Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Thoughts on Coda

Posted on 24 April 2007 14 comments

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Having discovered the beauty of Transmit fairly late in its life, it’s exciting to be among the first (thousand) to experience Coda, Panic‘s brand-spanking new ’one window web development’ application.

The wow factor is laid on pretty thick with this app, albeit very tastefully, as is Panic’s style. But I’m not going to let my initial “I’m wetting myself over this beautiful GUI” reaction take too much hold (after all, I did that once before and then had to change my mind). Those gorgeous curled-page ‘site’ thumbnails (see below) and the slick animation – as lovely as they are – don’t account for the general usability of the app outside its aesthetic pleasantries.

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Jon Hicks and Mark Boulton – both Coda beta testers – have already posted about the app and their readers’ comments reflect the two camps people are falling into: they either love it and focus on how sexy it is, or dislike it for its lack of features when compared to (most commonly) TextMate. It seems fairly obvious that TextMate appeals more to the hardcore coder, given its support for SVN and the like, but personally I like the app because I think it’s an absolute joy to use. And as trivial as this may sound – and ok, I’m going back to aesthetics here – its semi-transparent background is actually a feature that adds to my enjoyment of the program.

One of the things I love about Transmit is its ability to open different connections in tabs – a feature strangely missing entirely from Coda. Panic say that “you’ll still launch Transmit to do serious transferring with a bit more breathing room” but I found that even the simplest uploading & downloading was a fairly sluggish process when used to the grace of Transmit.

However, the biggest problem I have with Coda is its visual CSS editor (see image below). On Mark Boulton‘s post, I said the following: “Why would any hand-coder (a very large chunk of Coda’s target audience) want to revert to a holding-your-hand-while-you-take-baby-steps graphical editor? [And] why should a CSS file be treated differently from any other text-based file? Taken to its logical conclusion, we should’ve seen tabs for PHP, ASP, JS, DAT, etc. This is the same reason I’ve never seen the point in CSSedit (as lovely as it looks) when TextMate is such a wonderful app.” Of course, you’re not obliged to use the visual editor, and it’s certainly nice to see all of your possible options sitting there, but it’s Panic’s emphasis on the feature seems strange, given the market.

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But it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m not here to dismiss Coda, because it is – without question – an excellent, beautiful and functional application, retaining the same high quality standards we’ve come to expect from Panic. And more importantly than anything else, it’s an amazing leap forward: why oh why did no-one else think of combining a text editor, a browser, and an FTP client? It was surely the next logical step, and the next logical step for Coda v1.1 would be to address some of the issues that its preliminary users have addressed.

Download Coda’s free trial and share your thoughts in the comments!

14 comments

  1. iceboxqs

    iceboxqs

    24 April 2007 @ 06:56PM #

    “why oh why did no-one else think of combining a text editor, a browser, and an FTP client”

    Editplus has had this for years. I don’t code on a mac so I’m not sure what has or has not been missing on the other side of the fence.

    Coda caught my eye but it sounds that Textmate is still the way to go if you’re a hand coder. Textmate has made me consider picking up some sort of mac.

    My co-worker programs on a mac. He seemed to still lean toward Textmate at the moment, he is a hand coder.

  2. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    24 April 2007 @ 07:06PM #

    I suppose something else I didn’t consider was (of course) Dreamweaver. Technically, it combines a text editor, a browser, and an FTP client.

    But neither Dreamweaver or EditPlus are quite as ‘cool’ as Coda, eh? :-)

  3. Nate Klaiber

    Nate Klaiber

    24 April 2007 @ 07:19PM #

    I agree with you completely, but I especially agree with the hype on the visual CSS editor. The people I know using TextMate/Transmit wouldn’t even consider going back to something like that. By the time I pick and choose everything from the GUI, I could have it all typed out. Not to mention – I stand firm that no machine will completely understand the complexities of CSS to write efficient code. I am talking about the cascade, inheritance, adjacent sibling selectors, child selectors, attribute selectors, etc – the machine simply doesn’t know your markup like you do.

    Also, books? I love reading – but this seems like its out of place. Dreamweaver has code references, but books? Not sure I like this aspect to it at all.

    Also, a preview pane. Why would I use just one preview pane – when goodness knows I will have to test it in an array of browsers before final production of a product.

    I don’t know – seems like its going backwards instead of forwards – especially given the target market.

  4. Marc George

    Marc George

    24 April 2007 @ 07:25PM #

    I usually use a windows machine for web development, then check on a Mac. So, I’m probably not going to use Coda. I had a flick through the featureset though, and it does seem to be a nice app.

    The only thing I saw no mention of was code-complete. Code-complete is a bit of a deal-breaker with me, because I don’t really want to tax my little grey cells remembering the n parameters that feed an obscure PHP function. And although it definitely isn’t sexy, Dreamweaver doesn’t do the worst job of code-complete. Not the best either :)

  5. Nate Klaiber

    Nate Klaiber

    24 April 2007 @ 07:56PM #

    RE: Marc
    My biggest issue with code complete is that you are relying on the application to do (sometimes) the heavy lifting. Given the situation that you have to fix something on the fly, and all you have is terminal and VI – you need to know how to do things the right way, as autocomplete isn’t going to be there to assist you.

    This goes for CSS, PHP, Javascript, HTML – whatever you choose. I know that you don’t need to memorize every PHP function and its parameters, but for the ones you use often – it’s important to understand their parameters. Just as with CSS – it’s important to understand what styles can be applied to what elements.

    I guess i’m just not keen on leaving all of the work up to the application im using, because I may have to do the same thing on a different environment or applications.

    Yet another reason Coda doesn’t really impress me. I like code highlighting, but autocomplete is usually just a nuisance to me.

  6. Josh Blount

    Josh Blount

    24 April 2007 @ 08:25PM #

    It should be interesting to see what becomes of version 1.1 and beyond, so many people seem to be interested in this sort of app.

    Lovely site by the way.

  7. Andy Beeching

    Andy Beeching

    24 April 2007 @ 08:46PM #

    I’m in the textmate/transmit camp. I like the idea behind Coda, and as everyone has pointer out it is beautiful, but I actually prefer having separate windows for different operations.

    Since I normally dev on dual monitor it’s easier for me to use textmate to get browsers to refresh (I can keep monitors/parallels on one screen, code on the other), and to use quicksilver to perform transmit functions (or use the subversion hooks). Syntax highlighting for all the different languages/javascript libraries is also invaluable to me. I do miss code hinting, but I’m sure this will be forthcoming in the next version as soon as Leopard drops.

    Btw, I absolutely love the driving truck in Transmits dashboard widget. Genius!

  8. Marc George

    Marc George

    25 April 2007 @ 01:32AM #

    I agree with Nate, in that a solid understanding of the core syntax and functions of whatever language you happen to find yourself working in is essential to being a competent developer. When you’ve only got the basic tools available you trust to that core knowledge.

    But I’m not a puritan about it, and if I’m swapping between say, PHP and Actionscript in one project, then having a codehint or two simply smooths over the cracks in my memory. I’ve certainly found that code complete has been a proven time saver in projects when I’ve got to work with multiple languages. I would rather be gently hinted to the exact order of parameters for mysql_connect(), say than dig out the book.

    I’ve never had a codehint confound my understanding of a function; simply remind me of it’s structure.

  9. Francis Booth

    Francis Booth

    27 April 2007 @ 06:16AM #

    I agree with your points. Interestingly, on the subject of Coda’s CSS handling, I think there’s still a super-intuitive GUI waiting to be realised out there that doesn’t just exhaustively list the options available to each element.

    For example, I like the way page elements are highlighted in CSSedit, but it would be nice if you could drag elements around, and resize them visually too. That said, you might just end up with a Dreamweaver-style interface that just bludgeons the CSS into existence without any elegance or abstraction.

    To change the subject slightly – perhaps there should be some basic libraries of CSS set up, i.e. two-column, three-column, sticky-bottom-footer etc. templates. Added to this, there could be some universally standardised div id arrangements, along with a standard number of wrappers divs etc. (sadly un-semantic, but still necessary for flexibility). If that were done effectively enough, it might be possible to more fully realise the potential of CSS and give site stylings/typography a much broader portability.

    If that were in place, then designing an uber-minimal interface to aid designers’ choices between those options, would be a far simpler task than rolling the entire CSS, per project, from the ground up each time.

    It’d be an equivalent ease of automation as when choosing to convert a normal text-box in InDesign into a three column one. As opposed to drawing the three boxes, and calculating the correct gutter needed etc. the computer does that all for you.

    Outside the box designs, would then only need to add to the widely adopted standardised CSS/XHTML, not completely rewrite it from the ground up.

    Hmmm… Panic: another new product perhaps? :)

  10. Brett

    Brett

    27 April 2007 @ 11:49AM #

    I decide to give Coda a whirl tonight and immediately ran into a snag. I have a template system set up where I have an images folder on the root and then also an images folder for each template in the “themes” folder. So when I go to try and upload any images from that sub-themes folder they are uploaded into the root images folder.

    Could quite possibly being my error, I’m not ruling that out. But after double checking, still nothing. I check the Remote and see the image in that root folder but nothing my themes sub folder.

    Think I’ll stick with Dreamweaver CS3 for now.

  11. Elliot Jay Stocks

    Elliot Jay Stocks

    27 April 2007 @ 12:49PM #

    @ Brett:

    I think the way round this is to select your ‘remote’ tab and browse to the folder you want the files uploaded to (in this instance, the ‘images’ folder in one of your templates). Of course, this means you have to do this step every time you want to upload to a different directory, which is exactly the “fairly sluggish process” I was referring to in the post. It’s so much easier with Transmit…

    How are you finding Dreamweaver CS3, anyway? I’ll have to reserve judgement until I’ve actually tried it, but I’d recommend TextMate over all previous versions of Dreamweaver.

  12. Brett

    Brett

    27 April 2007 @ 01:02PM #

    Yeah being accustomed to just clicking on a file and having it uploading to mirror the hierarchy is a lot more efficient then having to navigate every time you want to simply upload an updated graphic or such. I have Transit as well but only use it for quick files that I don’t need to modify or anything.

    CS3 is basically the same thing, to me anyways. They have added their Spry framework which is actually pretty cool. Cool in the sense that if you don’t care to know what’s going on behind the scenes they have made it real easy to click a Spry widget and add it to your site. The “Design” side of it seems to be really beefed up too. I do just about everything in code view so I haven’t had much time to play around with the Design view.

    I just did a brief tutorial for Layers Magazine (layersmagazine.com).. should be posted in the next week or so. It’s just on the simple “Spry Collapsing Panel” feature they have added.

    I’m not a huge fan of how Dreamweaver is laid out or anything like that, and in the past it has been very crash prone on the Mac but the new CS3 for me is amazing, plus the integration with the rest of the Creative Suite is always a plus too. But when you’re comparing 2400 bucks to 70 bucks (that of Coda) I can see where some things just aren’t comparable.

  13. ingvi

    ingvi

    29 April 2007 @ 12:55AM #

    I use a editor called skEdit (on mac), really like it. Use it for editing css, xhtml and js files. Find it better than textmate, http://www.skti.org/

  14. Mark

    Mark

    03 May 2007 @ 12:45AM #

    I have to agree with ingvi here, skEdit has built in FTP, tabs all that and is 100% non-gui. And v4.0 is brewing. Coda caught my eye and I did play with it, it feels good and certainly looks good. I think they will grow a large user base quickly but it certainly is not for everyone.

    Cheers to Panic for a great app!

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