Review: 5 Free HTML Editors that Get the Job Done
May 19th, 2008 in Product Reviews
by: Matthew Griffin
A couple months ago a subscriber commented on one of my articles asking me for a resource list of Free HTML editors. I had made mention of Adobe Dreamweaver in the article and he politely reminded me that not everyone has the money to drop on Adobe's products. I decided he had a good point and determined to find the best free HTML editors out there. The task turned out to be quite a wild ride but one well worth it. Here are five solid HTML editors that get the job done.
1. First Page (Windows)- http://www.evrsoft.com/1stpage2.shtml
First page is touted by it creator Evrsoft as the HTML editor that won't mess with your code. FP has a solid list of predefined templates to create new HTML or CSS files. They aren't layout templates, just different doctypes but they save you a little time, at the very least. The environment of the editor itself is pretty robust. It defaults to a split screen code/wysiwyg view with a left-column panel for browsing files that can be toggled on and off. Code syntax highlighting is available for Perl, CSS, HTML, CF, ASP, and SSI. Unfortunately, as you can see, it doesn't render PHP pages very gracefully. Sorry, PHP fans.
Where FP shows its freeness is in overall site management tools, lack of auto-complete coding feature, and a mediocre FTP client. Don't expect to build complex templates like you can in Dreamweaver or fly through your code writing with the tab key. Also, the PHP issue is a little perplexing. Other than that, I have no complaints. In my opinion, First Page is the best editor on this list.
2. Kompozer (Mac, Windows, Linux)- http://kompozer.net/
Komposer is a bare-bones HTML editor based on Gecko, the engine behind Mozilla. The editor window in composer has tabs for WYSIWYG-view, hierarchal HTML tag view, code-view, and live preview. There is no split-screen mode for those of you who like to see the code and the visual at once. The tools include basic text formatting, image insert, etc. It also automatically parses your CSS files and puts your class selectors in a dropdown list so you can easily apply styles to your html. Like First Page, Kompser has an HTML tidy feature that compresses your HTML files and converts HTML to XHTML, and a visual color picker.
Kompser is a good editor if you like to get straight to the code and don't care too much about automated features. The interface is pretty blah, and I found the bare-minimum CSS support a little annoying. Overall, though, it gets the job done and it works on Mac OSX.
3. Amaya (Windows, Unix, Mac OSX) - http://www.w3.org/Amaya/
Amaya is the open-source pet project of W3C. On the Amaya homepage, W3C explains that the main motivation behind the development of Amaya was, "...to provide a framework that can integrate as many W3C technologies as possible." This means that generating W3C standard compliant code is the highest priority for Amaya—all other features are secondary. It's no surprise then that Amaya is the darling of the standardistas.
The style and organization of the Amaya interface is very Windows 3.1. It takes a different approach to HTML editing by fusing the editor with a web browser similar to Adobe's CSM software Contribute. But having used Contribute in the past, I found the Amaya editor/browser horribly inadequate. First, it almost never renders pages correctly (including huge sites like Google and Yahoo!). It's difficult to switch between code and preview mode unless you know the shortcut keys. The code text defaults to a what appears to be about a 9px size—almost unreadable. And the tools are all bunched up into a right-hand expandable menu.
Sorry, W3C, the Amaya HTML editor is my least favorite editor on the list. I think, though, with a little more attention to the interface Amaya could be a decent choice.
4. CSS Toolbox (Windows) - http://www.blumentals.net/csstool/
As the name implies, CSS Toolbox isn't exactly an HTML editor but I think it's a welcome supplement to the other editors on this list. It easily outshines the mediocre CSS editing capability included in other free all-in-one HTML/CSS editors. The interface in CSS Toolbox is extremely simple because of the narrow focus of the program, but it still manages to pack a punch. The syntax highlighting is great, and a tabbed panel in the right-hand column gives all kinds of options for managing and editing selectors and CSS properties without even touching the code. It also boasts a powerful set of CSS validators, reformatters, and syntax checkers.
Free CSS toolbox can also be upgraded to Rapid CSS Editor which includes a full HTML/XHTML editor. The upgrade price is reasonable; and if the HTML editor is anything like the CSS editor, I think Rapid CSS Editor is a good choice for an overall web design solution.
5. NoteTab Pro (Windows) - http://www.notetab.com/index.php
NoteTab is one of the most findable HTML editors. It seemed like everywhere I search, NoteTab was popping up. Unfortunately, it's not all it's cracked up to be. It's feature set is large but the interface is lacking and there's no WYSIWYG view. It's very much like a glorified Note Pad. An awkward and unwieldy row of buttons at the bottom of the NoteTab window gives you access to a long list of features which pop up in the left-hand column. The individual features a listed in a bland bulleted list that's difficult to navigate.
NoteTab Pro does well with the essentials. Syntax highlighting is good and it even has a decent FTP program. But with the awkward UI and the absence of a WYSIWYG view, NoteTab Pro finds a place somewhere in the middle of the pile.
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