How to use & install the Bluefish Text Editor on Windows Vista or Windows 7 (Review)

Bluefish and Windows logoInstead of scouring the internet for hours, as I did, just follow a few simple instructions and you'll be up and running in just a few minutes with the Bluefish Editor on Windows (assuming you have a fast download speed).

I decided to spend a few more minutes evaluating Bluefish from the perspective of a web developer, since I'd already spent two hours figuring out how to install it.

Conclusion: it's okay for a free text editor, but I'm sticking with my affordable and more powerful text editor, OxygenXML.

How this all started

As I surveyed the recently rearranged Drupal Theming Guide,  I stumbled upon a great list of tools for developing in Drupal. Contained in this list was Bluefish Editor, and it was described as "fast...lean..., an awesome text editor on steroids." 

This was enough to tempt me to install it and compare it to my very powerful, but in no way lean text editor, OxygenXML.

Bluefish Installation on Windows Vista and Windows 7

Skip the story, here's how to do it

  1. Un-install any flavors you have of GTK on your computer (this assumes that, like me, you've been trying to fix this yourself for a while).
  2. Download and install version 2.14 of GTK for Windows (which is NOT the most current, stable version).
  3. Download and install the latest version of Bluefish for Windows.

The story of my pain

Right after I downloaded and installed the latest version of Bluefish for Windows, I got a weird error message kindly informing me that:

"This application has failed to start because libcairo-2.dll was not found. Re-installing the application may fix this problem."

Of course, re-installing Bluefish did NOT work. I spent hours of tracking down seemingly-relevant links on the internet and learning that I needed the Runtime version of GTK BEFORE Bluefish would work.  So, I downloaded the latest version of GTK for Windows and that fixed the FIRST error message.

But Bluefish STILL would NOT start!

Finally, I stumbled across this incredibly helpful post by Kanashin, which explained that I could only use version 2.14 of GTK for Windows (not the most current, stable version).

Why Bluefish is awesome

  1. It's free and open source.
  2. It starts up WICKED fast, unlike an Eclipse-based IDE I use (OxygenXML), even on a netbook.
  3. It has a Quick Start button for HTML, which could be a great way to start an HTML page. It also has templates, including one for HTML5.
  4. Good GUI (graphical user interface), that uses lots of pictorial buttons, instead of just text.
  5. Has a very powerful search and replace. You can even use regular expressions! This is great for times when one needs to upgrade documents from HTML4 to HTML5 strict, or when removing white space from documents.
  6. Table wizard in HTML allows you to indent your table code (not sure why this isn't just assumed as a best practice, though).
  7. More Features that Bluefish touts, which I didn't have time to evaluate.

Why Bluefish sucks

  1. Installation is difficult on recent versions of Windows.
    Bluefish should just bundle the correct version of GTK with their software, as GTK recommends, saying: "It is expected that people who build installers for GTK+ applications for Windows bundle GTK+ with them."
  2. No syntax coloring. Although another reviewer suggests this is possible.
  3. Does not automatically indent my code for readability.
  4. Does not suggest or auto complete tags, despite claiming to in its Features list. Mind you, this could be because some additional thingamabob needs installed: but which one?! (See complaint #1).
  5. The default font is ugly (and I am NOT a font queen, the 2 default fonts on my personal website are serif and sans-serif)! Happily, you can change it from "monospace 10" to a more readable "Verdana 10" underneath Edit > Preferences.
  6. Limited DOCTYPES in evidence: I found an HTML5 doctype under templates, but, of course, no doctypes that included RDFa and would allow me to add helpful Dublin Core attributes.
  7. No buttons for new HTML5 elements, not even the ones that are no-brainers, like the new form input types or the basic structuring elements (<header>, <footer>, <nav>, <section>, <article>, <aside>).
  8. For web developers, the HTML is very outdated and it encourages bad coding practices. For example:
    • It has a tab devoted to frames - ick!
    • Seems to encourage inline CSS styles, which are nearly impossible to override.
    • Tables fail miserably to embrace accessibility. The wizard does not automatically create captions or header rows - even though both are button options. There is no way to add in: the summary attribute; <colgroup>, <col>, <rowgroup>, <row>, <thead>, <tfoot> or <tbody> (although 1 <tbody> should probably be inserted, with a manual button to separate large tables into more than one section). Finally, I'm not sure how Bluefish could best implement those attributes (abbr, idscope, and axis) which show relationships between parts of a table, but there should at least be a button or dialog box encouraging them.



Adelle, please keep in mind

Adelle, please keep in mind that Bluefish is primarily a text editor for Linux operating systems. I've personally never tried the Windows version, but at least on my Linux system installation is very easy (point 1), syntax coloring works, and for many languages (point 2), and automatically indenting code (point 3) as well as suggesting and auto-completing tags (point 4) both work without problems. Perhaps it's just the Windows version of Bluefish rather than Bluefish itself that has these defects.

I agree with you on point 6, 7 (though I have all toolbars disabled) and 8 though, they could use some work. :-)

Adelle Frank

A Windows view

Dear Visitor:

I believe you completely that Bluefish is easier and better on Linux.  Much open source software seems to be. ;-)

I wrote this mostly for those people who might be considering using it on a newer Windows machine and to poke at what is often a problem in text editors for web developers: ignoring accessibility and updated doctypes.

Thanks for letting me in on the Linux perspective...I really will set up my laptop to dual boot one day, so I can test these things out on both OS's!