We subscribe to several newsletters to keep up with the changes and updates in technologies, developer best practices, and utilities and tools here at ASNA. We don't read 'em all, but do try to give them each at least a quick scan. Here is a list of a few of the newsletters available (there are many! Google for 'em).

Our Twitter account is active, and we often tweet about a lot of what we're reading during the week. Check us out on Twitter. In the meantime, here are a handful of things we've noticed lately:

Bootstrap 4 beta released (finally)

Bootstrap 4, the CSS framework pioneer, has finally gone from alpha to beta. That means this beta version is safe from breaking changes and can be used on production projects. I'm building a hobby project and swore to myself I would not use Bootstrap on it. After a couple of false starts with Foundation 6 and Google Materialize, I ended jumping to BS4 and got results very quickly.

BS is just so phenomenally successful (it has 116K Github stars versus Foundation's 27K and Materialize's 29K) that the learning resources and examples for it are much easier to find than for the others. Being so ubiquitous does work against Bootstrap a little--you can almost always identify it from across the room. With Bootstrap there is the risk that your project ends up looking like all the other 80 bizillion BS projects out there. I'm not giving up on the competition just yet, but BS 4 is proving to be pretty impressive. For any new Web work, give it a serious look.

CSS Grid layout

Laying out Web pages has really matured from the days when we had to use tables to impose a rational matrix structure on a page. The popular CSS frameworks tackled this challenge in the past with a modest grid-based system that used CSS float and clear under the covers to build pages. Lately, though, these frameworks are moving/have moved to CSS FlexBox and CSS Grid to implement their grid systems.

FlexBox is a couple of years old and Grid is the new kid on the block. Both offer intrinsic, and mostly intuitive once you master a few concepts, grid layout capabilities to CSS. It's quite likely that many developers/designers will continue to use many of the goodies out of a CSS framework, but stick to these new intrinsic CSS layout capabilities for overall page structure. The downside to CSS Grid is its newness--it isn't fully supported on IE 11 yet (although it is supported on MS Edge).

To check browser support for any new HTML, CSS, or JavaScript feature, use the handy site Can I Use.

See this article to see how interesting and effective CSS Grid is at laying out an HTML form. As you start to learn CSS FlexBox and Grid, you'll start bumping into the new CSS FR (fractional) measuring unit. Be sure to check it out, too.

Git Windows clients

Defying nearly all odds, the nerdy, command line-centric (there are more than 150 commands!) Git has emerged as the primary source control system for many shops. While Git can initially be an intimidating environment, for bread-and-butter source control work there are really only six or so commands you need to understand to use Git from the command line effective. I use Git for nearly all of my programming projects as well as for Word docs, Excel, and PowerPoint. It's a lifesaver.

That said, I've heard many programmers proclaim they simply can't use Git without a good graphical client. And, even for command line mavens, there are a few Git features (diffing changes especially) that a good visual environment helps substantially. There are now many interesting Windows Git clients--with several relatively new ones. (Some of these, specifically target Windows and some are cross-platform.)

Here is a round-up of the Git visual clients that I've noticed lately:

Name Cost
GitEye Free
GitHub Desktop Free
GMaster Free
SourceTree Free
GitKraken Free/Fee
SmartGit Fee
Tower Fee

 

Beyond the dedicated Git clients listed above, there are also a substantial number of Git add-ins for many Windows text editors (especially for Atom, Brackets, Sublime Text, and Visual Studio Code). I'm a big fan of Visual Studio Code. I use it for many of my text editing needs, including writing all of my ILE RPG with it.

Visual Studio Code (Code) is easily the dumbest name possible Microsoft could have chosen for its text editor. Code doesn't have anything to do with Visual Studio--it is a free, open source editor with a great plug-in model.

While the Git visual clients above are sexy, I prefer Git's command line for most of my Git tasks, but for diffing files, I lean heavily on Visual Studio Code and the GitLens plug-in.

Visual Studio Code's GitLens plugin showing file diffs.

If you haven't made friends with Git yet, give it a whirl. I know many one-person shops who are building important software that aren't using source control (you know who you are!). Learn the command line or use one of the many free, or low-cost, Git clients. My guess is that for beginners they remove a lot of Git's friction and, had they been available when I learned Git, I'd probably be a heavy user of one of them today.

For more on source control, see this article from the asna.com archives.