First Look

Mobirise: A free, simple, drag and drop mobile responsive Web site builder

Want a responsive, mobile, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript driven site without breaking a sweat? For free? Voila! (You're welcome.)

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Credit: Flickr / Benjamin Esham

I just discovered a free tool called Mobirise for building mobile and responsive Web sites that is, I think, quite excellent and definitely worth checking out.

Despite an endless procession of tools over the last few years, creating a web site with any sophistication has remained difficult unless you’re willing to go for a very generic look. Even using a template, getting your content looking like you want it to look and behaving how you want it to behave can be very tough, particularly if you’re going to effectively support mobile access (the number of sites that still look terrible on mobile browsers is amazing) and now, thanks to Google, being mobile-compatible is de rigueur if you want to score with SEO. 

Mobirise is an OS X, Windows, and Android application that’s one of the few easy-to-use applications providing a “mobile first”, Retina ready, drag and drop development model. Built on Bootstrap 3, one of the most popular responsive HTML, CSS, and JavaScript frameworks available, the application’s user interface lets you select various types of “blocks”, place them on pages, and then customize them.

Mobirise’s blocks, which can have colored, image, or YouTube video backgrounds with color overlays and selectable opacity (static backgrounds can also be set to be parallax) include full page “headers”, menus, media, multi-column content, information, social links, pricing tables, and footers. You can add one or more blocks to a page and create multiple pages.

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You can also customize which typefaces and colors are used, add and edit buttons, and, where you have text content, select how many columns of text are visible. Controls at the top of the Mobirise screen let you preview the design in desktop, tablet, and smartphone resolutions.

Once you’re satisfied with your creation you can preview it in your local browser then, when ready, you can save your site to your local drive, FTP it to your own host, Amazon S3, Google Drive, or Github. Check out the video:

While Mobirise isn’t as richly featured as, for example, EverWeb, it has two advantages: First, it’s more accessible for people who are new to building Web content (that said, sites built with Mobirise can be easily tweaked and new features added if you know what you’re doing), and, second, Mobirise is free (EverWeb is $79.95 without hosting).

So, should Web designers be afraid that this app is a nail in their commercial coffin? Not at all. Sure, like EverWeb, it makes building a Web site easier, but it doesn’t address the entire process so expertise in the other thousand and one things that make a Web site work is still required so Web designers will still be needed. The other, and arguably more important, reason why it won’t displace professional designers is that a great Web design is something that only serious, highly skilled designers do.

Think of it this way; everyone can light a fire, chop some vegetables, and make a soup but if you’re after a perfect consommé, you need some serious culinary skills. Mobirise will allow anyone with reasonable design skills to create a good or even a very good site but not a great one.

Oddly, Mobirise has a GitHub site which makes me wonder if they plan to open source the product but, as of writing, the only content they have on GitHub is a “read me” text file.

There’s no detail currently available about who is behind Mobirise and, as of writing, I haven’t heard back from the company. Given the number of blocks that are needed to fill out the functionality that’s needed to build a complete site (forms, sliders(ugh), galleries, and so on) I wonder if the plan is to keep the application free and  charge for more advanced blocks.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the developers of Mobirise can add features to bring the application up to a level of functionality equal or greater than the likes of EverWeb.

Whatever Mobirise’s plans might be, as it now stands, this is a cool tool and given that it’s free, why not check it out? I’m giving Mobirise a Gearhead rating of 4.5 out of 5.

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