garann means > totes profesh

a defunct web development blog

adobe products and the will to tinker

Tue, 20 Jul 2010 00:34:01 +0000

I used to have some severe philosophical issues with Dreamweaver. It had nothing to do with open source or Adobe hunting down software pirates, it was just an ego thing. Dreamweaver was a WYSIWYG and I wrote all my code by hand. To this day, I'd argue that if you're going to make a website, you should write the code by hand. However, there are plenty of parallels to be drawn between jQuery, for instance, and MM_preloadImages. The shortcuts I use now are far faster, cleaner, and more sophisticated than what would have been available to me as a Dreamweaver user, but I still use shortcuts. I love my shortcuts. I put a (very small) website up in an afternoon relying primarily on other people's code. Eighteen-year-old me would kick my ass for that.

What would piss her off even more, though, would be to learn that I love Dreamweaver. I've had to work with various versions over the years, and they all sunk to my expectations. I'd left it alone for while and never really changed my opinion on it. I assumed it was still a more elegant alternative to Frontpage. And it may be. I don't know. I haven't opened the WYSIWYG part. What I do know is that it makes a damned fine editor and it came with CS5 anyway so I didn't have to buy it. I can do block-indent with just the tab key, I can get and put by clicking a couple little icons, and it also knows PHP better than I do which means that I can upload files to my site and they just work.

I've been using jEdit on my Mac for a long time and never been completely happy with it. I like the editor itself, but every time I have to look through my computer's directory structure the Macintosh pretense of Not Being Linux drops away and the switching of contexts gives me whiplash. I looked at several other editors a month or so ago, but they all required learning keyboard shortcuts to do things I take for granted, which meant none bowled me over (confession: I never liked emacs or vi either). I like a pretty interface to write my code in. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but there it is.

Interfaces, though, are not the reason I suspect certain of my friends would express disgust if they read my blog and saw this post. I know a lot of people who are very dedicated to open source. They would not approve of my Dreamweaver crush. Adobe has alienated me from these people in the past (Photoshop vs. Gimp), so I know already many of the arguments I'd get. Most of them revolve around the fact that I Know Better and should be using open source. This bears resemblance to my dad's argument, when I was a teenager, as to why I should get myself a twenty-year-old Volvo.

My dad's big thing about twenty-year-old Volvos was that you could work on them yourself. If you needed a part, you just went a junkyard and pulled it out of some other twenty-year-old Volvo. There was no computer telling you what you could and couldn't do, and you weren't paying extra for style and comfort when the twenty-year-old Volvo would perform the same basic function for a fraction of the price.

The thing about my dad, though, is that during that period he really, really liked working on cars. He swapped parts and tips with his friends, he got twenty-year-old Volvo magazines in the mail, he spent more time listening to Car Talk than most religious people do in church. There were rational reasons for him to prefer the vehicles he did, but I don't think rationality had much to do with it. He wasn't nearly as interested in using the car as he was in tinkering with it. And I wonder frequently if that's what's going on with people obsessed with open source software. There are plenty of arguments to be made in its favor, but really, I suspect it exists because people love to play with it. They like to improve it. They like getting together with their friends and arguing about performance and showing off their patches. It's a community.

There are communities around cars, though, and not just Volvos. There are people who are fiercely loyal to either Ford or Chevrolet trucks for reasons that don't make much sense to anyone else. People love their retro cars, their New Beetles and PT Cruisers and Mini Coopers. People love their Linux distros and they love their Zunes and they love their iPads (not the same people). What separates the people in the Volvos or custom hotrods from the people in the PT Cruisers, the people using emacs from the people using Dreamweaver, is the will to tinker. Everyone is passionate about something, but to varying degrees, they mostly want all the other shit to just work.

I want to tinker with my frontend code until the cows come home. But when it comes to the application I write that code in, I don't want to have to do so much as compile it. I want it there and ready to go when I feel like coding something, the same feeling I have toward my car when I need to go buy dog food. I don't get the experience of writing and debugging and perfecting and slaving over a universally valuable tool like a text editor, but as anyone who's ever driven a twenty-year-old Volvo can probably tell you, some things are less about the journey and more about the destination.