Alternative to Dreamweaver – HTML-Kit
While DreamWeaver is the undisputed champ of the Web authoring world, it’s price tag puts it out of reach of most people. But an HTML editor called HTML-Kit is a great alternative to Dreamweaver.
In the world of Web design software, the undisputed champ is Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver packs everything you need to build and manage a Web site. But this power comes at a price — about $400 (U.S.). It puts Dreamweaver out of reach of most people, aside from the pro Web designer.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cheaper alternatives. There are. In fact, it’s difficult to count the number of low-cost and free HTML editors out there. The problem is that most of these editors are lacking key features that Web designers — whether casual or professional — need. But one editor for Windows pretty much bucks that trend. It’s called HTML-Kit, and it’s a deceptively powerful and flexible application with an easy-to-use package. Once you try HTML-Kit, you’ll look at Web authoring tools in a new way.
Packing a Lot of Punch
On the surface, HTML-Kit isn’t much different from any other editor on the market. It lacks some of the high-end features Dreamweaver, like site management and a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) authoring mode. But HTML-Kit does just about everything else that you need it to do. HTML-Kit has some useful features, including
- A built-in previewer
- An FTP client
- A repository for snippets of frequently-used code and scripts
If HTML-Kit has one killer feature, it’s extensibility. With a few mouse clicks and taps on your keyboard, you can change the look and feel of the HTML-Kit user interface, and add shortcuts to various external applications. I found this useful because I don’t like to use only Internet Explorer to preview Web pages. So, to ensure that my pages look good in other browsers, I was able to create a link to the Opera and Mozilla Web browsers. I was also able to link HTML-KIT to an external link checker that I like to use.
The Power of Plug-ins
You can take HTML-Kit’s extensibility several steps further by adding custom tags and functions with plug-ins. Plug-ins are small programs that combine new features to HTML-Kit without you needing to modify the actual program. According to Chami Wickremasinghe, the developer of HTML-Kit, “I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a single source to provide a complete solution for Web developers, especially given the XML related changes coming our way.”
You can have plug-ins for inserting frequently-used tags, or for other markup languages. So, if a new version of the HTML standard comes out, no problem — you can build a plug-in, so you’re not left behind. Once they get into the editor, the plug-ins are seamless. They exist as buttons on HTML-Kit’s Action Bar. Each button contains a dropdown list of functions, for example, the insertion of a tag pair.
Can’t find a plug-in that you’re looking? Well, if you’re a programmer, you can create plug-ins using programming languages like C++, Visual Basic, and Delphi. Or if you’re a technically-challenged do-it-yourselfer, you can use the separate Plug-in Generator.
The Plug-in Generator
Building a plug-in is easy, though time-consuming. In the Plug-in Generator, you set the name of the function, and then type what it will do in a supplied field. You can also add tooltips to the buttons.
Thanks to the Plug-in Generator, I was quickly able to turn HTML-Kit into a tool that can handle the variants of XML that I work with, as well as to give me instant access to the Cascading Stylesheet definitions that use.
Each plug-in you build appears as a tab on the Action Bar. Click the appropriate tab, then choose the button containing the function you want to use. It’s that easy. What you may find confusing is that the buttons will all have the same icon. You can select images for your buttons in the Plug-in Generator (or specify them in your code), but this requires you to have a set of icons in Windows .ico format handy.
HTML-Kit + HTML Tidy = Killer Combination
Another element of HTML-Kit’s flexibility is its integration with HTML Tidy. Tidy is a tool worthy of its review, but briefly, it’s a utility for analysing and correcting errors in HTML files. Tidy can generate a list of errors and automatically clean up the offending files.
But Tidy isn’t just for fixing bad HTML. Using the bundled Tidy plug-in, you can convert an HTML document to XHTML or XML with a mouse click. Tidy analyses your text, add the appropriate XML or XHTML wrappers and displays the output in a second window. If there are still problems, HTML-Kit displays hints on how to correct them.
On the Downside
HTML-Kit is slow to start because the app uses custom plug-ins to build the toolbar at startup. There’s no documentation included with either the editor or the Plug-in Generator — it’s all at the program’s Web site. And, unfortunately for those who’ve cast off the shackles of Microsoft, HTML-Kit is only available for Windows. I know a couple of people who have managed to get HTML-Kit running under Linux, but haven’t tried doing that myself.
HTML-Kit offers Web authors a powerful and flexible environment for spinning Web content. It’s not the be all, end all of HTML editors, but then again what is? But it does pack more than enough power and features to satisfy the needs of all but the most jaded Web authors. HTML-Kit has found a permanent home on the hard drive of my Windows notebook computer. I can’t think of any higher praise than that for a piece of software.