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February 24, 2001

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Article Index

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Introduction

Composer is Cross-Platform

Skin, Customize, or Build Your Own Mozilla-Based Composer

Composer Makes Mozilla a Browser-Suite

Composer Features

Composing Standards-Compliant Web Pages

Importing Text-Based Files

Bugs, Annoyances, & Improvements

Conclusion

Resources & Links

Composer: The Netscape & Mozilla Graphical HTML Editor & Word Processor

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If you do not see the view tabs on your Composer desktop please look in the View dropdown menu on the Composer desktop. Then click on Toolbars > Edit Mode Toolbar. That should display the view tabs.

On the other hand, there are some very good and important features that have not been included in the Mozilla/Netscape-6 version of Composer that are in Netscape 4.x Composer. For example, the Netscape 4.x Composer lets you know if an open document has been altered by another program. But the Mozilla/Netscape-6 version of Composer does not do that. The Composer development team plans to add this feature in a future edition of Composer.

Another Netscape 4.X Composer feature not in the Mozilla/Netscape-6 Composer is Publish. That's the feature that let's you upload a Web page directly from Composer to a remote Web-server site via FTP. The Composer development team plans to add the Publish feature in a future release.

The Mozilla Composer does not have a spell-checker. However, the Netscape 6 Composer does have a spell checker.

There are some nice features in the Mozilla browser that have not been incorporated into the Mozilla Composer. For example, in the Mozilla browser, you can display text larger or smaller (zoom) by using the Text Size sub-menu in the View menu. Unfortunately you cannot do that in the Mozilla Composer.

(To zoom text size in or out in the Mozilla/Netscape-6 browser, simply click on View > Text Size. Then select a preset text size (text zoom) percentage from the Text Size menu or open the "other" dialog to set a custom text zoom percentage.)

Composing Standards-Compliant Web Pages

The Composer HTML editor could be a very helpful tool for Web page designers and authors. The development goal is to have an HTML editor that is strictly W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) standards compliant.

That fits right in with the Mozilla Organization's goal of making its Mozilla Web browser strictly W3C standards compliant. The common thread here is Mozilla's Gecko layout engine.

At the very heart of the Mozilla applications programming framework and the Mozilla browser-suite is the new Gecko layout engine. It appears to be lighter and faster than its predecessor Netscape layout engine. The same Gecko engine lays-out the Web pages that you view in your Mozilla-based browser and in the Composer module.

The new Gecko layout engine is designed to be strictly W3C standards compliant. Since the Mozilla Composer module uses the Gecko engine, Composer should write only strictly W3C compliant code. So, theoretically, if you use Composer to create and edit Web pages, those pages should be strictly W3C compliant.

Incidentally, it's easy to check your Web pages for compliance to the W3C standards. Simply point your Web browser to the W3C page validator (link in the Resources section below). Then enter the URL for the Web page you want the W3C validator to check. The W3C validator then will tell you if your page complies with the standards, or give you a list of errors if it does not comply.

Importing Text-Based Files

It's nice to be able to write text-based content in a fully-featured word processor such as Microsoft Word and then bring that content into a Web page composer. Some Web page editors such as Adobe Page Mill let you import Rich Text Format (RTF) files into them and then they convert the imported, attribute-rich files into high-quality HTML code.

The Mozilla/Netscape-6 Composer cannot read RTF or any other text-attribute rich formats other than HTML. The new Mozilla/Netscape-6 Composer can read plain text (.txt) documents. However, .txt documents do not carry text attributes. It would be nice if Composer could import RTF documents.

Most up-to-date and fully-featured word processors let you save documents in a variety of formats including RTF and HTML. So, you could simply save a document that you create in such a word processor as an HTML document and then bring that HTML file into Composer.

However, some word processors do not write high-quality HTML code. So, you might end up with better quality HTML code if you bring your word processor text-content documents into Composer as something other than HTML written by the word processor. That's why Composer should be made able to import RTF.

On the other hand, Gecko should clean up any bad HTML code that is brought in to Composer. So, you might be able to get away with importing poor HTML code into Composer and letting Gecko clean the code.

That could backfire, however. Gecko does its code cleaning according to the W3C standards rules as best as it can, not according to your page design and content intentions. So what you end up with after Gecko cleans house could be different than what you dragged into Composer.

Bugs, Annoyances, & Improvements

Up to the time of the Mozilla Milestone 18 and Netscape PR1 releases, the HTML editor developers had focused their Composer rebuilding and development efforts on Mozilla's e-mail writing role rather than its Web page composing role. Composer also is the message-writing component of the Mozilla/Netscape-6 e-mail module. That early version of Composer was quite buggy and features poor.

Since the Milestone 18 and PR1 releases, the Composer developers have been working on the HTML editor's Web page composing role. And their efforts have paid off. Composer now is lots smoother and is reasonably well-packed feature wise. However, there still are bugs and annoyances in Composer. And it still lacks some important features.

There is lots more work to do on Composer. But, if the Composer development team keeps up the good work it has been doing, Composer should be in good shape by the time Mozilla 1.0 is released.

So, if you are looking for a WYSIWYG, HTML authoring tool that writes strictly standards-compliant code, the Mozilla/Netscape-6 Composer could be just for what you are looking -- when it is finished.

Conclusion

Of course it's difficult if not impossible to beat Adobe GoLive for WYSIWYG Web page authoring and editing. But although GoLive is available for the Mac and Windows platforms, there is no Linux or *NIX version of GoLive. And GoLive is not free. If your budget can afford GoLive and you have a Mac or Windows computer, use GoLive.

However, if you are looking for a less complex and less expensive WYSIWYG Web page authoring and editing tool or use a Linux or *NIX computer, try Composer.

Please keep in mind that composer is not intended for creating or editing more complex Web pages that involve JavaScript (JS), forms, frames, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), Extensible Markup Language (XML), and other such advanced stuff. If you are working with more complex Web pages and tools, then use GoLive.

However, if you are working with Web pages and documents that are simple and not all that complex, Composer could be just what you need. Composer has some nice table features, which can be used to do lots of things people use frames to do. But you do those things and keep your Web pages simpler by using tables instead of frames.

The new, re-built from the ground up, Mozilla/Netscape-6 Composer is off to a good start but still has a long way to go. Nevertheless, the Mozilla 0.8 version of Composer is usable and worth a try.

Simply download and install the latest Mozilla Millstone browser-suite. Next start Mozilla and click on Tasks on the Menu bar. Then click on Composer in the drop-down tasks menu.

(Answer to Figure 1 question: the top screen shot is Composer in MS Windows.)



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