Xara Xtreme 5 Review: A Developer’s Perspective

Contributing Editor

Xara XtremeXara Xtreme 5 is an Illustrator-like graphics package. I’d normally leave a full review to Jennifer, but Xara have made some bold claims about features for web developers in this release. Note that I am not affiliated with Xara, they do not advertise on SitePoint, and Xara has not paid for this review.

What is Xara Xtreme?

Xara is feature-packed and it’s a little difficult to know who it’s aimed at. It’s primarily a vector graphics package, but also offers:

  • bitmap editing (filters, red-eye removal, and content-aware scaling)
  • 3D graphics (extrude, rotate, etc.)
  • desktop publishing
  • Flash and GIF animations
  • web page production

There are two versions of the product: a standard version ($89 / £69 / €79) and a Pro edition which adds PANTONE color support, panoramas, PDF export and few other advanced features ($249 / £199 / €299). A 30-day trial download is available.

The most noticeable feature of Xara Xtreme is its speed. There are no long loading times and the application remains responsive throughout.

Web Page Production

Xara Xtreme is not a Dreamweaver replacement and web pages are treated almost identically to standard DTP pages. You start by choosing a page size (640, 760, and 955 pixel width defaults are offered), then add graphics and text objects. Fluid and elastic designs are not possible — the page height can be adjusted by dragging if you need more or less room.

Xara Xtreme screenshotclick to enlarge

The main web-specific features are:

  1. The page’s properties, such as the filename, title, and description can be defined.
  2. Objects and text can have roll-over effects or links applied.
  3. Graphic formats can be switched between JPG and PNG (or you can let Xara choose an appropriate type).
  4. HTML code can be added to content boxes, e.g. for widgets such as YouTube videos or Google Maps.
  5. Automatic FTP uploads are supported.

HTML export requires a single click to create a set of XHTML 1.0 Transitional web pages — view an example.

Unlike many HTML-exporting applications, Xara does a reasonable job. Text remains as HTML, graphics are used appropriately, the code works in all modern browsers, and there are no dubious validation errors. Unfortunately, conversion is achieved by making every graphic and line of text (not a paragraph) into an absolutely-positioned element. Roll-overs also require JavaScript rather than basic CSS.

The HTML works, but it won’t win any accessibility awards or enhance your SEO campaign. However, it is certainly an option for hobbyists or professional designers creating web page prototypes.

Flash Production

Xara provides simplistic Flash banner production — do not expect an ActionScript IDE or game-creation tools. Flash is created on a fixed size “animation” template. You can then add separate frames with named text and other objects.

Xara tweens objects of the same name using animation transforms such as moving, scaling, rotating, skewing, and re-coloring. It’s simple and effective. I just hope it doesn’t encourage the re-introduction of Flash splash pages!

View an example animation…

Summary

I like Xara Xtreme. It takes a little while to understand if you’re an Adobe or Microsoft aficionado, but the Xara gallery provides an amazing set of photo-realistic vector drawings showing what can be achieved.

The pros:

  • lightning-quick speed
  • handles a wide variety of tasks
  • an excellent range of tools
  • good help and online how-to videos
  • XHTML 1.0 Transitional page export
  • MAGIX Xtreme Photo Designer is provided as a bonus
  • bargain price, especially when compared against the competition

The cons:

  • slightly clunky and dated interface
  • initially disorientating for Adobe and Microsoft users
  • some tools, such contour, are unlikely to be useful
  • web page creation facilities are limited
  • exported XHTML code would not be recommended for a final professional web site

Xara Xtreme is a jack of all trades, but it could not be considered a ‘master’ of vector graphics, bitmap editing, 3D, DTP, Flash or web page production. However, the fact that it’s capable of so many tasks at such a low price makes it an attractive proposition for small companies and freelance developers.

Xara Xtreme can be downloaded and purchased from Xara.com.

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  • Anonymous

    Ach, a bit short. I’m a Xara usre since version 1, and was consider updating. A more detailed, independent review could have been nice.

  • wildscribe

    I have been using Xara since it was known as Corel Xara (1995-96?) and I found it much easier to use than Illustrator and Freehand. It is only available for Windows, which is one of the few reasons why I haven’t gone completely MacIntosh. (Note that there is an open source version of Xara that can run on Linux, but it’s not there yet.)

    I have purchased every Xara upgrade and perhaps the biggest difference between Xara 4 and Xara 5 is they have incorporated the Xara Web Designer product. As Craig pointed out in his review, Dreamweaver has nothing to worry about. The website design part of the program pumps out bloated code, but I have found it handy for quickly developing concepts to show clients.

    Where Xara really shines is creating vector graphics. It is very intuitive and the basics can be learned in an afternoon.

    Xara has been one of my favorite tools to build websites and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should. (Note that I do not work for Xara and was not paid to write this review. I just love the product and want the company to thrive. There is also a great user community at XaraXone.com )

  • Mike Nolan

    Using it since Coral days? Xara 1? Bah! I was using Artworks on RISC OS years before they created Xara for Windows :)

    As a coder rather than a designer, I often struggle with Photoshop but Xara is painless.