio and PDFs, and publish to websites via FTP. With the Pro version you can also show your site using the built-in Web meeting service, and export it as a Flash presentation or in various graphics formats.

I tested Xara Web Designer 9 Premium and I love it. There are a few idiosyncrasies that may take a little research to understand (for example, to create text you choose the text tool, but if you just put the text cursor on the page and start typing you'll create a text line, while if you start by dragging the text cursor across an area you'll create a text box ... the latter can be resized but not the former) but it works well, it's stable, and it produces really good-looking, sophisticated content very easily. Xara Web Designer 9 Premium gets a Gearhead rating of 5 out of 5.

Gibbs is impressed in Ventura, Calif. Publish your feedback at gearhead@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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