Just 8 days after its official release, I have the unique opportunity to “rant” about an Adobe software, one that is very new, has no preceding version, an innovation of Adobe labs, a tiny little program, called Muse. I was lucky enough to find it way ahead of others, and to test the final release instead of a shaky beta.
So, what is Muse? Well, according to Adobe itself, “Adobe Muse software enables designers to create websites without writing code. Planning, designing, and publishing original HTML pages is as easy as creating layouts for print. With master pages, built-in tools for interactivity, and access to over 400 web fonts served by the Adobe Typekit service, it’s a snap to produce distinctive, professional websites.” You might say, well, this sounds a lot like Dreamweaver, why do we need something that does exactly the same? Actually, those were my own thoughts as well. As it turns out, Dreamweaver does not and should not be compared to Muse. I have used and tested Dreamweaver in the past, and the experience is very different. While Adobe and some designers state that you can make a full website with Dreamweaver and never even look at the code, I pretty much have my doubts about that, not to mention the quality of the resulting website. Now, in comparison to that Muse really is a software that takes code out of the design process. For the most part at least…
Adobe Muse unlike most of the other Adobe programs is really small. Just a few megabytes, and installs in a few seconds. Running on Adobe Air, means it’s cross-platform, so worrying about whether it works on Windows or Mac is out of the question. First impression: looks like every other Adobe program. That was promising since it also meant a very steep learning curve. Kudos to the guys from Adobe for keeping the general idea behind all of their software the same. Consistency is good! It took me less than 30 minutes to consider myself proficient enough to actually build a website. 18 hours later I had a 7 page website finished, up and running, working in all the major browsers, bug-free (as far as I know, and was able to test).
What happened during those 18 hours? Except the few (around 6 or 7) Muse crashes, everything worked more or less like a charm. Steps were pretty straight-forward: design the structure of the pages, then design a master page (could call it template), then populate and edit the pages themselves. If you have a really good artistic eye, you really can go nuts and build an impressive functional layout in a very short time. The options for each element you create are not unlimited, but enough to end up in one way or another with the website you wanted. Now about the options, they work, but (and this is probably because of Adobe Air) the entire program seems to be a tiny bit unresponsive, a bit sluggish if you may. However, after getting used to it, things will work as intended. All you need is just a quarter of a second more patience than usual. Now, about those crashes. Unfortunately those can be frustrating. Still, it didn’t really cripple my workflow. It has a very smart recovery engine built in, so everything I was doing up to the last millisecond, was recovered after every crash. No work was lost whatsoever. Pretty impressive for such a small program.
Is there space for improvement? Yes. Absolutely. One very important element is entirely missing (or at least I never found it), and that’s the “form” element. Every website needs a contact page. It’s just how things work in real life. Unfortunately Muse does not come with a form option, element or widget. This took me to Dreamweaver after I exported the site as HTML (really nice export btw), and just out of curiosity loaded the entire site into Dreamweaver. Unfortunate surprise: it just doesn’t work. For some reason the website in Dreamweaver (CS5.5) will look horrible and very hard to edit. However I am not the person that just gives up and tried to build a form in Dreamweaver anyway. The result was… well, disappointing. So, one more thing to improve is maybe Muse – Dreamweaver compatibility.
All in all, it’s a good piece of software, but it begs improvement. Does the job well, though you have to be careful and check it twice every time you decide to save, things can go nuts if you edit an element without caring about the ripple effects it can produce throughout the site. The workflow is definitely a clean one, and being organised while developing a website is something that Muse very much relies on. The learning curve is extremely steep, something that makes Muse stand out from the crowd of other more or less similar programs. It’s a design software, and it really does what it promises, with the occasional non-lethal crashes. To be quite honest, I am happy I tried it out, and anyone that is at least a little bit interested in web-development, should give it a try too.