Best Free Software for Web Designers & Developers

By / Nov 27, 2012 / Tools
shares

Lots of freeware is available on the Internet for download. You can find programs for both OSX and Windows for designing and coding websites. Unfortunately not everybody has the money for premium software or the time to learn the interfaces.

I have put together this guide with just a few examples of some great software applications. Each example is totally free to download and install for your own personal use. Designing websites is a very difficult job and requires the right set of tools. This article may not contain everything you need, but I’m hoping to share these resources as a starting point for web designers on a budget.

Notepad++

I think a lot of developers know about Notepad++ since it has been mentioned in so many articles. This is a fantastic piece of open source software which supports a number of programming languages. Even aside from backend web development you can build full software applications in Java or C++, the list of syntax features is enormous.

Notepad++ IDE Coding Website Software HTML CSS jQuery

If you want to learn more about the software check out their official features listing and some of the accompanying screenshots. Right now the software only runs on Windows machines, and I do not know of any plans for porting this in the future. But it is an excellent alternative to Dreamweaver or some other higher-end IDEs.

NetBeans

Getting into a solution for all OS choices we have NetBeans IDE. This is a free development environment for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The software supports a myriad of syntaxes and also some 3rd party Java/C++/PHP frameworks. There are just so many great things to say about NetBeans.

Check out the latest release with more documentation and information on their updates. Currently the software supports many foreign languages, which is great for programmers around the world. This is truly the universal solution for an open free coding environment, regardless of operating system.

Netbeans IDE Coding syntax highlighter development

If you want to get involved in the community they have developer forum threads for getting in touch on support topics. Other programmers may also join the team in patching bugs and helping to push new releases. And even better you can find a huge list of plugins for the software which is growing very quickly.

Amaya

The Amaya software is actually an older project started by the W3C. It was originally launched in 1996 and has seen many updates since then. Currently the Amaya IDE is in release version 11.4 with support for Windows and Mac OSX.

I feel their software is a bit behind in the standards department, or at least you can see this on the website. It doesn’t mention a lot about HTML5 and CSS3 specifications or code syntax highlighting. But you also won’t find code suggestions setup by default with many other programs, either. Give Amaya one shot if you have the time – but there also may be other alternatives worth trying for coding websites.

Smultron

The Smultron text editor is a program built for Mac OS X and mobile iOS devices. The software has syntax highlighting features which include over 90 different languages. You can also create new documents stored in your iCloud account to retrieve from any computer. This is one rich IDE to grab right off the Mac App Store and it’s great for perfect developers.

Smultron website code editor IDE development

FileZilla

Web designers and developers will both need to use FTP access at some point. You can’t publish a website without pushing the files onto a server. Luckily there are a couple open source FTP programs which most webmasters can follow, and FileZilla is the big choice for Windows users.

The software is free to use forever and has many of the basic features you would expect. You can store custom FTP website settings for quick connections. Also you can setup long queues of files to download and let them go over an extended period of time. Anyone who needs a free FTP program on Windows XP/Vista/7 should go with FileZilla.

Cyberduck

Now on the Mac OS X spectrum Cyberduck is definitely the best free FTP software. You can grab the app right from the Mac App Store on your computer. It is also available for Windows users as well, if you feel that FileZilla just isn’t enough.

Cyberduck FTP client software web development

What I love about Cyberduck is the simplicity in user interface performance. You can quickly scan your remote server to detect files and download specific sub-folders. The program will also allow you to preview images before downloading. And Cyberduck is even cooler because you can directly connect into cloud storage services like Google Drive and Amazon S3.

GIMP/GimpShop

Some people get confused with the difference between GIMP and GimpShop. Both are free and open source to download on Windows and Mac computers. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program which is the original software release. Fans of the program will recognize the interface and all the typical tools involved with image editing.

Now GimpShop is also free and built of similar open source code. However this software is designed to look and feel more similar to Adobe Photoshop. So graphics designers can pick up GimpShop and start practicing if you ever need to work with Adobe software. This is basically a free software package for editing images, banners, buttons, even complete website mockups.

GimpShop software Windows and Mac OSX Photoshop editor

If you are debating between the two I say check them both out and decide for yourself. There is no right answer since you can accomplish just about anything between the two of them. I personally like the Photoshop-esque UI of GimpShop and would ultimately choose to work in that graphics suite. But you should get a sense feeling them both out and devise your own conclusions.

Inkscape

This is another one of my favorite graphics editors which is perfect for upcoming web designers. Inkscape is an open source project for working with vector graphics. You could think of this as the free alternative to Adobe Illustrator supported on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Inkscape SVG vector graphics editor software

The best part about working with Inkscape is how you can work directly with W3C SVG vector graphics. These have been granted a lot of support in recent years to be embedded directly into webpages. Now web browsers can display SVG graphics and you can use them for a multitude of purposes.

Greenfish Icon Editor

Unfortunately this is a Windows-only program but it doesn’t do anything too special you couldn’t accomplish in GimpShop. But I love the Greenfish Editor because you can quickly create icon sets which match your website layouts. These could be displayed in your webpage, or even used as a favicon designs.

The software is 100% free to download and runs on all Windows platforms. You may have to spend a bit of time learning the ropes and various menu controls. But I feel it is worthwhile for those web designers who love to get close-up right into each pixel.

Final Thoughts

We have written in previous articles about free Mac OSX apps for designers which was great. I am hoping this guide can offer a division for both designers and developers. After all, to create any good website you will need both pieces of the puzzle.

If you have some extra time in your schedule download a couple of these examples and see how they feel. You may be surprised at how intuitive these open source software packages can be. And when you can download these for free to install on any number of computers it’s a worthy investment to learn the ins-and-outs of the interface. Additionally feel free to share other design/dev thoughts in the discussion area below.

About the Author

Jake Rocheleau is a social media enthusiast and Internet entrepreneur. He can be followed on twitter - @jakerocheleau His presence on the web can be found at JakeRocheleau.com.

17 Comments

  1. Ryan
    November 27, 2012

    Great post, always love these kinds of posts to see if I am still using the right tools of the trade. I would add Eclipse to the list since you are mentioning netbeans. Eclipse is a bit slicker and less of a memory hog. I also like the extensabilty. But still: Notepad++ for the win! *fists pumping in the air* Though I’ve recently started using SublimeText but it’s not free :P

    Reply
  2. Simon
    November 27, 2012

    How can you forget to put SublimeText 2 in your list ? It replaced Notepad++ a long time ago. There is so much more you can do with Sublime Text than Notepad++ …
    http://www.sublimetext.com/

    Reply
    • Paul
      December 18, 2012

      Sublime text 2 isn’t free http://www.sublimetext.com/buy it costs $59.

      Reply
  3. Chris Bertrand
    November 27, 2012

    Totally agree with the list, haven’t heard of GIMPShop so will take a look at that later.

    Reply
  4. Laurent
    November 27, 2012

    Smultron is not free anymore :-( (since one year I think)

    Reply
  5. Daniel Rosca
    November 28, 2012

    I would not go for NetBeans, but I would replace it with another free software: Aptana Studio 3. NetBeans still has a lot of bugs, at least for MAC users it’s painful to work with it.

    Reply
  6. Hawk Designs
    November 29, 2012

    I would add to list Komodo Edit, it’s free and proved to be very good from my experience

    Reply
  7. Shelley Jane Roby
    November 29, 2012

    Notepad++ is one of the most essential tool that I primarily used in creating my clients website. I am also using Artister to create stunning websites :)

    Reply
  8. Liam
    December 1, 2012

    Notepad++ is one of the most essential tools.
    I often use it

    Reply
  9. Eoin H
    January 17, 2013

    I use notepad++ alot, and would recommend it to anyone and has some great plugins too.

    GIMP, something I use on my Ubuntu machine, but yet to check out Gimpshop for windows.. will have to download it.

    Nice list :)

    Reply
  10. Dan
    February 20, 2013

    our site http://mixudo.com has a code editor right on the page for you to edit your designs, pages, and templates – check it out!

    Reply
    • Eoin H
      March 31, 2013

      Dan, I would love to see a self-host version of mixudo.. anything in the pipeline?

      Reply
  11. Cory
    April 13, 2013

    Great list. I use cyberduck for windows. It’s great. Instead of smultron for Mac, use The fork called fraise.

    Reply
  12. ivan
    June 16, 2013

    i use sublime text 2 … it is not bad :D

    Reply
  13. Howard Steele
    July 26, 2013

    A great copmpilation,
    some of these can be real lifasavers for designers

    Reply
  14. Yury
    July 31, 2013

    Please take a look at Color Tools: http://www.color-tools.com/
    This is a color picker which can be used together with Notepad++ or Sublime Text to edit colors. It also has built-in simple image editor and screen capture utility which can handle window’s alpha. It is not totally free but it does not have functional or enforced time limits (similar to Sublime Text licensing policy).

    Reply
  15. James
    December 15, 2013

    I’d recommend taking a look at Approval Manager (http://www.metacommunications.com/approval_manager). We use it to manage all of our approval workflows and review schedules. Definitely worth a look if looking for a solid annotation, feedback and review tool.

    Reply

Leave a Reply