Powerful Open Source Web Editor (IDE)

By Blane Warrene
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The emergence and now near dominance of sophisticated WYSIWYG editors has been a source of pleasure and pain for web designers and developers. Tools such as Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive and even Microsoft’s Front Page have saved countless hours utilizing templating and other automation functions.

One central part of the success of these editors has been the integrated development environment (IDE) that includes remote publishing, file and revision management, ties to other applications such as image editors and access to underlying source code.

There are pros and cons for each, and I must admit my own bias toward Dreamweaver, having used it since 1999 on Mac and Windows platforms. One of my main complaints has nothing to do with the editors other than I cannot run them on my primary Linux development workstation. That problem appears to be somewhat resolved courtesy of NVU.

NVU, built off of the Mozilla Composer’s source base, is a new open source solution that spans multiple operating systems (Windows, Macintosh and Linux) — however — its primary goal is a comprehensive IDE for Linux.

Funded by Linspire, the project is led by former AOL/Netscape developer Daniel Glazman and the IDE looks like an excellent starting point. It features many of the same functions and capability as those commercial solutions, including complex CSS and JavaScript editing, tabbed workspaces, a site manager for publishing to multiple locations within the editing environment and more.

The NVU web site states the program supports templating capabilities – however – in loading and using the software I have yet to find a clear method. Though it does not need to necessarily mimic, for example, the Dreamweaver method of templating, Macromedia does handle templates quite well. While we can all template on our own using either the native include functions of Apache and other web servers or a scripting language, a widget of some sort for templating internal to NVU would be fantastic.

If NVU hopes to pull over more and more developers to the tool, perhaps a path to migrate templating from those aforementioned tools would also be a valuable add-in.

Being an open source project, I am sure NVU will also welcome those who can contribute to the IDE. Along with templating, perhaps an integrated ODBC connection manager, type ahead libraries and native support for sftp (although one could use MindTerm to resolve that).

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  • pippo

    That’s really cool.
    I’m using Debian/sid, I will check it.


  • They really ought to use Macromedia’s templating system if possible, it’s practically a standard. Even Frontpage uses it.

  • Looks promising, has some “bugs” tho.

  • michael

    Nice start but this shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence as Dreamweaver, even Frontpage. I created a small 8 page site with this and was near screaming before I was done. With no templates and a very clunky workflow, it’s adequate for occasional updating not serious production.

  • goatboy

    You can load a template when you create a new document. Unfortunately, Nvu will reformat the source code–even if you tell it not to (in Tools > Preferences).

    The CSS and JavaScript editors are not very intuitive. So counter-intuitive, in fact, that I could not figure out the CSS at all. I could create an internal stylesheet but then could not figure out how to add elements.

    There should be much better syntax coloring (like ViM’s would be nice), code folding, line numbering (there is none that I could figure out how to turn on).

    Also, when you’re editing code, the tabs disappear. It is also impossible to use any of the element insertion tools that are available in Normal or Tag views. Really, what it should have is code-completion, like is available in TopStyle or Dreamweaver.

    Site management is also somewhat immature. At a minimum, as was mentioned in the blog above, the thing should allow for sftp. Secured webdav would also be good.

    There should also be a way, when using the WYSIWYG Normal view, to designate the final url of an image when dropping it into place. For example, rather than just defaulting to the path on the local machine, when someone drags in an image, it should ask the user the final path of the document (relative to the final document root, for example).

    It would also be nice to be able to configure multiple browsers to display the pages–display in IE, Firefox, Opera, etc. All configurable by the user.

    But really, overall, the biggest drawback to the program as it stands now is that its source editing capabilities and flexibility is really a hindrance. I should be able to set line widths, tab stops, etc. And there should be intelligent indenting, simple code folding, good highlighting.

    Lots of potential here, esp. the fact of it being x-platform. It must go some distance, however, before it can meet its claim to become a “complete web authoring system.”

  • sadisynn

    For Linux, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us not overlook Quanta Plus as perhaps the very best web editor around. Rated #2 in listing of favored apps I think, in open source circles, followed closely behind by Kommander. Easily found at SourceForge or KDE . Google it for grins, interesting history and developement. Doesn’t fearture the above mentioned drawbacks of Nvu. That said, I’ll give Nvu a whirl on my windows98 machine, just for kicks.

  • Eric Laffoon

    NVU perhaps has better promotion and certainly as a project manager I’m biased. Quanta Plus won the 2003 LinuxQuestions.org user choice award for web development IDEs and was the first Linux web development tool to release a visual development environment. I’ll grant that NVU may have some advantages currently if all you want to do is draw a page in HTML and you’re not overly concerned about W3C compliance or coding. However if you’re developing with PHP I would say bring on the Dreamweaver faithful for the challenge. Quanta+ has the things you’re looking for such as auto completion, SFTP and ssh/scp (fish) support, CSS editing, import of XML DTDs, real time structural validation, internal scripting and dialog building with Kommander’s visual interface and a lot more like an integrated full feature PHP debugger. It does not do the proprietary work arounds Dreamweaver does with templates, however with Event Actions that can be emulated almost entirely. More is being done for the upcoming 3.4 release in this and other areas like object syntax completion and enhanced visual page editing. There are too many features to list here, but I would suggest if you’re looking for something to replace Dreamweaver on Linux you might find what many former Dreamweaver users on our mailing list have. They don’t miss it any more and wouldn’t go back. Food for thought… Try a tool that is focusing on the future and not the past.

  • tavogardo

    Not too bad a start, but until it stops doing things like re-formatting everything to some secret, unknown standard, I will not be using it. I have been using Homesite for years and continue to do so, dreamweaver, ultradev, etc. not withstanding. I still have found nothing to exceed or even equal it. Hope this product becomes for usable and friendly. It would be nice to find one that works the same across multiple platforms.

  • tgs

    I’ve been using Bluefish on my Fedora Core 1 install and liking it. Not the fanciest, but gets the job done.

  • Alex Yule

    Well I’m going to try ALL of these. They must be better than YAHOO SITEBUILDER!

    I’m actually impressed with what the yahoo software does, but am at my wits end. I updated recently to their latest version, and now the software gets all confused, and inserts my custom “id=” tags all over the place every time I save it.

  • Anonymous

    ur site is not user friendly

  • Aran ahsan


  • Zooney

    NVU isn’t nearly where it needs to be. The HTML editing is fine, but file management and stylesheet creation are nightmarish.

    For file management, NVU needs some way of allowing users to create a local file folder without defining some sort of “publishing directory”. I found that you could define your publishing directory as a local folder, but, that’s just a mess. I also couldn’t seem to consistently get NVU to create document relative links.

    CSS creation in NVU isn’t where it needs to be either. It’s silly to double click on your CSS file in the site manager and have it come up with a window that says “This is not an HTML document” or something similar… …of course it isn’t. At the very least you should be able to open a stylesheet in a text editor or something.

    The CSS editor makes it impossible to really even see how you’re supposed to create a stylesheet and manage it.

    When it comes down to it, if NVU proclaims that its made with HTML/CSS novices in mind, it fails completely. Not only do you need relatively sound HTML/CSS knowledge to use this thing, you also need the patience to survive a confusing user interface.

    NVU needs far more work to be a valuable tool for either novices or advanced users. Given the option, even for free it’s still far less frustrating to use a text editor for code, your OS for file management, and a web browser for preview… …it reminds me why I gave up on Mozilla composer in the late ’90s and just hunkered down to learn how to write code.