Sunday, March 16, 2008

Choosing Web Development Software

For the past eight years I've been using Adobe GoLive. I got started with GoLive because it was recommended by people I trusted and it was a lot faster than Dreamweaver. GoLive also did a good job of editing PHP and had a nice, simple template tool that allowed me to do WYSIWYG editing without having to hand-maintain dozens of files.

Times have changed. The Windows version of GoLive is now horribly unstable and Adobe simply removes features instead of fixing them. I've started looking for a new tool. Our site has been PHP for several years, so it isn't worth the effort to switch it to

I found Visual Studio 2005 to be okay for quick HTML edits, but it's rather clunky editing HTML compared to more sophisticated tools. Out of the box, it also can't handle PHP. I tried VS.php, which is inexpensive, but the VS.php debugger never worked properly and their tech support was useless. After a year of trying, I gave up on VS.php in Sep 2007.

Instead I settled on PHPed from NuSphere. It is a fantastic tool that I'd recommend to any PHP developer. Its debugger is very reliable. However, PHPed is purely a PHP development tool and doesn't do HTML editing.

So I'm still looking for an HTML tool. Although Dreamweaver is the obvious choice, it's expensive to buy, expensive to support, and expensive to upgrade. So it wasn't my first choice. OTOH, I'm a Microsoft Certified Partner and so can use all of their development tools for free. When I saw Expression Web at the Professional Developers Conference in 2005, I initially had high hopes, but then I learned that it was restricted to Microsoft languages. Oh well.

In February, Microsoft shipped Expression Web 2 Beta. Among other things, this update supports PHP. It's also easily the fastest tool I've used. Unlike Visual Studio 2005 and Adobe GoLive, you don't need to take a coffee break to start it up and shut it down.

My initial reaction to Expression Web 2 was quite favorable. It's beta, so the WebDAV support doesn't work with Apache and there are other teething problems, but these are okay. However, the deal killer is that you can't define the root directory, so all URLs relative to the root don't work. Microsoft has indicated they don't plan to fix this problem in this release. WTF?

Concurrent to all of this, I tried iWeb on the Mac. It's a high-level tool designed for non-web designers. It generates completely unmaintainable code, but it works and the results look good. It also has the ability to do handy things like rotate images, add drop shadows, and other image operations that historically have taken twenty steps to perform using an external image editing application, such as Paint.Net or Photoshop. iWeb will also natively import PhotoShop and Illustrator files. This is a huge win compared to most tools under Windows. iWeb also has some pretty good templates, in stark contrast to any software I've ever seen under Windows. So I've seen a vision of what things could be like with the best of both worlds, but I haven't seen a solution.

So now I'm back to square one. I'll probably have to buy Dreamweaver. It's $1,000 for Creative Suite (CS3) Web Standard version or $1,600 for CS3 Web Premium. Ouch. To add insult to injury, there's no way to upgrade from GoLive to Dreamweaver, even though they're both made by Adobe. Thanks Adobe!

Update 5/13/2008: Adobe has formally announced that GoLive has been discontinued. The good news is that they are offering an upgrade price to switch to DreamWeaver as well as a migration kit for converting GoLive projects. Read the details at:

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