What Types of HTML Editors Are There?
The primary distinction between HTML editors is whether they are "WYSIWYG" (what you see is what you get) or "Text" editors. WYSIWYG editors work a lot like a word processing program and you edit your document generally how it will look when it is loaded to the Web site. Text editors work more like programming engines and you edit your document directly in the HTML.
Once a Web team grows beyond two to three people, it's good to standardize on one piece of software for developing Web pages. This insures that your entire team is working in the same fashion and you'll have less compatibility issues later with uploading and file sharing.
But it can be very hard to decide what editor to choose for your Web team. This is especially true if you have a mixed team of designers (who usually prefer WYSIWYG) and programmers (who usually prefer text). Both camps will have very strong and often impassioned arguments as to why their way is best, but are those arguments really a business case?
What is a Business Case?
A business case is a reasoned proposal for making a change at a company. Most businesses are run based on the "bottom line" so in general, a business case defines how much money the company will make through the change or how much they will save through the change. Personal opinions are always valid, but don't hold a lot of sway in a business case, as they are often evaluated by the finance department, high-level executives, and other MBA types.
So, when you're developing your proposal for a new HTML editor for your Web team, it's important to go over the costs and do a risk versus reward assessment for choosing one type of editor over another. In many situations, the company will want in the final proposal a clear plan for exactly which editor to buy.
In this article, I'll leave that step up to you and your business. But I will go over some of the suggestions for business cases for WYSIWYG editors and text editors and tell you which ones I would have accepted as a Web development manager and MBA.
Benefits and Costs to WYSIWYG Editors
WYSIWYG editors allow staff with less training and IT skills to add content to their web pages. This obviously saves money on training and allows existing staff, often the content owners, to perform this task. (Leonie)
Leonie is quite correct here. In fact, this is one of the biggest benefits to WYSIWYG editors. It is now quite possible for someone with no HTML experience to put up a good looking Web site without ever even looking at the code.
The reduction in learning curve for many WYSIWYG editors makes them a very good choice for small companies that don't want to have a dedicated Web team building and maintaining the Web pages. You can save a lot of money in a small firm by using pre-made templates and maintaining your Web site yourself. And a WYSIWYG editor makes that emminently possible. If you want to have a more customized site, you can hire a designer to build the initial site and then use a WYSIWYG editor to maintain it.
WYSIWYG is faster is a comment I hear all the time. But this isn't a business case for a WYSIWYG editor, but rather for the designer/developer who knows how to use it quickly. I have challenged WYSIWYG developers to races several times in the past and I can code similar pages more quickly with a very simple text editor (vi). But that doesn't mean that everyone should switch to vi, only that I'm a very fast developer with my preferred tools. I would not be able to build the pages as quickly using Dreamweaver or another WYSIWYG tool
WYSIWYG writes bad code is another complaint about these tools. However, I don't feel that argument stands up any longer. If you try the most modern versions of the best WYSIWYG editors (Dreamweaver, GoLIve, and yes, even FrontPage) you'll find that most of the code that people object to was put in there by designers who don't know how to use the tool. It's not the tool's fault if you don't know how to streamline your pages or generate valid XHTML.
Benefits and Costs to Text Editors
Text editors are often cheaper than WYSIWYG editors. In fact, a lot of them are free. This is because text editors don't require as much overhead to build. Also, because they rely on you checking your pages in the browsers directly, they don't have to have any way to display how the pages are going to look (although some do).
Text editors are included on every operating system - Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (Macintosh), and vi (*nix). This means that you can edit Web pages on any Web server without needing any expensive software.
What Type of Editor is Right for Your Business?
The tools that best meet the organization’s needs for development and quality processes, best suited to the task at hand, and compatible with skills available — it depends! (Brad K)
As Brad mentions, it really does depend on the needs of your company and the sites you are designing and maintaining.
Personally, when my Web team got big enough to need to standardize on a Web editor, we chose Dreamweaver. We chose it because it has a built-in text editor and WYSIWYG editor, FTP was included, there is some search and replace features, a lot of plugins available, and a wide base of support around the community if we had problems. Personally, I continue to use HomeSite for most of my HTML editing, but since that comes with Dreamweaver, I don't feel that I'm really cheating... ;-)