Review of Amaya: W3C's Free WYSIWYG Web Authoring Environment

Amaya as a web editor for creating websites


Review of Amaya: W3C's Free WYSIWYG Web Authoring Environment

by Christopher Heng, thesitewizard.com
Date written: 28 October 2008

Since it is listed on the Free HTML Editors and WYSIWYG Web Editors page, I occasionally receive requests from thesitewizard.com's visitors to give a more detailed review of Amaya, the W3 Consortium's free web editor and browser. In particular, those visitors want to know if the editor is any good for creating and maintaining a website.

This review is the result of my attempt to answer that question.

Preamble

  1. About Amaya

    Amaya is the W3 Consortium's free web editor and browser. It has been around for many years; the Amaya website lists its first version as being released in 1996. It is designed to support not only HTML and CSS, but also XML and things based on XML like MathML and SVG. The editor is available in both source code form as well as precompiled executable form. There are versions available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

    All software reviews are specific to a particular version of the software used. If you are looking at a different version of the program from the one I used, some or all of the things I mention below will no longer be relevant. For the record, I used the Windows edition of version 10.1-pre5 which is the latest version at the time I wrote the review. It is a "snapshot" version rather than a major release. I had to resort to this version rather than the earlier main release (10.0.1) because 10.0.1 had huge stability issues on my machine, making it unusable. The Amaya download page implied that the Amaya "snapshots", far from being experimental (which is how some other software use the term), are more stable than the major releases since the "snapshots [...] fix important bugs". In any case, the snapshot was vastly more stable and usable on my machine than the previous major release.

  2. About The Biases in This Review

    This is by no means a comprehensive review of Amaya. In fact, it is very narrowly focused on whether Amaya can be used by the average newcomer for the purpose of creating a static website. Because of this narrow focus, the review fails to examine some of what are possibly Amaya's strengths: its built-in support for SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) and MathML, since the majority of people wanting to start websites don't use such facilities.

    This skewed perspective also results in a bias on my part as to what I look for in the web editor: for example, I look for facilities for the user to create a multi-column website and how easy it is for newbies to use it, and so on. These may or may not be the Amaya's developers' primary goals in creating the editor.

    You should be aware of this bias as you read the review, so that you don't take any negative comment as an indictment of the software as a whole. Indeed, if you don't share my perspectives and goals, your conclusions may be completely different from mine.

  3. About My Methodology

    Since I'm reviewing a WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) web editor, I tried to do everything using the web editor's visual user interface alone. I know that I can get around many (if not all) of the problems below simply invoking the source window and hand-editing the HTML and CSS. However, most people considering Amaya are probably not going to be able to deal directly with HTML/CSS. As a result, I've refrained from solving any difficulties by hand-modifying the source.

  4. About Website Creation

    Creating a website is more than just designing the appearance of some web pages. If you are totally new to website design, you may want to read the tutorial How to Start Your Own Website first, since it takes you through all the steps of making your own site.

    The page you're currently reading is merely a review of one particular web editor, Amaya. If you don't know the basics, this review may be difficult to follow.

First Impressions

  1. High Resolution Monitor Required to Access Some Features

    To use the editor optimally, you will probably want to have a monitor resolution higher than 1024x768. I tried the editor initially in a virtual machine with a 1024x768 resolution and found that certain features located in the right pane of the application was located off the window by default (even when maximized) without a scroll bar for me to access them. The solution to this, if you don't have access to a high resolution monitor with a vertical resolution of at least 1024, is to collapse all the items in that panel and only expand them when needed.

  2. No Pre-packaged Templates for Web Design

    If you are a newcomer to web design, and expect to get your website up and running quickly through the use of pre-packaged web templates, you will be sorely disappointed. When you start a new web document in Amaya, all you get is a blank screen with very little or no help on how you can create a multi-column site or anything like that. Although it does come with sample templates (for a resume and a slide show), those are not the sort that you will need for a website.

    However, I should qualify that pre-packaged web templates usually only come with commercial web editors like Dreamweaver. The other free WYSIWYG web editors like KompoZer and Nvu don't have pre-packaged web templates either, so this should not be held against Amaya. In the absense of such templates, it is important that the software provide sufficient facilities for its users to create their own website design.

  3. Use of CSS in the Creation and Editing of Web Pages

    Amaya has some support for CSS. It is particularly easy to use if you just want to create a simple one column web page with text and pictures. The editor comes with support for you to insert a variety of special characters such as the copyright symbol, change the font, create links, add headers (that is, titles and subtitles for your paragraphs), and so on.

    However, the creation of a CSS-driven multi-column websites using the user interface alone proved to be a frustrating experience. I basically attempted to create a 2 column website with the same code I used in the article How to Design a Two Column Layout for Your Website Using CSS via the user interface alone: that is, I refrained from editing the source directly and attempted everything via the editor's menus, buttons and side panel. In general, I found the interface unintuitive for styling DIV blocks, adding adjacent DIV blocks (the editor kept putting new DIV blocks inside the existing one), and so on. The style editor was also very fussy about when it could be invoked. It sometimes refused to appear when summoned, with no error messages or hint as to why it did not pop up. And it frequently crashed Amaya.

    In the end I gave up. I'm not sure whether it's even possible to accomplish some of what I wanted to do using Amaya. I have a feeling that this aspect of the editor is still under development.

  4. Use of Tables

    Since I could not successfully use Amaya's interface to create a CSS-driven multi-column website, I tried to see if it would allow me to do so using the old webmaster idiom of using tables for layout.

    I started by creating a borderless 2 column table, which is what webmasters used to do in the pre-CSS days. Here, I ran into another snag in Amaya. Unlike other WYSIWYG web editors, when you ask for a borderless table, Amaya literally shows you a borderless, and hence invisible, table. The other editors put a dotted outline for the table and its columns so that you have an idea where the table and its cells are. This allows you to use the mouse to move from cell to cell or column to column. With the invisible table, after I typed some text into the left column, I could not find any way to go to the right column. Clicking the mouse in the blank space to the right didn't work. I probably didn't click the exact spot expected by the editor: but then, how do you tell the correct spot if there are no visual cues? The TAB key, which is used by other editors to skip to the next cell or column, did not work either.

    Undaunted, I restarted again from scratch, this time creating a 2 column table with a 1 pixel border. I figured that I could always remove the border later when I was through typing my content. With the border visible, it was finally possible to enter content into both columns.

    To set the width of the table cells, so that the columns have an appropriate size, it is necessary to invoke the crash-happy CSS style editor. There does not seem to be any other way to set the table attributes. But at least it can be set. The same cannot be said for the removal of the 1 pixel table border. I could find no way of removing the border, short of going into source mode and modifying the code by hand.

    Since websites that use multiple columns are the norm these days, the inability to easily make such pages either using CSS or with tables via the visual interface probably rules out Amaya for most people.

  5. No FTP

    The editor does not have built-in FTP support. Since most web hosts require you to publish your site through FTP or SFTP, you will need to use a third party FTP client, like one of the many Free FTP Clients, Secure FTP (SFTP) Programs around.

  6. Usability and Stability

    Overall, I experienced a large number of usability issues with the editor. Many standard keys do not work: the HOME and END keys, for example, do not move the cursor to the start and end of lines the way they do in other programs. (Or, at least, it didn't work for me.) Although the editor has a large number of menus, it's not always obvious how you can get things to work since the interface is not very intuitive (not to me anyway).

    Amaya also crashed fairly frequently, especially when working with the CSS style editor. If you are working on your site with Amaya, it pays to save your work regularly.

Verdict and Rating

Suitability for the average new webmaster: 1.5 out of 5.

In view of the problems listed above, I think that the current version of Amaya is probably not appropriate for most new webmasters looking for a WYSIWYG web editor. It may be useful if you have a simple one column web page that does not require any special CSS features other than changing the font and the like, but for those who have more demanding needs, the editor still has some way to go before it can be easily used.

Copyright © 2008-2014 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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