Now I admit I’ve always hand-coded web sites. While I have tried to use Dreamweaver and other WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) editors, I may not be best positioned to judge the relative merits of each method completely fairly.
However, I’m convinced that hand-coding is an essential skill for all web designers and producers. Here’s why…
- Greater knowledge
- Greater control
- Greater speed
I’m not saying that you have to hand-code every little thing, every time. But having the hand-coding ability gives you the choice.
Some WYSIWYG editors put in their own code that can be proprietary (particularly notorious is MS FrontPage). You may not understand where this code is coming from, how it works, and how to fix it if it goes wrong.
When I produce a web page template, I decide exactly what <div>s will be absolutely-positioned, which will be floating, which will be stretching. I instruct the page to set certain boxes at exactly so-many pixels in size. I have total control over every little element.
When you use a WYSIWYG editor, you simply don’t get the same level of control, unless you type all these settings into dialog boxes. And, if you’re going to do that, you may as well do it quicker by hand.
Hand-coding also lets you create smaller files than a software package. Visual editors used to be infamous for “code bloat” (adding many more tags and lines of code than are necessary to achieve an effect). While this has much improved over the past few years, no visual editor can create pages as small and light as a skilled hand-coder.
(Of course, visual programming is an exception to this rule. If you’re learning Delphi or various other languages, the idea is to type as little as possible, but the basic principles still stand.)
I’m convinced it’s faster to create finished, tidy web page templates by hand-coding than it is to use a WYSIWYG editor – if you also take time to learn the skill of touch-typing.
I’ve never seen a head-to-head shootout of a crack hand-coder versus a skilled Dreamweaver user, but I sure would be interested!
All the above depends on the quality of the tool, and the skill of the hands wielding it. There’s no doubt that there are times when visual editors can be used to great effect. My point is that, on the path to becoming a top web page designer, and even if you start with a primarily visual editor, you will need to use the keyboard more and more. So why not specialise from day one, practice your touch-typing and fully master your design!
Recommended WYSIWYG editors
- Macromedia Dreamweaver (the industry leader; can also be used to edit code by hand, plus comes with HomeSite+, an excellent hand-coding environment)
- Microsoft FrontPage 2003 (now much more well-behaved and flexible than previous versions)
- NVu (free, quick and dirty; fine for beginners)