Monday, March 18, 2013

Cloud Based Website Builder Comparison


Website builders have been primarily cloud based for some time now.  These tools are great for getting a basic site up and running quickly, but aren't designed for creating robust dynamic sites with lots of interactive accouterments . Google SitesMicrosoft SharepointZoho Sites, and HyperOffice Site Builder are all given away free with other products.  They each have their individual shortcomings. But none of them are ideal for supporting a feature rich website.   Small businesses that are successful will likely grow out of these tools quickly , and move to more professional Website solutions.


Microsoft Sharepoint

started of as a site builder called FrontPage. It has evolved into a web based content management system that specializes in building Wiki like intranets, and has Project Management capabilities. It is also the external website builder for Office365. This comparison  focuses on just the Website Builder.

Benefits
Because it also handles Project Management, Content Management and Wiki creation, the Site builder naturally integrates well with these tools. It's easy enough to get up a few web pages up quickly. It also has fine grained access control. If you create usernames for your members, it's good at building a Member Login section of your site.

Criticisms
The user interface is dated. It can be pretty confusing trying to find out where to go to do simple things like changing font sizes. The available functionality seems haphazardly organized, and it doesn't easily lead to elegant looking websites. Sharepoint doesn't have many site templates. It also lacks the basic ability to preview a page you're working on without saving it to the live site first. Sharepoint has so much going on that it can be overwhelming when you're trying to handle simple tasks. But if your  in a corporation using Sharepoint, and you learn your way around it, you'll likely be able to help people out.  As they say in the IT industry when something is unnecessarily difficult to use, "It's job security".

Google Sites

was created from a product called JotSpot that Google purchased in 2008 .  It comes free with any Google Apps product, including Gmail.

Benefits
Google's user interface is plain simple.  You can get a site up in no time.  Sites also offers a wide selection of both templates and themes.  You can always go to html edit mode for fine tuned customization.  Plus, Google offers widgets to integrate with it's other services like Blogger, Checkout and Maps.  Sites is the only of four mentioned here that allows rolling back to previous versions of built pages, and store a version history.

Criticisms
While there's an html edit mode, you can't edit the html you've inherited from either a theme or a template. Also javascript support is limited.  You can't reference javascript libraries from other sites.   Sites hasn't changed much from its inception.  However Google now allows creating hosted websites from Google Drive, so apparently more advanced site developing is happening over there.  Much like Microsoft's Sharepoint, the lines between Site creation and Content Management are becoming blurred.


HyperOffice Site Publisher

Benefits
Has a great selection of tools to choose from in design mode, and has the best pure  HTML editor of the four.  

Criticisms
Some of the tools are quirky.  I grabbed a 'horizontal toolbar' and a 'vertical toolbar' from 'Menus' and put them on a page, and they both positioned themselves horizontally. Then I couldn't add items to them.  A search for online documentation or a tutorial for page creation came up empty.  There's not a huge user community publishing tips or solutions. Site Publisher is an unfinished product.  This means that features could be added quickly so it's worth keeping an eye on the tool.

Zoho Sites

Benefits
The Zoho Sites user interface is nice, and loads quickly. Like the others, you can get a site up in no time.   It has plenty of  useful templates.  And the templates give your site pages tremendous consistency.  Your site will have a great look and feel.  You can also upload custom pages form another source.

Criticisms
There's no HTML edit mode.  And you can't add javascript to you site.  So the tool is limited.  Previous versions of pages aren't saved, and there's no autosave capability of sites you're working on and no javascript support.  Zoho is actively developing their products, and emailed to say that version support will be added in a future release. If they integrate more with their Content Management system, look for more features as well.

Conclusions
 Google Sites and Zoho Sites  were a bit easier to use and fared better than Microsoft Sharepoint and HyperOffice Site Builder.  But none of the tools are very impressive.  Expect them to be deprecated as additional features are added to Content Management sites, such as html and javascript editing, and DNS support. Google Drive has already added a feature called "Site Publishing",  and Amazon's S3 also can be configured to host a website. Watch for the other Content Management and storage solutions to evolve in the direction of site hosting as "Site Builders"  like the ones covered here become obsolete.




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