Ever since CSS preprocessors like less have come to be, designers have wrestled with the issue of compiling this code easily without a hassle. It can be included in web pages using less.js, but that adds extra overhead to the site load.
Finally, a simple and thought-free solution is here: SimpLESS .
The download process of the program couldn’t be simpler. It clocks in at a very light 1mb, but then again, the function that SimpLESS promises is pretty simple too. After unzipping the archive, you’re greeted with a folder entitled SimpLESS. In this folder, click SimpLESS.exe, and the installer will begin. It’ll download a few more files and extract some files, and then you’re ready to go in about two minutes. Literally, you’re ready to go, as the program opens ready for use. Couldn’t be simpler.
This is a portable program, so you’ll click the same SimpLESS.exe to open the program from now on. It’s possible to add the program/folder to your start menu and ‘Program Files’ folder, of course, but that will all have to be done manually.
The design of the program is very nice. While it’s a “one-size-fits-all” approach that looks the same on Mac and Windows, the result is nonetheless pleasing. The one nitpick to be found with the design is that once a file has been added, it’s hard to distinguish between the toggle settings of the options for each file.
Other than that though, it’s very clean. The design gets out of your way which is exactly what an app of this nature should be like.
Simpless is as easy as it promises to be: all you do is drop a folder onto the program, and then work like normal. Every time you save your .less file, SimpLESS detects it and compiles the CSS file. When you first drop the folder in, SimpLESS adds all the .less files in the directory to its list, and gives you some options for how to compile the file.
You can control the output file by deciding where to put it, and what to name it. You can also toggle some useful tools. These can automatically prefix your css3 attributes and minify the code when you convert from less to css. Below your list of open files is an option to add more files, so you can keep track of multiple directories at once, if you need to. You could even add all of your stylesheet directories and SimpLESS would track them all.
From then, you just code CSS like normal. Every time you save your less file, simpLESS compiles it to CSS. Boom! You don’t even have to think about having a .less file. You write your Less as normal, save it, and it’s compiled, minified, and cross-browser-ified without you even having to think about it.
And that’s what SimpLESS boils down to: simple time saving.
A nice and very simple feature is the persistent list that SimpLESS keeps of tracked files. In other words, you can close SimpLESS, then re-open it, and your list will still be there. This is nice, and if you have a powerful enough computer, you can run SimpLESS at startup, and just keep a list of all of your stylesheets for automatic stylesheet conversion.
Though the program works exactly as advertised, it almost feels that it’d be better as a plugin for a code editor. You wouldn’t have a UI to worry about at all, the program would just convert to less whenever you save an open file. This would also help save system resources: because SimpLESS would then only need to track when the code editor is open. Still, the usefulness is not much less from a standalone program.
SimpLESS also has an annoying ‘feature’ of minimizing the program to the taskbar. When the taskbar is collapsed, as mine is, it’s impossible to tell that the program is even open, and seems that it has closed for some reason. While reviewing I accidentally opened this program three times before noticing this.
Once you’re set up, it’s nice to have the app out of the way while it converts, but it’s confusing for this just to happen with no warning. Unfortunately, there are no settings whatsoever in the application and this would be a nice setting to be able to toggle between.
There’s only one other program I was able to find that does the same thing as SimpLESS: WinLess. While I haven’t tried it, it advertises the same features. (Of course, Mac users have the additional option of Less.app). Personally, I’m happy with SimpLESS, which does what it advertises for a great price: free!
Overall, SimpLESS is a fantastic addition to any web designer’s toolkit. For me, it’s the shove I’ve needed to start working in LESS, without having to worry about the hassle of converting.
Give it a five minute try; even if you just use it for the Prefixr and Minifier tools, and you’ll be hooked forever. Eventually, you’ll just stop thinking about it, and your beautiful .less files will be converted, compressed, and prefixed, just like magic. And for free, there’s no risk at all to just trying the program out: you can download it for free at the SimpLESS homepage.