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Google released a beta version of their Web Designer application this week. I decided to download it to get a hands on just to see what it was all about and what potential applications it might have.

When you first fire up WD (as I shall call it henceforth), you are presented with a template selection screen. It seems to be aimed at ad development, because these templates are presented at the top, but you also have the option to start an html, css, or javascript page from scratch.  Once you set up your file,  you are literally presented with a blank canvas.

In the design view, you have a very “Photoshop-esque” set of tools that allow you place elements on the canvas. You can draw boxes, add text, add tag elements, and even do some 3D transitions to these elements (more on that later). There is also a number of “components” available that you can drag onto the canvas, like galleries, iframes, YouTube video player, etc. This is a very basic set of tools that you could use to quickly get something mocked up and running. One caveat to all of this though – it’s HTML5 only, so don’t expect whatever you produce out of this to be backwards compatible.

Besides the design view, you also have a code view, which if you’re a developer like me, you’ll be familiar with from any number of text editors that you’ve used.  There’s color coding, but forget about code hinting or any other extra features you might be used to. There are no formatting options, no special selectors or menu items – it’s basically a glorified text editor, and I have a feeling this product is not geared towards developers. It provides a quick way for you to look at the code if you need to tweak something, but it provides little other functionality.

One feature I did like was the “preview” button – it allows you to open your creation in any number of browsers you may have installed on your system. It’s nice to have a quick way of launching the page instead of manually having to go back and forth opening and refreshing.

Once you’re done with your creation, you can hit the “publish” button that brings up an option menu that allows you to do things like flatten your files, minify your code and it also has options for adding CSS prefixes for various browsers. It automatically parses out your files into html, css, javascript and whatever other supported files you need. You also have the option to directly publish it to a zip file. Exciting.

Another feature that’s included is an animation timeline, a la Flash. You can create simple animations by using the keyframes and layers at the bottom of the application to do whatever ghastly things you intend to do. It’s ugly, clunky, and I think it’s the weakest feature and most likely feature to be abused.

Overall, this seems to be an application geared towards the hobbyist – the person who wants to put together a dirty website quickly, or someone who wants to get their feet wet in HTML5 – it provides you with some basic tools. I feel there will be people who do amazing things with this application, but the potential for design abuse is everywhere.

Remember,  just because you can design a website doesn’t make you a web designer with this tool.

I’m upset at the lack of development features in this, but like I keep saying, it’s not geared towards developers. Maybe they will introduce some new features in a later version, but right now it just isn’t there.