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Review of Xara Menu Maker 1.0

© 2003 by Kurt von Behrmann. All Rights Reserved.

Xara has something of a reputation for offering high quality applications that do not place huge demands on your budget or your system. All across the boards Xara has offered great features at a low price. This is particularly true for the modestly priced Xara Menu Maker 1.0.

On the surface this may not seem like a must have application. That belief is instantly evaporated once you put Menu Maker to work. As everyone who has ever designed a Web page knows the process is far from intuitive. On the positive side, applications like Dreamweaver and Frontpage can make it less arduous. However, there are always complications and difficulties that can and do come up from time to time. This is even more the case when you wish to create a Web site that is beyond the basics. If you want navigation menus and bars that work well it can be very demanding, as well as time consuming. Fortunately, Menu Maker takes a lot of the grief out of creating great navigation menus.

If you don’t know one thing about Web design, Menu Maker handles all of the details with amazing grace. If you are new to Web design and consider this a dispensable application, you may want to think again. Taking a wizard approach to design, Menu Maker breaks down the creation of menus into distinct steps. Start, design, text, color, texture, size and menus are the six sequential steps that take you from start to finish with a logic that makes this process as easy as one two three.

If you think a wizard approach like this will lead to menus by the book, reconsider that thought. Much to my own amazement there is so much configurability that you will not feel locked into one style. Using templates as a guide you work through the various steps to create menus, the customization is nothing short of amazing. For beginners just getting started, I cannot imagine a better tool to add to your arsenal. If you think that menus do not matter, just take a look at any poorly designed Web site. One of the easiest and biggest mistakes that can be made are menus that are confusing, busy or just plain unintelligible. For pros, I can see where an application like this one can save hours of work, or just make the process go a bit faster. If time is a concern, I can see situations where an application like this could be a real asset when deadlines are looming.

For those that have Macromedia’s Dreamweaver MX and Microsoft’s Front Page, Xara Menu Maker 1.0 works seamlessly with both applications. Accessible as menu items in both programs, you can also create in Menu Maker and then return to your work in both programs without losing a step. You can consider Menu Maker as an independent application, or use it as a plug-in of sorts. The thought given to this integration is just another reason why this tool could be considered indispensable for designers and those wishing to liven up their personal Web sites.

What differentiates Menu Maker from so many other cost conscious applications is the look and feel of the program. There is nothing amateurish or juvenile about the layout and look of Menu Maker. In short, you will not be lost or bewildered by the interface. A real study in minimalism with ease of use in mind, Menu Maker is one of the more intuitive applications around.

However, if you should need help, there are plenty of help files, tutorials and such available. Even updating the application is as easy as possible via a link in the start mode of the application. Everything seems to be considered with ease of use and control in mind.

Another asset of Xara Menu Maker is that it can really reduce the size of files for easier faster viewing. One feature that many Web creators often forget is that not everyone has broadband. It can be frustrating for your viewers to sit and wait for graphics to load when size is not taken into consideration. Xara covers that concern by offering optimized file saving to reduce bloat and keep things moving quickly.

As is so typical of Xara applications, this one is not a hard drive hog. Even with the increasing size of hard drives, bloated applications can eat up valuable space rather quickly. This is augmented by the fact that fewer and fewer new applications can be used with older versions of Windows. As XP and 2000 dominate the Windows landscape, the trend is towards newer versions that support these operating systems only. For those who have not upgraded, Xara Menu Maker still runs under older versions of Windows as far back as Windows 95. So if you are happy with your older system, you can still download Xara Menu Maker.

Sample Created with
Xara Menu Maker

Summation

For those that want to design Web sites that are feature rich, well designed and do not have time to configure complex code, Xara Menu Maker is a real asset. Even for those with experience under their proverbial belts, Xara can be a real time saver as well. If you look past the wizard approach and the template aspect of Menu Maker, there is so much customization available that you can literally create any design you might wish. In terms of ease of use, it does not get any easier than this. This is one web tool that you cannot go wrong with when designing pages is involved. Considering the price points, stability, ease of use and customization, Xara Menu Maker is a real stand out tool that takes the pain and bother out of Web page creation.

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Last Updated Saturday, March 24, 2007.

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