Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Abandon ship, time for a new website editor

I have taken the plunge and decided to swap website content editor.

Right from when I first created our Holiday Gite website in 2004 I have been using IBM's Rational Application Developer to design, prototype, edit and publish the website. Its had the advantage that I can obtain it through work, it was fairly easy to use, had good preview features, and what I really liked was the templating and site structure editor that meant that once I'd taken several iterations to settle on a website design that I liked and worked in different browsers I could then just write the content and WebSphere Application Developer ensured that this was applied to all pages and the site navigation structure was all automatically built for me.

However this ease of use came with the overheads of Eclipse which being Java based meant it could take a while to launch on my PC, but more worryingly it seemed to stop working in June 2012 when I installed a patch version to the editor and found that the website navigation links all disappeared from the website.

Since I had "got the website working again" (by manually having to edit all the website pages and cut and paste in the HTML for site navigation links) things stayed like that for a while.

Wind the clock forward to December 2012 when I wrote of getting the website content translated into French through Task Panda and I had a reason to want to fix the errant website, I needed to create a French language version of the site.

And there things slumbered through 2013, there were times when I looked at the website editing problem, tried to fix it, but got nowhere (and you can tell that this wasn't my top-most priority).

I tried upgrading from version 8.0 of Rational Application Developer to version 8.5, I then tried version 9.0, and in each time I couldn't get the site structure to build properly and automatically like it had done from 2004 through to 2012.
I tried creating a new website from scratch using the scripts and template pages I had in the main website, I stripped these back to bare bones, and rewrote them and the best I ever got was to get the top level navigation menu HTML to build automatically but the rest, the sub-pages and sub-sub-pages, all never appeared.

So with the turn of another new year I decided to give up and seek out a new website editor, ideally giving me similar features to what I was used to, also wanting the same price point (free or near-free), and something that I could import the existing site into without major change.

As a Google or Wikipedia search will reveal there are plenty of website editors out there, I've tried eclipse, KompoZer, Sea Monkey, I looked at Coffee Cup, Komodo Edit, online website editors like Silex, SnapEditor and Maqetta.

Phew, a lot of editors.

And I have settled on one, and I am now using it.

Blue Griffon

Its based around Firefox as the rendering engine so is up to date with HTML standards, and basically through a series of complex Javascript it provides a tabbed interface to view, edit and preview web pages. The basic product is free but various plugins such as the CSS editor are then an add-on price. So far for my purposes which are maintaining the as-is site its been fine with the basic free editor and the FTP plugin which is also free (pretty much all other plugins are paid for as I mentioned).

My likes:
  • Easy to use, multi-tab interface, can do in-place visual editing of the webpage, or swap to HTML source code view at at any time
  • HTML5 standards compliance (built on Firefox)
  • Automatic signaling of HTML and spelling errors
  • FTP plugin can determine what files have changed and need to be re-published
And my dislikes:
  • Very much a page editor, although you can open multiple pages there is no concept of site structure, and you have to open pages 1 by 1
  • No template editor so have to manually ensure that all your web pages are consistent
  • Linked to the above two, no ability to generate the website navigation structure, have to hand-craft appropriate HTML on each page
  • Bit slow to load, but OK once loaded
  • Because it is based on editing the currently loaded page DOM, if you make a mistake and insert invalid HTML such as putting a closing </DIV> tag prematurely, then a large chunk of your page might disappear - backup regularly!
  • Annoyingly any HTML special characters expressed as &&whatever such as &frac12; get automatically changed to the appropriate special character - e.g. ½ - and this messes up on FTP publishing. Fixed in the end by getting the appropriate ASCII conversion configured but having the special characters in the file wasn't what I wanted
  • Similar to the above, any comments in the CSS file are stripped out by BlueGriffon. I like the comments to explain what each bit does
  • I wonder about its active development, version 1.7.2 was published in June 2013 and although there is a post on the authors blog in August 2013 and another on the Google group in March 2014 stating his intent for active development, nowt much has been seen as he has other priorities.

But overall I do like Blue Griffon, it does pretty much what I want from a website editor, as long as I am careful to not write bad HTML it works fine.

... but I do miss the ability to build a template from which all website pages are then derived. This would be my #1 ask but templates are something BlueGriffon cannot do :-(



  • Hi
    Can you explain why you chose Blue Griffon over Silex?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 09, 2014  

  • I quite liked the look of Silex, it appeared to provide a very easy and intuitive online editor, the main reason I decided against it was concern that I would have to start designing the site again from scratch using Silex' templates and I didn't want to do that.
    If I was starting with a brand new site then Silex would be a strong contender but I have an existing site that I've spent a lot of time getting the HTML and CSS the way I am comfortable with. I have to admit I didn't try importing my site to Silex so I don't know whether this would have been a real issue or not.

    By Blogger Geoffrey, at November 21, 2014  

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