CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2

As far as I can tell, some coders are still using basic text editors like Notepad to write code in 2011 – this is not a guess, it’s a fact I know for sure. Side note: don’t try to change your buddies’ strange ways, especially if they’re coders – better accept them the way they are, especially if you’re not really one of them, after all! On the other hand, most of my buddies use at least some kind of IDE, no matter if they’re developing on Windows, Linux or Mac OS X and, since most good IDEs for Windows come for a pretty high price, today we’ll take a closer look at CodeLobster PHP Edition, a multifunctional (AND portable!) IDE that offers all the standard features one would expect for free and then some, as well as a bunch of advanced capabilities for a two-figure price. Sounds pretty cool already, don’t you think?

Setup

What I have right here and right now is CodeLobster PHP Edition, version 3.7.2 – a 7-day fully functional trial version of the Professional edition, to be more accurate. Obviously, what we have here is a program that is supposed to work with all Windows versions, but I only tested it on my good old Windows XP Professional desktop PC. The good part is that you can easily take CodeLobster PHP Edition with you and run it on any Windows machine around, since it comes in two flavors – standalone installation or portable one. Sweet!

Coming inside a ~15 MB setup package, CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2 needs about 44.5 MB of disk space to be properly installed, but you will surely need more than just that if you’re going to go with a portable installation to carry around. While the installer doesn’t look out of this world and starts in a somehow unexpected way (I usually enjoy to have a welcome screen before that EULA part), I don’t think there’s anything to really complain of here – after all, you don’t have to dodge any toolbars or spyware being thrown at you, there’s no need for any additional libraries to be able to install the program and, probably most important part of it all, it’s great to have a single setup package that allows you to choose between the standard and portable version – you don’t get to see something like this too often, trust me – everyone seems to go with the easy way these days and just release two separate installers.

So far, so good… so let’s move to the looks and works of this program, shall we?

Interface

CodeLobster PHP Edition has a highly customizable interface – everything can be moved around as you wish, including the toolbars, not to mention the fact that virtually every little function you can think of can be accessed via a keyboard shortcut. Hey, it even has color schemes! Now, the not-so-good-part: there’s no serious documentation for the program itself (well, you get plenty of documentation for the plugins and HTML/Java/PHP languages, some of it offline, some of it online) and all the toolbar icons are really boring – I’ve seen them countless times in the last few years, I know they’re standard, but I also know anyone can get a good set of icons for a few bucks these days, so I really hope to see this two problems solved in the near future…

… but if you really want a conclusion for this part of the review, let me tell you that using CodeLobster PHP Edition should feel just like home for most developers and, in the end, this matters more than having a set of original, shiny icons or some Kai Krause-style purely awesome layout/looks.

Features

While even the text editor I’ve been using for a while has a strong set of features for programmers (I am talking about RJ TextEd here), I must confess that CodeLobster PHP Edition feels a bit overwhelming at first sight. Even as you dig deeper, it becomes even more impressive, but since I am not supposed just to say how awesome (or not) is this program without giving you any clues, let me try to get a bit closer to the core…

CodeLobster PHP Edition’s free version has all the goodies you will probably find in similar programs and even more than just that, starting with a built-in FTP client (SFTP support included!), XHTML autocomplete, support for drag&drop operations, PHP/HTML/JavaScript/CSS code highlighting and collapsing, bookmarks, previews in various browsers and so on. Nothing out of this world, just the right tools to help you get the job done, really…

… but it all becomes way too awesome as you reach the Dynamic Help and the plugins that allow you to work with most popular CMS and frameworks – these plugins are only available in the Professional version I mentioned earlier, currently priced at $99.95. I know there could be much more to say about CodeLobster PHP Edition, but I’ll stop with these two parts I mentioned above – not before taking you a bit closer to each of them, of course!

As I was checking the available options, I noticed that the Dynamic Help can be easily instructed to use the information sources you want, such as some Web-based resource (a given site or the online version of the notorious MSDN) , but also a local .CHM file or a locally available MSDN version – when available, of course. These easily allow you to carry documentation around when using a portable version of the program, so you can get the job done even when there’s no Internet connection available. I don’t know about you, but it sounds pretty good to me! 😉

At last, let me say that the things that can be done with the WordPress plugin for CodeLobster PHP Edition Professional – first, you can install the blogging platform locally, then create new themes and, just as you probably imagined already, edit all the files in your WordPress installation as you see fit, taking advantage of the intelligent auto-complete feature and the other goodies offered by the environment.

I know we barely scratched the surface here, but it wouldn’t be fair to waste your time, while you could be using this program to create something useful instead, don’t you think? Just a few tips, the conclusions, and we’re done, all right?

Tips & Tricks

1. Most of the keyboard shortcuts are not defined out-of-the-box, so feel free to do that and ease your life – Tools>Preferences>IDE>HotKeys.

2. If you’re going to carry the portable version around, be sure to get some documentation with you as well – better to have it and not need it than the other way around…

3. Converting HTML to PHP and the other way around is really easy – just go to Tools>Convert and pick your task.

Strengths

CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2 is a really good IDE, providing a good interface with excellent support for keyboard shortcuts and offline/online documentation, a lot of features for free and, finally, a bunch of excellent plugins for less than $100, not to mention the availability of a portable version.

Weaknesses

As I said earlier, the interface can be improved with a serious Help system for the program itself and some good looking, original icons. Even more (maybe I missed it, in that case, it should get a menu for itself), some Macro-power should be added.

Final Thoughts

Is CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2 the best IDE for Windows on Earth? Well, probably not, but it’s surely one of the best choices around when it comes to that “bang for the buck” part. Crisis or not, you shouldn’t throw away your money on expensive tools that you’ll never use at full capacity, while programs like this one offer a lot for free or, in case of the Professional edition, for less than most of its competitors. All in all, CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2 surely deserves a try – to buy or not to buy, that’s the part you’ll have to figure out for yourselves! 😉

Download CodeLobster PHP Edition 3.7.2

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