Web Development Tools; Coda vs. Espresso 2

Several years ago, I moved from Dreamweaver to Panic’s Coda as my primary web coding editor. The only feature I really missed was Dreamweaver’s function to check the timestamp on the server file before uploading an edited version of the file and alert me if I was overwriting a file edited elsewhere. Since I work on multiple Macs, that feature came in handy so I didn’t overwrite something I did the week before on another Mac. I modified my workflow to open Transmit, sync that directory to my mac, open Coda and start to work. I know I could have used Coda to work directly on the server but I never got comfortable doing that. Since I’m the sole “developer”, this workflow was ok for me. I wasn’t interested in setting up Git or SVN. Anyway, Panic updated Coda to Coda 2 so I did some looking around to see if I wanted to move from Coda to Coda 2. If you look at the reviews of Coda 2 on the App Store, it’s getting some pretty poor reviews. I know developers can be a cranky bunch but when you see words like “unusable”, “unstable” and “crashes”, it does cause concern. Since they don’t have a demo of Coda 2, I decided to look at Espresso 2, which does have a 15 day, full featured demo.

Espresso 2

My main need for a development tool is to be able to find a file quickly, make my edits, validate the syntax and upload it as quickly as possible. Autocomplete and tag closing are nice to haves but not essential. The main frustration I’ve had with Espresso 2 is that the appearance of the publishing cloud next to the file name has been hit or miss, especially on a Mac running Snow Leopard. I can’t live with that. I was working on a file last evening and the publishing cloud icon didn’t appear. Nor did it appear for any file in that directory. This morning, it seems to be working fine.

As with the plugin architecture of Coda, Espresso 2 uses ‘sugar’ additives to provide enhanced features. I’m not sure how robust the ‘sugar’ development community is for Espresso 2 but there’s stuff out there.

Summary

Espresso 2 and Coda (original) are not very different. Coda autocloses brackets and braces but in a rather annoying way which requires you to move the cursor between the braces before typing. Espresso 2 doesn’t autoclose braces nor does it highlight braces when you close them like Coda does. Coda doesn’t do the file checking I mentioned above and it doesn’t seem like Espresso 2 does either. Espresso 2 does PHP sytax checking but Coda requires a plugin for that. Espresso 2 is much superior when it comes to wrapping selected text with a tag. If I didn’t still have a bad taste about Espresso 2’s publishing, I would probably be using Espresso 2 as my sole development tool right now. I’m not sure if I could be efficient using both Coda and Espresso 2 right now and I’m certainly not plunking down the $$ for Coda 2 until I see some more favorably reviewed point releases that address stability.

Coda; Web Development on a Mac

I can feel Apple pushing me again. Last time, it was dumping ‘classic’ OS 9 for the new fangled OSX. All my old apps either perished or were finally updated. Now Apple is strongly hinting that I need to do the same with my legacy apps which are not universal binary, if in fact, Rosetta is an optional module for Snow Leopard as widely reported.

So I downloaded Panic Software’s Coda web development software the other day and started to play with it as a potential replacement for Dreamweaver 8 (yes, I know). I started with Dreamweaver because I needed to get up and running quickly and DW had a bunch of ‘out of the box’ solutions for me. As the years have gone by, I’ve found little use for DW’s WYSIWYG editing, canned login scripts and templates. I essentially code by hand but enjoy the autocomplete and syntax matching features. So without further ado, here’s my initial reactions and thoughts about Coda.

  • Splashy, familiar interface. Really feels like a Mac application and not something ported over. Normally, this doesn’t bother me but Coda just feels smoother.
  • Interesting effects and functional autocomplete and syntax matching. Automatically provides closing parens (very welcome since I tend to forget them). However, I wish it had DW’s add-ins which extend this feature to jQuery (sweet). Looks like the Coda API will allow third party developers to do this but we’ll see if there is a big enough developer base for this.
  • Coda lets you work on the server directly, if you want to. Feels like you’re working without a net until you get used to it. The integrated FTP is much more responsive than DW’s.
  • If you work on a single site from multiple desktops, Coda doesn’t provide you with the same sense of security that you won’t overwrite more recent work unless you run Subversion (which Coda does natively…very sweet). DW will tell you there’s a fresher version on the server during the upload process. Again, if you work directly on the server with Coda, you know you’re working with the most recent version.

On my Coda wishlist:

  • It would be nice if I could more quickly distinguish whether I was working on the remote or the local version of the file. Perhaps color coding the tab. I know there’s an icon there but you have to mouseover to see it.
  • Keystrokes (or better yet, a button) for reverse publish (better known as an ftp ‘get’). I’ve gotten into the habit on DW of opening a file and immediately getting it from the server with a click.

I haven’t played around with the CSS editor too much but it looks to be just fine. I think Coda will do nicely for me, especially at $99 USD.

Using Dreamweaver

One of Matt’s posts caught my eye as I was doing my daily dashboard check. While this has to do with Dreamweaver on a PC, I’ve been thinking about upgrading my Dreamweaver 8 to Dreamweaver CS3 primarily because it’s now universal binary for my Intel mac. Looks like the Windows version of Dreamweaver CS3 is giving Matt fits but the Intel Mac crowd seems satisfied with this release.

When I first started my web page, I knew zippo about html, let alone php. I installed Dreamweaver 8, grabbed a canned CSS style and started building a web site. Dreamweaver did all the heavy lifting. I set up a template and now there’s 70 or so pages linked together with the template. Once the site became functional, I decided to peer behind the curtain and look at the code. Soon I was editing using the split view and ultimately, only the code view. I giggled at the ‘old hands’ who proudly proclaimed they coded by hand, eschewing the features that came in the box.

Well, I guess I’m now one of the old hands because I haven’t looked at the design view in months. Of course, it does no good when I code php but even when I’m coding php with html output, it’s the code view for me. However, if it was not for Dreamweaver, I would never have been able to understand the how the code works. Even the basics of php (which DW8 can handle but not as happily as asp), became clear to me as I dissected the DW generated code. Now I look at the DW code and understand while it’s not lean, it works.

Since I use both an Intel Mac and a legacy G5, DW8 has been fine for me. Runs like a rocket on the G5. A bit slower and clunkier under Rosetta on the Intel Mac. In fact, it’s clunky enough to push me to upgrade or change. I’ve been toying with switching to Coda but I fear losing the template functionality that keeps my static site updated efficiently. I guess I’ll be moving to DW CS3 in the not too distant future.

Photo Matt ┬╗ Wither Dreamweaver