The HTML Editor Shuffle

May 11, 2005

If the tools we use are indicative of our personalities, then call me Eve, 'cause I've got multiples. When I work on a design, my screen bristles with open tabs, and I jump around from one HTML editor to another so much I sometimes forget which one I'm in.

It's not my fault. The three programs I primarily use to code each have tasks they perform exceptionally well...and others that make me grind my teeth. No one program does it all, so I am forced to resort to the HTML editor shuffle.

Part of the problem is that I'm primarily a hand coder. That's the way I started out ten years ago, and it's what I'm most comfortable with. I wouldn't say I was a purist, but I'm definitely a tad snooty about WYSIWYGs. The code they generate makes me wince. For the same reason I tell my kids to wear clean underwear, I almost always end up going back in and mopping up the extraneous code, just on the off chance that someone will peek at it and think I'm really that slovenly.

When I first started this business, though, my first two clients each requested I work in a WYSIWYG to make updating their sites easier. Hey, I was just starting out. I wasn't going to argue. So, I reluctantly bought first Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX 2004, then Adobe's GoLive 6. I learned to use them and actually buckled under and built a site with each. If I were primarily a graphic designer, I might choose GoLive as my favorite. Its layout view and tools are the more powerful. But it's absolutely, completely impossible to code in it.

Of the two, Dreamweaver is by far the best suited to my needs. I think of it as the coder's WYSIWYG. If you ignore the "Design" button, you can almost pretend it's not a WYSIWYG. Occasionally I've gone ahead and clicked "Design" out of curiosity, only to see a Van Gogh version of my layout. After I start breathing again--having checked the page in a few browsers--I usually spend a few moments muttering things like "You stupid piece of crap. Who cares what you think? Goddamn, give me a heart attack..." I'm not exactly sure what the Design view uses to display pages, but it has little resemblance to IE, Netscape or Firefox.

Still, Dreamweaver is downright brilliant when it comes to templates and managing large sites. Once I've built my design templates, I move to Dreamweaver to populate and manage the pages. I hesitate to even guess at the amount of time it's saved me--weeks, I imagine.

But for actually coding and building templates (what I sometimes call the "page shells"), I haven't been able to pull myself away from HomeSite. I'm beyond familiar with it; I have everything laid out just as I want; and it does exactly what I tell it to, with no back talk. The most it's ever done is cough politely when I pull a real coding stinker.

But now that I'm building CSS sites, HomeSite has started to look a little gray and frail. And I still can't get it to work with Firefox. Poor thing, it just isn't keeping up. So, I recently downloaded TopStyle, and I've been extremely impressed. I started using it just to tweak things for Firefox, which it does work with, but then found myself doing a lot of styling work in it. With some pretty powerful CSS tools, it's lovely for building style sheets and tweaking your CSS code. Unfortunately, I haven't been as thrilled with its abilities to build anything beyond the "shells." It won't even open .txt files, which is a pain if a client emails material to you.

And so, I tramp from TopStyle to HomeSite to Dreamweaver and back, trying to keep track of each one's "Delete" and "Paste" buttons and not get them mixed up. Someday, someone is going to create the perfect program for building, editing and managing CSS web sites. It would be nice if it could also make a cup of tea and clean scum off shower tile, but I guess the first is miracle enough.