Website creation: Dreamweaver v open source

Summary:Adobe's Dreamweaver is widely used by web developers, but it won't suit Linux users or those on tight budgets. Free and open-source (FOSS) alternatives are available, but how do they match up?

KompoZer: an open-source web authoring system

KompoZer is the free and open-source application that most closely resembles Adobe's Dreamweaver — although perhaps the Dreamweaver of several generations back. It's a WYSIWYG, cross-platform, web authoring system based on earlier code from a web authoring system called Nvu, which in turn is based on Netscape Communicator.

The KompoZer workspace with the application menu bars along the top, site directory on the left and the page design view on the right

KompoZer with the Source tab selected to display the page source code

KompoZer superficially resembles Dreamweaver, offering WYSIWYG web page creation and editing. It supports HTML4, XHTML1, PHP, JavaScript and CSS (with a CSS editor) and is based on Gecko, the layout engine within Mozilla. It has no CMS integration or features to cope with different browser form factors, but it can be used as a CSS and code editor. It's a cross-platform application that runs on Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems.

The KompoZer CCS stylesheet editor

Pages can be previewed in a browser by setting up KompoZer (Edit / Preferences/Options / Applications) to open pages locally using a browser installed on the system. With the path set in Preferences, clicking the Browse button on the icon menu bar will open the browser and display the page that's currently open in KompoZer. Preferences for other external applications can also be set in the Applications panel.

Application options in KompoZer

KompoZer also has a View / Preview menu selection, which suppresses the red highlight cell framing to present a more browser-like view of a page.

Open-source CMS: Drupal, Joomla!, WordPress

Content Management Systems (CMS) allow publishers to create, organise and control publication assets in a database. Templates can be set up that allow editors to assemble assets into new website pages. When published, assets are assigned to appear at certain locations on a page, but complete pages are assembled dynamically only at the moment they are requested by a reader's browser. Different readers may see different versions of the page — with for example different adverts — and these may be location- and/or client-aware.

Once a CMS is set up, if standard or existing templates are used, users can start publishing pages in a matter of minutes. With most CMS, content creation and editing is separated from the design aspect of the pages. In Drupal, for example, page design is controlled by a Theme — a folder of CSS files and PHP templates. Web designers and programmers use tools such as Dreamweaver to create and edit these CMS themes. There is a good article on using Dreamweaver to edit Drupal theme files on the Adobe developers website.

Commercial CMSs are available, but these are usually expensive and the web is currently dominated by open-source products such as Drupal, Joomla! and WordPress. Drupal is used by the US White House, for example, to publish its website.

The origins of the top three open-source CMS are surprisingly disparate, Drupal got started in 2000 as a messaging and news board for students at the University of Antwerp. Joomla! began in 2005 as a split from the Mambo web design project and 2003 saw the launch of WordPress as a typography enhancement program. It later developed into a blogging tool, which perhaps explains its high 'market share'. WordPress is now a full PHP- and MySQL-based CMS.

If you're considering using a CMS to manage your website, an interactive CMS comparison site called the The CMS Matrix (part of The Compare Stuff Network), will suggest suitable products based on users' requirements.

For a wealth of information specifically on open-source CMS, there is Opensource CMS. According to this site, WordPress currently has 55 percent of the open-source CMS 'market share', Joomla! 20 percent and Drupal 11 percent. These statistics are collected on an ongoing basis by a web analysis application called Wappalyser. According to the WordPress statistics web page, WordPress is used by over 72 million sites.

Other open-source tools
Aptana Studio 3 and Bluefish are two well-known open-source web development applications.


Aptana was aquired in January 2011 by Appcelerator, a California-based company that claims, with its cross-platform development framework Appcelerator Titanium, to provide "the leading platform for rapidly developing native mobile, desktop, and tablet applications using Web technologies".

The Aptana Studio 3 opening display

Aptana Studio web page preview

The free and open-source Aptana Studio 3 is based on the Eclipse development framework and can be used to build Ajax web applications. It integrates support for HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, Ruby, Rails, PHP and Python, plus many more languages and standards all within the single environment, and is available for download from the Aptana website. Although it's a programming editor, it does have a Preview that provides a browser-style view of web pages.


Bluefish, currently at version 2.2.2, is an advanced open-source, GPL, programmers' text editor with many tools for the development of dynamic websites. It supports — to name just a few — HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML, PHP, C, C++, JavaScript, Java, Google Go, Vala, Ada, D, SQL, Perl, ColdFusion, JSP, Python, Ruby and shell. Bluefish is cross platform and runs on Linux, Solaris, Microsoft Windows and Mac operating systems.

The Bluefish code editor user interface

Bluefish gets around the WYSIWYG preview problem by simply linking to an external browser to view code as it will appear on a finished website.

Topics: Developer, Enterprise Software, Open Source, Reviews

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