Microsoft Expression. Adobe Dreamweaver. What do these programs have in common? They’re both high-grade software programs used by web design professionals and they both cost hundreds of US dollars.
If you’re short on cash — or just leery of enriching big corporations that really don’t need the money — then maybe it’s time to try community-supported, “organic” open-source web design software! Here are the best open-source web design programs for you to look at, whether you’re on Mac OS X, Windows, or a Linux OS like Ubuntu.
The starting point for people new to web design is often a WYSIWIG, or “What You See Is What You Get,” editor. The code that these programs produce isn’t the best, but they usually let you see the code alongside the result, and that can be good for learning.
The ur-example is Nvu, which may well be the best. I played with it for a little while and rather liked it. An alternative is KompoZer. Both are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
If you’re looking for a more advanced editor than Nvu, with features designed for programmers, the best one is Notepad++ if you’re on Windows. I’ve used it in my own web design projects, and the Compare feature is invaluable when you’re working on web design with other people.
The best one I’ve seen for Mac users is Smultron, although you’ll need to be running Mac OS X 10.5 or later (Leopard or Snow Leopard). Linux users should have a capable “Text Editor,” like gedit, already installed. Click here for suggestions on how to easily mod gedit for web design!
For uploading pages to your web hosting server, you’ll need an FTP program. FireFTP is an easy one to recommend, since it’s a simple Firefox plugin that works on Linux, Windows and Mac. If you want a separate FTP program, try Cyberduck if you’re on Mac OS X, or BareFTP if you’re on Linux — it’s better than gFTP, in my opinion, and is the best one I’ve found for Linux.
The standard open-source replacement for Adobe Photoshop is the GIMP. Its complicated interface turns some people off, but there are a lot of free tutorials for it online. A simpler alternative is Seashore, for Mac OS X; and if you’re on Windows, you might want to check out Paint.NET. A lot of fans seem to think it’s the best.
If you’re looking for vector graphics software to help with your web design, try Inkscape. It doesn’t have all the features of Adobe Illustrator, but it can do some things Illustrator can’t; and again, it’s free.
Other web design programs
My last software recommendation would be the Mozilla Firefox web browser, which may be the best browser, period. If you’re not already using it, you’ll want to at least for testing purposes, to see how your site looks for Firefox users. Plus, the Firebug plugin for Firefox is invaluable, because it lets you examine each part of your site and see which CSS rules are being applied.
You’ll also want to download Google Chrome, or Chromium, for testing purposes. (Chromium is the pure open-source version, and is included with some Linux OSes.)
Even if you rely on Microsoft or Adobe software for most of your web design, give one of these open-source programs a try! They’re free, and so are their updates. And you might find that you like one of them better than what you’re already using.
Do you have any recommendations for web design software? Scroll down and leave a comment! And whatever programs you use for your web design, I hope you have fun with them.