If you want to dabble in web design, there are all sorts of options available to you. You can splash out on Dreamweaver, though the price sticks in the craw, especially if you only build the occasional website. You could put together a collection of various free tools and programs, that I’ve mentioned in the past, but while they are useful, they might not be quite what you were looking for. Or you could submerge yourself in hand-coding, which is very zen, but also a little crazy-making if the site is large and complex. Having said, that, I have stayed true to my earliest experiences and will generally have multiple tabs open in my text editor and only open up my WYSIWYG programs to check that everything works visually.
One area where I have always struggled when coding is with CSS, as I think I learned it in one bourbon-fuelled weekend while chafing at the restrictions placed on me by free templates. I’ve gotten over that, but CSS has always been the weakest of my web skills. Riding to my rescue and saving me from jabbing frustratedly at code is Skybound’s Stylizer. This is a CSS editor on steroids. Even better? It’s visual, using a grid interface which makes any coding mistakes almost impossible to make. With the ability to make adjustments on the fly, you can see how any changes you make will look in real-time, thanks to embedded Firefox and IE, saving the palaver of having to do multiple saves and previews to keep an eye on your progress.
Along with the grid and real-time changes, there is also a cleanser to clean up bad syntax from any stylesheets that you import or download, and browser filters that enhance compatibility with older browser versions without the need for streams of specially written code. The standout feature for me, though, is the code grid, which is simply a joy to use once you’re used to it. It takes so much time and hassle out of coding stylesheets, while still allowing full control over the design. I truly wish I had known about this program when eight months ago when I was languishing in development hell for one of my other projects.
I’ll admit, Stylizer’s slick interface threw me a bit when I first installed and used it. I am used to far more understated offerings. But if you have any web design experience at all, it’s quick and easy to get to grips with, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering why it has taken so long for anyone to come up with this program. Now, I’ve emphasised that this is Stylizer Basic, but only because the premium model costs £49. If you look at the number of features that you’re missing out on, it may seem like an overly restricted free version, but in my view, some of those seem like too much hand-holding for a coder, even a dilettante like me.
At present, Stylizer is Windows-only, though there does appear to be a Mac version in the works, so register for that if you want to be informed when it’s ready. The 10MB download is a free trial of Stylizer Ultimate, which will revert to the free Basic version after 14 days, so you might want to deal with your most complicated projects. You’ll need a 1.0 GHz processor and 512MB of RAM to run, and it is compatible with XP and the 64-bit versions of Vista, Server 2003 and Server 2008. No word on compatibility for Windows 7, but I’m sure Skybound is working on it. If you’ve been tearing you hair out over buggy CSS, this program really is a lifesaver. Download it today to spend more time designing rather than debugging.