Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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A Coda on Less is More

699 words on

Coda Icon When writing about Coda shortly after its release last year, I noted that its weaknesses were the mediocre graphical CSS editor, the – to me – useless Terminal and the books. With the latter being more an embarrassment than just a weakness.

An embarrassment because pretty much the only situation when I would need them is a situation in which I don’t have an internet connection and and links to better references at my Google powered fingertips – i.e. when I’m offline. And just in that situation Coda’s It’s all built-in Books fail. Because Panic decided to also write Internet access required to view books on their web page. Now it’s completely incomprehensible to me why that is the case. Legal weariness suggests some shady lawyers play a role here, but anyone who isn’t completely blind will see that the Books in question hardly deserve any protection. Because I find it hard to use any other word than euphemism – which is a euphemism for ‘lie’ – for Panic’s claim that

Sure, the web is awesome: it knows everything about everything. But it’s not always organized, or well designed, so it’s hard to find clean, consistent reference for your web needs — some HTML help is hard to search, or CSS help is missing critical styles. We want to fix that, and give you the best reference possible.

If they want to give me the best reference possible, that’s great. But then – please – do it! The one they currently ‘give’ me is downright crap.

Screenshot of Coda displaying a page from its JavaScript book

When playing with JavaScript in Quartz Composer recently I needed to look up something and somehow thought Coda could be helpful for that. Unfortunately I just got the ‘help’ seen in the screenshot above. Ignoring the low-points of a programming language with substring and substr methods for the moment, let’s look at that ‘help’.

Apparently there’s some kind of browser list at the top. It doesn’t even seem to know about the existence of IE7, Firefox or Safari. Particularly the latter is odd for a Mac application. Then it has braindead naming of paramteres as param1 and param2. Certainly that’s better than naming the parameters interestRate and beersINeed, but it’s not much better and not even funny. Why not use descriptive variable names?

Next, the description of the variables: the character number that is to be the first character of the subset string. WTF? If anything I’d assume a character number to be its Unicode number. But certainly that doesn’t make much sense in the context. And once I have beaten sense into this, it’s still not clear whether they refer to the character number in human or computer speak. I.e. whether the very first character of a string has number 1 in that notation (human speak, I’d say number) or whether it has number 0 (computer speak, I’d call it an index). If you try to be a reference for casual users (and anybody else wouldn’t need this) you should spell this out and at least avoid clearly ambiguous language. Obvious, isn’t it?

And then the rotten example. If I’m not mistaken, a good Example will be minimal and fully demonstrate what the described object can do and can’t do. However, the example given in Coda’s Book adds a crapload of irrelevant HTML around the actual function – enough to make it hard to find in the listing and doesn’t give the return value which renders it essentially useless.

Other questions this bit of ‘help’ doesn’t answer is which values are considered ‘legal’ input for the method and how it will handle errors. Certainly a bit of information which you’d expect in the best reference possible.

And the worst thing is that these problems are so friggin’ obvious that it’s quite clear Panic aren’t using their own Books themselves. Luckily they seem to have added the ability to edit the toolbar since the 1.0 release. Which means I can just free it of its pseudo-useful icons.

Coda Toolbar with just the useful Sites, Edit and Preview icons shown

That works great for me but I suppose that Half the power and windows of SubEthaEdit and Transmit for twice the price! wouldn’t sound quite as good as a marketing slogan…

February 6, 2008, 0:27

Tagged as software.


Comment by Nick: User icon

Eh, Coda is just not for you.

The books are a great complement to the superb “Auto Complete”. Coda is used and loved by many people, most of which are not idiots. Write your own software and let us all sit around and point out how lazy you were to include “useless” features.

February 7, 2008, 23:50

Comment by June Petroski: User icon

You provide a valuable service and are in no way wasting your life.

February 8, 2008, 0:09

Comment by Brad Fults: User icon

A great critique. Completely valid on all counts. That documentation is utter crap.

February 8, 2008, 0:25

Comment by Indian Slim: User icon

To Nick from Montreal: Without going into any justification of Sven’s cribs, you comment is incredibly asinine. It is like saying, “You can’t call the movie you watched last night is crap. Make your own movie and let us all sit around and point out how crappy it is”. Rebut his points and opinions, not Sven.


February 8, 2008, 0:30

Comment by Indian Slim: User icon

To Nick from Montreal: Without going into any justification of Sven’s cribs, you comment is incredibly asinine. It is like saying, “You can’t call the movie you watched last night is crap. Make your own movie and let us all sit around and point out how crappy it is”. Rebut his points and opinions, not Sven.


February 8, 2008, 0:31

Comment by Dan S.: User icon

I don’t see a need to get defensive, Nick. Coda has much to offer, and the books integration is a great idea. They just chose a poor and old (2004) text to license—likely because other publishers were unwilling.

February 8, 2008, 0:37

Comment by ez: User icon

the terminal-addition in coda is perfect bliss. every programmer should love terminals.

February 8, 2008, 0:37

Comment by Joey: User icon

I too rather enjoy Coda. Different people, different standards I suppose. Though the author of the article was a bit abusive I thought.

February 8, 2008, 0:37

Comment by herbert: User icon

let’s just both say we’re sorry.

i’m sorry for the pain Coda has brought you as it seems as though you may never get over it.

and you’re sorry for wasting my time.

February 8, 2008, 0:40

Comment by RamJaw: User icon


If it weren’t for writers who expressed dissatisfaction, the status quo would remain good enough.

I also think your utter elitism blinds you to the argument made in the essay. What I took from his words were more that the books should not be offered if they are half-assed and unbeneficial. Instead, he compliments how great Coda is and says that if the books are going to be included, they need to be written to incorporate all users, not just the “non-idiots” like you. Me personally, I value books that walk me through things as if I were a layperson instead of treating me like a professional.

February 8, 2008, 0:42

Comment by Matt McVickar: User icon

I concur — the documentation is nothing but disappointing. I took Coda for a test run shortly after it came out, only to find the CSS reference was actually missing a good number of properties. I don’t know whether that’s been rectified, but this has been a problem for a long while.

February 8, 2008, 0:43

Comment by Martin: User icon

  1. How much useful work can you do offline anyway? Not much, in my experience.

  2. Do you really write websites and never use SQL through a terminal screen? Ok.

That said I find the built in references pretty useless, and they don’t fit with the one-window paradigm. After all a reference is what you have open as you look at something else.

February 8, 2008, 0:50

Comment by David Jacobs: User icon

I have always been a big fan of Panic and I bought Coda the week it came out. I love the text editor and the code completion is second-to-none. The terminal is useless to me, the css editor leaves a lot to be desired and the books are worthless (I always just go to w3schools if I need to look up anything). With that being said, I think it is a great start and I like the all-in-one concept but for me right now it doesn’t make me productive. Right now I use TextMate, and sometimes use CSSEDit for presentation. I wouldn’t count these guys out and I will probably try Coda again when it goes to 2.0.

February 8, 2008, 0:52

Comment by Dave: User icon

I agree- the books feature is remarkably useless. I can hit one of my bookmarked web reference sites faster, and get better, more cohesive information. I removed it (and the equally useless CSS editor) from my toolbar as well.

February 8, 2008, 1:17

Comment by Cam: User icon

I use, and really like Coda, but agree that the books are a bit on the crap side. But then, I didn’t buy it for the references, so it doesn’t bother me at all. The inclusion of (good) resources that are also available offline would be great, though.

It’s still far and away the best web development environment that I’ve ever used, and it fits my workflow well. Like anything, I guess — if it doesn’t work for you, try something else.

February 8, 2008, 1:41

Comment by Ooble: User icon

I have to agree totally. I never use the books, and as to the terminal: I keep three terminals always open on a separate virtual desktop (I refuse to call it a “space”… it’s just too ambiguous), so flicking to a different tab is just unnatural. And it annoys me that if I click Terminal, it doesn’t open a new tab… my document just goes away. I don’t really use any of the features of Coda apart from the Sites, Editor and FTP thingie. Don’t get me wrong though - well worth the money.

February 8, 2008, 1:43

Comment by Tonio Loewald: User icon

I love coda, but I agree completely with your comments on the references. They’re not even nicely integrated with the editor.

February 8, 2008, 1:53

Comment by jchrist: User icon

Panic should look into licensing the newly published Sitepoint CSS überguide. http://reference.sitepoint.com/css

The problem with reference inclusion is that programming books have a really short shelf-life, especially when you’re dealing with a platform that changes every year. They need to figure out a way to dynamically update these books.

I’ve used the trial version of Coda and the books seemed pretty outdated and useless to me as well.

February 8, 2008, 5:04

Comment by Keeto: User icon


  1. I can do much useful work while I’m offline.

  2. No, I have never used the terminal for SQL.

Why? Good, you’re interested. Because I’m a web developer, not a web applications programmer. I design all the web site, not the web application. I don’t need to be online to access my designs. All I need is Apache and a browser. I can test and tweak everything on my mac—without lifting my finger to connect to the internet. And I’m pretty sure I don’t need terminal for SQL, unless of course I can generate a query that will fetch all invalid selectors on my CSS files.

You see, Coda was created for web designers, not application developers. Otherwise, it would have been marketed as a web application development IDE.

Just the fact that it uses the concept of “Sites” instead of “Project” says so much about the philosophy behind the application. Even the project selector on Sites section reinforces the idea that it is indeed a web design application—I have never seen an IDE that displays your projects in cute curled paper style.

That being said, it is a shame that Coda’s references aren’t as good as the bulk of the application itself. Although I no longer have to check my books regarding these stuff as often as I have done in the past, it’s still good to know that if in case I slip in the bathroom while taking a bath and forget everything I know about HTML, I’ll have some reference that I can check when I regain my consciousness.

February 8, 2008, 6:43

Comment by Alex: User icon

You are correct, the substring example is utterly crappy. It makes me want to avoid the rest of the JS documentation.

February 8, 2008, 8:16

Comment by Guntis: User icon

I agree with Keeto. I’m also web designer and don’t use Terminal or SQL queries.

Yesterday I had to check CSS reference and couldn’t figure out what those examples and descriptions mean, just like the author of the original story writes here. And I was utterly confused that by opening CSS reference book, I lost index.html tab in the Tab bar! Turns out I have to click Edit button in the toolbar to see it agian, but that’s contrary to any logic - I can’t “edit” books which are stored somewhere online on some distant web server…

I’d suggest separate vertical pane on the right side of the main window just for the reference materials - I need to see references when I’m writing HTML/CSS code.

February 8, 2008, 9:51

Comment by ssp: User icon

Thanks for the mostly constructive discussion.

I advise the non-constructive participants to actually read the text, answer the simple question whether Coda’s documentation is good or not in answering either conceptual or practical questions precisely, correctly and helpfully. A also recommend following the link to my initial review of Coda which I conveniently provided in the first line. You may be surprised to find that it is so positive you could mistake me for a fanboy.

Let me also stress that this JavaScript example was just picked randomly as I had come across it recently. Pretty much the same applies to the other documentation ‘Books’ provided. In fact, for the W3C stuff I usually find it quicker and more informative to read the actual standards – which aren’t the most reader-friendly documents on earth. Needless to say that both the W3C and Coda Books fail to address the really hard but practically relevant questions of what will break how in which version of IE/Win.

As for my Coda usage, no I do not use SQL. I don’t see how it is relevant to web design, either. Likewise, I don’t see how internet access should be relevant to most sorts of design work. If you know what you want to implement, test or fix, you’re usually fine with a text editor and the browsers you want things to work in when doing web design. You probably only need internet access for nicking ideas off other sites or working on a ‘live’ site on the server.

I am happy hear that I’m not the only one who is disappointed by the ‘Books’ feature of Coda. Practically it doesn’t even matter whether the feature is intentionally crappy because Panic needed another item on their feature list cheaply or whether it’s all good intentions but they aren’t eating their own dogfood here. At least in the latter case sending them reports about the ‘Books” shortcomings might be a good idea. They tend to read their user feedback.

February 8, 2008, 14:00

Comment by Christopher Masto: User icon

I’m jumping in only to take issue with the idea that Coda should only be for “designers”, leaving us “programmers” out in the cold. I personally have a lot of issues with Coda, even though I bought it the minute it came out, mostly on the strength of Panic’s reputation. It’s quite apparent to me that it’s only a few baby steps away from being the web application development environment I didn’t know I always wanted. I posted my wish list on that subject to the Coda group just yesterday: http://sod.org/g?5uIC.

For my use, the Terminal is essential. And I’m always online when I’m working, not to steal from other web sites, but to connect to my remote server where the app runs. (And to access JavaScript: The Definitive Guide through Safari Books Online, because I agree with you that the books in Coda may as well not exist.) I usually think of web designers as people who want more of a WYSIWYG tool; Coda obviously isn’t meant for them. But once you’re in “people who hand code their HTML and CSS”, it’s not a far jump to include Perl and Ruby programmers (I won’t count PHP in this group, since Coda probably works as well for that as for plain HTML already). Can’t we all just get along? Coda could unite us!

And I do actually have Coda running right now: I’m editing some Perl modules, Template-Toolkit code, and JavaScript; running my Catalyst application in a Terminal; and previewing the site with the built-in browser. I still get mixed up by the weird mode/tab interface issues enough that it’s probably slowing me down versus Emacs + Terminal + Safari, but I’ve been giving it a chance so I can at least figure out what I want from it in order to provide decent feedback.

February 8, 2008, 14:49

Comment by john: User icon

who cares about the books? are you serious??? i consider it a bonus that there is even books included, how many other software packages have this? and honestly, if you need books to write css/html you should prob be using frontpage or dreamweaver instead…. get over it man.

February 8, 2008, 15:14

Comment by David Hamilton: User icon

I was thinking exactly the same thing about Coda’s books just the other day, so +1 to your comments.

If Panic were smart they’d go to Brian Wilson, the author of the Blooberry HTML and CSS Reference, and try to license them. Both the HTML and CSS references are among the most detailed I have found, with one problem - he hasn’t updated the site in 4 years.

Licensing the content would hopefully allow someone (Brian himself perhaps?) to update the content to reflect the latest browsers (it covers up to XHTML 1.1 so it is not so out of date.

Of course that doesn’t help with the PHP reference!

February 8, 2008, 15:33

Comment by Shaun: User icon

Also thinking the exact same thing about the books while test driving Coda this week. What would be really useful is if you could customize where the reference button took you so you could point it to your own favorite resources if you didn’t want to use Ancient History of the Internets that Panic supplies.

February 8, 2008, 16:08

Comment by Jason Long: User icon

“If Panic were smart they’d go to Brian Wilson … [snip]… he hasn’t updated the site in 4 years.”

That might be the most asinine (and funny) comment ever :-)

February 8, 2008, 17:59

Comment by Max: User icon

The main problem I have with Coda is the weakness of the “snippets” tool. This makes it hard to re-purpose text pasted in from elsewhere, as most sites are.

Examples: Convert some lines of text to a bulleted list. Wrap each selected line with p tags.

I’ll stick with TextMate which can easily deal with existing text, and if a command doesn’t exist, modifying or making a new snipper that does is fairly easy. Coda’s snippets, by comparison, do not deal with multiple lines and offer only one placeholder for selected text. Even skEdit does better than this.

February 8, 2008, 17:59

Comment by bananaranha: User icon

who cares about the books? are you serious???

Coda markets the books as a feature. The feature is sub-par. He complains. You ask “who cares about the books”?

Are YOU serious?

Inline documentations are

i consider it a bonus that there is even books included, how many other software packages have this?

Inline reference documentation? A lot of ‘em.

and honestly, if you need books to write css/html you should prob be using frontpage or dreamweaver instead…. get over it man.

Right. Because the CSS specs (and their various inconsistent implementations) are so easy to master. Probably that’s the reason there is no market for CSS/HTML books for professional web designers.

February 8, 2008, 22:10

Comment by mikeb: User icon

Google! Learn how to use it. Better than books!

February 9, 2008, 19:21

Comment by spacemonkey: User icon

You folks go ahead and beat each other around the ears about included reference documentation and whether Coda is marketed to the correct market segment or not.

Me, I’ll just continue to sit here and play my tiny, insignificant little violin about a lack of ssh/scp and subversion support. sniff

Seriously though, if the software doesn’t require an internet connection to function, then any included documentation shouldn’t either. I happen to live in a place with subways and parks where no WLAN can be found - and sometimes it is really, really inconvenient to have to stop working on something due to lack of information. For me, purchasing Coda implies that I will have access to whatever the software provides, and that documentation better be there. Otherwise I’m stuck in Central Park somewhere desperately asking people about box models and overrides.

Come on Panic, disk space is cheap! ;-)

February 10, 2008, 22:21

Comment by Aaron: User icon

I bought Coda for its light footprint, good design and integrated FTP, as Dreamweaver is much to clunky for my needs. I never use CCS editors, so the fact that coda came with one was a bonus, as was the reference books. If i ever really need to look something up, I’ll go online, and in this day and age I can’t really see myself building a site and not being online (and I live in Australia … ) so again, the books were a bonus.

You make some valid pints Sven, but really, what were you expecting for $70? I can’t even buy a hard copy of a reference book for that here …

February 12, 2008, 2:10

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