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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

By Drew Ames on April 22, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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Today's Web development tools offer capabilities that go beyond basic HTML editing. I compared three Web editors for Linux -- Screem 0.16.1, Bluefish 1.0.7, and Quanta Plus 3.5.7 -- to determine how well they handle today's Web editing needs.

The three programs are similar in many ways. All three are primarily code editors with syntax highlighting, smart indentation, and other features to make writing and editing code easier. Screem is tightly integrated with the GNOME desktop environment, while Bluefish will run on KDE and GNOME. Quanta Plus is a KDE application distributed with KDE. It has visual editing features (what you see is what you get -- WYSIWYG) in addition to extensive code editing features. All three applications have features for working with HTML, JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and other markup or scripting languages. Additionally, all three have features for managing Web sites and projects, including CVS support.

If these three programs have such similar features, what sets one apart from the others? For this review, I focused on how well a Web editor helps you write HTML code, CSS, and DIV tags to create flexible layouts. Each program offers additional features that may be important to you if you have specialized needs.

I tested each program along with Adobe's Spry framework (released under the BSD license), which provides an easy way to add AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) capabilities to a Web site. The Spry framework comprises a set of JavaScript scripts and style sheets. Using and modifying the Spry widgets requires editing simple HTML and CSS style sheets, which makes Spry a good companion for my testing. I looked for features in the three editors that I value in commercial Web design software, such as tag completion, tag attribute suggestion (where you type the beginning of a tag, and the software prompts you with a list of attributes and values), and awareness of linked CSS and JavaScript files.

Screem

Screem handles much of the basic drudgery of setting up and editing Web pages. When you create a new Web page, Screem asks for some basic information and then helps you set up the basic page elements in the head and body tags.

I appreciated how well Screem facilitated editing. For example, when I changed the opening tag from an ordered list to an unordered list, the closing tag automatically changed. When typing code, Screem offers a pop-up dialog in line with a tag for choosing attributes, and then automatically closes the tag after you choose an attribute or type the right bracket. Screem has a good CSS style wizard for creating properties to either be inserted between style tags or to have in a separate style sheet.

Screem's clean interface includes just two toolbars: a main toolbar for basic operations like opening, printing, and editing files; and a wizard toolbar with buttons for nine wizards that guide users through inserting elements like colors, forms, links, images, and tables. There is also a sidebar on the left of the screen that can display five tabbed windows: files; a document tree; a list of attributes that change dynamically based on the tag you are typing; resources, which is a full list of available tags for the current document type; and symbols, which works with ctags if they are present for a Web site you are editing. I found the document tree useful for navigating through nested tags on a Web page.

Screem offers four views: code view, tree view, preview, and link view. The code view is the main editing window. The tree view is a duplicate of the document tree available in the dock. The non-editable preview shows how the site would look in a browser. It works pretty well, but it was unable to render the JavaScript-based Spry elements. The link view is interesting -- it shows a diagram of all the pages linked to the current page and their status.

Screem's simple interface belies a powerful HTML editor. I just wish it could more easily be installed in KDE. I tested Screem from an Ubuntu live CD to avoid compiling and loading the half-dozen or so GNOME-related libraries I would need to get it running on KDE. However, Screem is a great example of a tool that does its chosen task well with a minimum of extraneous features. If you use GNOME, Screem is a great choice. If you use KDE or another environment, it is still worthwhile to load the necessary libraries to use Screem.

Bluefish

Bluefish is in many ways more complicated than Screem, but also more versatile. It handles editing C, Java, Perl, Python, XML, and several other languages in addition to HTML and CSS. For HTML and CSS editing, it has many of the same features that Screem has, but it does not offer tag attribute suggestions as one types, nor will it change a closing tag to match a changed opening tag as Screem does.

Otherwise, Bluefish is capable, well-organized, and easy to use. Its Tags menu can apply opening and closing tags to selected text, or simply insert the tags if no text is selected. The tags in the menu are organized into nine broad categories (e.g., headings, format by layout, format by context, CSS, etc.). The Dialogs menu presents a series of dialogs for various tasks, such as inserting a link, table, form, or CSS style (for either an in-document style or a separate style sheet). The dialogs are where you provide, or choose from a list, the values for various attributes for tags, which Bluefish then inserts into the document. Through the dialogs you also perform the initial document setup of adding meta tags, linking to style sheets, and so forth. The menus are not context-sensitive; they still provide HTML-related functions even if you're editing a Python file.

Bluefish has a neat multi-thumbnail wizard on its toolbar that automates creating a page of thumbnails from images you select -- handy when you want to set up an online photo album. The wizard scales each image to the specified size or percentage and automatically adds the image and anchor (link) tags. However, it is still up to you to get the thumbnails into a workable page structure such as a table.

Bluefish is a capable HTML editor, especially if you do a lot of editing in PHP, JavaScript, Java, or one of the other supported languages. The menu-driven nature of Bluefish is not as attractive to me as Screem's ability to do many of the same things dynamically while I type. However, Bluefish's capabilities extend beyond HTML and CSS editing, and it runs easily in both KDE and GNOME.

Quanta Plus

At its heart, Quanta Plus is a code editor. It has some WYSIWYG editing capabilities, but they are not as useful as you might think. For one thing, the preview view did not always work for me. It stopped working after I placed a table in a small Web page I was using to test various features. This problem is especially odd because the preview worked fine for another more complicated Web page I loaded at the same time. But even when the preview works, it does not allow true WYSIWYG editing. For example, pressing the Enter key results in the insertion of a soft break tag rather than a new paragraph tag. That behavior is even more frustrating when you're typing a list, where pressing the Enter key still gives a soft paragraph break rather than the expected new line item. In short, the Preview view is aptly named; it is better used for displaying the results of the edits you make in the code than for visually editing a page.

That complaint aside, Quanta Plus is a tremendous code editor. Its interface is more complex than Bluefish's, but still mainly Web-editing-centric. Quanta Plus offers syntax highlighting for a staggering array of programming, scripting, and markup languages. Like Bluefish, its menus and toolbars do not change to match the language one is editing. Quanta Plus gives users the ability to create new language-specific toolbars to save, load, and even share.

Again like Bluefish, the best place to start with a new document is the Tags menu, which leads to the quick start dialog for filling out the initial meta tags, document title, and so forth. The Tags menu contains both simple tag insertions and dialogs for tags that need to take several attributes. More importantly from my perspective, Quanta Plus offer tag attribute and attribute value suggestions as I type. Bluefish offer neither, and Screem only offered tag attribute suggestions, not attribute value suggestions.

Another nice feature is that when one types a tag that usually has tags nested within it, Quanta Plus adds the nested tags too. For example, after typing the opening tag for an ordered list, the program automatically added one set of opening and closing line item tags, and then closed the ordered list tag.

Quanta Plus's handling of CSS is a little complicated because it requires two dialog boxes, but is easy to use and powerful. To create a CSS style, you first open the CSS Selector Dialog to identify the element to apply the style to: tags, division (div) or span IDs, or classes. Then, double-clicking on the CSS selector opens the CSS Editor dialog, which provides all the options and values that you can apply. The end result is perfectly formatted CSS code.

Quanta Plus is the most complex of the three programs, but also the most capable. Despite its complexity, which is really a function of its ability to be customized, Quanta Plus's interface is a joy to use. The program goes out of its way to assist users writing and editing HTML and CSS code. For people running KDE, Quanta Plus is an easy choice, since it comes bundled with KDE. GNOME users need to load some libraries and helper applications, but the results are worth the hassle.

Recommendations

My simple recommendation is to use Quanta Plus to edit your HTML and CSS files. The more complicated recommendations break down this way:

  • If you use GNOME, use Screem. It's a fast, simple, and powerful tool for Web editing. However, it does not have the large feature sets that Bluefish and Quanta Plus have, especially for languages other than those directly related to Web page editing.
  • If you use GNOME and need the more powerful features of Quanta Plus, load the required libraries and run it.
  • If you use KDE and want a code editor, choose Quanta Plus. Ignore the WYSIWYG capabilities and take advantage of the tremendous editing capabilities, especially for CSS style sheets.
  • If you use Xfce, Quanta Plus should run fine. Screem would still require loading additional libraries.
  • Finally, if you use GNOME, find that Screem does not meet all your needs, and you don't want to bother with loading the KDE-native Quanta Plus, then load Bluefish. It is nearly as capable as Quanta Plus, but will run well without a lot of fussing with libraries.

It is encouraging that there are at least three modern and very capable Web development applications for Linux. Screem, Bluefish, and Quanta Plus are not quite as full-featured as Adobe's top of the line Dreamweaver, but they are close. Quanta Plus, especially, is Dreamweaver's equal for code editing. Given that Dreamweaver is expensive, and is not available as a native Linux application, these three applications represent excellent value -- not just because they are free, but because they quickly reward users with excellent results.

Drew Ames is a transportation planner in Harrisburg, Penn.

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on Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.66.99.129] on April 22, 2008 07:30 PM
I'm curious how Kompozer might compare to these 3 as well. Thanks for the article.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 134.231.8.200] on April 22, 2008 08:19 PM
That was my question as well (Kompozer nee NVU).

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.35.192.193] on April 22, 2008 08:30 PM
Perhaps a 2nd review could cover , people that have only used dreamweaver to creat simple static / static + a bit of js pages. and hopefully include komposer/NVU too. From this review it seams that scream and bluefish both have capable WYIWYG editors tho, which is enough to give them a spin.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 97.91.171.182] on April 22, 2008 08:24 PM
These are not the only editors you should also compare amaya and kompozer.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 204.76.128.217] on April 22, 2008 08:42 PM
My HTML editor of choice is vi.

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.101.163.132] on April 22, 2008 09:15 PM
'xactly what i was gonna say! vi rules

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.174.220.54] on April 23, 2008 10:51 PM
I use nano and I have for years.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.204.58.126] on April 22, 2008 08:51 PM
vi sucks. Use emacs.

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.43.222.41] on April 22, 2008 09:25 PM
Emacs sucks. Use vi.

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on April 22, 2008 09:54 PM
I think the two people who suggested vi meant it as a joke, but I don't think emacs is the best tool for web pages either. It has support for many of the relevant languages, but all separately. The three programs reviewed try to 'put it all together'.

Still, it would have been nice to see the php mode of emacs compared with these programs.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.237.174.94] on April 22, 2008 09:26 PM
I've found that quanta's previewer is ultra-sensitive to bad markup. For instance, you leave out a closing tag or something and the whole page fails to render. Arguably, this is what you might want in a preview function for a markup editor, as opposed to the ultra-forgiving-yet-unpredictable behavior of browsers when presented with poorly formed markup. I wonder if your issue with the previewer not working was due to a markup error.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.102.223.142] on April 22, 2008 09:51 PM
I tried Screem, Bluefish, Quanta, and Kompozer before becoming frustrated and deciding that I'll use Kate, GEdit, or SciTE depending on my mood. The bigger editors seemed to get in the way, and some of their most prominent features were quite buggy.

As a visual designer, I have to say that many of my decisions were influenced in part by visual aesthetics. The way Kate displays open documents with changing background colors has been irritating since day 1, and I couldn't find a way to change that. Quanta seems to like users to start out with as many tools at hand as possible.

I've never had the time to learn VI or Emacs, but that day will come eventually, at this rate. :-)

SciTE is still the only tool that will let you choose a separate font for specific syntax. For instance, I prefer my comments to be drawn in a different font, not just a colored variant of the editor font.

And don't worry, I'm this picky on every platform - Windows, Mac OS, whatever. :-)

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Kompozer still fails

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.199.51.194] on April 23, 2008 12:11 AM
As a wysiwyg editor, I suppose Kompozer is as good as it gets for free, but it has one major flaw, which it has had since the nvu days, and -- according to the developers -- will still have in the future: it messes up the code. Even
 elements will be modified at the program's discretion, and other elements will fare the same way: you never know what will end up in the code, and even if one writes the code manually, the next time one looks, it will have changed. 
I've tried hard to like Kompozer and Nvu, but I can't recommend it, unfortunately.

If you want wysiwyg, there is no alternative to Dreamweaver. If you want a code editor, Quanta is tremendous. I use vim. End of story.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.199.51.194] on April 23, 2008 12:14 AM
It seems that Kompozer isn't the only environment where there is a blurred line between text and code: my literal
 tag in the text was interpreted as a html tag... I'll preview it this time:

As a wysiwyg editor, I suppose Kompozer is as good as it gets for free, but it has one major flaw, which it has had since the nvu days, and -- according to the developers -- will still have in the future: it messes up the code. Even
 elements will be modified at the program's discretion, and other elements will fare the same way: you never know what will end up in the code, and even if one writes the code manually, the next time one looks, it will have changed. 

I've tried hard to like Kompozer and Nvu, but I can't recommend it, unfortunately.



If you want wysiwyg, there is no alternative to Dreamweaver. If you want a code editor, Quanta is tremendous. I use vim. End of story.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.199.51.194] on April 23, 2008 12:18 AM
I give up... the & l t ; pre % g t ; was expanded in the preview window and passed on as a tag....

It seems that Kompozer isn't the only environment where there is a blurred line between text and code: my literal

As a wysiwyg editor, I suppose Kompozer is as good as it gets for free, but it has one major flaw, which it has had since the nvu days, and -- according to the developers -- will still have in the future: it messes up the code. Even
pre elements will be modified at the program's discretion, and other elements will fare the same way: you never know what will end up in the code, and even if one writes the code manually, the next time one looks, it will have changed.
I've tried hard to like Kompozer and Nvu, but I can't recommend it, unfortunately.
If you want wysiwyg, there is no alternative to Dreamweaver. If you want a code editor, Quanta is tremendous. I use vim. End of story.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.48.251.115] on April 23, 2008 12:46 AM
geany? amaya?

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.19.121.2] on April 23, 2008 02:38 AM
People used to write Postscript by hand. Those days are gone. When will we get a real WYSIWYG editor for web pages? I haven't tried Dreamweaver yet. Maybe I should. I don't want to learn HTML or JavaScript or PHP or any of that other crap. I'm a system administrator who wants to have a neat looking web page without me having to learn three or four programming languages. I'm too busy keeping up with security exploits and trying to get my clients to do backups. When are we going to see software that does for web pages what Word Perfect and Microsoft Office did for office documents?

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Re: Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on April 23, 2008 03:08 PM
'I'm a system administrator who wants to have a neat looking web page without me having to learn three or four programming languages.'

If all you want is a neat looking web page then why would you need any programmimg languages? All you need is XHTML. You should be willing to learn that. If you don't like learning new things, you picked the wrong century to live in.

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Re(1): Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.19.121.2] on April 24, 2008 12:14 AM
Thank you for your insightful remark. You ignored everything that I said in order to make your ignorant comment. Good for you.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 222.155.11.97] on April 23, 2008 03:23 AM
I'll just stick with using CMS systems like Drupal, Joomla, PHP Fusion etc thanks..

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.184.30.114] on April 23, 2008 04:01 AM
Mayhaps I'm the only Kubuntu user -- but the comment about Screem being difficult to install on a KDE system just didn't make sense to me. I may be mistaken, but I believe it was the default web editor -- but even if it wasn't the default, it was a simple "click the box" option in Adept. Yes -- I realize that there are non-Kubuntu KDE users out there... but even when I used SuSE (until about a year ago) I never had a problem installing Gnome "stuff" for use in KDE...

I've been using Bluefish a lot lately (doing a bunch of php stuff) and I like it -- though I agree that it's interface is a bit less polished than Screem.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.149.4.189] on April 23, 2008 09:21 AM
An article like this is always going to open up a can of worms. Looks like we should be thankful that we have such a large choice of html editors to suit everyone's tastes.

However just to mention my preference whilst working on large web projects is Aptana. I can do everything I can do in Dreamweaver now including FTP, although it doesn't have WYSIWYG but it has tabs so you can preview the generated html in what ever browser you setup. Although with large projects, WYSIWYG is irrelevant anyway. Aptana also has support for PHP/Ruby and has a load of javascript libraries built in, like prototype and jquery. It's a bit bloated though but is the best I have used for my workflow.

I have tried Quanta over the years but it is just not stable enough. I never got on with Bluefish although I tried and I tried Screem briefly and didn't like it. I use Kate for quick small projects.

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And what about komodo???

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.0.253.80] on April 23, 2008 10:33 AM
I think that for web develop is better openkomodo.org(or simple Kate for KDE lovers).

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.230.45.24] on April 23, 2008 12:50 PM
Quanta requires KDE. It's probably not the best recommendation for Xfce users, unless they are already using KDE applications like K3B. If you are using Xfce, odds are you have the need/desire for a lightweight system. You might as well learn Vi, or hook up a simpler code editor to Firefox and simply use Firebug and similar add-ons to create your own decent environment.

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I do rate Bluefish but...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.244.129.66] on April 23, 2008 01:05 PM
I happily use Bluefish almost exclusively for PHP/HTML/Javascript and CSS. A few things need addressing before it's perfect though:

- Syntax highlighting is sometimes problematic, particularly auto-updating. Hitting the F5 key sometimes to keep the display up to date is annoying
- Javascript syntax highlighting should be applied when it is included within an HTML page using <script> tags
- The tabs showing the open documents at the bottom of the page are inelegant. Scrolling left and right to find a document is time consuming - there must be a better solution.

Other than that, I'm very happy with it.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.131.30.186] on April 23, 2008 04:18 PM
My only complaint about any one of these three editors, is the lack of database support. I currently use Dreamweaver to program in PHP/HTML, which provides database support. Now, yes anyone can hand code the connections and references to the queries and fields, but when you are using a large number of different queries having a graphical representation and the ability to drag and drop a field name makes life much easier.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.175.87.210] on April 23, 2008 06:23 PM
I would agree that Quanta Plus is an excellent web page editor. It should be noted that Quanta plays well with the Kdevelop suite, which offers advanced support for a wide variety of programming languages and target platforms.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.194.118.110] on April 23, 2008 11:22 PM

"Loading" libraries.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.139.173.236] on April 24, 2008 04:41 PM
The comment about compiling and loading GNOME libraries in KDE (and vice versa) is really uncalled for.

Unless you're doing development work, or using Linux From Scratch, you don't need to compile anything. Installation of the needed libraries is automatic, and the disk space they take is negligible unless we're talking about a handheld computer.

Similarly, the "loading" part is done automatically when you start the program, and the libraries are not loaded to RAM when the program is not running. Again, on a realistic desktop computer, the amount of RAM needed for that is negligible compared to that used by Firefox, desktop widgets, etc.

While maybe the writer was just being obtuse, these kinds of comments are really spreading disinformation.

(Personally, I prefer Kate/KWrite on KDE, while consulting Quata for CSS values/attributes when i get lost.)

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.91.34.61] on April 24, 2008 06:02 PM
The writer in the past has stated that he uses Slackware, which does not come with Gnome libraries. There are probably other, similar distributions using KDE that also do not have Gnome libraries installed by default. The author's comment on having to compile necessary libraries is perfectly valid.

There's still enough variation among Linux distributions that circumspection regarding libraries is completely called for.

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Retro

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.65.130.59] on April 24, 2008 10:03 PM
I use Mozilla SeaMonkey Composer for simple WYSIWYG page editing.

Madonna rocks!

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.103.29.185] on April 25, 2008 12:46 PM
Make it shorter, and sweeter, and put a table in there.

I tried screem, scite, bluefish, quanta and kompozer, and I have to say jEdit beats them all hands down.

I couldn't use the others, but bluefish was better, and screem second. scite, pretty terrible.

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Three Linux HTML editors reviewed

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 77.9.83.94] on April 27, 2008 11:55 PM
Hello I use the Mozilla SeaMonkey Composer for simple WYSIWYG page editing.

My next greater Template Projekt is <a href="http://www.timbaer.de" title="Holzspielzeug" target="_blank">Holzspielzeug TIMBaER</a>

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