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12/3/2005

Taking the Quanta Leap

Filed under: - ozma @ 9:07 pm

The Problem

Psychogenic is pretty much a Linux shop. The technologies we use–such as MySQL, PHP, Perl and Apache–all work under multiple operating systems but development, testing and, most of the time, deployment all happen on Linux boxen. That is, with one exception: design and integration.

To date, everyone on the design and integration sides of the enterprise have been Mac or Windows based. In most cases, the will was always there to switch but the problem has been the tools they rely on: specifically, PhotoShop and DreamWeaver.

Although there’s a definite learning curve involved in switching from PhotoShop to the powerful Gimp, we’ve found that the Gimp is more than enough for our requirements. The major thorn remaining was DreamWeaver.

DreamWeaver, in our opinion MacroMedia’s finest offering, has been at the core of all our integration work. Unfortunately, DW is still unavailable under Linux. The truth is that 95% or more of our HTML integrators’ work could be done with any plain text editor. But the remaining 5%, such as using the built-inWYSIWYG to visually inspect a page and quickly jump to a particular table cell, offers such great gains in efficiency that its been impossible to drop DreamWeaver.

We have often discussed using CodeWeaver’s CrossOver Office to remedy this situation. CrossOver

allows you to install your favorite Windows productivity applications and plugins in Linux, without needing a Microsoft Operating System.

However we’ve resisted this approach for a number of reasons, not the least of which include the extra layer of complexity (and possible problems) as well as the purely philosophical objection to encouraging a product that doesn’t support our OS of choice.

The Solution: Quanta Plus

A recent discovery has changed all that: Quanta Plus!

Quanta Plus (or Q+ to friends) is a feature rich web development environment. Its list of features and interface are so compelling that Helene, our lead integrator, jumped on the chance to use it after a short trial run and she is now our latest 100%-Linux convert.

For a complete description of Q+, you’re better off perusing the documentation and tutorials or, better yet, the program’s own help system. To give you an idea, here are the aspects that have impressed us most, so far:

Multiple Views

Quanta Plus allows multiple views of your document including:

  • "VPL" (Visual Page Layout), a WYSIWYG view;
  • Source editor;
  • DOM tree (structure view).

The most useful view to date has definitely been the split VPL/source editor, with the WYSIWYG view on top and text editor below (as depicted above).

Text Highlighting and Auto-completion

Syntax highlighting is available for HTML, JavaScript, XML, ASP, PHP, Perl and many other languages.

Quanta Plus also provides for a lot of handy autocompletion, including for HTML tags (e.g. <p>), the tag’s available attributes (e.g. align) as well as possible values for the current attributes (e.g. center). You can see an example of the autocompletion popup in action, in the image above. <Opened> tags are also </closed> automatically.

Autocompletion is available for other languages, such as PHP–and this can automatically include custom values, for instance for the methods available in an included class. Wow!

Full PHP Support

This includes not only advanced PHP autocompletion (which works for externally included PHP classes as well), but also a complete indexing of functions in the DOM view and tie-ins for a real-time PHP debugger (using Gubed).

Project Management

Full support for a host of management features, like project creation, updating from and committing to CVS, accessing local or remote files (through multiple protocols including FTP and "fish" for secure connections) is available.

Online Help

In addition to the Q+ help itself, the program provides quick access to full documentation for:

  • HTML 4.01;
  • Cascading Style Sheets (CSS);
  • PHP; and
  • Javascript 1.3.

Preliminary Conclusions

We are still testing this addition to the Psychogenic toolkit but are quite impressed so far. Quanta Plus fills an aching need on the Linux desktop and we believe we’ll be using it, and hopefully contributing to its growth, for a good while. Try it out!


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