Copyright ©2002 Fourth World
When was the last time you patched a roof without a hammer? Or made a smoothie without a blender? Or changed a car tire without a jack? It's possible to do all of these things without using tools, but why would you?
Yet when it comes to HTML authoring, there are still a number of holdovers from the last century who advocate hand-coding all HTML. You can often spot their Web sites at 50 yards: few graphics, poor layout, and generally only a few pages. Do these people also type PostScript directly to their printer instead of using PostScript-generating tools like Illustrator or Freehand?
It's extremely important to know HTML well, if only because tools are valuable but also imperfect.
But while advocating hand-coding may appear studly in some circles, if used exclusively it's usually a bad business decision. Exclusive hand-coding chooses a workflow that artificially lengthens the development process. "<TD>" is a four-character tag, whether typed by a machine or a human, but a human simply can't enter text as quickly as a machine. Functional HTML is functional HTML, and if well-formed there should be little difference between human- and machine-generated code.
The advantages of such libraries are many: the code is already designed, written, and tested on a wide variety of platforms and browsers. And in most modern HTML authoring tools, the code can be employed in just a few clicks by production staff, who in most companies have a lower billable rate than programmers. This leaves programming resources available for more complex or unusual tasks not commonly addressed by authoring tools.
Of course, you can almost always write specialized single-use functions with less code than a more generalized function would use, but again that raises development costs. Is reducing page load time by less than 2 seconds worth the extra several hundred dollars, or even thousands, in additional development costs to your client? Before a Web consultancy considers hand-coding to be a positive marketing message, they should ask that question of their clients.
Authoring tools offer other cost-cutting features as well, such as reusable code snippets that can be inserted across pages throughout a site in a single move. For example, the header and foot of this page are what GoLive calls "components", snippets of HTML that updated once, and GoLive automatically copies the code throughout the 100+ pages on which they appear, modifying image paths and links as it goes. GoLive commonly does this update in under five seconds, while attempting to do it by hand would take several hours with a process that's inherently more error-prone.
When you buy a car, you don't expect the dealership to start smelting steel.
We expect manufacuring in any mature industry to use automated processes wherever practical (houses are still built using ancient methods, as R.B. Fuller points out in Critical Mass, but that's another story). In late 2001, Web development is a maturing industry, and the quality and breadth of available tools demonstrates this.
When a client buys a Web site, they probably don't care whether a human or a machine typed the majority of code. But they will care about cost.
Humans build tools. Humans who value their time use 'em.
Completely eschewing Web automation tools is the business equivalent of mowing a yard with scissors: it only benefits the hourly contrator.
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