I was helping a friend the other day and needed to get FTP access to their site. So they fired up the web based FTP tool provided by their hosting provider.
And it was one of the least intuitive applications I’ve ever seen!
So I showed her how to install Filezilla and it took us just a few minutes to get done what we needed to do.
Which reminded me: when I started out I had no idea what tools I needed, let alone which the good ones were.
So I’ve set out here the PC based applications I use in my business. In the next article I’ll set out the web based tools I use.
Site Builders: Coffee Cup, Kompozer.
Kompozer is a free, open source application. It’s primarily designed as an HTML editor to be used in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) mode. Meaning that you use it exactly as you would a normal word processing package like Word.
It’s a great HTML editor for newbies. It’s simple, robust and it doesn’t cost anything.
It does have a source mode (meaning that you can write your pages in HTML if you want) but I don’t recommend using this. The reason is because Kompozer’s designed to be used primarily as an HTML editor and its HTML editing functionality will occasionally clash with your HTML writing.
The result is not pretty.
But use it as a WYSIWYG HTML editor (write and layout your pages as you would in Word) and it does a great job.
Coffee Cup is also an HTML editor, so it can be used in the same way as Kompozer. But its default setting is source – meaning that it expects you to write your pages in HTML.
It’s a bit of a reach for newbies, but an excellent choice once you’ve cut your teeth on something like Kompozer and you’re ready to spread your wings a bit.
Coffee Cup costs $49, and comes with some useful tools.
I particularly like the code cleaner and validation functions because they help me ensure that my pages are W3C compliant.
This also gives them the best chance of being displaid consistently across lots of different browsers. However, since that also depends on the browser’s design you can never guarantee consistent rendering, even if your pages are W3C compliant.
Coffee Cup produces a whole range of additional web building tools, and if you decide to use the HTML Tool it’s worth checking out the others.
The one I use most frequently is the web form builder. It’s very intuitive and you can whip up contact forms (or surveys, booking forms, etc) in just a couple of minutes.
CSS Editor: Topstyle Lite
This is a free CSS editor. It creates an external style sheet which holds the styling for your site. I described CSS and how it works here.
You do need to understand how to set up a stylesheet, (it’s very straightforward and there’s a great tutorial here), but once you’ve got that sorted out Topstyle Lite does a great job and it’s very easy to use.
It’s also free.
Header Image generator: XHeader
XHeader is a neat (and free) tool for editing and creating header images for your site. In fact you can use it for manipulating any image – not just header images.
As long as you register, you get 500 header image templates, broken down into a wide range of categories. You can also load images from your PC or the web and turn them into header graphics, so you’re not going to be short of options when you need a header image.
XHeader is part of the XSitePro portfolio (XSitePro is another web building application) and registering involves you opting in to their email list.
But the emails are well spaced out – probably not more than 1 every couple of weeks, although I’ve never actually counted. And they’re usually pretty useful, because XSitePro is a good site builder – or at least it has a good reputation, because I have no personal experience of it.
FTP Client: Filezilla
FileZilla is one of the most popular FTP clients around today. It’s a free (open source) application which you can download here.
It’s easy to install, allows you some flexibility in how you set it up, fully supports SFTP and it’s very fast. Much faster than the paid-for FTP client I was using before I moved to FileZilla – it cut my complete blog back up time by nearly 50%.
It enables you to access and manipulate your site files (as do all FTP clients). So if, for example, something goes horribly wrong with WordPress you can get into your WordPress installation with FileZilla and do what needs to be done to fix it.
And that, by the way, is why I use SFTP – more details here.
Screencast Video Tool: Jing
Video is all the rage online now and there’s no question that a lot of people prefer watching or learning stuff by video rather than text.
Jing is a free video screen capture application that allows you to make a video of something you’re doing on your screen – setting up a new post, for example.
The downside is that you’re limited to 5 minutes per video.
This isn’t necessarily all that bad because, especially if you’re producing training videos, doing them in 5 minute chunks makes them very digestible.
But, of course, using Jing for longer, more complex videos would be frustrating.
Still – it’s a good way to cut your teeth on creating screencast videos without making the type of investment required by Camtasia or one of the other top flight applications.
Audio Tools: Audacity and Flash Audio Wizard
For creating audios I use Audacity and Flash Audio Wizard.
Audacity enables you to record and export your projects as MP3 or WAV files. You have a multi-track recording capability which means you can record a music track to introduce your message and then play it softly in the background while you’re talking.
Once you’ve created your audio files you import them into Flash Audio Wizard. This is where you create the buttons and files that you then upload to your site so people can listen to your masterpiece.
Ok – so those are the primary desktop applications I use. Please leave a comment to let us know of alternatives or additional tools that you use and like (or don’t like!).
Next time I’ll cover the web based tools I use.