OK, this entry won't be so long, really, I promise. This time I'm going to suggest a few ways you might save some money, especially when starting out, by using free tools.
Ah, I see the word free perked some of you up.
A lot of web designers and developers like to use editing tools to make life easier. Now, I tend to use Notepad or emacs, but then, I'm weird like that. Microsoft FrontPage and MacroMedia's Dreamweaver are two popular web development tools - but FrontPage costs $199, and Dreamweaver costs $399! FrontPage only runs on Windows, Dreamweaver runs on Windows or Mac. Now, I have issues with FrontPage and standards (yeah, I know, I like the sound of that drum so I beat it a lot), but I'll put those aside - and I'll even say that FrontPage today is radically better than it was when I first saw it in 1996 or so. Dreamweaver can do a decent job, but it is up to the user to configure it properly. Out of the box it tends to put a lot of cruft into the markup and it likes to embed styles in the documents, etc, not the best way to do things. (Why yes, I am a control freak about my code and markup - which is why I like text editors for my work.) So ignoring all of that, $200-$400 is a non-negligible chunk of change for most folks, especially the small webmaster just starting out. Money better spent on good hosting, content, pizza and Jolt...
So the alternative is a text editor and a manual process, right? Not necessarily, you can always use Nvu (pronounced N-view). Nvu is a complete web authoring system that costs $0. That's right - free! And it runs on Windows, Mac, or Linux. Nvu is open source, based of the code originally created for the composer component of the Mozilla Suite. It has been enhanced and turned into a standalone development system. Basically the old Mozilla Suite had four major components - the browser, email, calendar, and composer - which have been turned into standalone applications as Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird, and Nvu, respectively.
Now, I'm not claiming that Nvu has all of the bells and whistles found in Dreamweaver or FrontPage, and it certainly does not have all of the 3rd party plug-ins out there for the two commercial packages. However, it is a solid, full-featured authoring and publishing tool. And, since it is based on the proven Mozilla code base, it is also extremely good about creating standards compliant markup - perhaps the best. I've used a number of GUI (I hate saying WYSIWYG for the web, because the web is rarely, if ever, truly WYSIWYG) tools over the years, either for production or just to test them out - everything from the old Netscape Gold 1.22, to FrontPage, to Hot Dog, to HoT MetaL PRO, to Nvu. And I don't hesitate to recommend Nvu to folks looking for a good tool - and you can't beat the price.
Now, if you're on the imaging side of the world, of course Adobe Photoshop is the King of the Hill. And right now you will pay a King's ransom for it - well, retail for Adobe Photoshop CS2 is $599. I know there are ways to find it cheaper, but it is still hefty. I've known a number of designers who, balking at that price, will use the less feature rich, but still solid, Paint Shop Pro from Corel (formerly Jasc). PSP9 starts at $99 for a Download, and $129 for a boxed version - and maybe you can find a better price. They even have a PDF comparison matrix with Photoshop CS. Not a bad alternative for a lot of standard graphics tasks.
So PSP9 is a lower priced alternative, but can it be bested? Of course - and, again, for free. Bring out the GIMP! No, no, I'm not talking about some dude in bondage gear, I'm talking about the GNU Image Manipulation Program. The GIMP runs on Windows, MacOS, and Unix/Linux. It is an open source, completely free, image manipulation and creation program - and it is remarkably feature-rich. There are plug-ins and many resources for working with the GIMP. Now, I am not a graphics person. I have used the GIMP, and other programs, for basic image editing I've needed to do, and I found the GIMP easy to use. If you're a Photoshop god, you would probably scoff, but if you're looking for a solid tool to get started without shelling out, the GIMP is worth a look.
Part of running a business is the record and book keeping, documentation, correspondence, making presentations, etc. In other words, using a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program. By saying that I bet most people immediately thought of Microsoft Office, which completely dominates the 'office suite' software market. And, as a spot check the complete version of MS Office Standard Edition 2003 goes retails for $399! Wouldn't it be nice to have an easy-to-use, full-featured office suite that didn't cost so much? And wouldn't it be great if it could open and save in MS formats so you can exchange work with the rest of the world? What if it could also natively save into PDF format for sharing? How much would you pay? How about nothing? OpenOffice.org, aka OOo, is an open-source, free, full featured office suite for Windows, MacOS, and Unix/Linux. The current 'stable' version is 1.1.4 and it includes Writer (think Word), Calc (think Excel), Impress (think PowerPoint), and Draw (a graphics tool). It can open and save in the MS formats, and several others, and it can also be linked to several different kinds of databases (like Excel).
However, you may want to download the beta for the coming 2.0 release, 1.9. It has all of the components of 1.1.4, as well as a built in DB, Base (think Access), and the UI has been changed to closely match that of MS-Office, so users can switch with minimal pain. I switched to OOo on my personal machines years ago and I haven't once had a problem. I see no reason to pay for MS Office when OOo does everything I need, and it does some things MS-Office doesn't - like PDF creation. I used to have to buy Adobe Acrobat to make PDFs - and Adobe Acrobat Standard sells for $299. Even Adobe's online conversion service is $9.99/month, or $99.99/year. Why pay for MS Office and Acrobat when I can use OOo for free, write my document, and simply 'Save As' PDF?
So, there you go, a few options for solid tools that won't hit you in the wallet. You can use the money for something else. Until next time... Oh, yeah, one more thing Google released their official Firefox toolbar today, as well as a couple of extensions. Note that this is not the same as the independently created Googlebar.
P.S. My thoughts go out to all those affected by the terrible events in London this morning. I have friends all over the world, including London, and, fortunately, at this time I don't believe anyone I knew personally was hurt. But friends of friends were victims in the attacks, as was also the case on 9/11. I'm relieved no one I knew was involved directly, but I see the effects on my friends who have lost someone in their lives.