Any aspiring web designer seeking help from a forum about the "best" web design software will immediately be greeted by two very different responses. One will either be told to use a large, expensive, purpose-built design program such as Dreamweaver or to use something they most likely already have- Notepad. These are very disparate responses, and this article will explore some of the general reasons this rift occurred.
The Two Sides
"Dreamweaver" and "Notepad" are the classic examples usually provided, though they are not exhaustive. The central conflict is generally between those who advocate the use of "WYSIWYG" programs and "text editors". WYSIWYG is an only slightly more efficient way to say "What You See Is What You Get." WYSIWYG programs employ a user interface designed to provide an accurate or nearly accurate preview of the end output while the content is being created. WYSIWYG web design programs endeavor to allow a user to edit their site information as it might appear in a browser when published to the web.
"Text editors" are simply that, small programs designed to edit text documents, of which most web pages are actually built on a "nuts and bolts" level. Very briefly, the web pages seen in a browser are simply lines of text with "markup," the "M" in "HTML." Markup is the series of tags that tell the browser what the document is, how to order it, and in many cases, how to display it. In order to edit a web page using a text editor, one has to know HTML. This is where the 2 web design camps diverge. WYSIWYG programs are basically designed to bring editing to those who do not know HTML.
Many web designers take the view that one must learn HTML in order to design, and that WYSIWYG programs are, to quote a few common complaints, bloated, unnecessary, and produce poor code. Using Notepad, or any of a similar crop of basic text editing programs, seems to be a kind of "street cred" among those designers that value this knowledge. Although the ever increasing feature set ("bloat") of many WYSIWYG programs cannot be denied, I found having more tools available is generally not a bad thing. Further, anyone who levels the "bad code" charge has probably not used modern WYSIWYG programs like Dreamweaver 8. In the past there have been WYSIWYG programs guilty of producing very bad code, FrontPage, for instance, but this is mostly a relic.
Novices are welcome to ignore these weak arguments and find a WYSIWYG program with which they are comfortable. One of the key benefits of a good WYSIWYG program is the ability to learn the code while using the program. Making changes in a "preview" mode and watching how the underlying code changes is a useful way to discover HTML. As a designer who started out using Notepad, I moved on to Dreamweaver for another important reason, convenience. Knowing the underlying code, I was able to quickly make changes in the "design" mode with a good knowledge of what those changes did to the code. I could also work in the "code" mode and see what the results might look like without having to upload them or preview in a browser. Most modern WYSIWYG design programs have strong underlying code editing systems, providing those who wish to use them with a "Notepad" like experience should they wish to use it. Modern WYSIWYG design programs also provide additional convenience of site management, re-useable code, custom templates, and a personal favorite of mine, spell check.
Don't be shamed into trying to learn HTML via a text editor if that's not right for you. Web design is a learning process and WYSIWYG software can provide an excellent learning platform. The only thing to be afraid of is, perhaps, the price tag of most WYSIWYG software. Notepad and similar text editors are certainly economical. There is some "middle ground" in the debate. Some "advanced" text editors do exist that are built with web design in mind and provide some basic luxuries. There is also a wide variety of online site builders that automate the design process beyond even that capable by expensive WYSIWYG software. There is no "best" web design program, only the best program for an individual designer.
Mr. Lester has served for 4 years as the webmaster for ApolloHosting.com and previously worked in the IT industry an additional 5 years, acquiring knowledge of hosting, design, and search engine optimization. Apollo Hosting provides website hosting, ecommerce hosting, vps hosting, and web design services to a wide range of customers. Established in 1999, Apollo prides itself on the highest levels of customer support.