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Macaw 1.5.15 review: Promising web design program falls short of its goals

Nathan Alderman | June 22, 2015
When I worked as a web designer, I'd daydream about a program that would eliminate the hassles of coding by hand. I longed to draw and style elements directly onto a page, as easily as in Photoshop. Macaw 1.5.15 offers that tantalizing promise--but its attractive plumage conceals a bird that needs more meat on its bones.

... that occasionally bites

For all the things it did well, Macaw also showed a lot of rough edges in ways big and small. The bumps begin as soon as you open the program: Macaw dumps you right into a new blank file every time, without even the choice to open an existing project first.

As of this writing, Macaw's online documentation is lamentably incomplete. (Its GitHub fork includes a to-do list of aspects its creators have yet to cover.) I wouldn't have even known about its aforementioned scripting features, buried inconspicuously in the menus, if I hadn't carefully watched all the tutorial videos on Macaw's site.

Some of the existing instructions are lucid and useful, but others prove confusingly incomplete. For example, the section on adding links encourages you to add them only to <a> tags, but only shows you how to add them to every other kind of tag--a practice it just specifically suggested you avoid. Questions I sent to Macaw's support email received answers within 24 hours, but most of the polite and friendly folks who wrote me back could only shrug and apologize courteously for the absence of features I asked about.

Macaw doesn't yet incorporate many useful HTML and CSS features, including lists, tables, or columns. You can embed your own code in a block on the page, but you won't be able to see the results until you preview that page, and there's no other way to hand-adjust code directly within the program. I also couldn't find a way to edit global styles for individual tags--to specify, for instance, that every <a> tag in your document should be boldfaced and dark green.

Macaw offers an extensive list of Google-made web fonts, but its selections felt boringly similar. Rival Blocs, targeted more at beginners, offers a smaller but more varied roster; Macaw also lacks Blocs' multiple icon libraries. And while it's easy to find plenty of free, open-source, web-ready fonts online, Macaw won't let you add them to its library. You can use your own system fonts in your designs, but you'll have to package them up and code them into your final site on your own. The only other way to expand your font selection in Macaw requires a paid subscription to Adobe's Typekit service.

Finally, Macaw promises to turn your designs into spotless code, but I wasn't a fan of the odd, seemingly superfluous classes it appended to just about every tag in the pages I built.

Bottom line

I intended to test Macaw by building a small site with it. But after tearing down and rebuilding the same page four times, I threw in the towel. That's partly my fault; Macaw's aimed at experienced designers, and it shows little patience for handholding.


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