A new version of the much-hyped Nvu "Web Authoring System" is out, as well
as an updated version of the popular Bluefish editor. Since Web development
is an essential component to the success of Linux on the desktop, we
thought we'd take a look at these two releases as a gauge of Web
development tools available for Linux users.
The Nvu web site promises "A
complete Web Authoring System for Linux
Desktop users to rival programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver." How
close does Nvu come to delivering on that promise?
To evaluate Nvu, one must first install the software. At the time of this
writing, the Nvu website offers packages for Lindows, Fedora Core 2 test 1
and Windows. Other interested parties must compile the application from
source. While this does not usually present a major hurdle for Linux users,
Nvu is not available in anything so straightforward as a source
tarball. The instructions, such as they are, instruct the user to pull
Mozilla from CVS, save a modified .mozconfig into the Mozilla source
directory, download a separate patch from Nvu and finally compile the
software. One almost gets the impression that the Nvu developers are
looking to make life difficult for non-Lindows users.
After jumping through the numerous hoops required to compile Nvu, we set
about evaluating the software. Since Nvu is derived from Mozilla's
Composer, we decided to open both applications up side-by-side to see what
improvements had been made to Composer. Nvu is not drastically different
from Composer, but there are a few new features worth noting. Nvu has some
obvious cosmetic differences, and offers an improved tabbed interface for
multiple document editing. It also includes a "Site Manager" Sidebar, which
is not available in Composer.
Another feature touted for Nvu is the ability to create templates that have
read-only sections and editable sections. Unfortunately, our attempts to
work with templates were less than successful. After creating and saving a
template, an attempt to create a new document based on a simple template
caused Nvu to promptly crash.
Nvu also includes "CaScadeS," a CSS editor that allows fine-grained control
over the styles applied to elements in your documents. The feature is
interesting, but slightly counter-intuitive. To invoke the editing menu for
a specific element, the user must right-click on an element displayed in a
menu displayed at the bottom of the editor. If the user is unaware of the
feature, it's quite likely that it will go completely unnoticed. Once one
is aware of the feature, it is easy to use. However, it would be much more
intuitive if the user was able to right-click on the element itself in the
editing pane to bring up the CaScadeS menu.
Nvu shows a great deal of promise, but it's not quite ready for a showdown
with Macromedia's Dreamweaver.
The Bluefish Web development
tool takes a different approach with its
"What You See is What You Need" interface. Users who wish to try out the
recent 0.13 release will appreciate that Bluefish is provided in a
straight-forward source tarball. Unlike Nvu, Bluefish's feature set is more
appropriate for the experienced Web developer working on more advanced
projects, including dynamic sites that make use of PHP, Perl, Python and
other scripting languages. Bluefish includes syntax highlighting for a host
of languages, everything from HTML to ColdFusion is represented.
It takes some time to fully explore Bluefish and all its features. Bluefish
provides a number of wizards and dialogs that make it much easier to add
forms, tables and so forth to a document. This writer particularly likes
Bluefish's custom menu, which allows the user to create their own dialogs
to generate snippets of code. The "Quickbar," which allows users to add
frequently-used buttons from other toolbars, is also a favorite.
Bluefish offers Web developers as much, or as little, assistance as they
need. A user can opt to use Bluefish as a souped-up text editor with
excellent syntax highlighting, or rely on Bluefish to generate much of
their code through wizards and dialogs.
Another nice thing about Bluefish is that it integrates well with other
tools that Web developers often use. Users can pipe their files in Bluefish
through HTML Tidy, Weblint and other programs to validate their HTML, or
easily configure Bluefish to open their work in their browser(s) of choice.
Despite the low version number, Bluefish is fairly mature and very
stable. It's well worth a look for users who want a flexible Web
There are, of course, a number of other open source Web development tools
for Linux. The Screem website
development package is fairly popular, as is Quanta Plus, which we touched on when KDE 3.2
was released. For many, no IDE or GUI-based tool can replace Emacs or Vim
for churning out websites.
None of the tools available for Linux are quite slick and polished as
Dreamweaver, but there are certainly plenty of options for users who are
looking for a suitable open source Web development tool.
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