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|Choosing a new way to generate HTML content|
|An explanation of why our current HTML editor needed replacing, how we decided what technology to go for and the solution we ended up adopting.|
This blog looks at why at Wise Owl we needed a new HTML Editor to generate content for our website, and the process by which we arrived at QT for Python (PyQt5).
I'm hoping that this blog will help others faced with the same problem to decide how to proceed; plus there's always the chance that someone will point out how we could have made a better decision!
For many years at Wise Owl we have produced our blogs, exercises and many web pages using SharePoint Designer 2007:
This blog being created in SharePoint Designer.
We've written lots of macros in VBA to customise the short-cut menu when inserting items:
The menu option I chose to insert this picture!
However, the current system has three big problems:
|Age||SharePoint Designer 2007 was launched in (I assume) 2007. While it still runs in Windows 11, its days must be numbered.|
|Clunkiness||The software itself is OK, but it's difficult to customise with VBA (and no one apart from me understands the existing code - and even I struggle to at times ...).|
|Speed||To edit a blog, exercise or web page a Wise Owl has to go into SharePoint Designer and open the corresponding HTML file. It would be much better if we had a proper CMS (Content Management System), which allowed people to edit content just by clicking on it.|
In addition to the above problems, we used to use the following add-in to assign keyboard short-cuts to macros, but this no longer seems to work:
This little add-in no longer works. I miss my short-cut keys!
By default the best way to release software is as a website or web service, since it makes distribution and managing updates trivial. Web-based HTML editors that we've found include:
|TinyMCE||Used by sites like Medium, this is probably the most popular online eidtor.|
|CK Editor||We currently embed this within some pages of our internal system to format emails for sending.|
The alternative to using a web-based system is to create a windows-based GUI program (GUI standing for Graphical User Interface) such as this:
Part of "Wordsworth", our online training management system (written for functionality rather than beauty!).
Windows systems are much quicker to write than web-based ones. Here are the 4 main reasons for this:
|Remembering state||When you go from one web page to another, you lose any memory of what's been happening (the second webpage doesn't remember the state of the first). This means that you have to go to extraordinary lengths using hidden variables, cookies and/or session variables to remember simple information. In a GUI system this problem doesn't exist!|
|Event-handling||In a GUI system you can usually double-click on a button to attach code to it. This code will then have access to other values of controls on the form. In a web-based system you usually have to write a JavaScipt function and attach it to an event of an HTML control, then ensure that you get access to values for other HTML controls on the same page.|
|Control position||If you want a button to appear at a certain position in a GUI form you drag it there; for the equivalent on an HTML page you would have to use a CSS style to impose absolute positioning.|
Websites do however have one huge advantage: whenever you want to release a new version of your software, all that you have to do is to copy some files onto your web server and your new feature is available for use by anyone with access to a web browser.
In the end our decision was based on risk. We know that we can create a GUI HTML editor, but we don't believe that an easily customisable web-based HTML editor exists.
Having decided to build a custom GUI system, the next question was - how? Being primarily a Microsoft training company, the obvious options were the following:
|WinForms||The original successor to VB6, Windows Forms allows you to draw forms on screen and attach code written in VB or C# (we used to run WinForms courses).|
|WPF||WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) allows you to create forms which support additional features such as transition effects, and makes it easier to build in responsive form design. Forms are stored as XAML files. We also used to run courses in WPF (using C# as a programming language).|
|WinUI||The Windows UI Library allows you to build applications to run on any Windows platform. I've never used it, but I presume it will be at least as hard to learn as WPF.|
One of the biggest factors in writing a new system is that a number of people should be able to help to build and maintain it. The new system should also come with as many widgets as possible (particularly for editing HTML and working with images). Because of this, we decided to go with a Python UI such as QT or TKinter (see below for which). Why?
Above all, though, our biggest reason for going for a non-Microsoft solution is that Python modules always seem to work better than their equivalent Microsoft .NET namespaces, as well as being more powerful and easier to use.
Having decided to go for a Python-based GUI system, the only question remaining was ... which? Here are a couple of options:
|TKinter||TKinter is included within the Python compiler, so is in a sense the default or native Python GUI platform.|
|PyQt||QT (pronounced Cute) was originally developed as a C++ GUI, but now supports Python too.|
There are many other possible frameworks you can use, including Kivy, wxPython and PyForms. In the end we went for PyQt5 for the following reasons:
Time will tell if we've made the right decision about this. What do you think?
|When:||05 Jul 22 at 18:56|
Some of the web frameworks such as Django have built in admin functionality that gives users an easy way to add content. I think because it was originally built for a newspaper that it has a kind of CMS built in, if you could call it that?
The admin tool is customisable but probably quite difficult to have the same functionality that you're talking about with creating an html editor using pyqt.
It sounds quite interesting I hope it works out well!
|When:||06 Jul 22 at 09:29|
Thanks - me too! We are considering rewriting our website from ASP.NET MVC to Django, but that will be another project for another day. I've never used Django, so much more research is needed.
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