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HTML editors are for everyone

Choose an editor that fits your staff’s expertise.

Let’s face it; HTML is a pretty easy markup language. To me, it has always resembled the old WordStar word processor’s formatting commands. The ease of learning HTML is one of the reasons why Web pages on the Internet have proliferated so quickly. The other reason is that you don’t need anything more than your system’s most basic text editor to write HTML. In fact, I know many very good Web designers and HTML coders who prefer to use a text editor to the slew of WYSIWYG HTML editors now available.

I occasionally still use an old editor called Programmers File Editor (PFE) to make quick changes or to quickly assemble basic pages. Unfortunately, PFE development has come to an end. But at 620KB, PFE packs a whallop of basic editing features. Since PFE takes up less than half a floppy, I can easily take it with me and also store an additional 40 or so 20KB HTML files. Most personal Web sites are less than 10 pages; so you can get a small static site and the editor on one disk. That’s pretty powerful.

Text editors are not for everyone however; WYSIWYG editors can make site design and management less tedious. Webmasters tending large sites appreciate the ability of their editors of choice to propagate changes made in one page to all other affected pages on their sites. Color-coding makes long pages much easier on the eye, and wizards that automate many common tasks have been proven to prolong a webmaster’s sanity.

Seriously, there are many ways to skin a Web page. HTML editors are typically divided into two categories–text and visual editors. Most contain helpful features such as site and project management, HTML validation, HTML formatting, etc. Choosing the editor that is right for you depends on your level of expertise and whether you prefer a text-based approach or a visual approach.

Whatever editor you use, there are a few conventions I recommend when working in a production environment. The first is to set your editor to use Unix line feeds. Unix line feeds are a good middle ground between Mac, Unix and PC-based design teams. Opening a document saved with Mac linefeeds on a PC usually results in one or two very long lines where once was an HTML page.

The second is to not capitalize directories. It’s annoying. Unix Web servers are notoriously case-sensitive. Let’s just keep it all lowercase, shall we?

The third is to use absolute rather than relative paths in your file references. Which means that all links begin with a “/” and not “..”. While some editors will automatically rewrite file references every time a site is synchronized, most of them can be set to use absolute and not relative paths.

Your HTML editor is your palette, and you should be comfortable using it. For readers in the market for a new editing program, I have listed some of the more popular programs and their respective homepages at the end of this column. I have also indicated the intended user’s level of expertise. While this list is not extensive, it should be enough to get you started.

Product: Homesite
Product Info: http://www.allaire.com/products/homesite/index.cfm
Company: Allaire
Platform: PC
User level: All
Strengths: Strong text editing.

Product: FrontPage
Product Info: http://www.microsoft.com/frontpage/
Company: Microsoft
Platform: PC
User level: Beginner to Intermediate
Strengths: Easy integration with Microsoft products and Web servers with FrontPage extensions.

Product: Dreamweaver
Product Info: http://www.macromedia.com/software/dreamweaver/
Company: Macromedia
Platform: PC/Mac
User level: Beginner to Intermediate
Strengths: Strong Visual Editing.

Product: Dreamweaver UltraDev
Product Info: http://www.macromedia.com/software/ultradev/
Company: Macromedia
Platform: PC/Mac
User level: Expert
Strengths: More of an HTML application development tool, UltraDev is geared towards experienced users developing large, complex sites.

Product: GoLive
Product Info: http://www.adobe.com/products/golive/main.html
Company: Adobe
Platform: PC/Mac
User level: All
Strengths: Strong Visual Editing

Product: HoTMetaL Pro
Product Info: http://www.hotmetalpro.com
Company: Sausage Software
Platform: PC
User level: All
Strengths: Strong Visual Editing

Garth Gillespie is architect and chief technologist of ComputerUser.com. Check out his past Web Dev Weekly columns.