Choosing a Web editor can be an easy decision or a hard one. There are so many choices out there, that you may end up going with what the rest of your team uses just for convenience or perhaps choosing solely on price. But I feel that it's important to choose a Web page editor that meets both your needs and your budget. And these are the criteria I use to decide what makes a good editor or a great one.
Price and Operating System
Sure, these are obvious - if you can't afford an editor or it won't run on your operating system, then you shouldn't buy it or download it. But there is so much more to a high-quality Web page editor than just the price or whether it runs on Mac OSX or not.
What Type of Editor Is It?
There are essentially three types of Web page editor:
- Text editors that let you edit the HTML tags directly, but not in a visual way.
- WYSIWYG editors that let you edit the Web page in a visual way, but not the HTML directly.
- Combo editors that let you do either WYSIWYG or text depending upon your mood or style.
What type of editor you choose is largely one of personal choice. In my evaluation, an editor that offers both will get more points than one that is only WYSIWYG or only text. That way, if you want to build your table visually but then code the attributes and styles by hand, you have that option. See the links at the bottom of this article for more information on deciding between text and WYSIWYG.
Whatever type of editor you have, in my book it needs to come with an HTML validator to get the most points. HTML validators can save a lot of time and frustration in the long run, and if you have one built into your Web editor you'll be more likely to use it. (Although, interestingly enough I found the "validate as you go" option of Amaya to be a little disconcerting.)
Text editors should also come with color coding and tag completion. Some people don't like tag completion, but I find that it's much easier to make a mistake like leaving off an end tag if the editor doesn't do it for me. Perhaps this is just laziness on my part, but tag completion is critical to my editing.
Managing Your Web Pages
Many of the more powerful Web editors come with site managers (sometimes called "projects"). Site managers allow you to keep all the files for one Web site together in one place, and the Web editor then can manipulate them as a site rather than as individual files. One of the best ways that a Web editor can manipulate the files is through FTP. Web editors with FTP built-in make it much easier to get your files from your hard drive to the Web site.
Another way that Web editors help you manage files is through search and replace. This is an easy way for most editors to receive points on my scale, but I have an extra score as well: extended search and replace. This is where the Web editor can search a group of files (either open files or files in a directory of a certain pattern or whatever) and do the same replace across all the files. If you've ever had to update tens or hundreds of files with the same simple change (such as an updated copyright date), you will understand how valuable this is. While there are other external programs to do extended search and replace, Web editors that have it built-in get extra points on my scale.
No, I'm not talking about support for images - in fact, if a Web editor didn't allow you to put images in your Web pages, I would take points away. Instead, I mean image manipulation and connection to graphic software for extended manipulation. Some Web page editors provide limited image editing right in the tool - things like cropping and resizing. And even if they don't, if they can connect to outside image editors, this makes the Web editor more convenient to use.
Special characters are one of those things that many Web designers forget about. If you write in English, it can be easy to assume that you'll never need to know the code for an accented character. But what if you want to write "30¢"? Sure, you can spell out "cents", but having an editor that writes ¢ for you without having to look it up somewhere else is really convenient.
This is a personal peeve of mine. I think that Web page editors should strive to create the most correct Web pages for you - even if you stay strictly in WYSIWYG. So I grant points for editors that write valid XHTML by default or provide templates for HTML that include a DTD for a modern HTML version. You shouldn't have to remember how to write a DTD.
Other things I find useful in Web page editors are:
- The ability to connect to a database
- support for other languages like PHP, ASP, JSP, and ColdFusion (hopefully Ruby and/or Python will show up soon)
- Spell checkers that ignore tags can be critical
- Pre-written scripts, code snippets, and templates can make a project go much faster - especially if you can create your own
- Some editors provide other fun and silly options like a photo gallery maker
The last thing I always look for in a Web page editor is how customizable it is. And I don't mean that you can change how the toolbars look. Customizability means that you can add plugins or extensions to add functionality. A simple Web editor can become very complex if it has extensions or plugins to make it fit your needs exactly.
What Do You Look for in an Editor?
Do you agree with my criteria? Is there something I missed? What do you think is important in choosing a Web page editor? Let me know!