After gaining experience with Eclipse while developing Java applications I realized that Dreamweaver is woefully inadequate for development, missing simple but key features such as inline code checking(think grammar checking for code syntax), code highlighting(for quickly locating the start of a loop or to easy distinguish parenthesis in a complicated if condition) and version control integration(requirement for larger projects). Another problem is that Dreamweaver isn’t supported in Linux I would argue is the best operating system for development due to the fact that it better matches the production environment and that open source projects such as Apache, MySQL, Eclipse and Git are faster and more stable on Linux.
I tried assembling multiple plugins such as WTP in to a generic eclipse installation but it was time consuming and the pieces didn’t fit together particularly well. I then tried Zend Studio(based on Eclipse) which was developed by Zend Technologies Inc. one of the main contributors to the PHP project. Although Zend Studio wasn’t perfect, it provided much of what I was looking for, namely a full featured Eclipse web development environment. However, a license costs $400 and only includes a year of upgrades. I had no problem paying $400(same price as Dreamweaver) for a well made IDE that dramatically increases development efficiency. However, I was also looking for an development environment that ~20 developers in The Chronicle Online Department can emulate; that’s close to $10,000 a year for licensing costs to put Zend Studio on personal and office machines. Also, much of the features in Zend Studio is from generic Eclipse plugins such as WTP and I wasn’t using much of the more advanced proprietary features many of which required me to also run Zend Server, essentially a $1,200 per year subscription of Apache with a pretty GUI, to take advantage of.
What is Aptana
Many of Aptana’s major features such as PHP, HTML, CSS, jQuery and version control support are also generic Eclipse plugins. However, Aptana is a far superior solution because it has a much simpler installation process and a more flexible/easy-to-use FTP support. Aptana Inc. is also actively developing Aptana Studio to make it an even more capable IDE for web development in the future.
Installing and Configuring Aptana
Installing Aptana on all three operating systems is very straight forward. I would highly recommend using the standalone version of Aptana since it simplifies the installation process and guarantees plugin compatibility. Aptana standalone currently uses the latest version of Eclipse(3.5) and it’s a good idea to keep the web development and application development environments separate to keep both simple. Eclipse is very self contained so there won’t be any problems running multiple installations of Eclipse and Aptana on a single machine.
Download Aptana for your operating system here. There’s an installer for the windows version that can install itself when double clicked. The Linux version comes in a zip file. The contents can be unzipped in to any directory and the executable AptanaStudio can be run without any installation. I don’t have access to a Mac but the installation there should also be very simple.
After clicking install once the necessary features are selected another window containing the selections for the actual Eclipse plugins will appear. Note that Aptana does not remember which options were selected previously for Ajax Frameworks so it is necessary to uncollapse the selection to reselect only the frameworks that are required. 2 versions of PDT SDK(PHP Development Tools Software Development Kit) are presented, only select one of them or a conflict will appear in the next step of installation. The rest of the process is very straightforward.