Mankind has been automating tasks with computers to achieve greater efficiencies for about eighty years now. Today we rely on computers for any number of personal and business tasks – creating a document, building a spreadsheet, managing personal finances.
Most people are familiar with the personal computer and the types of work we accomplish with them and the entertainment they provide. There is, however, another class of computers that we use just as much that operate behind the scenes to run our utilities, make our travel reservations for auto, hotel, and air travel, and order goods at point of sale (POS) devices, to name a few.
These large, “enterprise class” computers have been marketed using varying terminology – mainframes (aka, Big Iron), mid-ranges, servers, distributed systems, and many others. As a general group, though, we often just refer to them as “server-based systems” or “host systems”.
Ultimately, these systems are just big servers that scale to run large quantities of transactions at any one time on the server side, while providing reasonable response time to users who are accessing these server-based applications from their client computers. Think of when you buy something online and thousands of others around the world are doing the same thing at the same time.
To illustrate the concepts discussed, we created the “Computer Host Systems” infographic. Take a short journey with Shonda, an IT administrator in a large company, who recently added responsibility for the organization’s mission-critical applications to her list of duties, and therefore has to quickly come up to speed on the different types of host systems and applications in use.
After many mergers and acquisitions, the organization has a wide range of systems supporting the business function and operation. By the end of Shonda’s journey in our “Computer Host Systems” infographic, you’ll both be in-the-know about the most common host systems (also referred to as legacy systems) running the global economy today.
Welcome back to part two of the great graphical website builder shootout. We ended our last blog with a promise to continue with our project of building three similar websites using three excellent website development tools and then publish final results, including a winner in the Great Graphical Website Builder Shootout.
An important approach to take with any significant project is to break it up into digestible chunks. Hence, I had spent some time creating sample content for the site as well as searching Creative Commons for license-free graphics that would fit the site’s theme.
For review, our website needs to have five sections – Home, Services, Blog, Support, and About – and also needs to be able to provide functionality that supports the various services provided by the site. In some cases, we expect our development tool to provide controls (like a calendar control) to enable this functionality. In other cases, some custom development may be required to achieve optimal functionality.
The most advanced functionality required is online scheduling, where site visitors can view available times and schedule a time to receive assistance with their specific technology problem. I’m highly skeptical that any of the three companies being reviewed will provide this functionality out of the box.
With that, let’s take an in-depth look at the 3 development tool contestants and how they fared in this shootout…
Squarespace provides an excellent drag and drop tool for developers to quickly assemble a website. I spent several hours putting together a slick-looking Tecteen.com site (while dealing with interruptions) and searching for existing images that were labeled “licensed for reuse” in Google’s image search feature. Altogether I spent about 4-5 hours from zero to published with Squarespace.
You start by choosing one of the provided templates to begin building your site. Squarespace makes it easy to switch to a completely different template; however, the number of templates to choose from for our particular scenario was smaller than the other providers I reviewed. Hence, I ended up being a bit limited by the template we chose. If I had been creating a website for a restaurant or online store, the templates provided would have been a better match with this business.
Squarespace had some nice surprises that I could see coming in handy for many site builders. The first was a simple tool for creating a business logo. I tried it out and was able to put together a decent-looking logo in a matter of minutes – no graphic design skills required! You are even allowed to take the logo with you if you were to decide to move your website and no longer use the Squarespace service.
I also liked the announcement bar feature that enables you to place breaking news or promotional content at the top of your site. The image further below provides an example of what this looked like for the Tecteen site.
The Squarespace site builder was free to use during a trial period that ended too quickly. Since I was working with all three tools at the same time, it took me a while to get through using the various tools to complete each site and document nuances in this blog. When I returned to my Squarespace site after several days, the service informed me that my trial period had ended and that I needed to upgrade to a paid plan to continue.
You can spend a fair amount of time customizing certain aspects of the site’s look and feel in the “Style” section of the tool, as more than 30 options are currently configurable.
Weebly also starts with choosing a template for a site, blog, or store. I was able to choose from a wide array of professional-looking themes.
Weebly’s interface for building websites is straightforward and simple. Drag web controls onto your edit area and then modify control properties. Click on a mobile or desktop icon to see how the site pages display on the pertinent form factor. Nice.
For each page you create, you can choose one of four page layouts – how the text, images, and other content are laid out on the screen. This limits your options when creating pages, but also minimizes complexity.
Weebly doesn’t provide a “build your own logo” option, so we built several of our own custom logos to try out in various situations. I spent a fair amount of time creating a logo for the site while we I was creating the Weebly version of the website. You can hire a marketing firm or graphic designer to design a logo for your company or choose an option that’s easier on the budget by creating your own.
I was impressed to find that Weebly offers a control called Bookings for adding a scheduling tool to the website. However, as I attempted to implement it, errors occurred and it appears the service costs $30 per month – spendy for a small business.
Initially I was going to review only SquareSpace and Weebly for this blog, but then a Wix television commercial caught my attention (yay for TV advertising generating a genuine lead) and knew I had to include it in this shootout.
Wix has a wide range of website templates to choose from. The advantage of starting with a template is that you can get from ground zero to having a published website pretty quickly. The disadvantage is that you’re often locked into a site architecture that’s less flexible. A lot of small companies begin with a simple template, and then when budget becomes available move to a more advanced web platform – and also to a team of web developers to manage it.
We’re starting out small, though, so an existing template is the right way to go. The Wix library included a “Computer Repair” template, which is a level closer than templates from the other providers to building a site that meets my specific requirements.
Wix packages their plans in 5-tiers, ranging in price from $4 to $40 per month. You can earn discounts by paying the yearly cost upfront. Wix payment and pricing options are available here: http://www.wix.com/upgrade/website.
In general for all providers, the longer you commit, the cheaper it is on a monthly basis. The catch is that you have to pay a lump sum up front to realize the savings.
Here are some samples of the home pages created from the three providers. They look totally different from each other, largely due to the templates available from each provider and then the initial template with which I started. So one key to a successful website is starting with a template that more closely matches how you envision customers using your site.
All three providers supply far more functionality than I can describe in a short blog. My goal has been to define a project of reasonable scope and then see which of the three tools was best for this particular job. You might find that one of these three or a perhaps a completely different one meets your specific requirements better.
In addition, all three companies are quickly moving forward with new innovations to make the lives of website creators easier. So your experience may very well be different and/or better than the one I had. I will provide updates/corrections to this content if the service providers or readers report inaccuracies.
And with that, drum roll please…
Wix came out on top for creating the type of website required for this project (technology services provider). Squarespace and Weebly enabled me to complete the task with ease as well, but Wix included a few more capabilities to garner the top spot. Here’s a summary of some of the key features and scores to better quantify key features leveraged to build the site: