Tools of the Trade

These are the Windows tools I use to make web sites, which in turn makes me money online.

Notepad++ – If you’ve used Windows anytime in the last 25 years you know about Notepad, but don’t let the name fool you, Notepad++ is a notable improvement over Notepad, specifically for programmers. Now you might not think of yourself as a programmer, but if you’re editing HTML, CSS, or PHP you’ll find Notepad++’s code-identifying text color changes useful as well as the ability to have multiple tabs open at once (with split screen ability), and “just how you want it to act” tab spacing. It auto-indents code and can indent rows of code at once in highlighted sections. Another neat feature is the ability to search within files or folders for text, which I have used many times.
Filezilla – The defacto standard for open-source FTP programs, Filezilla is what I use to upload files to my host. It’s not as secure as SSH secure shell, but it gets the job done for free. Filezilla’s site manager tool can save connection information, making it easy for you to manage different FTP accounts, but I tend to just use the quickconnect bar, which saves a history of your recently visited FTP sites. Individual view windows can be turned on or off in the view file menu and more customization is available in the settings menu.
Firebug – A browser plug-in for developers that works best in Firebug, but has versions for Chrome and Internet Explorer too that don’t work as well. This program lets you highlight items inside the browsers view screen to find out information or to make temporary changes. These temporary changes allow you to preview the affects before you make the changes permanent. This is an excellent tool and a must-have for web site developers.
Chrome – Contained within Chrome’s tools is a feature called “Chrome developer tools,” which works much like Firebug, but is built into Chrome. It allows you to browse elements on the page or make temporary changes. One nice feature is the Audit tab which lets you review things like network utilization and web page performance. A quick run of the audit tool will yield you advice (if you need it) on CSS, Javascript, cookies, and cache usage.
Paint.Net – For advanced photo editing with layers, Paint.Net delivers as the strongest free comparison to Adobe Photoshop. It features several advanced adjustment tools including “Black and White,” “Curves,” and “Sepia.” There are also built-in effect tools ranging from artistic, to blurs, to distortion, which rival those of Photoshop. For a comparison with Paint.Net, try GIMP. Paint.Net, GIMP, and Photoshop all are made to edit raster graphics, which are like photographs and cannot scale up without losing resolution. Vector images, on the other hand, are like those used in animation and logos and use math to create lines. This allows them to scale up and down without losing resolution since its just a recalculation of the math. Vector images can only be edited with special programs like Inkscape, which is free, or Adobe Illustrator.
Picasa – While its biggest feature is probably its photo management and gallery functions, the reason I’ve included it in this list is as a subsidy to Paint.Net and even Photoshop for specific picture editing. There are two views, “Library” and “Edit”. Inside the edit view there are three tabs, “Basic Tuning”, “Fixes,” and “Effects”. In Basic Tuning or Fixes I use the fill light command the most as I feel it does a better job than just adding brightness using Paint.Net or Photoshop. In Effects I use “Glow”, “Soft Focus”, and “Sepia” the most. Paint.Net also has a sepia effect. Use these or the “Collage” tool in the Library view to create neat pictures for your web site.
Inkscape – A free alternative to Adobe Illustrator, Inkscape is a fully baked open-source scalable vector image editing program. It takes some getting used to if you’re used to working with raster images in layers, but once you get the hang of manipulating objects and lines and knowing when to left-click and when to right-click, you’ll be able to make some decent iconography that might save you some money over buying stock images for your web sites. And just because it is open-sourced doesn’t mean it’s not supported. There is lots of documentation, tutorials, and online forums in a community willing to share and collaborate. If you already own Adobe Illustrator this is a fine tool and also comes highly recommended.

If I’ve missed a Windows tool that you use, please mention it in the comments and for Apple and Linux users, feel free to add your comments as well to share with all.

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