Sunday, September 11, 2005

Programming Tools

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It occurs to me that there are a lot of folks that, like me, enjoy using the computer. It becomes more than a fancy typewriter or a games machine or even a jukebox for playing music. We start thinking about how much we would like to make the computer do what we want. We want to ‘program’ the machine!

Strangely enough, it doesn’t take years of education at the college level to do that. There are tutorials and free software available that we can collect and use to become the magician. Not to mention the thousands of books that are sold in book stores that cover the subject. So, exactly what tools should we consider necessary to venture into the ‘Woods’ and make a start?

First thing you need to do is decide what type of programming to start with. Since Karen has started writing about HTML and Off-line web pages, we’ll start with HTML. There are tutorials and resource sites available that can get you started and a good distance down the road when it comes to programming in HTML. To top it off, it really isn’t hard to learn but it is a challenge to master. As the man said, “You gotta start somewhere!”

So, let’s say you’ve taken the initial steps and have read a few pages on HTML on one of the tutorials and you’re excited about getting started to try out the things you’ve learned. How do you start? You have to get a program called an editor. You could use your word processing program, but that entails handling the code (the stuff you write) in special ways and it just isn’t necessary. There are several different editors that will ‘fit the bill’. One of them is Notepad, that small but useful editing program that is installed as part of the Windows system. But, it just doesn’t have the power or features you will need to ease the task. MetaPad is another nice little editor that free for the asking and it does have quite a few more features than Notepad, but even that editor isn’t best for this kind of task.

Crimson Editor is the best little editor I’ve found for General editing. This editor allows you to edit different text-based files such as programming languages including HTML, C/C++, Perl, Java, Matlab, LaTeX, ASP, PHP, JSP, EDIF, VHF and Verilog-HDL. Basic FTP functions are provided for uploading your code. You can also create macros and use search-and-replace. Column mode editing is supported in this update. Depending on the programming language you’re writing in, the editor will highlight keywords and a long list of other visual cues to help write or maintain your code. Another nice feature is the ability to have several files open and available so you can switch between files and compare code, check syntax, etc. You can also close the editor and, when you start it, it will load all the files you were working with in you last editing session, even opening the last file you touched and place you where you left off. Do get a copy of this one. You’ll find a lot of uses for it!

But, since we’re thinking of writing HTML code, why not use a Web Page Editor? These editors are designed specifically make web page development easier. Some of them even provide a browser function that allows you to write a little and then look at it as though you were using your web browser with out loading it. There are a lot of them available; some are quite expensive and have a learning curve (time to learn) that is really long before you become proficient. I have tried out a lot of these things and I’ve come up with a list of programs that do the job easily and support the process of developing web pages fully and don’t cost you except for learning time.

The first is AlleyCode. This editor comes with a tutorial that will actually end up with you writing a web page. It even teaches web page essentials. It will support developing the full range of coding types that are used in web page/site development.

HTML-kit is another interesting editor that has a wide array of plug-ins. There are CSS style formaters, html page refinements, code verifiers, and lots of other nice tools that are supported by the editor (hence the name ‘kit’).

The last editor I’ll present is NVU. For those of you who run Linux, Mac, and/or Windows, this is a full featured product that deserves a good look, and the newest version is out of beta.

Each editor in this class approaches the task of web development slightly differently. They all handle the process of development nicely and cost nothing (Free Software) so you should be able to grab your copy of each of them and find the one you really like. free

And, as always, no matter what you do with your computer, HAVE FUN!