Freeware solutions

This is a question I get asked occasionally: "What programs do you use to make websites?" Most of the time, people are expecting to be wow'ed by a list of expensive, high-end software. Either that, or they think there is some single miracle application that handles everything. If you've worked in the web for awhile, you will know that this is hardly ever the case. Sure, I love Studio 8 just as much as the next guy. Other than Fireworks though, I really don't use the other programs that much on a daily basis. So, I just want to share several of my favorite freeware solutions that won't cost you a dime.


My coworkers showed me this. JRuler is a great, lightweight program that doesn't even require an install. While similar in name, it should not be confused with the notorious gangster rapper Ja Rule, though I'm sure he'd like it if he tried it. It has a simple purpose and does it well. Basically, it's a ruler that overlays everything else on the screen, and can measure in centimeters, inches, picas or pixels. This is great for when you want to measure something, but don't feel like taking a screenshot or firing up a graphics program.


When it comes to hand coding, I'm very picky. I can't stand code-hinting and don't really trust the CSS rendering of WYSIWYG programs. So, the benefits of Dreamweaver are completely lost on me. I like programs that are light, fast and don't try to do everything for me. It's for this reason that I was a long-time fan of Araneae. However, it lacks a powerful searching tool.

Lately though, thanks to Ryan of Particletree, I've found my affections swayed towards Notepad. Don't let the name fool you, because this dawg ain't nothing like the puppy program that comes with Windows. As its name suggests it handles C, along with just about every other programming language. It boasts all of the features I love about Dreamweaver, without the chaff. In short, what Firefox is to the browsing, Notepad is to code.

Some of the things that stand out to me: Macros, Multi-document sync'd scrolling, Vector-style zoom in/out, and Code highlighting that is on-par with Dreamweaver. It also has comparable site-wide find and replace. Another nice feature are tabs that behave like Firefox. They are draggable, and a middle-click closes them. Anything I could say won't do it justice. Try it.


I first started using FileZilla a few years ago, when a client project required an FTP program that supported secure uploads. Previously, I had been using the free version of WS_FTP, but found that due to licensing and feature restrictions, that just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Once I started using it, I wondered why I ever used anything else. Its feature list is the same as most other retail FTP programs, so I won't embellish much more other than say: If you're looking for a good file-transfer program, look no further.


I won't say a whole lot about OpenOffice here, because I've already written a pretty lengthy review. I just wanted to bring it up again, because a friend got me thinking about a way to create easy, and completely free slideshow presentations for maxiumum compatibility. Normally when doing public speaking, you put everything together in PowerPoint and then hope for the best, especially if you'll be presenting with a computer that is not your own.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen people fumble to get their lecture in order because of incompatibility issues. By using Impress, which functions similarly to PowerPoint, you can lay out your slides as you normally would. The only catch is, you can then export them as a PDF, which can be read (correctly) on just about any computer. Mac OSX has native PDF handling built-in, and just about every Windows computer has Adobe Reader installed. The reader is available for a wide variety of platforms, as is OpenOffice.

WAMP Server

WAMP Server is a nifty little package. It combines Apache, MySQL and PHP into one installation for Windows. I use this to test various CMSs locally on my own computer. This is beneficial because it doesn't require creating a new database on your server. This is especially important if you are using a host which limites you to a finite number of databases. I use DreamHost, which allows for unlimited MySQL instances, but I still test locally because the site is not "live," so you don't have to worry about any security issues.

This allows me to stay current on changes in content management systems. I have used WAMP to locally test the following: Drupal, ExpressionEngine, Mambo / Joomla, Textpattern, Typo3 and WordPress. This of course doesn't mean I a purport expertise with any of them, but it's has helped me in answering emails, recommending possible solutions for use by churches. MovableType is also good, but requires Perl, which is included with XAMPP.

Note: I do not yet own a Mac, so I cannot really recommend anything. However, if you want to suggest some good software I am all ears. Also, feel free to share your own favorites regardless of what operating system you use.