robert hahn

a darn good web developer

April 05, 2006

A Brief Personal History of using WYSIWYG Editors for Web Pages

Today, I think it would be very reasonable for people to ask me why I’m not using Dreamweaver to build pages. It has, by all accounts, everything a professional developer needs to build sites, generates clean code, and obviously a great many people seem to like using it. So, I’m figuring that maybe I’ll reminisce a bit and talk about all the WYSIWYG web page building apps that I’ve used over the course of my career.

Back in mid to late ’90s, the first programs for building pages with a WYSIWYG interface were Netscape Gold, Claris HomePage, and Adobe PageMill. Pico wasn’t exactly the world’s best program for writing HTML in, but it was the editor I was working with, so I tried those programs. They sucked. Probably not in any way that mattered to most people who used them, but by the time I got around to using these programs, I already had a small arsenal of tricks that I would use to make my pages work in a certain way that these programs couldn’t accomodate. And the code they generated was absolutely awful. Adobe PageMill even stooped to the level of adding tags that weren’t in the HTML spec! I pretty much gave up hope that these types of apps could ever amount to anything. The one editor I tried that caused me to abandon Pico without looking back was BBEdit. When I had a job that required me to work on Windows, I sought out anything that could be like BBEdit, and found TextPad. And I was moderately happy.

For some reason, I didn’t stop trying out the WYSIWYG apps. I recall trying out CyberStudio’s GoLive (now owned by Adobe), and wasn’t happy with it - mostly because I had trouble with the UI. I also tried NetObjects Fusion - That one I was almost happy enough with to build 3-4 sites using it. I think the reason was because it was billed not as a web page creation tool, but a web site creation tool. I was certainly impressed enough with the distinction to give it a whirl. I ended up abandoning it, and I think the reason had to do with NetObjects dropping Mac support. Didn’t they go out of business around that time too? At any rate, they lost my mindshare, and I went back to using BBEdit for building sites.

And who of us old timers can forget FrontPage? I found that, despite having come out a year or two after PageMill, it was pretty much as good as PageMill. I think the code quality was a bit worse.

The last WYSIWYG app I tried to use was Dreamweaver - several versions of it, actually. Dreamweaver was about as interesting as GoLive especially in it’s breadth of features, but the UI was just too strange for me. Every time I tried to use those apps, my productivity dropped like a rock. I have no doubt that it’s a good program. The one feature I especially liked was the fact that I could customize the menus and tools, as they were all written in JavaScript. Dreamweaver has really come into it’s own, and the code it generates is pretty much where I’d like to see it. But I still can’t bring myself to use it much, unless I absolutely have to. It just feels like some kind of MS Word for the Web - big, bloated, feature packed. I have no idea if most people perceive it as big and bloated - compared to vim, it certainly feels that way to me.

So, when I say that I don’t use WYSIWYG web page/site building software, it wasn’t because I never tried. In the beginning, the code quality was pretty bad. Now, the UI is difficult for me to ramp up on. Ultimately, I developed my own bag of tricks for building sites by hand, and I haven’t had reason to believe that I’m significantly slower than a similarly talented DW user.

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Robert Hahn.
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