Evaluating Nvu as a replacement for FrontPage

Much of the content of our corporate Intranet is written by content authors within each department. For many years, FrontPage was the defacto editor that we promoted and supported. Eventually, the bloated code and permission oddities associated with FrontPage made it less desirable and we started to push Macromedia’s (now Adobe) Dreamweaver or Contribute editors. The unfortunate aspect of this is that neither of these two new editors can actually replace what FrontPage did. For our hard-core authors who do their own application development, Dreamweaver is great; it’s more advanced than FrontPage, but with a higher price tag. For our less sophisticated content authors, Contribute is great because it is simple and cheap, but it doesn’t have the layout and design capabilities that FrontPage had. Now Microsoft is sunsetting FrontPage in lieu of it’s Expressions line of development tools, which will leave a big gap in the web development tool box. We’ve been looking for that middle-of-the-road editor for a while no, but so far have come up empty. Not for lack of options – the arena of web development tools is packed to the brim – but we’ve yet to find one that suites our needs as well as FrontPage did (and without all the headaches).

Just recently I reviewed an open-source candidate called Nvu (pronounced “en-view”). It is built on the Mozilla framework. Overall, it failed to meet my expectations/requirements. Below are my notes.

  • Nvu’s concept of Site (i.e. project) profiles is similar to Dreamweaver’s, but much simpler. Choose a name for the project, enter the URL, enter the publishing info, done.
  • At first glance it appears that you can only publish site files via FTP (and it won’t accept an empty value as an answer), but after toying around with it for a bit I found that it can accept a file path too (UNC paths are not supported)
  • Whoops! Had some trouble initially in that the site was going through several minutes of “loading”. I kept messing with the site profile values and eventually found out I had to prefix the path with file:/// and format the path in URL style (file:///c:/path/to/folder%20name/). It doesn’t tell you if it can’t find the folder, it just sits there “loading”
  • PHP and ASP files aren’t supported by default, as in PHP files won’t even open in the editor (prompts you to download them). After searching through the forums I found an extension that added some support for PHP. An ASP version is supposedly in development, though not available yet.
  • I just noticed that the extension I just mentioned may actually create a copy of the PHP to work on, but with a .html file extension (ex: .index.php.html). That means that your PHP source code could be easily read (embedded passwords and all) if these copies get uploaded to the server!
  • It has a really nasty way of reformatting source code by removing most white-space and hard-wrapping lines after 72 charachters. (I later found a preference to retain the original formatting, though inserted/edited code is still formatted poorly)
  • Clicking on CSS or Javascript source files in the Site Manager opens them in the default external editor. Explicitly opening a one of these files (via File -> Open) just renders it as unformatted plain text. (I later came across a built-in CSS editor, though it was a bit confusing to use)
  • On a positive note – it does a really nice job of rendering complex CSS layouts (case in point: http://maedata.com/clients/nvu-test/index.html – renders almost exactly as Mozilla/FF does)
  • Another quirk – you can edit in the Source tab, but when you save it immediately kicks you back to last tab you were on.
  • Editing in the Normal tab is really easy. The editor controls are nice. Styling is done via inline styles or x/html tags (strong, em, etc)
  • You can apply custom CSS rules to any selected element, but only if those styles aren’t wrapped in @media declarations (though you can set the target media via the style or link tags and have the rules appear; Nvu renders CSS in accordance to the media rules no matter where they are defined).
  • It has a built in spell checker (though the realtime spell checking seemed to slow Nvu to a crawl)
  • It has an HTML validator tool which submits the local file to the W3C validation service, though some of the things that it inserts don’t validate to XHTML 1.0 transitional
  • The included calendar “widget” is complete crap
  • It’s “template” functionality is really just boilerplate pages. Changes to a template are not applied to child pages.
  • McAfee VirusScan seems to take issue with Nvu and cause it to run sluggishly at times. Temporarily disabling VirusScan resolves the issue (at least until VS kicks back on again)

* This post was originally published on August 3, 2006 at http://www.csb7.com/blogs/whyblogwhy/2006/08/03/evaluating_nvu_as_a_replacement_for_fron

Each place has its own advantages – heaven for the climate, and hell for the society.

— Mark Twain