Thimble is the Web Page creation tool in the Mozilla WebMaker Project, a learning experience for fledgling Web Developers. This is very worthy project to foster web development skills. But Thimble is well named because for an ambitious project like WebMaker, Thimble is a)way too underpowered and b)too annoyingly intrusive during page development.
I had expected at least two things with the Thimble Web page editor. First, there would be a simple help system like in Mozilla’s X-ray Goggles where typing the “H” key unlocks with a simple popup screen all of Xray Goggle’s secrets. Now you can’t use “H” in Thimble because it is a legitimate edit character – but sure CTL+H or CTL+SHIFT+? could be used – no they don’t work
Second, I had expected that Thimble would provide coding conveniences like pro Web editors such as JetBrains. For example, as soon as you type an HTML tag, the closing tag is automatically insert into the edit line[<p> instantly becomes <p> </p>]. Or within an HTML tag, as soon as you type a valid option, say width its is expanded to width=” “.
Yes, Thimble has color coding and does allow advanced features like style= and onmouseover= options in its HTML tags. But unlike many Web editors it has no hints for what are valid options within HTML tags or statements. Now this latter point may be expecting to much of a Thimble editor. But part of the learning experience is how to anticipate what is available in Pro tools.
But the most disconcerting aspect of Thimble is its aggressive and awkwardly too big error messages. At times they simply get in the way so you can’t fix the error they are flagging. Also they popup too soon in many instances, becoming an annoying distraction.
Some Better Tools
What is missing from the WebMakers project is a partial list of free, online learning tools available right now for developing WebSites or Web pages. Here is a partial list
wordpress.com – helps users to setup a complete pro website and blog in less than an hour. And its free.
blogger.com – ditto …setup a website and blog in less than an hour for $zippo lighter.
Blockly – with its drag and click simplicity, this is a great way to learn basic computer programming
In fact, in a series of lectures I give on free Web development tools in the Cobourg and Toronto areas, these are the tools I use to get users up to speed in creating their own websites in 1 or 2 sessions. Many are capable of going on and fully completing their websites. Note it is “websites” not one or two web pages. So I like the goals of the WebMaker Project – but its Thimble tool is just that – too small for the real task of WebMaking.