Want to build a better website? We look at Linux tools that offer the graphics and development features you need to go open source all the way.
There are many ways to design a website. The most skilled among us are best-known for being able to code a website using nothing but a text editor. However, for those of us who are less skilled in this area, the right software tools can make all the difference.
In this article, I'll explore the benefits of using a simple text editor,as well as look at the value of various website creation applications available for Linux. Remember, just because there are various web editors available for Linux, doesn't mean that these applications are going to work as expected. I'll shine some light on what's working, what isn't and why.
It All Starts With Graphics
I don't care who you are, at some level you're going to need a decent image editor for web design. Based on my own layman's experience with web design, I've found this to be an unavoidable reality. The good news is that modern Linux desktops offer a few different options from which to choose from.
The first application I turn to is called GIMP. Despite any of the perceived shortcomings reported by frequent Photoshop users, this is a great go-to image editor. Plus, if you haven't tried either application youwon't need to worry about "unlearning" anything Photoshop-related. GIMP allows web developers running a Linux desktop to make nearly any change to an image you can think of with relative ease. And anything that GIMP is missing, can likely be handled by installing the right GIMP plugin.
If you're finding that creating something with vector graphics is better-suited to your web project, then odds are you'll end up using an application called Inkscape. The Inkscape application is useful when you're working up a new graphic without the benefit of an image from which you'd otherwise manipulate. Offering much of the same functionality as Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape offers one critical feature that it's closed source counterparts are lacking – forgoing the hefty price tag. Unlike Illustrator, Inscape offers a 100% free alternative to web designers needing access to decent vector graphics software.
Web Development Tools
Those of you looking to roll up your sleeves and dive right into your projects with a web development IDE should consider Aptana Studio. This software provides web developers with the real-world tools needed to create fully functional web apps. This isn't to say that you can't use Aptana Studio to create a static website, rather using it for this alone would be a waste of its overall functionality. This software is a fantastic alternative to Dreamweaver and other similar programs found on Windows.
Now for those of you who would rather keep things simple and stick to a "WYSIWYG" feel, there are some decent solutions available. One that I was fond of until it was discontinued was called Quanta Plus. Far from perfect, it offered great support for templates and with a bit of patience, could be quite useful if you'd rather not code everything by hand. Sadly, this editor is no longer available.
Next up is an application called Bluefish. It makes for a nice bridge between Quanta Plus and Aptana Studio. Bluefish does lack the WYSIWYG functionality found with other editors, but still offers other decent features. If you know what you're doing, you'll find that Bluefish is robust enough for the most skilled among you. And instead of offering functionality that simply gets in the way, it provides you with a great set of organizational tools to keep your workflow moving forward. As you move Bluefish into the standard bar, you instantly realize that this is a powerful editor. With Bluefish offering great template action for HTML, PHP and Apache, you really come away feeling like it wasn't a wasted download.
Despite the glowing review above, Bluefish isn't for web developers who aren't familiar with coding from a standard text editor. This is an advanced development tool, so don't let the silly name fool you. This isn't a toy by any stretch of the imagination. Though, I will mention that having the capability to let the software handle repetitive tagging for you, is a real-time saver worth investigating.
Above I mentioned the discontinued web editor Quanta Plus? Well, there's another one that offers similar options and rather than being tossed aside, it has been given new life with a new name. This editor was called Nvu and over time, went on to become what is known as KompoZer. Unlike Bluefish, KompoZer hasn't seen the level of activity that you might expect. The last update appears to have been sometime in 2010, which makes it difficult to rely on as HTML standards and other issues progress.
It seems that unless something significant happens, KompoZer could face the same fate as its Nvu cousin. I hope this isn't the case, but it's really difficult to recommend something that hasn't been updated in such a long time. There may still be some activity behind the scenes, it's difficult to say for sure though.
The State of Web Design in Linux
It pains me to say this, but unless you're someone who's working with an existing CMS or can comfortably work with a text editor or one of the editors above, you're not going to find the volume of newbie friendly software tools for web development in Linux. The only Linux friendly web editors I see getting any attention at all, are those designed for more advanced users.
The reason newbie web editors continue to stagnate isn't really that surprising. The masses are moving to web-based alternatives. This is especially true with the expansion of new developers opting for solutions like WordPress over that of simply running a static website. The idea of running PHP and databases is suddenly easier than it once was.
I think the last piece of the puzzle is with cross-platform "site-builder" type tools available from companies like GoDaddy among others. GoDaddy's Website Tonight allows even the newest webmaster to hit the ground running and as a result, feel like the need for installable software is unneeded. Bundle the revelation above with the fact that advanced users are generally quite happy with a text editor and a Sunday afternoon, the need for tools such as Quanta Plus among others, seems almost silly now.
So coming full circle back to the original question, yes, I think that with the advances made in web-based solutions and the maintenance provided on advanced editors, Linux is perfectly suitable for anyone looking to build their own website. They key I think, is to research the right tool for the job first.