Do we really need Web designers and developers? It’s a question that keeps being asked every few years when a new ground-breaking tool gets released. These tools aim to bring standards compliant code to the masses (with minimal user effort and cost), often in a well designed web, console, or desktop application. It all sounds too good to be true – and as history has shown, frequently (with a few exceptions) it is!

In this article – we’re going to explore the history of code-free editors. We’ll examine what they’ve brought to the table, how they’ve impacted the industry, what milestones they’ve reached, and why we shouldn’t write them off as a gimmick intended to put designers out of business (or give users poor value for money). In fact, they’ve often aided our workflow, focusing our attention toward more important or relevant issues.

The Future of Code-Free Editors

FrontPage & Geocities: The First Generation

In the beginning times were tough. The Web was experimental and tools were rather like the Wild West, unwieldy and producing code that any professional today would weep at. Software like Microsoft FrontPage, Geocities Web Editor and Adobe Dreamweaver were the forerunners of code-free editing, treating the Web like a fixed width and height desktop publishing package.

Geocities

This saw the first wave of hostility from designers proclaiming that such tools would put them out of work. Web designers and developers didn’t have much to worry about though, these tools output such terrible code quality, that sites frequently broke and required fixing by hand. For a business wanting an online presence, especially one with scripts, there was no substitute for a skilled Web craftsperson during the uneasy browser wars.

Bringing affordable software to the masses made a huge impact on the design industry. For the first time, anyone without coding experience could have a basic site, and they could move between the visual and code view to see how the mechanics of Web coding worked. It gave people a taste for what could be achieved if they learned to code properly, leading the way for IDE’s like Sublime Text, increasing our productivity over plaintext editors.

Tuts & Templates: The Second Generation

Once we had all come to terms with the fact that WYSIWYG editors were here to stay, and (to a large extent) their code left much to be desired; we found ourselves going through an era that left a sour taste in many a developer’s mouth. The generation of cut-and-paste scripts. However, this time of quickly hashed together source code tutorials did lead to templates and many years later, the firmly established sub-industry we have today.

Theme Forest

The biggest milestone made during the cut-and-paste era was that of volume. We started our love affair with sharing code during this phase of the Web: JavaScript, CGI – every language you can think of! Before GitHub, before community projects like jQuery, these were often poorly written anti-right click and marquee scripts on sites like DynamicDrive. You copied the code, put it in your source and off you went. A real timesaver for coders.

While this wasn’t an editor, it’s worth noting because this method of code accumulation lead to the more refined community based system we have today. It’s impact can be measured by the sheer amount of libraries, frameworks, boilerplates and the “off-the-rack” templates people can buy from sites like ThemeForest. These don’t replace the need for pros either, because, while they might be good “starter homes”, they are not unique to that site nor are they catering for a target audience.

WordPress & CMS