How Did You Get Started? A Look at the Best & Worst Web Design Tools

    James Hibbard

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    Recently, I got a blast from the past when I read that Adobe’s Dreamweaver is making a comeback. I was a regular Dreamweaver user in my time, but since moving on (when I made the switch to Linux) I had more or less forgotten about its existence. This made me curious as to which other web authoring tools I have used throughout my career, so I decided to take a look.

    A quick rummage in my bookshelf produced this gem — Frontpage 2000 Made Simple. Frontpage (now discontinued) was an editor by Microsoft and the tool I used to create my first ever web page. Its WYSIWYG approach made it appealing to novices (and in those days, most people were novices), as did its tight integration with Microsoft’s range of Office products. Unfortunately, it produced very messy and invalid code, with pages tending to be optimized for Internet Explorer. As soon as I realized that I was serious about web development, I knew it was time to move on.

    When I landed my first job working with the web, I was given a copy of Dreamweaver. This was definitely a step up from Frontpage and was packed full of features I loved, such as a site-wide search and replace, code suggestion and a file manager. For a while, I was a happy and productive Dreamweaver user, until it dawned on me that it came with a tarnished reputation. The main gripe people had was that (like Frontpage) Dreamweaver packed a WYSIWYG editor which facilitated the production of invalid markup and bloated code. Although I was only using the WYSIWYG to enter the occasional bit of content, this still made me realize that code maintainability was a thing and more importantly, a thing I should care about.

    I bid farewell to Dreamweaver when I made the switch from Windows to Linux. Saying goodbye was hard and I even went as far as to get Dreamweaver working with Wine (but luckily, soon realized the folly of this approach). While getting to grips with my new OS, I spent a while exploring some of the common Dreamweaver alternatives (namely Bluefish, KompoZer and NVU). These were all great tools in their own right, but sadly none of them quite hit the mark and I found it difficult to use them in a productive manner.

    Eventually, I decided to invest the time to get to grips with a text editor. By this point I had started programming for the web (mostly Ruby in those days) and had been using something called SciTE on Windows (which was OK, but seemed a little rudimentary). After some deliberation I settled on Sublime Text as my editor of choice and I haven’t looked back since (I must admit that I did try and get to grips with Vim for a while, but I found it too esoteric and gave up). Anyway, Sublime Text is completely customizable and has plugins for just about anything you could imagine (here’s a good list for JavaScript developers). It comes packed full of features, such as multi-edit (which lets you simultaneously edit all of the occurrences of a string in a file) or goto anything (a great way of hopping between methods in large files). This all seemed like black magic at first, but once mastered is something you’ll wonder that you were able to live without.

    So there you have it: I started on FrontPage, grew up on Dreamweaver and ended up with Sublime Text. But what about you? What kind of tools have you used to produce web pages throughout the years? What’s been your favorite and what sucked most? And what about IDEs — do they have a place in the world of JavaScript development? Let me know in the comments below.