Old-school rich text editors

Two months ago I expressed my concern about the lack of a cross-platform, browser-independent rich text editor, possibly written in Flash. Marcel uncovered the Flash editor praised by Jeremy Allaire which had been removed by its author (not a good sign) and Doug from Ektron pitched their commercial product ewebWP.

None of them satisfy my quest for two reasons.

Firstly, the minor problem: none are open-source. I'm not against commercial products, but their current price schemes are unrealistic and expensive, with fees and limits at every corner: namely number of domains and named users which can become quite large within corporations. And we're stuck within software road maps with products that do not necessarily do what we want.

Secondly, the major problem: all are old-school rich text editors. While the web design world is all excited about web standards and the separation of content and presentation, the developers of rich text editors blindly continue to stuff their widgets with presentational blasphemy such as font types, sizes, colors and superbly ignore the basic concepts of style sheets and semantic elements. At best, they have replaced <b> with <strong> and <i> with <em> but that's about all you can get.

What's wrong with the idea of an open-source, cross platform, browser-independent "semantic-rich" text editor? When will developers catch up on web standards? Is that simple idea too hard to implement? It's stupor and chock here.

17 Comments

I recently made a Flash rich text editor. Its not what people are used to seeing, check out myrichtext.com Without bragging I think its the best editor around

Sorry Matt, your editor looks good and fast, but this is yet another old school editor, that let people fuzz with font name and size. Still no notion of style sheet.

Finally: someone that understands how the internet's evolving: not with crappy HTML but based on a combination of content and CSS.
I also spent the last days searching for a ritchtext editor, but only to determine that everybody develops 'old school editors' as you call it.
Probably the reason for this is that the builtin Macromedia components don't bother to use stylesheets.
So what I did is start making my own editor, spitting out xhtml, based on external stylesheets.
However, the way Flash handles the content is so primitive, my actionscript turned into a heavy script, parsing strings, counting indexes, just to make a selection italic..
Also: the CSS supported in Flash MX 2004 is only a subset of the CSS level 1 standard, so even if I should succeed: would it be useful?

Conclusion: with my knowledge of the recently released Flash MX 2004, I have to say that Flash is not ready to drag & drop a 'new school' rich text editor.
So yes: this simple idea is hard to implement, and my question is: should the guy (me or someone else) who gets this thing working make it open source??

Good points Jerry! I'm not among the ones who confuse open-source and free. And there is a market for even closed-source solutions (I, for one, use a commercial editor professionally). I'm just calling the developers of open-source editors to stop wasting their (and our) time with the old thinking way, so to boost this tiny but key component of the edition-chain in the right direction (it will have an influence on the commercial offers).

Is your commercial editor xhtml compliant? And crossbrowser to use? If so, which component do you use?

It's eWebEdit Pro + XML. It's XHTML compliant but neither cross-platform nor cross-browser since it works only within IE for Windows. Also, it's very expensive and their licensing is inflexible (they tax you at every corner, domains which somehow equates to the number of sites you have as well as named users, maintenance, etc.)

I recently discovered a Flash based RTE, which seems to be able to spit out xHTML:
http://www.mglenn.com/projects/flasheditor/
Still haven't got the time to have a in-depth look, but really seems nice...

Am I missing something? I can't figure out how to insert span and div tags with corresponding classNames using the MS and Mozilla rich text editing tools. Is this really the case, I can't believe that they don't allow you to do this...

I am interested in the same type or RTE and I just stumbled across this:

http://www.fredck.com/fckeditor/

I have not really looked into it, but it does have CSS support. It looks promising at first glance, it is open-source and free.

Hi Tim, yes it's interesting but unfortunately, Windows only.

I've begun the journey to un-old-school my Flash-based rich text editor. While the HTML is saved/loaded/edited as "Flash-HTML" (which is crap in terms of standards-compliance), I have created an output filter which converts it to standards-compliant XHTML prior to outputting to the browser. I've also added some other features such as spell-checking and so on.

But you're right when you say that the Flash rich text field is crap for working with stylesheets. You can't apply styles to an editable text field (it becomes read-only.) Once Macromedia fixes this you can expect much better editors coming out. Think of the possibilities!! :)

Forgot to mention that my editor is available under GPL and also forgot to link to it:
http://www.oblius.com/?projects.obedit

If you can make any use out of it, please do so!
Thanks :)

The concept you're talking about is great in theory, but unlikely in implementation.

I'd love nothing more that for all my users to learn CSS and how to maintain a consistant style, but I believe that as long as regular business users are the majority of the web, that you'll find many problems with this.

Hi tw!st. This is not my experience. I've implemented this in real life, in no small place (Capgemini), and it works. The purpose of a WYSIWYG editor is precisely to hide the XHTML/CSS coding from the users. As long as the tool allows you to use your own styles and prevent the users to screw up with the code, you're fine. Absolutely NO need to have them learn CSS. All I teach them is to select headers and paragraphs in a drop-down menu. Bold is treated as strong, italic as emphasis, and they have the strict minimum set of semantic elements. But they can't change fonts and colors or otherwise mess up with the style. Easy. The tricky part is to find the editor applet that "gets CSS" and can be customized to give just what they need to the users!

I agree completely. It's time for a huge change in the online WYSIWYG editors.

I support your idea and we should try to start an online campaign that could rally people to create such a piece of software. We could even offer some online degrees so people would be rewarded for their work.

I recommend the cool old school text editor WestEdit found here:

[Author note: link removed, it looks suspiciously like malware and is completely out of topic.]

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