Rage Webdesign 2.7, by Rage Software
Posted: 4-Dec-2005

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Rage Software Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Halle Winkler Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Introduction
I have to come clean about something before commencing this review, which is that I have been writing my web code with BBEdit for 10 years now and I'm very, very used to it. But, the fact that I have a method that works for me doesn't mean that there aren't any other good ways to accomplish the same tasks. So, I was quite curious to take a break from The Big B and take another HTML editor out for a spin. In order to give it a thorough look, I decided to use Rage WebDesign to develop some pages using XHTML 1.0, JavaScript 1.2, CSS1 and a little bit of PHP.

Overview
Rage WebDesign is an HTML editor and web authoring environment. It doesn't aspire to the full-on WYSIWYG capabilities of Dreamweaver or GoLive, but it does offer some WYSIWYG UI (for example, when choosing a border width, you can move a slider and watch the width of the border change in real time) and drag-and-droppable HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SSI code segments. WebDesign advertises the ability to preview everything in the editor itself, including scripting and server-side code, and supports syntax coloring and individual preferences for HTML, PHP, JavaScript, CSS, ASP, XML and VBScript documents out of the box. The application has been written to be extensible, and Rage Software maintains a repository of plugins written by third parties. Rage also offers a free utility called Rage WebDesign Plug-in Maker, which allows the more technical user to write his or her own plugins for WebDesign.

Requirements
WebDesign is fully compatible with Mac OS X 10.2-10.4. It hasn't been tested with Mac OS 10.1, but the developers think it may be compatible. A version is also offered for Mac OS 9.x, which may be also compatible with Mac OS 8.6. Neither of these versions have any stated CPU, video or RAM requirements.

Price

$29.95


Setup
Setup was just a matter of mounting the downloaded disk image, dragging the WebDesign folder to my Applications folder, launching, and registering. Among its other benefits, registering WebDesign gets you a 1-year-free web hosting offer from Infinity WebHosting, although this naturally does not include domain registration and does require entering your billing information at the outset, to be used for automatic renewals after the free period. Rage WebDesign will occasionally pitch Infinity WebHosting in its pop-up "hints" dialogs, even after you've registered.

The software comes with comprehensive documentation written in HTML, which is found in the WebDesign folder within your Applications folder.

In Use
Upon launching Webdesign, the user is presented with a dialog for creating a standard HTML page, with several option categories including Document Info, Appearance, Meta Data and Javascript. These choices are primarily geared towards setting up the basic template code that corresponds to a particular flavor of HTML, for instance HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0.


Creating a new HTML file


The experienced HTML writer will be pleased to see this relatively deep set of options for generating new pages, and this initial dialog could be a handy tool. Unfortunately, none of your choices will stick after you press "Create"; the next time you use this dialog, it will have reverted to its defaults, which are not obviously changeable and which are unlikely to suit any user's exact needs in their unchanged state.

After you have entered your preferences into the dialog and pressed "Create", WebDesign generates a new page according to your specifications.


Default HTML starter document


The markup in this page is correct for the chosen HTML type, and it is color-coded to enable the user to easily visually distinguish the different parts of the code. A strength of WebDesign is that it allows fine tuning of this syntax coloring feature, with separate preferences for different varieties of code. This means that you could, for instance, choose to have elements inside of quotation marks highlighted when writing HTML 4.01, but not when writing XHTML 1.0. For new users, this is a valuable help in recognizing the different elements of the HTML tags or Javascripts they are starting to work with, and it is even more valuable for experienced users who may find themselves visually combing through very dense blocks of code and markup.

The basic working layout for WebDesign has the text document on the left side, and WebDesign's "Attribute Editor" window on the right, which contains drag-and-droppable page elements such as preformatted IMG tags or CSS style declarations.


WebDesign main editing windows


The Attribute Editor is three palettes in one, toggled via a pull-down menu at the top: Tag Attributes allows minute editing of the characteristics of a tag on the page, HTML Entities allows drag-and-drop or double-click insertion of HTML code for symbols (such as "©" for the copyright sign or "&" for the ampersand), and Language Extensions are the aforementioned drag-and-droppable web code.

The Attribute Editor is another potentially great tool which is undermined to a small extent by "application amnesia"; it has multiple levels of options, but if you ever close it or restart the application, it will not remember where you were or what you had selected last, and instead snap back to its blank default setting. The irony is that the user who is exploiting the depth of this palette to the utmost is going to be the most jarred by this reset when he or she discovers it.

A third window which can be part of the basic Rage WebDesign workflow, Preview, can be invoked from a button on the text document. It is likely that many users will want to leave it open due to its usefulness, which I will elaborate on shortly.


WebDesign with the Preview window open


The application menus consist of the default OS X menus, plus "Text" for text handling functions, "Style" for HTML 4 style tags, "Insert", which primarily consists of the most commonly-used HTML tags, and "HTML Tools", which is full of handy and time-saving utilities for operations such as compressing code, validating markup, and switching between HTML and XHTML.


WebDesign HTML Tools


In order to put WebDesign's features to work, I decided to make a sample page with some draggable photos, containing a mix of conventional markup and CSS that I could generate using WebDesign, plus some more complex custom PHP and Javascript that would not be generated by WebDesign, since a mix of these elements (markup, style sheets, client-side code and middleware including some existing libraries) is likely when developing for the web.

Starting from the "New HTML File" dialog, I made an XHTML 1.0 Strict page to start with. I was happy with the structure of the new document, which looked valid to me. The text editing capabilities of WebDesign are much as you would expect; everything works and the find/replace dialog is (happily) very similar to BBEdit's search tool. It has a toolbar at the top of each document to control per-document display preferences (i.e. wrapping, line numbering, et cetera) which is also heavily inspired by BBEdit's, and there is a marker system to facilitate moving around longer pages of code. As of version 2.7, WebDesign also offers autocomplete and code hinting.

I was happy with the structure of the new document, which looked valid to me. The text editing capabilities of WebDesign are much as you would expect; everything works and the find/replace dialog is (happily) very similar to BBEdit's search tool. It has a toolbar at the top of each document to control per-document display preferences (i.e. wrapping, line numbering, et cetera) which is also heavily inspired by BBEdit's, and there is a marker system to facilitate moving around longer pages of code. A more recent version of WebDesign also offers autocomplete and code hinting.

WebDesign uses the Apple WebKit to do in-application previewing of your page, which is a great feature, and since it uses a real browser rendering engine along with your local server, it can theoretically preview anything that your server has the capability of serving, although I couldn't get it to preview my PHP code (I believe this is because I had a custom PHP install -- BBEdit had the same problem).

It is also possible to preview pages on a remote server, but working remotely in WebDesign involves using its FTP client, which I found to be a slightly frustrating experience. New files have to be saved locally and then uploaded remotely via the FTP client, which is not necessarily in line with every user's workflow (I would have preferred to have saved my work directly to a remote directory by use of a dialog similar to the standard OS X open/save dialog). With my document open, if I select "Save to FTP", I am first prompted to find a local save location and then the FTP client moves to the forefront, but I am given no hints or feedback about how to proceed (the correct next step is to navigate to the preferred directory and press the "upload" button in the FTP client). WebDesign 2.7 has a functional FTP client, but the interface of the core application, by using phrases like "Save to FTP", implies a much tighter integration with the file system that it actually offers, which can be confusing and cause wasted steps for the user.


Rage FTP Browser


On the other hand, these quibbles aside, WebDesign's FTP client has one advantage over BBEdit's: since it is a drag-and-drop client, you can also use it for uploading graphics files. If you don't need to do anything fancy to the files post-upload, this feature might allow you to dispense with a third-party FTP client, making the usual process of writing html/previewing/uploading into a smooth, single-application affair (as long as you only need to preview in Safari).

Simplifying the upload process even more is WebDesign's Site Manager, a tool for managing the publication of an entire site at once via FTP and/or making changes to the structure of entire sites remotely. In many ways it is a more mature tool than the FTP client and includes many of its features. It can check the local site for potential problems before uploading, and make a local site into an online remote site with one click.


WebDesign Site Manager


The last major issue for web designers that WebDesign attempts to address is HTML<-->XHTML conversion and syntax checking. Both of these tools work correctly in an unambitious sense; the conversion will convert obvious differences between HTML and XHTML, and the syntax checker will catch obviously malformed code. They both miss subtle errors that would require a fairly complex system to catch accurately. I don't think that either feature has been oversold, but I couldn't help wishing that they had been combined and elevated into a markup converter and validator that is as tough as the one at
http://validator.w3.org/, which many web designers swear by when debugging and validating their code. Having a validator in my editor that is that trustworthy would be great. As it was, I validated my page by uploading it to the w3.org validator, and I was pleased to see that WebDesign's XHTML code validated correctly. You can see this page in all of its fully-validated glory here:

http://politepix.com/photos.php

WebDesign has no serious bugs, but it does have some interface quirks. Its UI doesn't look very Aqua-like and the program doesn't hew very closely to Apple Human Interface Guidelines in general. This isn't the end of the world, but it sometimes leads to avoidable frustrations like the forgetful dialog boxes/palettes and the "what now?" reaction caused by the FTP client. The program also has a minor nomenclature issue: when the user pulls down the File menu, he or she must choose between, among other things, a "New HTML Document", a "New Web Page", and a "New Web Site". When I wanted to open the "New HTML File" dialog again, I selected "New HTML Document", which was wrong, since the dialog is actually the result of selecting "New Web Page". I found this all a bit confusing and expect that it could be pared down or at least clarified a bit more.


Summary
Rage WebDesign is very good HTML editor and web authoring environment. It is not a full-on WYSIWYG editor, but it offers some WYSIWYG features, such as real-time border width. It supports a number of nice features, including drag-and-droppable HTML, CSS, JavaScript and SSI code segments. WebDesign includes a preview window, as well as a built-in FTP client. Rage WebDesign has some quirks, and several of its features would benefit from a bit more polish. However, it offers basically all of the tools important to a web designer that BBEdit does for almost $100 less. I'm not ready to put away BBEdit for production tasks, but if someone asked me to recommend a functional HTML editor at a much lower price, WebDesign would fit the bill (with some caveats).

Pros

  • In-application browser previewing is high-quality and a timesaver
  • Good basic text editing features
  • Extensible with community-based development
  • Very low price compared with the other major application offering this feature set

Cons

  • UI feels un-Mac-like
  • Many editor windows don't remember "state", which can lead to replication of tasks for the user
  • Unpolished FTP experience was distracting on more than one occasion


Overall Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice