In Search of a Lightweight WYSIWYG Client

By Deane Barker on February 1, 2005

I’m interested in finding a nice, lightweight, WYSIWYG HTML editor for use by non-developers. In this scenario, as I’m sure you know, is not havig too little functionality, but having too much. I haven’t found one yet that I’m comfortable unleashing on non-developer content editors.

How about FrontPage or Dreamweaver, you say? Dreamweaver is too complicated for the average editor to grasp. Yes, I know it makes perfect to HTML jockeys, but it’s not for the faint-of-heart. FrontPage is simpler, but I’ve found it gives the user too much rope. They end up with more than enough to hang themselves.

Contribute from Macromedia comes close. It’s a scaled-down version of Dreamweaver, but it’s not problem-free. It requires some voodoo to get it up and running and I didn’t find that it was easy to edit file system-based files. Contribute is at its best when used on a site managed by a geek with a copy of Dreamweaver.

Surprisingly, Mozilla Composer — part of the Mozilla Suite — is very good. Not quite perfect, but it’s clean and simple. However, you have to have the whole Mozilla shindig to use it. I hope they break it off into its own product.

What I’m looking for is a WYSIWYG editor with which I could let a user edit a pre-created site. Using some strategic rewrite rules, a limited FTP account, and php_append and _prepend files, you could very easily build a nice, maintainable site that handles all the common elements of the page, leaving just the “content valley” to be managed by a content editor with a lightweight WYSIWYG client.

Now if I could just find the right one. Any recommendations?

Update: One last requirement: the client needs to be page-centric. Too many HTML editors drift off into concepts of “the Site” or “the Web.” I want one that is concerned pretty much solely with the page that’s currently loaded into it, and doesn’t try to wrap its arms around the entire Web site at once.

Gadgetopia

Comments

  1. Check nvu.com – its based on the Gecko engine (like Mozilla Composer) and is for Linux and Windows. Its work in progress but has many features.

  2. I loved to give around Frontpage Express to Newbies -looked like word and did not have much possibillities to screw up. Basically, you could do a normal website in it in wysinwyg. Perhaps not to sophisticated with blinkenlights, but it was easy.

    NVU misses some basic principles and is not fool proof enough. Nicole

  3. Other than Nvu ( see the lead developers blog at http://glazman.org/weblog/dotclear/index.php?Nvu ), you might want to check out

    Mozile (http://mozile.mozdev.org/) “Mozile or Mozilla Inline Editor is an in-browser, context-sensitive, XHTML editor that allows a user to edit all or just specific editable sections of any XHTML page from the comfort of his own browser. It can act as the client-side of a content-editing system or as a self-contained “web word processor”

  4. I forgot about Pablo. He based his off of FrontPage Express, according to his site.

    As for Contribute, I remember trying to edit a single file on my desktop once, and I was unable to. Contribute required me to set up a “site,” and connect to it. I think something was broken whereby it would only accept FTP credentials too, because I specifically remember thinking, “Holy cats, if you don’t have an FTP site, you can’t use this thing…”

  5. (Hey, Deeje beat me here! ;-)

    Ditto on the “like to know more about Contribute problems”, thanks… I’m not sure whether voodoo was required for your own installation, or whether it was more about setting up a connection key for a non-technical editor, or….

    (Use of Dreamweaver can be very helpful when setting up protected regions in pages, and exposing only certain areas for editing by content specialists, but you can also specify those template regions in a regular text editor if you prefer… here are the ranges of editability you can expose, as well as the HTML comments which constrain Contribute editability: http://www.macromedia.com/go/16347 .)

    “”Holy cats, if you don’t have an FTP site, you can’t use this thing…”” Yes, the tool is really designed for easy editing of actual HTML files on a server… more info here: http://www.macromedia.com/go/16673

    Either FTP or HTTP transfer will work, but setting up a connection is one of the big upfront tasks… there are troubleshooting guides available by searching the Macromedia site with terms like “contribute http ftp”.

    A big difference between Macromedia Contribute and the Composer/Nvu is that concept of protected regions, and the knowledge that a clumsy content author can’t mangle the page itself.

    Regards, John Dowdell Macromedia Support

  6. Can Contribute work without a “Connection”? Can I just open a random HTML file on my hard drive, edit, and save it? This is what I was having problems with.

    (You Macromedia folks must watch Feedster like hawks…)

  7. Here’s my thing with “editable regions” and such —

    If I have a design that depends so completely on specific things being in specific spots, then that’s something I want to content manage. I mean, if the users aren’t allowed to color outside the lines anyway, then I say wrap a database around that stuff.

  8. John and deeje, you guys may want to consider adding support for sftp, FTP-SSL/TLS, or WebDAV over HTTPS to future versions of Contribute. Many systems admins (myself included) are working on eliminating FTP from their networks completely, since it’s clear text, tough to route, and most FTP servers have poor security histories. If you choose things carefully, you can go without any sort of FTP server at all these days.

    Ideally, all the tools that connect to my servers would support SFTP with public/private key authentication.

  9. Contribute works more like a web browser than like a file system explorer. If you’re running a local web server then you can browse to and publish local files, but that’s a special case of having files served in the normal way. Details are in that previous citation: http://www.macromedia.com/go/16673

    Yes, constructing a database, and constructing templates for on-demand merging of database with markup, and then constructing some type of (usually non-WYSIWYG) editing environment to modify the database, that’s another popular approach. Contribute’s specialty is in easy, safe editing of regular HTML pages.

    Joe, I know that transport protocols were beefed up in initial versions to satisfy requests from early customers… if you’ve got a need for further protocols then describing your situation to the team directly could help greatly, thanks in advance: http://www.macromedia.com/go/wish

    jd/mm

  10. And to follow up on John’s comments, Contribute 3 supports LAN, FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, and WebDAV over SSL, on both Windows and Mac OS X. I hope you’ll give Contribute another look :-)

  11. Hey,

    This weblog entry was very interesting for me, not just because it was about Contribute, but also because it demonstrated something I think we all see coming: tech support via weblogs, or blogsupport. It would be great for us all if you blogged about this from your perspective.

    peace

    deeje

  12. Just for giggles, I put Nvu on a USB flash drive, and it worked. I copied the entire “Program Files” directory from my C: drive to the Flash drive. Then I plugged the drive into a computer that did not have Nvu installed, and ran the executable off the Flash drive.

    I looked in the program directory, and there are a ton of DLLs in there, so it much be statically-ish compiled (packaged?) — it has all its libraries in the same directory and doesn’t depend on anything external to that directory.

  13. I’m also looking for one too but I want a freeware one where I can lock regions if I want to. I use dreamweaver myself but can’t expect clients to buy and learn this. Any freeware html editors that do everything talked about here and allow regions to be locked and hidden if needs be? Also the ability to set up custom wizards for the user would be good.

  14. Since MS just announced plans to sunset FrontPage my team is busy looking for a replacement. We currently support Contribute and Dreamweaver, but I have found that there is a big gap between the two products that FrontPage filled nicely – mainly in the area of laying out a web page (as opposed to content management in Contribute and web application development in Dreamweaver). (A personal aside: I abhor FP, and do about 99% of my development in DW. However, some of our internal authors need something dumber than DW but more robust than Contribute) We were considering supporting Nvu, but there is no support for WebDAV in the current release, nor any chatter of it being added in a future version. MS is going to offer a product called Expressions Web Design as a replacement to FP, but no one knows what it will do or support since there is still no demo available. I’m going to check out some of the links in the comments above to see if there is any other candidates out there.

    Also, I would like to say that I was really impressed with Macromedia’s direct response. Not all that surprising given MM’s terrific record of support (I hope Adobe doesn’t corrupt that!) I hope to see more of this blogsupport, as deeje called it, from other vendors.

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