As my skills in web development, well, develop, I find it more difficult to work without software packages like the Adobe suites. Web Design Premium or Master Collection, I learn and use many of the pieces with each other. The primary difference between Adobe products and their open source alternatives are the lack of interaction between. Take the popular graphics alternative for Photoshop: GIMP. Now take the web development alternatives for Dreamweaver: Netbeans, Aptana Studio, or Bluefish*. What about the vector graphics alternative for Illustrator: Inkscape? All of these products alone provide comparable service with their Adobe doppelgängers, yet I don’t see Inkscape working with Bluefish, nor do I see it work with GIMP. It’s the interoperability that the open source versions lack, and that’s quite an important part!
Just today I went to a barbecue my friend was hosting and talked to a telecommunications major with whom I am also friends. He discussed taking a web development course this summer and how he took Photoshop files and exported them to Dreamweaver. He didn’t have to touch one bit of the code menu in designing for iWeb server, which is free web hosting offered to students here at Ball State. I’ve heard other examples of people exporting from Fireworks into Dreamweaver so they can focus more on the design, rather than spending hours getting the code to display exactly how you want. I get the feeling this is completely foreign to many open source advocates, since they still push the idea of using the alternatives.
The next generation of open source projects is starting to get the right idea. Take BlueGriffin for example. They create a WYSIWYG editor with a code view, based on the same Gecko rendering engine that Firefox 4 uses, and add built-in SVG-editing software. Is it Inkscape? No. Is this package perfect? Not by any means, but it’s a step in the right direction. BlueGriffin edits SVG files with another open source software, SVG Edit. The reason I’m not supporting this project more is because (a) I just learned about it while researching for this post, and (b) the developers charge for most of the useful add-ons. One of the major add-ons I see as a contributor for BlueGriffin being a Dreamweaver replacement is the ActiveView. It automatically synchronizes the Gecko-rendered WYSIWYG view with the code view. This is comparable to using Firefox’s extension Firebug to do a more permanent edit of the HTML and CSS. It would also be a great asset for those trying to learn HTML since they could toy with the appearance to understand how it changes the code. Another significant add-on is an adapted version of FireFTP, which increases the potential of adding similar website synchronization as Dreamweaver has had.
Still these are just strides in the correct direction. What I would like to see within the next major revision of GIMP, Inkscape, and Bluefish is cooperation. I want to see GIMP output a file as HTML and automatically open it in Bluefish for editing. I want to see Bluefish edit an embedded SVG file by opening Inkscape. I am aware of some capabilities Bluefish has, however it shouldn’t only be up to Bluefish to bridge the gap. The individual projects are pieces that don’t yet completely fit together, but I feel they will soon.
Still, Adobe is about more than just web design; they also focus on video editing, flash programming, and more. We need to see some more of our renowned cooperation in the world of open source to truly offer the “open source alternative.”
* Bluefish wasn’t originally in my top choices for a Dreamweaver replacement, but upon further inspection I see how its features have changed since I last used it. I can also see this project being more useful than Komposer, and would like to see a few more features be merged before I’ll fully adopt it: (1) Cleaner WYSIWYG editing; (2) Using Firefox 4′s Gecko rendering engine to preview content.