Choosing a Windows HTML Editor

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Mon Dec 30, 1:42 PM ET

Masha Zager ,

In the last few years, HTML editing software has become increasingly complex and sophisticated. The good news for designers is that excellent programs are now available at a variety of price points. However, picking the right HTML editor requires analyzing one's skills, goals and working environment.

Macromedia ... sells two popular editors, Dreamweaver MX and Homesite. Dreamweaver was developed in 1997 as "the first professional-quality design tool," according to product manager David Deming. It was marketed to visual designers who might not be programmers but still needed to produce professional, maintainable code. However, it did not include direct code manipulation tools.

To remedy this problem, Macromedia packaged Homesite, a program then marketed by Allaire, as a utility with Dreamweaver. "Homesite is a lean, mean, code-editing machine," Deming told NewsFactor. "People would do their visual design in Dreamweaver, then swap over to work on the code in Homesite."

Eventually, Macromedia acquired Allaire and began incorporating Homesite into Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver MX "made this a key feature of the release," according to Deming, who added, "Now, when you flip to the code editor within Dreamweaver, it's basically Homesite."

Dreamweaver Stays Down to Earth

Macromedia continues to market Homesite separately to developers who are extremely conversant with HTML and server-side technologies, are not doing complex layouts, and can live without WYSIWYG or management features like file synchronization. The program is fast, lightweight and inexpensive.

Both programs are used mainly by professional Web developers, some of whom are maintaining very large and complex sites, but Deming noted that Dreamweaver counts more "mere mortals" among its users. One reason, he said, is that Dreamweaver is easy to learn. Users can get started with a very limited toolset and learn new features gradually as they need them.

Productivity Tools

Microsoft's ... FrontPage is marketed to somewhat less sophisticated users than Dreamweaver and Homesite. As part of the Office suite, it takes advantage of the familiar Office interface, "allowing a savvy Office user to easily build a basic Web site," according to product manager Melisa Samuelson.

FrontPage's installed base of 5 million includes many users who are not professional Web developers. The program requires little or no knowledge of HTML coding and includes features to help ordinary people design Web pages for use as office productivity tools.

For example, one feature helps users set up team Web sites to store, find and share information within a workgroup. Another feature, the Database Interface Wizard, lets users display the contents of a database on a Web page and find, add, edit or delete records through the page.

FrontPage also offers features that appeal to what Microsoft's Samuelson calls "intermediate Web designers." For example, there are tools to manage banner ads, incorporate search facilities, produce usage reports and add e-commerce functionality to a site.

Integration with Design Tools

While Microsoft promotes FrontPage as an extension to its Office suite, Adobe ...  is marketing its HTML editor, GoLive, to the users of its design tools Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. According to group product manager Mark Asher, purchasers of GoLive tend to be graphic designers at the small and medium businesses that make extensive use of Adobe's other products.

Like Dreamweaver, GoLive is geared to the graphic designer who, in Asher's words, "wants to publish to the Web without becoming a code jockey." More advanced users can operate the program in split-screen mode, dragging and dropping the visual elements on the page while tweaking the HTML code in the text window. A feature widely used in Europe and Japan is the ability to design screens for wireless devices. Designers can preview the screen of the handheld device in a special window.

GoLive is closely integrated with Adobe's other design tools. Not only is the "look and feel" of the programs the same, but GoLive automatically reformats and optimizes files from Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat for best appearance on the Web, maintaining live links so that the Web pages are updated when an original file is changed.

The software also accommodates team Web development, allowing project staff -- even remote users -- to work together on a complex Web site without getting in each other's way.

Top Value

In addition to commercial software, free HTML editors are also available, some of them quite sophisticated. One such program, 1st Page 2000, developed by Evrsoft, won many awards, has been downloaded by 1.5 million people, and has a large user base with an active online developer forum.

1st Page 2000 is a WYSIWYG editor that produces "clean code," a fairly unusual feat. It includes a comprehensive editing toolkit, a library of more than 400 scripts and a built-in preview browser. However, while Evrsoft continues to maintain its Web site and make the program available for download, it has not updated its software in over a year. According to a September 2002 posting on the developers' forum, the long-delayed Version 3 will be ready this month or next.

Evrsoft was not available to comment for this story.

Wave of the Future

As good as today's products are, more work remains to be done, according to the software companies. "I still think doing design is too hard," Macromedia's Deming told NewsFactor. Macromedia plans to upgrade Dreamweaver to enable more rapid application building. With Homesite, he said, "We're still trying to figure out what's the right direction. People like it so much because it's lightweight, so we don't want to bog it down with lots of features."

Microsoft, following its .NET strategy, will be integrating XML support into the next version of FrontPage. For example, it will offer a set of WYSIWYG tools for formatting XML documents.

Adobe will also use XML as the basis for integrating its products more closely. Its goal is to help companies "repurpose their assets" -- a cumbersome term for a streamlined idea. Today, Asher explained, print and Web publications require two separate workflows. Documents that are published online and in print -- such as brochures and articles -- must essentially be produced twice. In the near future, Asher said, a single production workflow will yield both print and Web documents.

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