Saturday, 23 April 2011

Hand Coding Or WYSIWYG HTML Editor?

I like to keep up with the latest news on certain websites I'm keen on, and to that end I've added their feed to Google Reader and put the widget on my iGoogle so I can see at a glance if the webmasters or contributors have made any new posts. has got an interesting article I'd like to comment on here.

In the beginning

Back in the day when I first began to totter along the HTML road like a small child learning to walk, I had to learn code because I wanted to change the appearance of the forums and blogs I was using and they didn't always come with WYSIWYG editors. Those that did lacked the facilities to change the things I wanted changed in precisely the way I wanted it done. This gave me the foundations to learn my trade as a web designer, and as I became more excited about my growing skillset I went looking for ways to apply my knowledge. I started playing in the sandboxes provided by free website hosts, changing the code for my hobby websites there until I felt confident enough to start taking the job seriously. At that point I discovered the multiplicity of online tutorials and took courses to learn as much as I could. I was hooked.

Raw Code

Tutorials and conversations in web design forums taught me about the importance of Dreamweaver in a designer's toolkit. I looked into buying it, but the price put me off. Heartened by the fact that I could create the effects that I wanted by hand, I carried on. In raw code, as I called it, I could add background images and colours, specify the positions of images and blocks of text and change font styles. Generators of the tables (yes, I still use them for the sheer convenience), gradient backgrounds and CSS stylesheets abounded and I had only to add them to <link rel> tags in the <head> of the web page code to make them work like a dream.

Enter the editors

I played happily with my e-toys until I got into and learned about free WYSIWYG editors. The idea of being able to do everything via one program impressed me. I scoured the internet to find out which were the best. Naturally, there are advocates of coding by hand who say that it's imperative to know why the code produces what it does. They're right, I suppose, but I want my results now. And I want to see what it looks like before it goes live. I downloaded a variety of editors, some of which were trial versions of expensive software and others which were GNU licensed and therefore truly free.

Alleycode is supposed to by WYSIWYG but uses mostly HTML code and when it does show your work, it looks wrong.

Amaya crashes all the time and is confusing to use. I can't believe W3C are behind it.

FrontPage Express: what's the point? Word is better and has more features.

Trellian is free, but wants you to buy stuff from them. They make certain software available for use for a short time, then charge you if you want to continue to use it.

The others have their own code and make you purchase the software before you can save your work as an HTML file. A bit of a cheat if you ask me.

Kompozer, a fork of NVU, does what it says on the tin and you can display your work any way you want to. It can be a bit funny sometimes and you have to add background images to table cells by hand (or by Trellian).

BlueGriffon is another fork of the discontinued NVU and is based on the Gecko rendering engine. It's set up for HTML 5 and CSS 3, but you have to pay for an extension to preview your work in a browser. Kompozer does that for free!

SeaMonkey has been widely hailed as a web development tool, but Kompozer's support for CSS stylesheet editing trumps it.

Which is better: hand coding or editors?

The article states that while knowing how to code by hand is good, editors like the ones above make designing convenient and they write perfectly valid code. Yes, they do. I've designed web pages with Kompozer (and NVU before it) with ease and have found the code valid when tested on the W3C's validator page.

It also says that knowing how to hand code is an advantage because if something goes wrong we can fix it. Also true. When I discovered that the latest version of Kompozer now puts breaks and spaces in my table cells where it didn't before, messing up my pretty pattern design, I had to fix it myself by going into the HTML on the site while the page was live online and removing the offending code. I also need to go into the source when adding Javascript (for slideshows, etc.) and extra CSS files (for gradient backgrounds or rounded corners) to my web pages. I can't use any of my editors for that.

The conclusion I came to a long time ago is that knowing how to code by hand is an advantage but editors make the process easier and more convenient. Therefore, neither method is better than the other because you really need them both to be an effective designer. Which is just what Christopher Heng says in that article.

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