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

By 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.

  • kitbaty

    I cut my teeth on HoTMetaL and BB Edit back in the mid 90s. Worked with (and loved) Allaire’s HomeSite for a long time. Dreamweaver, of course. A little FrontPage. NetObjects Fusion for a little while. Then, hopped between Dreamweaver and (Macromedia) HomeSite for a long time – until I (as you), settled on Sublime Text. I still have to use Dreamweaver at work, though. I know I may be missing one or two as I felt my way through the late 90s and early 2000s – but it was a fun trip!

    • Ah HoTMEtaL and BB Edit. My original stomping grounds. I later migrated to ConTEXT and stayed there for a VERY long time. I had Dreamweaver but I always preferred a more simplistic approach – and ConTEXT provided that. Now, much as everyone else, I have also settled on Sublime Text.

      I think an interesting question would be who DIDN’T end up on Sublime.

      • kitbaty

        I preferred simplicity as well – which is why I loved HomeSite, Great little editor.

  • I created my first web page with FrontPage Express before moving on to Dreamweaver, and eventually forcing myself to learn how to do things the proper way (with SitePoint’s help, no less) as well. I’d almost forgotten that these tools even existed — thanks for the trip down nostalgia lane!

  • John Ivanoff

    HoTMetaL, notepad, HomeSite (ColdFusion), BBEdit, TextErangler, Dreamweaver, Eclipse, textmate, Coda, Atom, Sublime. I’ve stuck with textmate. It seems a lot of textmate carries over to Sublime. Never used FrintPage but did my time with classic ASP. How about CGI scripts?

    • James Hibbard

      That’s quite a list :)

      How about CGI scripts?

      The bad old days …

  • Notepad > Dreamweaver > Notepad++ > Brackets

    I’m now in a beautiful comfort-zone that would take a lot of convincing to get out of.

    • James Hibbard

      What is it you like about Brackets? Does it have any killer features that the others don’t?

      • It’s comfortable, and quite user-friendly. Like Sublime, it has quite a lot of user made plugins, and the added benefit of being open source and continually worked on.

        The built in live preview functionality is quite nice too.

        It being free means I don’t get a little “pay for me” reminder every time I load it up ha.

      • Matthew Hall

        I’m using it because of a few wordpress specific plugins (function lookups) for theme development. HTML/CSS I’m still not sold. I’d prefer better shortcuts for tag wrapping, css hinting, etc. as textmate & espresso have.

  • Preferred Notepad without causing much hassles. Dreamweaver, Eclipse is where our scope is. WordPress is always friendly and easy. So never had such issues ever!

  • Amy B

    Notepad > Dreamweaver > Coda > Notepad++ > Sublime Text

  • Howard Sloane

    Coda, Brackets, Sublime and WebStorm…..>>>>timewarp>>>>HotDog

  • Brackets -> Sublime -> Vim master race!

  • Ray Pittman

    Started with Sausage HotDog Pro back in the day. Hated Frontpage, hated Dreamweaver. Now -> Sublime.

  • Morgaine Brigid O’Herne

    I started with Notepad and a browser. Later I discovered Notepad++. Lately I most enjoy working with WordPress rather than designing from scratch.

  • Sonia

    Almost the same path. FrontPage , Dreamweaver, Notepad++, and Sublime with Emmet and other plugins, which I love.
    Also Eclipse for Java.

  • Dreamweaver is really a fantastic software for coding.

  • Robbie Wxyz

    Notepad › › [discovered CSS and JS] › › Notepad++ › › [discovered ES6 and Linux] › › Vim › › Neovim

    And then this cycle of trying out the next cool editor (Brackets, Atom, etc.), finding cool features, porting them to CLI/VimL, and relapsing back to my Neovim obsession.

  • Norman Dube

    Notepad ++ > Microsoft Web Expression > Dreamweaver > Atom

  • lukaswhite

    One of the most useful features of Dreamweaver, I found (at least at one time – we’re talking late 90’s!) was templates / editable regions. In effect it made it a sort of (early) static site generator, although of course the problems came when you took the resulting HTML files “out” of Dreamweaver.

    Of course there was always CGI / Server Side Includes as an alternative, although that wasn’t necessarily all that straightforward.

  • Matthew Hall

    Go Live > Dreamweaver > text wrangler > textmate > Espresso > Alternating between Espresso & Brackets currently

  • Stephen M. Schaefer

    Began coding in earnest (read: post-Geocities) with Dreamweaver. I’m supposed to be on NetBeans right now but I still can’t bring myself to give up Eclipse.

  • Notepad > Dreamweaver > Sublime > Atom > Sublime > VSCode > Sublime

    I keep falling back to S3. Feels the lightest and fastest of the above mentioned.

    • James Hibbard

      With you there. Sublime 3 is my editor of choice. Not much it can’t do.

  • André Marcanth

    Dreamweaver > Eclipse PDT > Notepad++ > Kate > Atom

  • coolwoc

    Notepad –>Dreamweaver –> Eclipse –> Sublime

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