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Free Software For Struggling Web Designers

Jun 27, 2008
Here are a few nifty programs for the thrifty web designer. They answer the question: What do you do if you can't afford $300+ for the popular tools but you don't want to use war3z?

(Note: Because some web publishers don't like having links to web sites in their articles, I've omitted them here. The following softwares can be found easily by typing their unique names in a search engine.)

1. NVU Web Editor.

Alternative to: Dreamweaver, Frontpage.

This is a pretty good web page editor, and is easy to use. Quite full-featured. Turns out good-looking web pages which display properly in FireFox and Internet Explorer. It has Source Code, WYSIWYG and Preview tabs which make editing a snap.

My only minor gripe is it doesn't support the display of Server Side Includes on-screen, because I use these [grin]. That would be asking for too much, I fear, as no other editor besides Dreamweaver supports this, as far as I know.

For people who want Word-For-Windows-For-The-Web, this is a nice alternative to FrontPage.

2. GIMP Image Editor.

Alternative to: Adobe Photoshop, PaintShop Pro.

This is a good image and photo manipulation package. I used it recently to make up a set of passport photographs. It did a fine job, but you need to examine all the nested menus; I found I was saving in a compressed format, when I didn't want to do that.

If you're used to Photoshop, the learning curve is slight. Like with any other software, you just need a bit of patience to discover where your favourite tools are. Give it a chance before your ADD kicks in(!)

3. OpenOffice.

Alternative to: Microsoft Word and Excel.

Now, this suite of programs is some of the best freeware available. People who know nothing beyond Microsoft will find these programs easy to use. Probably there are some minor compatibility issues with the more advanced 'features' of Microsoft softwares. If you are working for a Fortune 500 company, let them cough up the Microsoft licence fees and pay for being finicky.

For thrifty ol' you, OpenOffice is a steal, especially if you just want to open and manipulate a few Word and Excel files. There's also the strange satisfaction in hitting the 'uninstall' button on the Microsoft Office Suite.

4. Opera.

Alternative to: Internet Explorer, Firefox.

Ah, Opera, the also-ran of the browser wars. A handy thing to have installed if you want to quickly visit a site 'in disguise' i.e. display a different User Agent string and cookie profile.

This is a browser you need make no excuses for; it works a treat, and has all the features of its competitors.

5. SimplyMepis.

Alternative to: Microsoft Windows XP and Vista.

This is the only Linux operating system I can get to install on my old Dell Latitude. It is very easy to install and operate. It was a delightful surprise when it found my cable modem, when Windows couldn't. I clicked on the Firefox icon and bingo! internet access.

Burn the ISO image to a CD and you can try out SimplyMepis without installing it. You can use it to diagnose problems with your PC, or get at files if Windows is giving you grief.

See also Damn Small Linux. Burn this to a CD, and you have an emergency operating system if your PC throws a wobbly. It will run quickly from the CD.

The key selling point of these is that they're free, and have been developed independently of Microsoft products, and thus have less code bloat and 'eye candy'.

6. Ashampoo Burning Studio and CDBurnerXP.

Alternatives to: Nero Burning CD Rom.

These programs will help you burn your SimplyMepis ISO image to a CD. This means that when you boot up your PC with this disc in the CD drive, your PC will read it as an installation disk, or you can just browse the contents.

Nero is a fine software, but if you just want to bring the odd CD, try out these free alternatives.

Conclusion: The free softwares above are great if you want to be frugal, or just set up a PC for someone else, get the praise, and not have to ask your pal to fork out cash. Your PC can be free of bootleg or overpriced software. You can be free from labouring with commercial products, that have been bloated with unnecessary features, just to keep paying corporate customers happy!
About the Author
T. O' Donnell is a credit broker running insurance and merchant account web sites in London, UK.
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