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The old adage "There's nothing new under the sun" might not seem applicable to the technology industry, where so much innovation takes place. But sometimes it is very applicable.
Case in point: Muse, a new online tool Adobe has launched which is supposed to make it easy to "design and publish HTML websites without writing code."
The tool is, not surprisingly, targeted at visual designers who can't or don't want to whip up HTML and CSS code themselves.
According to Adobe's Jane Brady:
What we're seeing is that the tools that have been made available for designers to be able to create digital experiences require people to learn code. And most designers either don't want to, or they're not interested--or they've learned, and it's just not the way their brain works.
What they kept telling us is that they want to be able to create a Web site or other kinds of digital content as easily as if they're working in InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop."
Muse, which is a standalone application that runs on Adobe AIR and costs $20/month, does function in many ways like other Creative Suite products. Indeed, it shares a number of layout tools that will be familiar to anyone who uses InDesign or Photoshop.
Given this, one might argue that Muse is just a prettier version of existing WYSIWYG web editors, like Adobe's own Dreamweaver. But unlike Dreamweaver, Muse is much more a design tool than an editing/production tool. In this regard, it's sort of like what Microsoft FrontPage would have been if Microsoft had design chops.
That probably conjures up all sorts of negative connotations. Fair or not? Adobe, to its credit, readily admits that Muse isn't for anyone. Its FAQ states:
The assumption is that if Muse can't do all of it, then the entire site needs to be redone with everything hand-coded. That's generally not the case, but it would clearly depend on the specific needs of the site.
Today Muse is a great tool for creating websites with high quality visual design and no CMS integration... Muse today can only create a subset of all the possible websites. However, for website in that subset, it's a far more efficient tool than hand coding.
The lack of CMS integration is a pretty big deal. A significant number of individuals and businesses use CMSes like WordPress today, and that number is only going to increase for obvious reasons.
But even for websites that don't require CMS integration, the viability of a tool like Muse is questionable. Deservedly, WYSIWYG editors don't have the best reputation, and the notion that Muse can translate create complex visual layouts into clean, standards-compliant, optimized, cross-browser compatible code seems suspect. Case in point: the Muse homepage, which was apparently generated by Muse, fails W3C validation, and more importantly, is filled with nested divs, many of which don't appear necessary on first glance.
This notwithstanding, I'm sure many visual designers would gladly pay Adobe $20/month for a tool that can turn their designs into working HTML, but the WYSIWYG paradigm has already come and gone.
Larger organizations employ front-end folks to turn designs into functional websites and for indie designers and small businesses, there are countless 'PSD-to-HTML' which offer cost-effective conversions. So at the end of the day, Muse looks like a fairly slick solution to a problem that doesn't really exist anymore.