Dreamweaver 101 for Slashdotters

I sometimes drift over to Slashdot to see what my fellow geeks are debating at the waterhole. Being a self-professed geek myself, you'd think I would find it a pleasurable gathering of high intellects and yet, for the most part, I keep finding myself disappointed at the myths and misinformation that Slashdotters appear to take great pride in perpetuating, especially when it comes to matters concerned with Flash and, quite possibly, anything that isn't Open Source.

I love Open Source. I also believe that I've contributed my share to Open Source, with the Ariaware RIA Platform, FLP Maker, FlashAnt, etc., and hope to continue to do so. However, this doesn't mean that I take every opportunity to badmouth closed-source applications. The mantra at Slashdot appears to be: Closed Source Sucks (CSS?.. Is this a conspiracy? :))

This is why I've started a new catagory on FlashAnt called Slashdotter High, to help Slashdotters get at least a high-school education in things-not-Open Source so they don't end up sounding so clueless when they post. Therein, I'll occasionally be highlighting Slashdot threads where the Flash "facts" being spouted by our so-called "experts" date from the Internet equivalent of the Bronze Age.

It's funny enough that what prompted this post wasn't a thread on Flash (that evil tool for creating huge animations and taking candid pictures of you with your webcam when you're not looking) but Dreamweaver. Specifically, on Dreamweaver templates.

I've always found the templating feature in Dreamweaver to be very useful when working in teams for HTML-based sites. They give you the ability to demarcate parts of a web page as editable and leave others locked so developers cannot accidentally alter them. In this way, you can somewhat consider templates in Dreamweaver as a step towards the Contribute model. (Contribute gets mentioned just once in the thread, by a poster defending Dreamweaver templates.)

What I found interesting about the thread was that the article that sparked it doesn't really offer an alternative to Dreamweaver's templates. It suggests that people instead use a PERL-based command-line template processor called ttree.

Let's see how it compares to Dreamweaver:

Dreamweaver templates: Verdict: Visual, intuitive, easy-to-use

ttree: Verdict: Non-visual, requires PERL and command-line interface (CLI) usage knowledge, must process templates on each update

Here's a sample config file for ttree and the required command-line syntax, taken from the Getting Started with the Perl Template Toolkit article on DevShed:

$ ttree -f /home/dent/web/ttree.cfg

src = /home/dent/web/templates dest = /home/dent/web/html

lib = /home/dent/web/lib

pre_process = header

post_process = footer


$ ttree -s templates -d output -v

Something tells me that seeing that didn't just make every designer reading this dump Dreamweaver and start clicking wildly away to download the latest version of PERL and its templating toolkit.

Having established that the Perl Template Toolkit and ttree are not viable alternatives to Dreamweaver templates let's examine why the article's author, Mark Stosberg, made such a claim. To see the reason, you don't have to search too far beyond how he describes himself on the Slashdot thread: "I'm the author, and I'm a professional Perl programmer. I prefer Perl because I know Perl better."

In other words, a classic example of having a hammer and everything you see mysteriously resembling a nail. In this case, it has led the author to compare apples with oranges and declare oranges the winner, to loving applause by the Slashdot crowd.

To give the thread credit, a poster did suggest another alternative, the open-source HTML editor Nvu (pronounced "N-View".) Again, however, I fail to see how Nvu can be compared to Dreamweaver. In this case, it's not so much apples and oranges but comparing a Sinclair Spectrum to a dual-processor Xeon box -- sure, they're both computers, but...

I installed Nvu to take it for a spin and immediately hit a couple of snags: In the site definition dialog box, I couldn't find any way of setting up a local site. (Apparently you can only work on remote files.) Undeterred by this huge lack of functionality, I then tried unsuccessfully to open a PHP file, only to be reminded by Nvu that it was "Not an HTML file." Oops! Strike two! Then I tried to hand code a little PHP in the source code view and Nvu corrupted it by removing part of my code and adding an import statement for a CSS file in its place. At this point, I decided to label it under the "Not Quite Ready for PrimeTime" bin with a note to look over version 1.0 when it becomes available.

Is Nvu an alternative to Dreamweaver? Not by a long-shot.

Conclusion: There doesn't appear currently to be an open-source alternative to Macromedia Dreamweaver. If you are looking for a complimentary product to aid in team development of HTML-based sites, take a look at Contribute.