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We’ve done our fair share of dabbling with HTML code over the years and even put together a website or two, but that was well before the debut of mobile and HTML5. Today, web design is a strange new world compared to the days of frames and limited browser choices, which is why we’re happy to see companies like Adobe continue to serve up tools for making great-looking websites without a degree in rocket science.
Currently at version 4.0, Adobe Muse isn’t exactly a new kid on the block when it comes to the company’s arsenal of HTML design tools. While Adobe continues to push Dreamweaver as the core web design software of its ever-expanding universe, Muse is targeted at designers who want to create websites without having to tinker under the hood writing code.
While other applications have made such bold claims, few live up to that promise. Adobe Muse may still be too overwhelming for casual users, but it does let creative pros quickly mobilize their content with interactive, HTML5-powered sites.
Muse runs in Adobe Integrated Runtime, better known as AIR. While cross-platform AIR is great in theory, apps written with it tend to be a bit on the sluggish side in everyday use compared to those specially written for OS X or Windows. Adobe Muse is no exception, even running on our 2.7GHz Intel Core i7 MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
This quibble aside, Muse makes HTML5 website design nearly as simple as laying out print media in Adobe InDesign, our personal desktop publishing software of choice. If you’re comfortable using InDesign, you’ll feel right at home with Muse.
Muse has five modes: Plan, Design, Preview, Publish, and Manage. Most users will spend the bulk of their time in the first two, which determine the layout, look, and overall functionality of a website. Working in Muse isn’t much different than Photoshop -- the app features the same tabs, palettes, tools, and guides Creative Suite users have come to expect.
Muse also eliminates a lot of the frustration and repetition of coding a website by hand. As in InDesign, you can build master pages with the backgrounds and other elements you want to remain consistent across the site, and adding or moving pages is as simple as drag and drop, with no worries about any links breaking.
Thanks to a wide selection of customizable widgets and web fonts, creating interactive page elements -- such as navigation menus with rollover states -- is a breeze. You can also pin elements to specific areas of a page, so your key graphics reflow to fit whatever browser or screen size your visitors might have.
One of Muse's more impressive widgets is for creating slideshows, making short work of a previously thankless task. Just drag the widget onto a page, link it to a folder of images, and then customize the slideshow's look, complete with thumbnails and navigation. Muse even takes the heavy lifting out of creating contact forms, complete with CAPTCHA security.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of Adobe Muse is its latest feat: Creating mobile layouts for phone and tablet, using a desktop layout as a starting point. Depending on the complexity of your website, this can be done in a matter of minutes, especially if you use existing Muse designs as a shortcut and simply move elements between them.
With advance planning and preparation of mobile-optimized graphics, Adobe Muse allows designers to get their work seen by a wider audience, while compromising little in the process. When everything is finished, it's easy to publish your site with a free Adobe Business Catalyst account (hosting starts at $5.99 per month) or export it to a third-party host, complete with dynamic updates and site management features.
The bottom line. While old-school web coders may cry foul over just how easy Adobe Muse makes it to create rich, interactive HTML5 sites, the rest of us will be happy to just look like pros while bringing our visions to the Internet.
Intel Core Duo processor, OS X 10.6, 1GB RAM, Adobe AIR 3.3 or higher, broadband internet connection (for online services)
Familiar Adobe tools, UI layout get designers up to speed quickly. Customizable widgets make short work of time-consuming tasks like slideshows and navigation. Layouts easily adjust to displays of almost any size.
Application written with Adobe AIR, which tends to be sluggish at times. Occasional bugs when trying to hide Muse window behind other apps. Subscription-based pricing model limiting for frequent users.