Yesterday Adobe suddenly and unexpectedly announced the discontinuation of their drag and drop web design product, Muse. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Muse was Adobe's attempt at making web design and development accessible to those who don't know how to write code. It's focus was as a tool to allow graphic designers to leverage their print-design skills to produce websites, and was marketed as a tool for Professionals.
I've touched on it in the past, but in my opinion Muse should have never been pushed as a professional tool. At best its a tool for DIYers. There's two reasons for this:
1. Muse insulates the user from the underlying code
Muse was designed as a web design tool for people who don't code. As a professional in any field, you absolutely MUST have a deep knowledge of the medium you're working with. A physiotherapist may employ simple and common tools & techniques to help heal an injury, but they still have a deep understanding of what those tools and techniques are doing to their patient's body. Similarily, a carpenter may build a roof using pre-fabricated roof trusses, but if his pre-fabricator suddenly stopped supplying him pre-fabricated trusses, he could easily just build the roof himself the conventional way.
As professional web developers, we often use tools that abstract work away from us -- that allows us to be more productive with our time. Although we may find benefit in using tools that abstract some or even all of the coding away from us, we should still understand what's going on under the hood. This is the problem with Muse -- it isn't designed as a tool, its designed as a crutch. A pure beginner who picks up Muse isn't learning anything about web development -- how browsers work, how web page elements fit together and behave, how documents are structured -- they're simply learning how to use Muse, which in no way conforms to any kind of industry standard code. So when Muse goes away, they're back to where they started -- a novice who knows nothing about building websites. Muse isn't a driver's ed course -- its a taxi. Sure you can get somewhere with it, but if you don't know how to drive, riding in a taxi isn't going to teach you anything about driving.
2. Muse is not cross compatible with other tools
You can't easily port a Muse site to another platform, because it produces code that is too convoluted to work with by hand. So to move away from Muse there's not other option except to start from scratch.
If you're a carpenter, it doesn't matter which brand or type of saw or hammer you use to build a house, because the end product is the same. So in the future there's nothing stopping that homeowner from calling a different carpenter with a different set of tools to renovate their house. It should be the same if you're a professional web developer -- you should be building websites to a standard that doesn't paint you into a corner. If you build a Muse site, you're stuck with a Muse site. Which presents a problem if you're a professional dozens of clients with Muse sites, and Adobe decides to cancel Muse. Now if one of your clients call to make changes to their site, they're completely out of luck, because the ONLY tool that's capable of working on their site doesn't exist anymore.
The Lesson for Freelancers
Adobe's Facebook page for Muse is being blasted with dozens and dozens of freelancers because they tried to use Muse as a professional tool without having any real development skills outside of it -- they've gone paddling up a creek, and Adobe just took away their paddle. While I can feel sympathy for my fellow freelancers for their livelihood being threatened, as a business owner, if you're selling a product that you don't actually understand and have no control over, you have no business selling that product. You're cheating your customers, and you're exposing your livelihood to a level of risk that you have no control over. There's no replacement for solid foundational skills.
The Lesson for Clients
Make sure you're hiring a professional that knows his trade beyond this week's latest tool. Hiring a developer with a breadth of experience can help ensure they know how to pick the right tool for the job, and are capable of pivoting when the situation calls for it. A developer who has a deep understanding of core level concepts can easily pick up any tool that's built on top of that. A specialist in a specific tool with no foundational knowledge outside of that can't be nearly as flexible, and stands a higher risk of paiting themselves into a corner when your needs change, or the tool they use goes away.