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    Nvu Review
    Copyright © 2005, Dave Hornford

    Ongoing growth in the availability of strong open source 
    applications encourage keeping an eye out for Open Source 
    alternatives to commercial applications. With the release of 
    Nvu there is a potential alternative to FrontPage, GoLive and 
    Dreamweaver as a graphical web editor.
    
    This review is written for a non-professional web developer. A 
    non-professional web developer is expected to have a mandate to 
    create the web-site, comfort with 'publishing and design' 
    concepts, and a light understanding of HTML and CSS editing. This 
    developer relies on the graphical tool to guide the site 
    creation, and perform the heavy lifting in terms of HTML coding. 
    Microsoft FrontPage, Adobe GoLive and Dreamweaver provide the 
    comparison. Nvu 1 (20050620), Windows version was used in this 
    review.
    
    
    Review Summary
    
    Solid table-based web-site editor. A good choice for non-
    professional web-site developer following a table-based layout 
    for sites with limited complexity. For basic web-page creation 
    Nvu has it all there. Highly accessible standard features, clean 
    interface and a solid community to provide assistance..
    
    Nvu has significant weaknesses supporting more complex web-sites 
    and current web-site practices, including CSS and DIV-based 
    formatting. In this category, Nvu is in a difficult position, it 
    does not provide enough site-management support to those who need 
    it, and shortcoming will frustrate more advanced users. A number 
    of bugs that limit usability of the product. As a final note: 
    Nvu's included CSS editor should not be used.
    
    Expected Features at a Glance
    
        * Table Support
          Very Strong
        * Image Placement
          Strong. Image Placement dialog assists including the 
          attributes often forgotten.
          vForm Support
          Good. Very accessible form support through toolbar and 
          configuration dialog.
        * Site Management
          Limited. No site view or link-state warnings. Options to 
          save images will save images to page location not a /media 
          or /graphics folder.
        * Template Management
          Limited. No site management. Saving a template-based page 
          in a sub-folder breaks the links in the template.
        * View/Edit HTML
          Limited. Auto-formatting doesn't. In ability to save or 
          tab between pages in source-mode annoying.
        * CSS Editor
          Abomination. Do not use the CSS editor.
        * DIV-based layout
          No. Will show a layout created in source mode, but has 
          no ability to create it.
        * Graphical Head Tag Editor
          No. Glaring omission.
        * Online Help
          Mixed. Not all menu items can be found in the help.
          Separately downloadable tutorial is quite good.
    
    
    Overview
    
    Nvu is designed to lay-up basic table-based web-sites. For this 
    function it works quite well. Like a word processor standard 
    toolbars assist you to write text, format it, insert graphics and 
    manage the structure through tables.
    
    The toolbar, the menus or keyboard shortcuts provide the standard 
    functions needed to create a page, such as the insertion of 
    links, images, tables and forms. It is easy to step into your 
    first page with Nvu.  Tabs across the bottom allow you to switch 
    between Normal mode, HTML Tags, HTML source and Preview. Buttons 
    across the top provide the standard tools a non-professional 
    developer will be reaching for - Anchor, Link, Image, Table, Form 
    & Spell.
    
    For basic web-page creation Nvu has it all there. If you are 
    building a simple web-site it is an excellent choice. When you 
    want to go beyond basic web-page creation to web-site development 
    Nvu starts to show its limitations.
    
    
    Strengths Clean Interface
    
    Nvu has a very  clean interface. The tools likely used are 
    presented front & center on the tool-bar. Selecting Image, Table, 
    or Form icons from the tool-bar presents a dialog that supports 
    complete editing of the item and attributes. Attributes placed as 
    CSS styles. 'Tool-tips' even display when a tool is not 
    available.
    
    
    Table Management
    
    Table management is a strength of Nvu. Standard table functions 
    are easy - Creating, resizing, adding rows and columns is easy. 
    Once you realize the triangles will add rows and columns, the 
    circle-x is for deleting and there are no 'handles for a cell 
    managing tables is easy.  Resizing is managed by dragging the 
    edges inwards or outwards. A double-click on a table brings up 
    its properties (however, if your mouse is on text in a table the 
    same double-click brings up properties about the text).
    
    This brings us to one of the flaws in Nvu, inconstancy in the 
    interface. If a table cell is empty, you can move from one cell 
    to the next, or add rows just by pressing the 'Tab key'. With 
    text in the cell pressing the 'Tab key' adds a non-breaking 
    space.
    
    
    Image Placement
    
    Image placement is another Nvu strength. Selection of the Image 
    tool opens a simple properties page that provides for the 
    pertinent questions. Always available is an advanced edit button. 
    Dragging the image moves it in the page tied to the text.
    
    Working with images highlights two weaknesses of Nvu, site 
    management and going beyond the basics. Nvu has no concept of a 
    site, where pages may be grouped in a directory, where graphics 
    and scripts are collected in a single location. If the preference 
    'save images and associated files' is selected images and 
    associates files are copied to the current directory the page is 
    in, even if they were selected from a /graphics directory. The 
    second limitation is going beyond the basics - there appears to 
    be no facility for creating an image map.
    
    
    Forms
    
    Nvu's front-and-center support of forms greatly assists the non-
    professional web developer. Many basic sites have contact and 
    information gathering forms. (As an aside if you have a contact 
    email that you want to hide from spam collectors use 
    Mindpalettes' simple email form NateMail.
    
    
    Reasonably Clean Code
    
    All graphical web-editors tend to write unnecessary code. Nvu 
    does a pretty good job. Behind Dreamweaver, but far ahead of the 
    unnecessary junk included with FrontPage.
    
    
    Online Community
    
    Nvu has an active helpful online community. We encourage Nvu 
    users to participate in the on-line community. Read the help and 
    examples, answer the questions within your knowledge, and help 
    the next person along. A functioning community supporting an open 
    source project is a critical test of open source software. Nvu, 
    passes this test with flying colours.
    
    
    Open Source Heritage
    
    Nvu is built upon the Mozilla Composer codebase. The project is 
    sponsored by Linspire Inc. Nvu is licensed under the Mozilla 
    Public License 1.1.
    
    
    Weaknesses
    
    The moment you go beyond the basics, or move beyond table-based 
    layout to follow current web site development practices Nvu's 
    weaknesses start showing. Any current 'How-to book' will guide a 
    web-site developer towards using CSS and DIV controls. Once you 
    start moving beyond the basics site management, HEAD tag editing, 
    and HTML editing become increasingly important. In all these 
    areas Nvu struggles, significantly limiting its appeal.
    
    
    Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) Support
    
    Nvu's CSS support is extremely limited. This is unfortunate for a 
    product reaching the market in the spring of 2005. Most non-
    professional web-developers have other design responsibility and 
    use styles to format text, whether in page-layout or even MS 
    Word. With reasonable browser support for CSS it is a natural to 
    use styles in web-site development.
    
    The ability to apply a CSS style class to text through a simple 
    menu is appreciated. Again, once you start to go beyond the 
    basics Nvu stops supporting you.
    
    A feature of CSS is the ability to have a common style-sheet that 
    controls the entire site. With Nvu, a page created from a 
    template into a directory not only unhooked the page from the 
    site CSS, but saved a copy of the CSS in the subdirectory. 
    Unselecting the preference to 'save associated files' eliminated 
    this behaviour.
    
    Nvu's single biggest weakness is its CSS editor. Nvu's CSS editor 
    can only be called a disaster. Moving from one attribute 
    automatically saves changes. Further, simply opening a CSS file 
    results in proprietary Mozilla CSS tags being applied. Any editor 
    that has no provision for not-saving should not be used. One that 
    silently applies proprietary tags, and automatically saves them, 
    shouldn't exist.
    
    Recommendation: Nvu's CSS editor should not be used and the 
    product would be strengthened by its removal.
    
    
    Advanced Layout Support (DIV)
    
    Associated with Nvu's table-based focus and limited CSS support 
    is the lack of support to build a multi-column layout based upon 
    CSS and DIV using the Graphical interface. Multi-column layouts 
    are a standard used by many web-sites, and creation using CSS and 
    DIV a staple in 'How-to publications. An inability to create them 
    from the graphical interface is a significant barrier.
    
    
    Site Management
    
    As a web-site grows managing its components becomes important. 
    Nvu has limited support for managing templates, grouping pages 
    and graphics in directories. Other basic features of site 
    management include gathering images selected from elsewhere into 
    the site, identifying in-site broken links, and site wide 
    search/replace
    
    If you have an existing structure, Nvu can accommodate it. 
    However any changes after the fact require each page to be re-
    edited. As well, pages created from a template loose links when 
    the created page is saved into a different directory than the 
    template was created for.
    
    
    HEAD Tag Editing
    
    Nvu provides no graphical support for creating and editing of 
    Header elements, such as META tags for keywords or adding an 
    external CSS style-sheet. Any editing of tags in a page's header 
    requires HTML source editing. Header-tags are standard in non-
    beginner web-sites.
    
    
    HTML Source Editing
    
    Nvu's HTML editor is weak. A standard features on most code 
    editors, 'pretty formatting', is simply unreliable. There is no 
    rhyme or reason to the line breaks, and manual coding doesn't 
    result in any display change. Switching from Normal mode to HTML 
    mode does not always result in the cursor being located in the 
    same place. This is a serious weakness for the non-professional. 
    Most non-professionals learn a bit of HTML coding, usually to 
    work around their graphical editor, but they rely on context 
    being maintained. To further our annoyance, when context is 
    maintained the cursor does not flash after switching mode.
    
    When editing source the tab interface supporting multiple pages 
    vanishes, saving your work automatically reverts to 'normal 
    mode'.
    
    
    Bugs
    
    Nvu has a number of recurring bugs. Some are minor and 
    transitory, the list below are significant:
    
       1. Spell Checker Vanishing - without warning the spell 
          checker is menu is greyed out.
          Work-around: Use the toolbar spell checker icon.
    
       2. Insert function vanish - without warning insert functions 
          like horizontal line and anchor from the Insert menu will 
          be unavailable.
          Work-around: Close & restart Nvu (Note: Nvu is very quick 
          to launch. It can be quicker to close & restart Nvu than 
          to move around in GoLive or Dreamweaver).
    
       3. Context Loss - when moving between multiple pages Nvu will 
          leave the context where you were instead of where you are. 
          There might even be a flashing cursor where you think you 
          are, but the cursor is really where you were. Common if 
          you are copying & pasting between pages.
          Work-around: Save early & save often.
    
       4. Copy & Paste - with multiple tabs open pasting can go into 
          the left-most tab even though the cursor is flashing in 
          current tab. Even if no recent edits have been done in 
          the left-most tab.
          Work-around: Save early & save often.
    
    
    Nvu Conclusion
    
    Solid table-based web-site editor. It is a good choice for non-
    professional web-site developer following a table-based layout 
    for sites with limited complexity. For basic web-page creation 
    Nvu has it all. Standard features and functions are presented in 
    a clean, easy-to-use interface. As an Open Source product it is 
    free, and has a good on-line community that will help you through 
    difficulties. Nvu can be obtained, free of charge, from 
    http://www.nvu.com
    
    If you work with more complex sites and are using CSS & DIV 
    formatting controls Nvu's weaknesses start to show. At this point 
    the non-professional web-site developer should consider GoLive 
    and Dreamweaver. Balance the high price-tags of these commercial 
    products with the productivity loss and limitations of Nvu. As a 
    last word of warning, Nvu's CSS editor should not be used. 
    



    Writer's Resource Box:
    Hornford Associates provides professional services aligning 
    Information Technology with business goals. Enterprise 
    Architecture, IT Strategy, Project Management and Operational 
    Efficiency support 4 focus areas (SME eCommerce, Storage, 
    Business Continuity and Linux (Open Source). For more 
    information, please take a look at: 
    http://www.hornfordassociates.com Or, call her: +1 403-818-4303
    
    For SME focused how-to guides on eCommerce and Open-Source 
    infrastructure visit: http://www.hornfordassociates.com/library




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