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Software Solutions

A computer without software is like a kitchen without pots and pans. To run a community media site, you'll need several types of software. We'll suggest some first-class industry standards in each category, then point out more basic alternatives that might also fit your needs.

HTML Editors

There are two types of HTML editors. Text editors let you work directly with HTML code. For web coders with a solid knowledge of HTML, text editors offer greater control to write cleaner, more efficient code. Visual editors are designed for people with little or no HTML experience. They let users see and edit an HTML page as it would appear in a browser. Visual editors are easier to use, but the code they create is often cluttered and messy, which can create larger HTML files that require more of a website's bandwidth. To learn more about using HTML, visit our HTML Basics chapter.

Visual editors

Adobe's Dreamweaver is the most popular visual HTML editor. For $400, Dreamweaver lets you create and edit web pages as easily as word processing documents. For more information, see our chapter on Dreamweaver.

Adobe's competing product, GoLive, ended sales and development in April, 2008, as Adobe acquired Macromedia, the company that developed Dreamweaver.

There are also several online visual editors, including SeaMonkey and FckEditor, which offer basic HTML editing capabilities for free.

Text editors

If you prefer a text editor for creating and editing HTML, there are numerous options available. On the Mac, Bare Bones Software's BBEdit holds a special place in the hearts of many web developers for its simple interface and powerful options to search, replace and process text quickly and easily. You can purchase it for about $200.

Bare Bones also makes a free text editor called TextWrangler. It offers fewer features but remains a good value for web editors with simpler needs.

On the PC side, there are literally dozens of text editors, each with its own proponents. We've used the $30 TextPad from Helios with excellent results.

Along with TextPad, we recommend the use of an HTML validator, which can really cut down on the time you spend looking for small typos in your code. For $70 you can snap up a good one, aptly named HTML Validator, from AI Internet Solutions.

For a reliable but less expensive option, consider HTML Tidy, a veteran program for HTML code cleanup.

The World Wide Web Consortium, the governing body that creates and regulates HTML standards, also offers a free Web-based validation service on its site.

Image Editors

Adobe Photoshop is the most widely used image-editing program. Though its advanced features take time to master, even first-time users can make basic photo edits easily. You can open Photoshop, create a text header, crop a picture, brighten and resize it and save it for the web without ever having to understand the full depth of Photoshop's abilities. While expensive at $700, it is the industry standard and an extremely powerful piece of software.

If you're only planning to work on graphics and photos for the Web and don't intend to produce printed work, consider Adobe's simpler, less expensive Photoshop Elements. For a fraction of the full version's cost ($100), you'll get all but the most advanced Photoshop features, plus special tools and shortcuts to make editing photos easy and convenient.

If you're not sure if you want to commit to the full Adobe Photoshop, you can download a free trial; look for the Try button. Once you've created a free Adobe account you can download and use it completely free for a month. At the end of the trial if you find yourself not using the most advanced features, you can then purchase the less expensive Elements version.

On the Mac, a $35 program called GraphicConverter can handle most image formats. However, a dense interface and numerous additional options sometimes make the program hard to use.

PC users are not left out in the cold, a French program called Photofiltre provides Photoshop-like photo editing with a smaller, less advanced, interface for about $35.

For even less financial impact you could try GIMP, a free open-source alternative to Photoshop. Adobe's product is more polished, but GIMP offers many of the same basic image-editing features. GIMP's site offers Windows and Mac versions.

Online photo editors include Pixlr and FotoFlexer, which offer free basic photo editing capabilities.

Bitmap vs. Vector illustration

There are two kinds of computer graphics programs. Bitmap programs (generally known as painting programs) store each image as a grid of tiny dots called pixels. Bitmap images are more detailed and realistic than vector illustrations but less flexible and harder to edit. Adobe Illustrator on the Mac and CorelDRAW on the PC are the two most prominent vector graphics programs.

Vector illustration programs are complex but powerful tools for creating logos and other non-photo graphics. If you're considering buying either one, you probably already know more about the programs and their capabilities than this tutorial can offer.

One other possibility is iPhoto, part of the iLife suite. Its latest update provides geo-tagging, facial recognition and improvements to the image-editing features: color correction, fixing blemishes, red-eye removal, cropping and rotating and more. However, it's designed more for viewing and cataloging photos than for serious editing. For $79, it can't add text to an image, create effects like drop shadows and borders, or easily resize photos. For a similar PC experience use Google's Picasa software, available for free.

Also on the PC, Corel's PaintShop Pro is a common stand-in for Photoshop. It's packed full of features and costs $129. While Photoshop is available for either platform, Corel does not produce a Mac version of PaintShop.

File Transfer Programs

File transfer protocol, or FTP, is a quick way to get files to and from your web server. There are many different FTP programs, also known as clients. Look for a client that offers secure FTP, or SFTP, which encodes your password and the information you send so that network intruders can't steal them.

Dreamweaver and BBEdit have built-in FTP clients. And if you use the Firefox web browser, FireFTP is a free plug-in you can add directly to the browser.

On the Mac, Fetchand Transmit are both well known and liked. They cost between $30 and $35. 

On the PC, Cute FTP, WS_Ftp and SmartFTP are all decent transfer programs at reasonable prices. (SmartFTP is free for personal use, while the others are $45 to $55.)

All FTP clients offer the same basic features, but some may be slightly faster than others or offer their own special features. Check each client's website to see what it offers. We recommend you try several FTP clients and choose the one you like best.

Rich Media Applications

Most advanced multimedia editing software - programs used to create sophisticated interactive presentations or professional-quality DVDs - is beyond the scope of what we cover here. A few programs ought to be mentioned, though.

Adobe's Flash format is the Web's most popular format for animation and interactive presentations. While multiple software applications can produce and output Flash files, we strongly recommend Flash if you are considering this type of rich media. It's available alone for $700.

On the PC side, Swishis an alternative to Flash. The $150 Swish makes it easier to tap many of Flash's more complex features to create sophisticated Flash-compatible files, especially those that work with online databases. Swish is not available for the Mac; PC users don't need to own Flash to use Swish.

SeriousMagic's Visual Communicator was an inexpensive program to create video news broadcasts. It was acquired by Adobe in 2004 and is no longer rolled in with the Creative Suites; it is however still available. Visual Communicator 3 offers simple but powerful video editing tools, plus a built-in teleprompter and other features useful to video news operations on a tight budget. The software runs from $150 for an upgrade from an earlier version to $400 for a brand new license.

As working with video can be complicated, you may also need Apple's QuickTime Pro. QuickTime is one of the video standards for online and offline content. QuickTime files play on Macintosh or Windows computers and can be distributed on the web. Upgrading from the free QuickTime Player to the Pro version for $30 lets you edit QuickTime clips, create slide shows, prepare QuickTime movies for streaming and much more. To learn more about putting video on the web, read the Video chapter.

Word Processors

Microsoft Word is a venerable and popular choice for word processing. If you prefer a less expensive alternative to the $150 - $500 Word, OpenOffice is a free, open-source productivity suite with many of the same features, including spell checking, text formatting and the ability to work with Microsoft Office files.

Of course, the "cloud computing" movement has also given us many free alternatives, such as Google Drive and Zoho Writer. The advantages of each are varied, Word is the business standard for word processing; OpenOffice is free and reasonably powerful; and GoogleDocs is available from any Internet connection and allows simultaneous multi-user, near real-time editing.