Create Web Pages with Nvu

The Nvu web authoring system promises a lot, but falls short.
For years, Macromedia’s Dreamweaver has been the gold standard in “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) web page editors (Adobe GoLive? Not nearly as extensible. Microsoft FrontPage? Yeah, right.) Unfortunately, Macromedia has chosen to release Dreamweaver solely for Windows and Mac OS X. (If you’d like to try to change the company’s opinion, enter a polite request at http://www.macromedia.com/support/email/wishform/?6213= 6, but don’t hold your breath). So, what’s a penguin lover to do?
Michael Robertson, the guy behind Linspire (formerly Lindows) is now putting his money behind Nvu (http://www.nvu.com/), which describes itself as “A complete web authoring system for Linux desktop users[ and] Microsoft Windows users[ that rivals] programs like FrontPage and Dreamweaver.”
So, is it true? If you’re used to Dreamweaver, will you find Nvu equally compelling?
Not really.
Michael Robertson has gotten in trouble like this before. When he first announced Lindows in 2001, he made it sound like Lindows would be able to run Linux programs — and virtually any Windows program — without difficulty. But within a year, he’d changed his tune, promising only partial compatibility with Windows programs. He oversold his distribution, and now Robertson is overselling his web editor. That’s not to say that Nvu is a bad program; it’s just not what it’s being touted as.
To see for yourself, download Nvu from http://www.nvu.com/download.html. It’s available for all major distros (and Mac OS X and Windows), and if you can’t find a binary package on the site or using your favorite repository, you can always download the source and compile it.

Based on Mozilla Composer, Nvu lacks many of Dreamweaver’s coolest features, like side-by-side panes displaying WYSIWYG and code of the same page, a command that cleans up the cruddy HTML produced by Microsoft Word, and an asset manager that keeps track of images, URLs, colors, and templates. In particular, Nvu lacks the killer feature that makes Dreamweaver the best WYSIWYG web editor out there: customizability. Dreamweaver allows users to completely control menu structure and code output, and permits users to add hundreds of free extensions written by users all over the world. You can’t control the menus in Nvu nor the code generated, which is too bad, given the sometimes weird HTML that Nvu spits out. As an example, the default insertion of <br> when the Enter key is pressed is annoying, different from the behavior of Dreamweaver (and virtually every other WYSIWYG editor), and wreaks havoc with CSS.
Speaking of CSS, Nvu includes a CSS editor, but it’s design needs work to make it easier to use. Nvu’s HTML Validator is nice, although it really just uses the World Web Consortium’s web site (http://www.w3c.org, a fantastic resource). And Nvu’s site publisher is nice, as long as you don’t use SFTP (which every web page editor and every web site hosting company should mandate). Nvu also has a cool feature or two, like generating a table of contents based on header elements, and so-called “Smart Widgets,” which make it easy to insert things like calendars and buttons.
If Nvu didn’t explicitly compare itself to Dreamweaver, it wouldn’t come up short. On its own, Nvu is a satisfactory web editor, but in no way matches up to Dreamweaver.
Nvu is an open source application, and is bound to improve over time — but it’s got a long way to go. In the meantime, Dreamweaver runs on Linux under CrossOver Office (http://www.codeweavers.com), and Quanta (http://quanta.sourceforge.net) is an excellent non-WYSIWYG web page editor.
When it comes to open source WYSIWYG web editors, for now, Nvu is it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Linux users deserve better.

R. Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University, consults for Bryan Consulting, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. You can reach him at class="emailaddress">scott@granneman.com.

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