SnappyTech, a member of the LockerGnome community at large, inquired about Web development software for Windows.
Windows can be an excellent environment for Web development, especially for programmers who enjoy working directly with code. After all, does it really matter what platform you’re using when editing code? What can help are several useful apps that may enhance or help the scripting process.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of these helpful Windows-only or Windows-primary tools, and explain why they may be of use to the aspiring Web developer as they attempt to get more done on the Windows platform.
Microsoft Windows 7 is an excellent platform for Web development, though the tool most appreciated by developers is actually the simplest text editor you’ve ever seen. It comes with every version of Windows for the past two decades, and is aptly called Notepad.
This simple text editor is a great tool for developing and modifying code on the fly. Though it may not have the bells and whistles other text editors have specifically for programming, it remains one of the most commonly used Web development tools for Windows users.
For beginning developers and folks that just appreciate a little extra help in the syntax department, Notepad++ is one of the best. Borrowing from the simplicity of Notepad, Notepad++ adds additional functionality such as syntax highlighting, add-ons, document comparison, FTP synchronization, panel views, and intelligent auto-completion.
Notepad++ is also free. My father, a website designer by trade, once told me that the key to learning how to build a site from scratch is in working with the code yourself. WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) editors such as Dreamweaver are handy, but the visual editing feature can be a crutch for early Web developers still needing to gain an understanding in the principles of programming.
Notepad++ gives you that ability, while also providing enough visual assistance to help make sense of all the text on the screen.
Text expanders are very prevalent on OS X and Linux, allowing you to type a few characters and have it turn into a complex string of text that would take extra type to type out. These are especially useful for repetitive commands during Web development such as unordered lists, HREF calls, and other common scripting events.
One free option that has been available for quite some time is Texter, a Windows-only text expander that promises to save you time and make life easier. Surprisingly enough, it works quite well for Web development as it allows you to type in a specific string once, and have a combination of letters or characters (even a single letter or character) paste it in wherever field you are currently typing.
Another option is ActiveWords, a free-to-paid Windows-only solution that works in much the same way as Texter, but has some additional functionality that makes it a bit more robust. You can try 30 commands for free, but will need to pay about $50 for the full version of the software, unlocking unlimited text presets with number-to-text, wordbase transfers, and other useful features.
Windows Live Writer
Perhaps the one option regular people may find the most useful, but experienced developers may avoid, is Windows Live Writer. This software is available free for Windows users via Microsoft Windows Live Essentials, and can make it easier to post to a blog hosted through WordPress, Blogger, or TypePad.
This program allows you to easily add photos, online videos, a Bing map, and a few other knickknacks to your posts. Once you’ve finished composing your piece, you can publish it with a click to any of your active blog accounts.
While it may not be a great method of building websites, it is an option available to users that want a native application that allows them to just punch out a post and hit the publish button without having to deal with the Web interface.
Microsoft Expression Web 4
This is one editing solution you don’t hear terribly much about, though it does have an impressive array of features available to the user. It serves as part of the Microsoft Expression Studio Suite which retails for between $150 and $600, depending on the version you pick up.
What Expression Web 4 brings to the table is built-in support for Web standards across the board from PHP to ASP .NET, HTML5, CSS3, and more. It even provides expanded PHP support that includes functions from PHP 5.3, and over 130 other PHP-related modules.
Expression Web 4 also gives you the ability to import Photoshop files directly, maximizing the potential quality of images as they appear on your site.
Looking for Web development software for Windows that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Microsoft WebMatrix is an all-in-one package that allows you to write your code, build your site based on open source resources such as WordPress or Drupal, and host your own test server from within a single interface.
You can even integrate a database into your creation using SQL Server, making a more complete environment available for your projects.
The downside, you will need to work with IIS. This can be a deal-breaker for a lot of users, as IIS has a reputation for being insecure and underpowered compared to Apache server technology. That said, more recent implementations of IIS are significantly different from versions past, and it may be worth taking a look at in a testing capacity.
Solutions Not Specific to Windows
Dreamweaver is still one of the most popular tools out there for Web development. There was a point, not long ago, when I didn’t take developers seriously that used Dreamweaver on the sheer principle that it is very WYSIWYG heavy. While I still believe too many developers rely on visual editors as a crutch, I’ve met a few that have worked miracles on top 500 ranked sites using Dreamweaver without moving a single object in the visual editor.
Bluefish is one of my personal favorites. Not because it has any stunning features or unique qualities, but because it’s free and it works quite well as a simple HTML editing solution.
CoffeeCup Software makes a line of Web development products including HTML editors, visual editors, shopping cart, and form designers. The mission of the company states that it is out to make Web development a simpler and easier process. While CoffeeCup doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, it is priced at a much more reasonable $50 per program over more expensive programs such as Dreamweaver.
Firefox and Chrome users can benefit from a number of different free plugins out there which can help you on your way to becoming a Web mogul. Firebug is an incredible plugin available for Firefox that can help a developer troubleshoot and investigate potential problems with a given site.
Web developers have to decide for themselves what the best solution is. Better is always relative, and what works here for some may not work for you. Ultimately, you need to determine what tools you need to get the job done and try multiple solutions out for yourself before deciding on one that best fills your needs.
So, what about you? What software do you use to make developing websites a bit easier?