Every once in awhile, an application comes along that manages to create a paradigm shift. For frontend Web developers on the Macintosh platform, Coda with its mantra of One-Window Web Development is that application.FTP Client, Text editor, GUI CSS editor, preview browser, terminal window and guidebooks/cheat sheets... Just last week I was happily using all of these applications to bend, twist and tweak websites, not really knowing or wanting for a better way.
Along comes Coda from Panic Software -- the makers of venerable FTP client Transmit, which has been a workhorse in the stable of many a Mac Web developer -- and all of a sudden, the idea of switching between four or five application windows seems, well, rather insane.
Right from the AJAXy homepage of the application, you have to be impressed by the way this has been thought out for Web designers.
The download is darn speedy and comes in at a little over 15 MB. It unzips and installs as easily as any fully functional 15 day trial. Once you have your watery leaf in your applications you are ready to go.
Much like Adobe's Dreamweaver, the thorn in every Web developers backside, the first step is entering your website's local and remote information. Once that's set you connect to your SFTP/FTP server and see your list of files and folders. This list can be manipulated like a Finder folder window which takes the part of your FTP client.
After connecting and selecting a HTML/PHP/CSS/ASP etc. page to work with, the fun starts and the real goodness become more clear. You can use the traditional text editor -- which is akin to the Mac programs TextWrangler, TextMate and BBedit (it is actually built on SubEthaEdit, which has been licensed for Coda) After making your changes, you can then click on the preview tab. The preview appears in a Webkit based browser window, reflecting the updates you've just made.
Next, there is a CSS editing tab which provides a visual environment for style sheet manipulation and layout tuning. Until now I've been relying on the very capable CSSedit, from MacRabbit for this task. CSSedit has some great features that Coda has yet to deliver, but the gap is not large and it quickly becomes difficult to justify keeping another application running for this sort of work.
The built in terminal application let's you hack the files directly, when its time to get down and dirty with the server or if there's nooks and crannies you simply feel obliged to manhandle directly. This isn't anything more exciting than Apple's included terminal app, however its again the convenience that makes this remarkable -- its darn handy to have all your tools wrapped up in the same window, sharing site info and logins.
Finally, and this is the grand finale, Books are included. This is a kind of Help system on steroids crossed with an ebook reader. Books allows you to look up coding items in helpful, quick reference guides.
Right now there are only four desk reference guides from the Web Programmer's Desk Reference but Panic plans more. They are integrated into the environment and function in a very Web friendly, hyper-linked kind of way -- just as you'd expect.
After using the Coda application for the last day or so, I can say that I am won over. I will still keep my more fully functional, scriptable applications for specialized tasks, but for the day to day Web development needs, I've found my Web IDE.
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