Is this the beginning of the end for hand coding?

Paul Boag

The next generation of web tools aren’t just aspiring to replace Photoshop and Fireworks. They appear to be keen to replace the need for hand coding HTML and CSS too.

Our industry is littered with the graves of out of date skill sets and obsolete technologies. Apple refuses to support Flash on the iPhone and it goes from being a common platform to a niche technology. Anybody remember Cold Fusion, or working in Tables for that matter?

Technologies come and go. Those who see the change coming and adapt survive, while those who stubbornly hold on end up becoming an irrelevance. It is both the joy and terror of our sector.

Last week I watched the demo of Macaw, a new graphics tool for creating websites. It is one of a new generation of graphics packages built using HTML and CSS to as closely mirror designing in the browser as possible.

Although it is early days, the demo of Macaw makes me wonder whether hand coding HTML and CSS might not become a thing of the past.

What caught my eye was the fact that Macaw doesn’t stop at being a Photoshop or Fireworks replacement, it also wants to write your HTML and CSS too. Like the WYSIWYG editors of old, it aims to replace the need for front-end coding skills.

Upon seeing this my immediate response was to dismiss this feature as being ‘fine for small sites’ or ‘great for prototyping,’ but that it could never be good enough to use on a ‘serious production site’.

However, as the demo went on I was impressed at just how good the code was and how much control it provided on how the code was written. This was not the spaghetti code of Dreamweaver. This was semantic HTML and remarkably clean CSS.

Sure it wasn’t going to be as good as code written by a specialist. However, it left me wondering whether it was good enough.

  • Good enough to use on a production site.
  • Good enough to seriously undermine the need for dedicated front-end coders.
  • Good enough to question the additional time and money it would cost to hand code something.

Of course it is early days. I haven’t actually played with the app (things will always look good in a demo video), but it did start me wondering if this might be the beginning of the end for front-end coders.

My son is eleven years old and I am currently teaching him HTML and CSS. I can’t help wondering whether I am teaching him a skill that will be redundant by the time he enters the job market. We are not there yet, but Macaw might just give us a glimpse of things to come.

What do you think?