If you’re new to freelancing or web design/development, then chances are you’ll be picking up applications left and right to accomplish all sorts of tasks. With all the applications available, it can be quite overwhelming to pick and choose the best ones to fit your needs. Often times there is no clear winner, applications can and will be equal, it just depends on what suits you best.
With that being said, here’s the applications I use on a regular basis to get my work done. Hopefully this list can help some of you starting out or even some of you pros.
Design and Graphics
This one is pretty much a given. Just about everyone uses Photoshop for one reason or another. It’s a staple of my graphic design diet. If you’ve never used Photoshop before then do yourself a favor and check out some tutorials over at psd.tutsplus.com
Primarily I use photoshop for designing web templates and slicing them up to create a functional product. On a smaller level I use it for everything from editing screenshots (like this one) to editing photos for people or even just tinkering around when I’m bored. Needless to say, a solid graphics editing application is a must for designers and the like.
Another application many web designers use is Fireworks since it was built primarily for web work. I’m not a big user of Fireworks but it does come in handy occasionally and supports PNG8 Alpha Transparency (Photoshop doesn’t). I’d say Alpha Transparency for PNG8 is just about the only reason I keep Fireworks around but in the future I’d like to start using it more for web template designs.
If you would like to learn more about Alpha Transparency in PNG8 images (which is supported in IE6 without hacks/plugins) you should read “Image Types and Usage in Web Design“.
This is one application that comes in very handy quite often and has tons of great features. xScope uses hotkeys to make working easier and more efficient. Here are the three features I use most but there are many more useful features included.
This is the ruler which comes in very handy when you need to find a quick pixel perfect measurement of something onscreen. This feature was actually the main reason I bought the application. Both ruler axis can be resized quickly.
This feature is called dimensions and it basically automatically measures the space between two points (whatever is on your screen) on the x-axis and the y-axis. I didn’t actually know about this feature when I bought xScope but it makes it really fast and painless to find most measurements in a jiffy.
The loupe tool (I just call it the magnifying glass) has made color sampling much easier for me. I actually used to take a screenshot and use Photoshop’s eye dropper before I found this. You can quickly zoom in and out, copy the hex color code or the image and more with shortcut keys. This has saved me a ton of time and frustration.
Google Picasa Desktop 3
I don’t do much photography nor have I been big on photo management software but I recently started using Picasa 3 along with Picasa Web and have been loving it so far. I prefer keeping photos in the cloud and Picasa seamlessly integrates with Picasa Web where I’ve purchased an additional 10GB of storage for $20. Picasa Desktop and Web make it easy for me to share all sorts of images and even videos privately or publicly with clients, friends, family and strangers. Plus Desktop has easy photo editing for basic stuff so I don’t need to jump into Photoshop all the time.
Coda is a one window web development application that, aside from Firefox, is my most used application. It has so many great features that this is a must see if you’re going to do web development. If you’re going to work on higher level programming projects then Coda might not be enough for you but I’ve found it to be plenty capable for all my projects so far.
I used to use Coda for all my code related work but I’ve recently started using CSSEdit because it’s very well known as one of the best CSS editors available but more importantly, it offers some features that Coda doesn’t.
CSSEdit has a live preview feature in a separate window that changes instantly as you edit your CSS. This makes quick work of CSS editing and testing since there’s no need to switch windows and refresh the preview. It also has great features built in to examine the structure and elements of the preview making this an invaluable tool for my work.
When I needed a live web server environment to do testing and development I used to edit directly off my web server but MAMP changed that. MAMP made it super easy for me to setup a local testing environment so I can do my development without the risk of making files available to the wrong people on the web. Plus everything is just faster when editing locally.
I didn’t want to setup a testing environment like this locally for a long time because I thought it would be complicated and difficult and I didn’t want to mess with my work system. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to setup MAMP because it’s super easy and will save you a ton of time.
In my opinion, no web developer’s setup would be complete without a virtualization application. I picked Parallels but VMware Fusion is also great. You can see below that I am running Windows XP with IETester so I can test IE6, 7 and 8 running from my MAMP directory. I’ve also been toying around with Windows 7.
Parallels makes it easy for me to quickly setup additional OS’s like Windows or Linux for testing, learning or whatever reason.
If you don’t already have an FTP application, you’ll most likely need one soon enough. You could get a free one if you want but I’ve found the free ones to be subpar at best so I’ve chosen Transmit, from the same makers as Coda (Panic). It’s an easy to use, flexible and very reliable FTP application with lots of great features to suit any level of experience.
My primary browser is Firefox since it has plugins (like Firebug) that I use on a regular basis. Below you can see the browsers I use in order of frequency; Firefox, Safari, Opera and Safari 4 standalone. I also use IE6, 7 and 8 but only for testing purposes as IE6 is as close as a browser can get to being the devil.
Misc Utilities and Apps
If you were wondering what application was shown above with the browser icons, it’s Overflow. Overflow is a great little app that makes it easy to launch apps quickly without navigating to your applications folder or keeping tons of apps in your dock. I launch Overflow with hotkeys and launch the app I want from there. As you can see I haven’t kept it very organized but it’s working well in my workflow.
Freshbooks (Not a desktop app)
Every freelancer needs some sort of invoicing/billing and time tracking software to make their lives easier and get paid. There are lots of desktop applications available but I prefer to keep as much in the cloud as I can. I went with Freshbooks as they were the most affordable, flexible and feature filled I could find. So far I haven’t had any issues and they can do everything I need done. Clients have an easy place to login, view invoices, make payments, etc. I can track my time, billing, expenses, etc. without paying an arm and a leg.
Skype, Adium & Twitter
Chat and social media probably aren’t absolute must haves for freelancers, designers or web developers but they definitely seem like it. I mostly use Skype for video conferencing with clients or family but I also use it to chat with a few people. Adium is what I use to chat with clients, friends and family on multiple services (gmail, hotmail, aim, etc.). If you aren’t using Twitter yet, you probably will be soon. Twitter has blown up in the last year and has proven to be a really great resource and tool for working individuals like freelancers.
If you are using Twitter you should be following a few people that are great resources for web and other related stuff. I’m last on the list if you’d like to follow me.
I create a lot of data on a daily basis that I want to make sure I don’t loose. Jungle Disk and Amazon S3 make it easy for me to backup and store that data in the cloud at really cheap prices. Jungle Disk also has lots of other great features as well as a workgroup environment.
For more information on how I use Jungle Disk and Amazon S3, check out “Using AWS S3 to Power Your Digital World“.
So far I’ve never met someone who didn’t like music. For me, music is a source of inspiration and motivation which are both things I could never have enough of as a freelancer. Of course you can use whatever music software you like, I just picked iTunes because it works so well with Mac and my workflow.
OS X Dock
If you’re wondering how I’ve got my dock setup, here it is. I’ll also list the apps from left to right.
- Overflow (next to Finder)
- Toggl (time tracking for specific client)
- Parallels Desktop
- SpeedDownload5 (file download management)
- Hulu desktop (added just today to watch Hulu via desktop app)
I surprisingly receive a lot of questions about what applications I use; so there you have it ladies and gents. If you’re jumping into freelancing, web design and/or web development, these are some of the best apps to acquire you on your way and then some. Ultimately, it will come down to preferences and the way you work — but it’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of these apps.
If you know of a great application you think I might like, let me know in the comments so I can check it out. Also, if you have any questions about the applications shown here, just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them.