Tools of the webdevelopment trade

Having to re-install my PC at work the other day made me realize what a diversity of little tools I use to do what I do. I decided to make a list, so here goes.

Homesite

Still my editor of choice. For working in classic ASP nothing beats it, not even Visual Studio 2xxx (of which the new versions don’t support classic asp anymore) or dreamweaver (too much WYSIWYG). It really is too bad there’s no replacement under linux. I’ve tried different editors and none have vbscript highlighting. Propably the one that comes closest (and the one I’m using right now under linux) is Komodo Edit. (which is open source now by the way). Eclipse is a little too bloated and slow to my taste.

Toptools

Every webdeveloper needs a colorpicker, screenruler and screengrabber, especially in the beginning of a project when the design has to be made into XHTML/CSS. I used to have these tools seperate, and I was especially fond of screenruler. But recently I discovered toptools. It has all of these little tools in one handy free package that runs in your tray.

Royal TS

To quickly log into remote webservers and SQL servers, this little gem unites all of your terminal server connections and lets you manage them from one interface. It saves settings and password per connection if you want and you can categorize everything. Oh and it’s free :)

Launchy

Launchy is really one of my favorites, not especially for webdevelopment, but on the whole. It is a tool that let’s you quickly start any application in your taskbar. Pressing alt+space gives you a textbox and you can start typing the name of the program you need. It autocompletes the name, so as soon as you see the complete name, press ‘enter’ to start it. This really saves time, because you don’t need a mouse at all. Also, it ‘learns’ what programs you use more often and they come to the top of the list. The other thing it let’s you do is use special commands like “wikipedia”, pressing tab then lets you type any keywords you’d like to search for on wikipedia. It has more plugins, but I suggest you just try it out, I guarantee you will be hooked.

FreeSSHD and winSCP/puTTY

For people that dislike terminal server or need access to linux machines, theres an alternative. FreeSSHD is a service you can install and run on a Windows machine. It gives you file transfer and a secure shell to log into from the outside. To do that from windows you can use winSCP in combination with puTTY. WinSCP gives you Secure File Copy and SFTP, which is much safer than regular FTP. PuTTY lets you log into the SSH server and gives you a command prompt. This setup has actually saved me a trip to one of my servers a few times. I used to manage a server that didn’t completely reboot after installing windows updates. It closed most running services (including Terminal Server services) and after that it gave up rebooting. The result being that I couldn’t connect to it anymore and the machine still hadn’t rebooted. After installing FreeSSHD I could still connect to the command prompt with puTTY, after the machine got stuck, and manage the server from there.
By the way, another thing freeSSHD allows you to do is tunnel any service in a secure sockets layer.

Inkscape

Inkscape is actually an open source vector program, like Illustrator, but it allows me to quickly create a flowchart or a diagram. So that’s mainly what I use it for. The files it creates are saved as SVG, so if you make use of SVG in your work, you could also use it to create SVG and integrate it in your websites. I don’t really use advanced UML tools, so for the simple stuff inkscape is great. If anyone can recommend a good UML tool (preferrable free), let me know.

Photoshop

The photo-editor to rule them all. It’s an expensive piece of software, but once you get to know it (or the 10% of it you’re likely to use), you’re hooked. I had Photoshop classes in school and every employer I’ve had since made use of it, luckily. There’s not much you can’t do with Photoshop. I’ve tried GIMPshop under linux and Windows, but it just doesn’t come close enough…

SQL server / SQL manager

This is the SQL server client tool. It allows you to create, edit and query data in SQL server. Not really exiting, but I need it because almost all the database work is done in SQL server. If you’re looking for a free alternative, I can recommend mySQL, which also has nice management tools, works under windows and seems to be a pretty fast database. By the way, the upcoming version of SQL management tools (2008) has intellisense, which is very nice.

Mozilla Firefox | webdeveloper toolbar | FireBug

Firefox is the browser I focus on first when creating a webpage. If it works in Firefox, I tweak it to work in IE , Safari and Opera (if need be). Firefox just has the nicest tools for debugging CSS and javascript. The webdeveloper toolbar gives you a lot of handy tools to quicky trobleshoot any layout issues you might have. Firebug is a javascript debugger. Internet explorer has a similar webdeveloper toolbar, but IE’s javascript debugging sucks like a black hole. If you want an even more advanced javascript debugger in Firefox, you might want to take a look at Venkman. I find Firebug does the job for me almost always, though.

prototype

Not really a tool, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. Prototype is a library you can use in your webpages to simplify Javascript programming and take care of any cross-browser issues in Javascript. There are a lot of libraries around these days, like jQuery and the Yahoo Javascript libraries, but I started out using prototype and I really liked it. I tried making the switch to jQuery once, but I came back to prototype. I guess this is just a matter of taste, however, if you’re on a big project, it’s probably a good idea to use a javascript library to simplify your programming.

lookout for outlook

At work, I’m forced to work with Outlook, which isn’t too bad, but I prefer Mozilla Thunderbird at home. Anyway, a really nice tool for searching your Outlook mail is Lookout. Originally developed by Lookoutsoft, this company was bought by Microsoft, so Microsoft could integrate it into Outlook themselves. Soon after that Microsoft brought out Windows Desktop Search, a tool that can search though all data on your local computer. However, I have tried MS desktop Search to search my Outlook e-mail and I just couldn’t get it to work. Lookout just works… It’s fast and using keywords like from: and to: you can specify exactly what mails you want to filter out. Microsoft has deleted all references to lookout on its site, but the link in the title of this chapter still seems to work.

ToDoList

I’ve been looking long and hard for some sort of project-management tool, and for development this little gem seems to have most of the things I need. It’s open-sourced, so that’s a plus, also, it has features like prioritizing, setting due dates, assigning tasks to different people, time-tracking and the possibility to use it among a group of people. At work we have an existing web-based system for bug-tracking and ToDolist integrates with systems like this by letting you create a button and setting an ID for a task. Pressing the button launches a browser and you can set it to go to your web-based bugtracker with the ID as a parameter. Very nice, especially in a small company or for a freelancer where bugzilla or something similar might be too much.

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