Open Website Creation Tools

Asa and Paul Ellis have been having an exchange; Paul started by asking why it is we don’t bother users at first run with a “Before you go any further, you must choose a search engine from this list of every possible engine we can find, none of whom have ever given us any money” dialog, arguing that therefore we aren’t “open to choice”. Asa replied, pointing out the difference between our governance model and a standard corporation. He also said, further down in the same comment thread:

It’s really hard for me to believe that either of those companies have the free and open Web at heart when they’re actively subverting it with closed technologies like Flash and Silverlight.

In a follow-up, Paul picks up on this and asks why it is that Flash and Silverlight are stealing a march on open web technologies. He claims it’s the slow standards process, but he also writes:

The real weak spot is in the development tools for “free and open” technologies. There are no AJAX development environments that can compare to the tools available for Flash and Silverlight, and the latter has only been out for one year. It is so bad that people made a big deal over a framework to make AJAX development a little easier.

The recent discussions about the future work of the Mozilla Foundation are leading me to think that we need to get back into this space. I wrote this comment giving one way I think we can distinguish what the Foundation should be doing from what it shouldn’t; as you can see, authoring tools falls into the IN category. In writing that comment, it did strike me that this was a ball we used to be running with, at least in some way (with Composer) and which we’ve now dropped.

Of course, there’s history in this space, just like any other. For whatever reason, Gecko-based development in this area has taken a different path from browser or mail client development. But is it time that the Mozilla project looked actively again at how it can better support the open web with authoring tools?

9 thoughts on “Open Website Creation Tools

  1. You know, a few years ago there was a competitor to Java, based on Michael Franz’s Ph.D. thesis, that ran circles around Java. It was called “Juice”. A Netscape plugin and a toolkit were actually developed and publicly available. I don’t know whether it is applicable to the problem, or what the license looks like, but you can be sure it was everything those technologies are not: fast, lightweight, versatile, and simple. It’s really a shame it’s dead.

  2. You are missing a huge point – the runtimes.

    You can claim that Adobe and Microsoft are subverting the open web and you may be right.

    Alternatively the whole Mozilla community, along with those from the W3C community (alas, often one in the same), could wake up and realise that the “open web” is crap! Go look at all the things these proprietary runtimes can do and try to do half of them in double the time it takes to do it proprietary.

    I am an open web advocate, don’t get me wrong, but how hard is it to write an “open web” site with something as fundamental as video?

    Then there is the insane notion that the web has to be a medium where every single widget is created by us poor authors! If I want to write a web application that allows people to type, cut/paste, style content and hell, maybe add in some rich media themselves – why do I have to hope like hell that some poor sod has slaved on his keyboard to provide a JS library that barely resembles the power of a word processor 30 years old!?

    There’s no point building an ‘open web’ authoring tool if you haven’t got the fundamental widgets to give authors to use. What are you going to do, write a Dreamweaver clone ‘updated’ to include a drag and drop TinyMCE instance?

    Ridiculous!

    Give me a <richtexteditor> tag that I can code in seconds, setting attributes such as charset=utf8|ISO and output=xhtml|text and have the damn browser automagically translate on the fly. Save us from Windows 1252! Save us from content dumped in via Word! Give us a real API for allowing users to manipulate images within the browser and then drop them into the <richtexteditor> element where they will be adjustable by the user. Better still, allow site developers to nominate acceptable drop zones within the <richtexteditor>!

    For ch*&st sake, do something to help “open web” developers instead of goddamn fractal kaleidoscope emulators and seemingly useless (not to mentionn verbose) SVG hacks.

  3. You are missing a huge point: the runtimes.

    You can claim that Adobe and Microsoft are subverting the open web and you may be right. Bit harsh on Adobe given the donation of Tamarin perhaps.

    Alternatively the whole Mozilla community, along with those from the W3C community (alas, often one in the same), could wake up and realise that the “open web” is simply not as attractive as the widgets offered by proprietary runtimes. Go look at all the things these proprietary runtimes can support and try to do half of them in double the time it takes to do it proprietary. I am guessing but I imagine you would struggle. As you mention, Silverlight has only been around for 12 months but we are *still* seeing just the occasional Planet Mozilla posting where some Mozilla developer has sorta, maybe, if you compile it yourself … got something Silverlight-ish working on his machine in his ‘lab’.

    So the point is that it’s not so much the authoring ware as the widgets available to authors. The web is like cars when they only had three gears. You can do a lot with three gears, but you just cant do as much as that six speed with overdrive. Don’t even mention hybrids, the webcar is years behind them! I laugh when I see phrases like “Web 2.0”. The “open web” is barely at “Web 0.[HTML]4”. That’s right, still in alpha!

    I am an open web advocate, don’t get me wrong, but how hard is it to write an “open web” site with something as fundamental as video?

    Then there is the insane notion that the web has to be a medium where every single widget is created by us poor authors! If I want to write a web application that allows people to type, cut/paste, style content and well … maybe even add in some rich media themselves … why do I have to hope like hell that some poor sod has slaved on his keyboard to provide a JS library that barely resembles the power of a 30 year old word processor?!

    There’s no point building an “open web” authoring tool if you haven’t got the fundamental widgets to give authors to use. What are you going to do, write a Dreamweaver clone ‘updated’ to include a drag and drop TinyMCE instance?

    Ridiculous!

    Give me a <richtexteditor> tag that I can code in seconds, setting attributes such as charset=utf8|ISO and output=xhtml|text and have the damn browser automagically translate on the fly. Save us from Windows 1252! Save us from content dumped in via Word! Give us a real API for allowing users to manipulate images within the browser and then drop them into the <richtexteditor> element where they will be adjustable by the user. Better still, allow site developers to nominate acceptable drop zones within the <richtexteditor>!.

    For ch*&st sake, do something to help “open web” developers instead of goddamn fractal kaleidoscope emulators and seemingly useless (not to mention verbose) SVG hacks.

    Deprecate <textarea> and give us <richtexteditor>! PLEASE!

    Expanding HTML and implementing HTML widgets that are markedly more compelling that those offered by proprietary runtimes will bring in the same developers who want to go “open” but have bosses telling them they like this glitzy looking Flash widget or function. From there, those building authoring tools will be nagged into supporting these new compelling widgets because site authors will demand their WYSIWYG Dreamweavers will support it!

  4. I think point made here is absolutely true. Initially i developed my website with forntpage (5 years a go). It was so easy to do an drag and drop. I can change my footer and Copyright notice at one place and it changes at all the places. Really easy to create navigation menu. (Although really crappy code inside). And of course, I loved all templates. :):)

    Once discovered how crappy it was i threw everything and was searching for some open source tool which can do some similar functionality and generate code which can pass W3C tests. I could not find one for almost a year. Although some of them were good but no one matched FP. Just a year back i found Komodo Edit. Its a good IDE but again it more of an editor. (I love my Emacs then that). Why not contribute to these projects also ? What FF makes is runtime for OpenWeb, But what about creating contents for OpenWeb ?

  5. This is exactly the kind of dialog I was hoping to see when I wrote my post. Mozilla could do a lot more to foster a good open web by making it easier to develop using open “standards”.

  6. A traditional approach — that is, a mostly native application that spits out your HTML+JS — is a big project that will need a lot of upkeep to maintain and be relevant to web authors (e.g. composer, nvu, frontpage, dreamweaver, etc.) It’s going to be a large drain on Mozilla’s resources if it’s going to be of any real use.

    An alternative approach is to develop a set of authoring tools *within* the browser (i.e. using HTML+JS but extending the browser engine where necessary), that can be reused by inline editors. What would be especially useful is a reference editor that incorporates the authoring tools, one that can be easily extended to handle other browsers (perhaps by other users).

    Perhaps one of the existing inline editor tools (tinymce, fckeditor, etc.) could be brought into the Mozilla fold as a starting point? Glazman’s recent work on a source editor also seems relevant…

  7. PLEASE! Take a look at what MozPad tried to do and maybe throw some support towards OpenKomodo (a beautiful app and based on mozilla code!)

    Like Alex said above, it’s way past time.

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