Ed Bilodeau

<< Back to Home

This weblog had moved: http://www.coolweblog.com/bilodeau/

# Notice (Oct 19/05): So ends my stay here on Blogger. This morning Google implemented an anti-spam 'feature' that forces me to answer a challenge phrase when I want to post to my own blog. No notice of the change, nothing. Worse is that it doesn't even work! I type the phrase, submit, "An error occured", post deleted. Damn you, Google. Chances are I will revive my blog somewhere else, sometime soon. I'll post the new coordinates here as soon as they become available. (BTW, I'm unable to post anything to my RSS stream, so I'd appreciate it if readers could spread the word and ask people to take a look at this notice)

Update (Oct 19/05, ~noon): After a frustrating few hours (and not just trying out alternatives to Blogger), I've decided that this is a good time to take a break from all this. A day? A week? Who knows. But I need to step away from it before I pass a heavy magnet over the whole mess.

Update 2: According to this post, the reason I'm seeing the CAPTCHA (challenge phrase) is that Blogger has classified my blog as spam. Thanks. User for five years and now I'm spam. I searched the Blogger site, but there is no mention of how to get the spam flag turned off. There is also no way of contacting anyone at Blogger. Wow. Spam they say I am, so spam I must be. Maybe it is time to take a break.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Wanted: A Simplified IDE for Web Development : The October 2004 issue of Dr. Dobbs has an article on an interesting project called Penumbra, a simplified version of the Eclipse IDE. In the article, Frank Mueller and Antony Hoskin describe how they were able to customize the Eclipse IDE to make it a better for teaching Java to Computer Science students.

Eclipse allows you to define a particular configuration of the user interface (menus, toolbars, etc) as a perspective. Like many applications, Eclipse contains a wide array of functionality so that it can meet the needs of the widest range of users. A large part of the Penumbra project involved developing a perspective that provides users with a simplified IDE, hiding much of this complex functionality.

Along with a simplified interface, Meuller and Hoskin developed a few other features that improve Penumbra's ability to meet the needs of the classroom environment. These features include fully automated integration with CVS, as well as a heirarchy view which "provides users with a view that would visual the heirarchy of classes and interfaces in a project." For beginner developers, this kind of view is a great aid in understanding what is going on in their code.

Reading about this project, I am convinced that Eclipse could be used to develop a simplified IDE for teaching people how to develop web pages. The basic functionality of such an environment would include:

  • basic text manipulation
  • find/replace in and across multiple files
  • syntax coloring and highlighting for XHTML, CSS, and JS. Plug-ins would allow for other languages (ex. PHP) to be supported as well.
  • the ability to collapse tags
  • context-sentitive help on all markup tags and properties

The IDE could also provide a heirarchy view that allows the student to view their XHTML document as a heirarchy of nested tags. This would be useful in emphasising the structural aspects of XHTML.

Our simplified IDE would of course benefit from integration with existing tools such as HTML Tidy and the W3C's validation tools. CVS integratation like that in Penumbra would be useful, as would FTP support.

Firefox would be the idea default browser to integrate into our simplified IDE. Combined with the Web Developer extension (WD), it provides students with a quick browser with very good standards compliance. You could even enhance the integration between our simplified IDE and Firefox/WD. For example, a student might be viewing their pages in Firefox/WD with block elements and class/IDs displayed. In our integrated environment, clicking on a class or ID in Firefox would go to the class or ID definition in our editor.

Like Penumbra, this application would be open source, free to use, and open to further modification and enhancement. It would only take a small number of educational institutions ro provide the resources (mostly developer-hours) necessary to make this a sustainable project. (Example of OSS projects supported by a group of academic institutions include (but are not limited to) uPortal, Sakai, DSpace, and Lionshare).

I'm interested in hearing what others think of this idea. Please add a comment to this post with your ideas, suggestions, or links to similar or related projects. If you think this is a good idea, I ask you to share a link to this post so that is gets the widest possible visibility.

In the meantime, I will continue my research into the Eclipse environment (as well as the starting and management of OSS projects!).


For the record, TopStyle Pro, while not free, is what I would probably recommend to anyone learning to hand-code HTML and CSS.


Post a Comment

<< Back to Home