Why Do Ugly Things Work Better

I’ve been evaluating a couple of software lately. I’m looking for a nice platform to do tons of documentation. I talk about “nice”, because things need to be beautiful for people to want to use. But at the same time, they have to work. Actually, having to work is even more important. It is such a dilemma sometimes when you have to choose between what’s beautiful and what works.

The obvious solution for documentation to a netizen is a wiki. There are plenty of wiki software. I have specific requirements too. Yes, functional requirements apart from the fact that the software has to be, hopefully, beautiful. Basically, I want a system with ¬†good functional WYSIWYG editor and supported by a MySQL backend storage. It needs to integrate images, file attachments. It should be somewhat mainstream, actively supported or have an active development community. All these quickly narrows down the candidate list to almost nothing. Okay, let’s leave out beauty and see what we’ve got. Still, nothing stands out.

Fine. I start thinking about other solutions. The idea of a CMS portal soon comes to mind. After poking around a selection of CMS platforms, I eventually started to focus on Joomla and Drupal. Yes how uninteresting, it’s what most people try to choose between too.

Joomla is beautiful. Drupal is ugly. But for what I want to do, it seems Drupal works better. It has better capabilities to handle a site that will be managed by a bunch of different people and supported by a community of contributors. I’m not trying to start a Joomla vs Drupal debate here… so let’s just leave it at this. Bottom-line is that I like how Joomla looks, but more how Drupal works.

The next item of consideration is the WYSIWYG editor. The two top choices that come into consideration are TinyMCE and FCKeditor. TinyMCE is ugly. FCKeditor looks cool.

But I discover an annoying problem with FCKeditor. It outputs HTML (that gets sent back to Drupal) that concatenates all the text into continuous lines. Sure, as far as HTML is concerned, whether you actually put line breaks or not, the rendered output is still the same (except of course within certain types of HTML tags that mark up pre-formatted output). TinyMCE doesn’t have this problem.

I need the WYSIWYG editor to produce formatted HTML output that has line breaks at suitable places. This is to make sure that lines don’t run too long, and they are broken up at predictable places, and so that diffs between versions are easier to to digest.

So again, I have to choose TinyMCE. But I guess this is a bug that FCKeditor folks can fix, and I certainly hope they do.

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