Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching for an HTML editor

This shouldn't be so hard...

I'm searching for a freeware HTML editor. I code almost all of my HTML by hand (for instance, my web site) so I'm looking for a text editor that can make my life a bit easier.

I mostly need it for work, where I'm writing help files in HTML Help format.

Back in the late 90s I used a program called Arachnophilia. It was a pretty good program, but it had some warts and needed some additional options. Unfortunately, the developer changed it from a Windows program to a Java cross-platform program. I say "unfortunately" because he mucked about with the interface and made it much slower. I saw, recently, that there was an update. I downloaded it, installed it, and uninstalled it within 15 minutes.

(The guy also has a screed against Microsoft on his web site. Now, I'm not exactly pro-Microsoft. I thought the U.S. Justice Department gave them a slap on the wrist when much more was necessary. But it doesn't exactly make one feel comfortable downloading software from a guy who apparently wrote his app in Java in part to get back at Redmond.)

As I'm po', I'm looking for a freeware program but I'd purchase a program if it fit my needs. Unfortunately, most of the straight text editor programs are written by small companies and are somewhat buggy, and I can't afford the full blown programs — like Dreamweaver — which are complete overkill for what I do, and way too expensive (hundreds of dollars).

Here's the wish list of features:
  • Colour coding of the text compatible with HTML or XML, and cascading style sheets.
  • Ability to easily add links and graphics. Specifically, if adding text or graphics from your own web site, the program allows you to select the file and it will insert the correct link and image tag.
  • A function for easily adding special characters, such as the cents sign, etc. Preferably, it would display a set of special characters that the user clicks on to add to the text.
  • Allow the creation of macros or snippets, etc. This allows the user to create functions for easily adding repeated text to the document.
  • A spell checker.
  • Allow search and replace across multiple documents.
  • HTML tag reference for ease of entering new tags.
  • Preview your web page from within the program itself.
  • Cold folding (where you can close part of the code to make it easier to read and debug your code)
For the last several years I've used a program called HTML-Kit. The build 292 version is the last freeware version. Technically, I guess, it was shareware. Anyone could run it, but the developer encouraged people to register (at a cost of US$65, or there abouts). Sometime a couple of years ago the developer stopped working on the free version (though it's still available) and announced the release of HTML-Kit Tools. This version is only available for registered users.

I registered HTML-Kit to get HTML-Kit Tools. I'm not very happy with this decision. HTML-Kit has all my wish list items except code folding and search and replace across all documents. The search and replace it does have is a little annoying. There are also some bugs in the software. If you span across paragraphs and hit the backspace key to delete text, the program deletes too much. I made it crash the other day by typing too fast. It doesn't have an auto-recover during a crash.

The bugs were annoying, but I figured these were fixed in HTML-Kit Tools. They were, but now there are different bugs. The developer actually created a new version due to a crash bug I found.

Worse, it's missing an important feature of HTML-Kit, the spell checker. The search and replace is much worse on the new version (I really dislike it), the macro/snippet function is far less intuitive than the old version (and the old function wasn't exactly intuitive), and when you preview a web page it leaves a preview copy hanging around (I have to check to see if there's a way to shut it off). The interface has been simplified to look more like the ribbon in Microsoft Office 2007 products. The interface is cleaner, but it doesn't look as professional.

So, overall, I'm not that happy with HTML-Kit Tools. In fact, I went back to the old program.

In the meantime, I tested a few other programs (roughly in order of testing):
  • Notepad++: This one gets lots of good reviews. It's a generic code editor, and works with multiple languages. It is well supported, with lots of add-on modules. But, it doesn't have a way to easily add links or graphics to HTML, it doesn't have a spell checker, you can't preview within the program (which I can live without, to be honest) and it doesn't have a special character preview.

  • PSPad: I stumbled across this. It has most of what I want, including a spell checker, but it doesn't have a link/graphic function, it doesn't have a feature for adding special characters, and it doesn't do code-folding.

  • Notetab Light: This is the free version of a line of products, so it's possible that a "for pay" version has the features I'm after. The free version doesn't have colour code, nor does it have a spell checker, or code folding. It does have the other items on the list, and it's very good at search and replace (I keep it around for that reason).

  • Aptana Studio: This is the most professional looking of all the programs I tried. I really like the interface. I really want to use this. Again, though, it has some issues. I can't make the spell checker work, if it comes with one (it has a section under preferences that suggests it does have a spell checker, but I can't make it work). So far my question to their support forum has been unanswered. It has most of the other features. It does not have an easy way of inserting graphics and links, but if you find the file you want you can copy the link into the clipboard. So, we'll say that's about 1/3 what I'm after on that feature.

    As I said, I want to like this one, but I'm not getting the warm and fuzzies from their support.

  • CodeLobster: This is another freeware program. When I first ran it, it looked like it had everything I wanted. Digging a little deeper, it doesn't have a spell checker, it doesn't have a way to do macros, and it automatically saves your page when you go to preview it. They said today they are planning the macro feature and then, later, the spell checker. When this has a few more features it looks like it could replace HTML-Kit, but it's not there yet.

There were two other small programs I didn't keep around for long.

I'm also looking into Microsoft's Visual Web Developer Express tool, but I don't have much faith in it. It requires a whole web development environment. Then, it wanted to upgrade Visual Studio on my computer (it uses a version of Visual Studio) before it would proceed. Unfortunately, it took over an hour (!) to download the update and it's now taken more than half an hour to install it. All for something I think is going to end up being hideous overkill.

So, if you have any suggestions for HTML editors, I would appreciate hearing from you.

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