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Flipping the Linux switch: Linux web tools, Pt.4 - HTML editors for every mood

Amaya split view smallMaybe you've taken some time and fooled around a bit with Quanta Plus and Bluefish and decided that they weren't for you. Maybe you just looked at the features, and the GUIs and thought, "I'd rather pluck my nose hairs out than use those."

That's okay. We're not about to pass judgment on your taste in HTML editors, or your strange penchant for self-inflicted pain. And while we may never use the tweezers in your house, we will gladly point you in the direction of alternative HTML editors.

This week we'll take a look at Screem and Amaya in brief. These two editors are frequently found in distribution repositories (and are also, of course, available as source code). Both of these editors have a very different take on what their users hope to accomplish with them. We hope at least a few have earned your badges of dorkdom, and are presently happily pondering the irony of applications that do the same thing to reach different ends.

Whether you like the idea of handcoding growing the hair on your chest (as opposed to your nostrils), the moral highground of browsing and coding with standards compliance, we've got you covered.

Next week, we'll take a closer look at our final two editors, suggested by our noble readers at the beginning of the series.

Screem - An acronym of sorts, not a misspelling

Screem stands, creatively, for Site Creation and Editing Environment. It's a very different sort of XHTML editor that will most definitely appeal to a certain kind of user. Yeah, what we're saying (nicely) is that Screem is not for everyone. It's also what makes it really refreshing.

Screem is based in GNOME, but of course, only requires the libraries and not the full desktop to run. Like Bluefish, it is lightweight and exceedingly fast. The Screem site says it is faster than Bluefish in both start up and usage, and this may well be true, though we've found on our machine and its decent hardware specs that with a small number of documents, the difference really isn't staggering. You can't really improve too much on "instantaneous."

So why isn't Screem for everyone? Most noticeably, there is no WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing. Why is it refreshing? We've found that software that tries to do everything that every user may need or want generally fails in some capacity. The lack of a WYSIWYG editor is particularly interesting way of illustrating the point. Some users love WYSIWYG, even if they don't need to rely on it. But it often adds a whole lot of extraneous code that can interfere with the way pages work and display. While it is possible to ignore or work around an in-application editor like this, Screem doesn't think it should be necessary. That's okay. They know their users.

Screem Internal Preview Screenshot

Other nifty features include an internal preview. It's like the design view in Dreamweaver or Quanta Plus, except that you can't view the code and design together on a split screen. We can deal with this (although that would be a neat feature to see included some day).

Screem also utilizes Wizards for inserting objects and forms, and though technically not a WYSIWYG sort of deal, a function for easy insertion of doctype tags and basic HTML framework. It's minimal, but helps a great deal. Screem uses Sitecopy and gnome-vfs to upload changed files to your server. There are also features like internal link correction (for rearranging sites), syntax highlight, intelligent tag closures, CVS support and to-do lists, as well as project support and support for Dreamweaver templates.

Screem handles CSS coding reasonably well (we liked the interface better than that of Quanta Plus, and it was more logical than Bluefish, and yet still felt somewhat awkward). We also really liked the general layout and easy shortcuts to switch between Editor/Preview modes. And we know there are people out there who prefer to hand code, with just a few add-ons onboard for speed. Sound like you? Screem might be just your thing.

Amaya - W3C smiles upon you

Amaya is a strange creature. Think of it as a web editing coelecanth, a prehistoric throwback that still lives and functions pretty decently today. Amaya 0.9 was rolled out in 1996, and where there are many, many flashier editors nowadays, it has its niche it fits into.

We're not sure you'd want to use Amaya for coding from scratch, but if you're someone who is using a content management system and altering it, or you are working with existing web content, this is a good application. It can not work with Javascript, frames, or animated GIFs, but with the (possible) exception of Javascript, most web citizens would like to have web designers using frames and animated GIFs drawn and quartered anyway, so it's probably just as well.

The interesting thing is Amaya specifically supports SVG (scalable vector graphics) and MathML, as well as HTML/XHTML based document types. It does support CSS, and we can say without reservation that the dialog for editing style sheets was miles above the other applications we have looked at.

Amaya Split screen view in action

Amaya is a combination browser and editor. That's very nice because you can check links live in the content you're working on. It also has not only the split design view/code view that you all know we're so totally enamored of, but it has a few different code viewing modes. You can visualize the structure, source, links only, and alternate and table of contents of your site quickly and easily.

Amaya also has collaboration tools, such as annotations. Annotations are very visible and easy to add, so leaving secret messages for people who might be working on your code with you is simple and doesn't require commenting (which is also sometimes easily missed).

Amaya would most likely appeal to two ends of the spectrum: the novice who is striving for compliant, well laid-out and structured websites, and the more experienced user who regularly needs to use very specialized mark up languages such as MathML or formats such as SVG that can be touchy to work with in some other editors.

And of course, a side note: Amaya is also available cross-platform, so Windows, Linux and Macs (Intel processors, only, alas) should have no issue with it.

These two Linux-friendly HTML editors are a little more off the beaten path than the old standby Bluefish and Quanta Plus. They have strength in that they really know their audiences, though. Whether you're a hardened hand coding speed demon, or a mathematical genius who can write equations all day but have anxiety attacks when presented with code, you'll likely find a place to call home with one of these editors.

Tags: amaya, html, html editors, HtmlEditors, linux, linux-switch, opensource, screem, web