Find out why I am seriously considering abandoning the code editor I have been using for over a decade in favour of Coda for the mac.
I can’t remember when I first started using Dreamweaver but it would have been at least 1998. In those early days I was attracted to it because it could code all of the HTML soup that was necessary for table based design.
When I made the transition to standards I returned to hand coding but after some investigation I could find no better coder for me than Dreamweaver. It did everything I required and so I saw no reason to spend money on a new application.
I regularly look at emerging editors but nothing has tempted me to change. After all you cannot teach old dogs new tricks and changing editor seemed like too much work. That was until I came across Coda. I haven’t made the transition yet but I am seriously considering it.
So why am I tempted to leave Dreamweaver behind? What makes Coda so good?
Its not that Coda is revolutionary. However, it is extremely well considered and has a clean, easy to use interface. They get the basics right including auto-complete, syntax highlighting and integrated FTP. However, in addition to this they add a number of extras which I am finding hugely useful.
The following are the features that impressed me the most (even though they are far from perfect)…
One of the most impressive functions is the preview facility. I always liked the WYSIWYG function in Dreamweaver even after I moved across to standards based design. I could pull up the design view and click on an element to jump to the appropriate piece of code. On larger more complex pages this was incredibly useful. Unfortunately the Dreamweaver design view was far from WYSIWYG. It rarely rendered a page correctly, and so as my hand coding became more sophisticated it struggled to keep up.
My only criticism of the functionality is the constant page refreshes in preview mode. If you are working in split screen this can become distracting after a while.
Talking of jumping to a specific place in the code there is also a great tool called symbols. Not the most descriptive name but incredibly useful. Symbols is an interface element that lists all the headings, divs with ids and comments in the current HTML page. You can then click on anyone of these to jump to the specific place in the code.
Two things I specifically like about Dreamweaver were snippets and configurable keyboard shortcuts. Snippets allowed me to keep a library of useful code that I could drop into the page. Keyboard shortcuts were excellent for quickly adding code without resorting to the mouse.
Coda solves these two problems using clips. Clips are essentially snippets but with the ability to add text expanding shortcuts. For example if you type ‘href’ and then press tab it will add a complete href link with the cursor placed at whatever point you specified when you created the clip.
Although clips are good they are not in my opinion quite as good as snippets in Dreamweaver. For a start you cannot organise your clips into folders which is important as the number of clips increases. Secondly although the text expanding function is useful it does not allow clips to be wrapped around an existing bit of code. This initially appears to only be possible by double clicking on the clip itself (requiring the mouse).
After some experimentation I discovered you could setup keyboard shortcuts in system preferences. However this doesn’t appear to be documented anywhere.
Find and replace
One feature that in my opinion blows Dreamweaver away is the find and replace interface. I have written before about how I like Dreamweaver’s find and replace functionality, however I think Coda’s is even better.
What makes Coda’s functionality so nice is that it easily allows you to add multiple wildcards into your search query. This allows you to be very specific about what code you wish to change and what you want to keep intact.
Unfortunately, although building the queries is a breeze, the scope of each search is seriously limited. You can only find and replace within the current document. Compared with Dreamweaver which allows you to search across all open documents, an entire folder or the whole site, this seems painfully limited.
Nice CSS interface
The final feature that has caught my eye is the CSS coding environment. I have to confess I am yet to put this through its paces, however what I have seen so far has impressed me.
Although it is possible to code CSS by hand there is also a graphical user interface which guides you through the process. I am not entirely sure how much I would use this but it does have some nice features. One I particularly like is that it provides an ordered list of all the styles in a panel at the side of the screen. You can then reorder them using drag and drop. Also, if you are in split screen mode, clicking on a style jumps you to the appropriate place in the code.
Will I, won’t I
So will this dog decide to learn a new trick? I am still not sure. At $79 the price is excellent, however when you have already spent several hundred dollars on one application, shelling out more seems unnecessary. Also the lack of site wide find and replace is frustrating and means that I cannot really get rid of Dreamweaver completely.
That said, I love everything else about this application. I will no doubt get comments suggesting I try Textmate and numerous other editors. Trust me, I have tried them all. However, nothing has managed to tempt me away from what I have been using for years like Coda.
Given a choice I would live with the application for a while longer. However, for some reason I only have a 12 day trial so I will have to make a choice soon. What I do know is that if I hadn’t already spent money on an editor and had years of ingrained habit, then I would definitely choose Coda.