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Flipping the Linux switch: Linux web tools and HTML editors, Pt. 1

Flickr user Craig RodwayIn many ways, I'm pretty old school. When I learned HTML, I painstakingly handcoded my pages in the esteemed Notepad. Only when I became a master of HTML-fu did I allow myself to try Dreamweaver. (Okay, fine, the ability to buy a license with educational pricing may have had a lot to do with it, too.)

I loved Dreamweaver. One of the things that always made me a little sad when I first tried Linux was that there wasn't a real Dreamweaver-esque type application. Times have changed, however. There are a number of HTML/web development applications out there that are free (as in speech and beer) and feature filled.

But I'd be really amiss if I just mentioned Linux HTML editors in a vacuum. There are a number of tools readily available in repositories that make coding, layout, uploading, and testing easy and (dare I say it) fun.

Because seriously, if it isn't fun, what's the point?

Over the next few weeks we're going to take a look at web development tools in Linux. We'll do a run down of some popular XHTML/HTML editors, FTP and transfer software, and neat little tools for creating content that make some of the drudgery of "back-end" web work less painful.
Of course, this mini-series (sub-series? I wouldn't want you to confuse this with Shogun) comes with an obligatory confessional: It's been a long time since I really did any hardcore HTML coding from scratch in any editor. I am more likely to do some tweaks to an existing page in an HTML editor, check it all out and see how things work together, and upload the altered page to my web host.

The advent of ready made content management systems (CMS), such as Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla, has in many ways made HTML editors a little less crucial to the average web user. In some ways, though, this only made working with these systems on Linux that much easier. The major Linux HTML editors like Quanta and Bluefish, though historically lacking some of the favorite features of Dreamweaver, started to become more attractive when all that was required was loading a cascading style sheet or a few static pages of a content system for some quick and dirty editing.

Certainly the added bonuses to using a Linux desktop with your CMS are worth mentioning, as well. In general, it is a lot less work to test your whole site on your local computer using Linux than it is using Windows. Setting up a LAMP environment (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) is fairly straightforward when using your distro's packages and some generic howtos online. Doing the same thing in Windows (WAMP), while not impossible, is certainly more time consuming and requires (believe it or not) a bit more confidence in your computer skills.

We will touch a bit on the LAMP environment as a testing platform. The idea behind it is to use it to host public web pages off a server, but setting it up on a home machine for testing is safe, secure, and allows you the privacy and control to tweak your site, and see how all of the bits interact, before unleashing your creation on the world via a public web server.

The other bonus is much less glamorous than testing, or coding, but it's key. It's key, because ultimately, when you have a web site, it's the tool you use the most. I love the variety of interfaces for file transfer. Sure, there are some nifty FTP programs for Windows, and some of our favorites are cross-platform. But for some of us, there's just something endlessly exciting about adding our webhost as a remote location, and if we so choose, connecting to it when logging in to the desktop. Okay, fine, some of us really don't get out much.

In the FTP section of this series, we'll also cover a few commands that can come in handy when manipulating files on your web host account. Many web hosting companies use Linux on their servers, and while graphical interfaces are simple and sufficient for most tasks, on occasion there will arise a GUI that does not want to allow you to do something that by rights you should be able to do. In these cases, it is often possible to get to a terminal (command line) and issue the command old-school style, with good results.

Finally, we'll talk about the interesting little bits that don't fit really anywhere -- things like image map editors, and projects such as OpenLaszlo.

I sincerely hope you'll accept my apologies, then, about this week's "Switcher" being a teaser. So many new computer users (not just 'nix users) equate "computing" with "web presence" in some way, shape, or form. Some of them are fine with a hosted account on Wordpress, or Blogspot, and that can work quite well. Others might want a little more control, or just want to bring a little bit extra to their slice of the web. Linux can be a great platform to get them started.

Tags: FTP, HTML, internet, linux, linux-switch, opensource, web development, WebDevelopment, XHTML