My Web Editor Quest

February 1, 2006

I've been developing software for a long time. Web site development poses challenges, but none so great that I can not overcome them with time. However, one problem continues to frustrate.

One of my goals is to build basic Web sites for small businesses at an economical price and then walk away, leaving simple maintenance (specials, news, featured products, etc.) in the hands of my clients. Those clients like the concept because it means they are not tied to me (or any other site developer).

This comes down to choice of tools. Specifically, it comes down to finding an inexpensive and approachable tool that does not demand too much of my non-technical clients. The tool needs to be able to handle any site I develop with my choice of tool yet offer my clients WYSIWYG simplicity with their tool.

At first blush this might seem simple. I don't consider FrontPage cheap, but it works a lot like other Microsoft software and it is a lot less expensive than tools like Dreamweaver and GoLive. Why not just convince my clients to invest another $200 and teach them how to use FrontPage 2003? After all, it's what I often use.

The trouble is that FrontPage is only a good WYSIWYG editor if one starts using it in that mode from the outset. Then, the fidelity between design mode, preview mode, and viewing in a browser is extremely high. Couple that with FrontPage's great site management and publishing features and it would seem that you'd have the perfect tool. Unfortunately, FrontPage remains mired in an HTML tag bog; the result of native WYSIWYG editing is large pages dense with HTML formatting tags. It's a mess.

If the site is based upon XHTML and CSS, FrontPage does not render the pages properly in design mode, making WYSIWYG editing possible but troublesome. To its credit, FrontPage will not interfere with CSS, even in design mode, if the user is careful.

So here's what I think the ultimate WYSIWYG Web tool needs to have. First, it needs the superb, brainless site management and single-click publishing of FrontPage. Second, it needs WYSIWYG editing that respects CSS and keeps pages XHTML-compliant.

I was hoping that Nvu would solve this problem, but the program falls far short of its own goals, much less mine. I am now in the process of evaluating a seemingly endless parade of under-$100 Web tools. I've found some gems, but nothing that meets all my requirements.

Got any suggestions for me? Get in touch.

Tags: Software, Web

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