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Voodoochilli Blog

What is the best free online browser based WYSIWYG?

11th of March 2007
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For those of you that don’t know WYSIWYG stands for What You See Is What You Get. A WYSIWYG is used as tool to construct HTML, giving the user a close approximation of what the resulting HTML will look like while editing content. A popular example is the design view in Dreamweaver.

As well as application based WYSIWYGs there is also a large choice of online versions that you can use in your websites and web applications to enable visitors to create their own HTML content. One of our sites (among many) that that includes a WYSIWYG is www.voodoochilli.net. The WYSIWYG is used to allow site members to update their own CV’s, giving them the ability to easily change font, sizes colours etc.

This ability to change so many things is part of the problem with WYSIWYGs. Giving users that have little or no understanding of HTML the flexibility to design web pages might be quite empowering for them but it can easily cause problems for your site. If you have used WordPress lately you may be aware that the open source developers have made the wise decision to cut down the HTML WYSIWYG functions in favour of a plain text editor that allows for the insertion of some limited tags. The downside to this is that any advanced stuff still needs to be done the old fashioned way by hand coding, which is fine for web developers but sort of misses the point for the majority of WordPress owners.

The pros and cons of WYSWYGS vs. plain text editors could be discussed forever, however I wish to simply list the best free online WYSIWYG’s that I have used over the years.

OpenWYSIWYG1. OpenWYSIWYG
This is bar far the best free open source WYSIWYG in my opinion. Its easy to install, supported by all browsers and can easily be customised. This is the one I would recommend. It’s just perfect, I cant think of anything I would add except maybe a built in spell checker and an online file manager. All of these things can of course be cutom built for your web application if needed. OpenWYSIWYG, as the name suggests is completly open source which is something I am in favour of.

HTMLarea

2. HTMLarea

This is the WYSIWYG I used to use a few years ago. It has loads of features, but one major drawback: It’s only supported by internet explorer as it uses some of explorers built in editing features. A few years ago this wasn’t such a major problem as explorer was the browser that nearly everyone used, however things have changed. The developers of this software no longer support this software. If I remember correctly, it used to mess up the html code sometimes and place silly unneeded tags just as Microsoft Word has been known to do.

Reall's HTML WYSIWYG

3. Reall’s HTML/WYSIWYG Editor

Now this one claims to be Internet explorer only, but it worked fine for me in Firefox initially. After using it for a bit I did start to get some scripting errors in little pop up windows, which isn’t great. It’s quite hard to install as you have to manually get the code from their site by either viewing the source, or as the author explains “Open the html file in Notepad”. There does however seem to be quite a few tools available not my first choice but it does look pretty useful.

ez HTML area

4. ezHTMLarea

This one requires internet explorer and ActiveX controls otherwise it just doesn’t work. Sure it looks flashy and will impress your clients, but Easy it isn’t. No disrespect to the authors of this software intended (I couldn’t develop a WYSIWYG for explorer), but I really wouldn’t use this one if I were you!

Alternatives to WYSIWYG

As mentioned above, some people like the developers behind WordPress are now taking a slightly different approach, essentially limiting the end users control. I also mentioned that www.voodoochilli.net implements a WYSIWYG. Previously we thought that WYSIWYGs were bad and likely to corrupt a pages’ HTML. To deal with this we used to have a custom built tag system. For example a user could type:

[TITLE]Heres Your title[/TITLE]

And the text would be formatted. The main advantage of this kind of system is that, unlike nearly all WYSIWYG systems, no client side software such as Javascript needs to be running. All in all though, I think with HTML editors such as OpenWYSIWYG that are improving all of the time you can’t go wrong.


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