Back in May I wrote about living on the open-source planet. This approach to web-based software development is often associated with the LAMP (I prefer the P to stand for Perl) ‘stack’ of technologies.
For years I have used nothing but these open-source and free for non-commercial usage software applications to create websites. I always used a Linux/Unix command-line and the microemacs text editor. I coded raw HTML from hand, which was spat out by a Perl script connected to a MySQL or PostgreSQL database. This is a great way to learn how web pages are constructed, but it has its limits.
Websites I created this way were functional, fast and feature-rich but were often sterile, boring to look at, and a nightmare to update and extend.
Recently I spent some money (or rather I persuaded my employer to spend some of its budget) on the commercial software package Adobe Creative Suite 3 (CS3). The main reason for purchasing this was to get my hands on Dreamweaver for creating and managing websites, but I also wanted to use Illustrator (for creating images that use vector graphics, such as logos), and Photoshop (for working with raster images like JPEGs and photographs). I’ve been using it on a Windows platform, so yes, I’m really going over to the dark side here.
In some ways it has been a revelation – Dreamweaver in particular is a fantastic application that makes the process of developing and maintaining a website much easier. Some of its features such as automated WYSIWYG CSS design, templates and accessibility reporting are godsends. There’s nothing in the open-source world (e.g. GIMP, KompoZer) that comes close to matching the usefulness and range of features of the applications in the Adobe CS3 package.
So the answer seems to be that serious web development requires you to spend some money. It’s not the whole story of course – the ‘back end’ of a serious website can still be developed with LAMP technologies – but the use of Adobe CS3 for the ‘front end’ is essential, I now believe.
The biggest problem with Adobe CS3 is the learning curve required to use it and the lack of documentation – and I had to spend some more money (my own this time) on ‘Dreamweaver CS3 The Missing Manual‘ from O’Reilly. It’s well worth purchasing though – the combination of this book and the software is unbeatable.