Tag Archives: free

Web Design on a Budget: The Three Best Free Software Tools

If you’re just beginning web design/development, or if you simply don’t want to spend money on expensive software tools, it may seem impossible to achieve your dream of coding and designing your own site. You might even think you can’t create anything worth looking at or browsing if you don’t have high-end software.

I am happy to tell you that there are wonderful free software options for all of us who can’t yet afford some of the loftier programs. Not only are these programs free, but they are often the best utilities out there for the price. Here are the three webdesign software tools I use for my own designs:

Best Free Code Editor: Notepad++

Ever since I began web design, I longed for a “just-code” editor, one that would display the bare code like Notepad did…except that I wanted a little more Web-specific functionality, too. I wanted to surf through the code without getting so lost; I wanted to be able to speed up the long and tedious editing process. I needed a program that wasn’t so simplistic as a WYSIWYG editor, but one that was also helpful for those of us who were learning code.

Well, someone in the Notepad++ development team must have heard my prayers! Here, you can see how the different bits of code are color-coded (HTML tags are blue, selectors are in red, option choices are in purple, and so on).

See the gray minus sign and the line extending between the opening p tag and the closing p tag? This is another one of Notepad++’s great tricks: “folding up” a section of code if you need it up and out of the way.

When you click the minus sign, it closes the section of code encased by the opening and closing p tags, resulting in a display like this. Clicking the red plus sign will expand the hidden code out again.

Like the image above says, the “Replace” function is also known as “Hallelujah!!!” That’s what you’ll shout when you realize you can use the Find & Replace function to edit the same text in every file you have open within the program. SO awesome for expediting those previously long and tedious tasks, like editing a line of code on every page of your site.

Now, I haven’t even begun to expound upon all of Notepad++’s awesome features. The program supports a variety of different languages, from ASP all the way to XML, and even including some languages I’ve never even heard of (Haskell and KIXtart, among others). Plus, it has the ability to use macros, plugins, and converters for even faster programming. Check out the program with the link below:

Download Notepad++: Notepad-Plus-Plus.org

Best Free Graphics Program: GIMP

Ever wanted Photoshop but couldn’t hack the $600 price tag? Well, GIMP can do most things you’d use Photoshop for, even transparency and text addition, but for free.

Its interface is a little more free-form and spartan…

…but within it, you can still do all of the basic image-editing techniques, as well as some of the more sophisticated ones usually in higher-end products.

This is how an image looks when opened within GIMP–it appears in the central box of the program.

Most of the tools that usually appear under Enhance in Photoshop-esque programs are located under Colors in GIMP, such as Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Hue & Saturation. etc. These dialogs work just as well as the pricey ones, and these come with handy ToolTips to help you navigate the menus.

This is an example of the Levels dialog, in which you can change the shadows, midtones, and highlights to your heart’s content.

The Image menu remains largely unchanged from programs like Photoshop–it’s just that the “Resize Image” dialog is renamed “Scale Image.”

The dialog for resizing the image appears here. To resize your image proportionally, just type in your desired height or width, and then click the linked chains to the right of the boxes to get the corresponding number in the other measurement.

Besides changing sizes and tweaking shadows and highlights, GIMP can also do a lot of the artistic filters on pictures that Photoshop can, plus cropping, layering, and masking. It’s a great program, and even after six months of using it I’m still not done exploring all it can do. Check it out for yourself!

Download GIMP: GIMP.org

Best Free File Uploading Program: FileZilla

If you’ve got tons of files to upload, never fear that you’ll be stuck uploading through your browser again! FileZilla is a free FTP program that offers clean and simple uploading (and downloading!) functionality.

This is what the program looks like before you make a connection to an FTP server. On the left appears your computer’s folder hierarchy (top left pane), and the content you’re working with in the currently open folder (bottom left pane).

To connect to your FTP server, you’ll need to provide FileZilla with some information. This is the Site Manager dialog box, where you plug in the info for your site. The “Host” line is usually something like “ftp.yourdomain.com”; you’ll need to fill in your username and password for your hosting server. (My details are obscured for privacy reasons.) Once you’re done filling in your info, you can save and connect!

This button, at the top right underneath the word “File,” is the Quickconnect button. Use this to connect to any of the sites whose profiles you’ve saved already through the Site Manager dialog box.

Once you connect to a server, its folder hierarchy appears in the top right pane, and the contents of an individual folder appear in the bottom right pane. Uploading can be as simple as dragging and dropping the files from the bottom left to the bottom right pane!

Or, you can always right-click the file you want to upload and choose “Upload” from the right-click menu. (For Mac users, I am not sure of the keyboard shortcut to achieve this–please pardon my Windows-user ignorance.)

If you want to upload multiple files, the highlight-and-right-click-upload method works best, I’ve found.

FileZilla will even warn you if a file already exists, and through this dialog box you can choose whether you want to overwrite it or not–it even specifies very detailed actions depending on the age and size of the two files it’s comparing.

Not only can you upload files, but you can download them from your server as well! It’s great for making file backups…and, as I found out in 2011, great for emergency saves of all your hard work. When my hard drive crashed in 2011 and I lost ALL my data, FileZilla was able to download copies of all my files from my hosting provider very quickly and efficiently.

(And, just like uploading multiple files, you can highlight-and-right-click all the files you want to download from your server, and do it en masse. That’s what made getting all my Web work back a whole lot easier.)

FileZilla may not have a lot of frills, but it’s an excellent utility for bulk uploading and downloading, making file backups, and connecting to your site without having to have a browser window open. It’s well worth a download!

Download FileZilla: FileZilla-Project.org

Rediscovering The Library

In this age of frugal living/careful spending, I’m surprised when I hear some of my friends talk about “buying” the new book everyone’s talking about. I’m surprised–not because I’m surprised at people reading, but because I buy almost no books anymore. Instead, I’m a regular customer at the library. Want to know why I made that change? Read on to find out!

My Background in Reading: Extensive

For most of my life, I’ve been a voracious reader, tackling numerous books in a week sometimes (if boredom was striking hard). It didn’t hurt that I grew up being taken to the library a few times a week, too, always marveling at their large book collections. It was a wonderful place to explore, and I enjoyed checking out the mountains of books I inevitably wanted to read every week.

High School: A Gradual Moving Away from Reading

Somewhere in high school, however, I lost the will to read for pleasure. I credit it to my AP and honors literature classes and general college prep, which demanded so much reading outside of school hours that after I was done with homework, the last thing I wanted to see was a printed word. I, who had loved books from childhood, virtually quit reading for pleasure until the summer before my sophomore year in college.

I instead found myself playing more video games and being on the computer more often, needing more pictorial and interactive ways to relax instead of having to stay focused on more words. It was so unlike me, in retrospect, but at the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

College: The Change Back (Mostly for the Better)

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college changed things drastically, however. Due to an ex-boyfriend’s casual dismissal of me, I ended up very sad and lonely most of that summer, languishing, feeling like I had no purpose.

But soon enough, I got tired of sitting at home crying, and finally I got up the courage to venture out and buy a few books to read at a nearby bookstore. Suddenly, it all came back–why I had loved reading. It had helped me to escape a world I had had enough of! So I began collecting more and more books, reading them and putting them aside, sometimes to reread them, sometimes not, for the next 8 years.

Uh-Oh…Now the Mountain of Books is in My House…

But you can guess what happened. These days, I’m virtually swimming in a sea of purchased books. My bedroom is stuffed with them, there are boxes upon boxes in the hallways, and still there are books in the floor. It’s a picture of my brain and my life. I love information, I love reading, and I still find myself looking at the bookstore and wanting to buy a lot of the books I see. But, with the new problem of storage, I just didn’t want to have to deal with picking them up off the floor and trying to find places to put newly acquired books for the rest of my life.

Suddenly, a Solution–The Library!

Then, a brainstorm. As I sat at the library using their wireless Internet one afternoon a couple of years ago, I looked around and it struck me–why am I not using this library card I have in my purse? Why don’t I just check out the books I want to read, and then bring them back in 2 or 3 weeks? DUH! Knowing how fast I read, I knew I’d be done with at least one book by week’s end, maybe more.

So I rose from my chair and pecked around in the fiction section a bit until I found a couple of books that interested me. I have been enjoying the library’s privileges since, reading 3-4 books every 6 weeks or so (depending on how hectic my schedule is). Once I’m finished with them, I can return them and let someone else enjoy them, and they aren’t lying around cluttering up my house any further. Plus, I’m not spending tons of money on books I might not even read again. I have rediscovered the library–rediscovered one reason why it is so wonderful.

Don’t Let Your Library Go to Waste!

But libraries are vanishing fast–even our local library may not be around much longer, and that saddens me. As a money-saver, as a time investment, and as a place for free Internet that isn’t a loud coffee shop, it’s perfect for me and many other local folks. Yet libraries all over the country (and possibly, all over the world) are still having to deal with budgets shrinking, less visitors, almost no income, and lack of new books to put up. I think it’s awful.

Many people have commented on this issue, with some folks saying libraries as we know them won’t be around much longer anyway. Others are saying libraries are struggling and failing to meet a new technological need rather than an informational one. And some say that libraries must update technologically to offer the same kinds of community help that they used to.

I believe that yes, libraries as mere storehouses of books are not the informational resource they once were–the Internet has taken that place. But the library is still a free/almost free source of Internet and printing facilities, as well as a safe place for families and communities to come together. (Not to mention that they are generally QUIET…yay!) I think the world definitely still needs libraries–their ageless serenity is a refuge from the outside world, a home away from home.

Whether libraries will ultimately come to house technology as well as books/in place of books, or whether they become cultural centers or something else entirely, I believe that communities still need them to serve, and will need them as long as there are social humans. Libraries were not only my refuge in childhood, but have become a newfound haven in my adulthood. And I think it can be that way for others, too. I just hope more people rediscover their libraries soon, so that this experience I’ve had doesn’t just become part of history!