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10 Free Applications That Make This Site Possible

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Only this morning I was out walking when an elderly gentlemen stopped me and asked if I could direct him towards Long Melford. It being a town only 20 minutes from where I live, and one I regularly drive through while on my way to Portman Road (the home of my favourite football team) I immediately suggested he turn his car around, take a left at the mini-roundabout, follow the road for around 3 miles until he sees a signpost for Clare, take the left and keep going until he cruises down a big old hill and into the town of Long Melford. It wasn’t much, in fact it was hardly anything, but the sight of his wife folding away her large and crumpled map and their car heading off in the right direction made me appreciate how helping someone, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be a rewarding experience.
 
Similar to that, a lot of vendors, organisations and people go to a lot of effort to make open-source free software that we use on this site. It’s not just helpful, I can feel confident in saying that 3photoshop.com wouldn’t be possible without them, or at least it would look very, very different.
 
So me being in a helpful mood thought I’d share 10 applications I’ve found, tried, tested and used to one degree or another to make this site a successful and rewarding place for me to share my knowledge. In no particular order, here goes-
 
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Drupal

Drupal is a content management system I use for presenting data on this site. It’s ideal for anyone wanting to run a database driven website and maintain maximum control over how it looks and handles content. For example, when I upload a video tutorial I don’t have to worry about where it’s going – I already sorted that when I built the site, all I need do is simply fill out what appears to be an online form and Drupal organises the various information (such as video, text, similar tutorials, thumbnails) into pages on the site.
Drupal is fully customisable with modules that add functionality (such as the Advanced Forum module which adds a forum) and themes that change the appearance and layout.
 
There’s also a huge online community of developers, designers and experienced users who are always willing to help out with general problems or specific issues related to modules, themes and Drupal itself. I’m hoping to write a post in the near future that details the modules and themes I use for 3photoshop.com
 
In the meantime, if you’re looking to build a website of your own for a long term project then I’d highly recommend Drupal. The learning curve is Steep but it’s definitely worth the effort.
 
For more information visit the Drupal website here
 
Drupal

Firefox

Being a (rookie) web developer I’ve tried and tested numerous browsers with the intention of ensuring that 3photoshop works on the spectrum of makes and models out there. I’ve worked with Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Netscape (now defunct), Opera, Safari and Mozilla Firefox. I wouldn’t say there are any bad ones out there but there is one clear leader in my humble opinion – Firefox.
 
When Mozilla entered the browser market it did so knowing that a reliable, open source project would attract developers, and they weren’t wrong. Today, developers around the globe have created thousands of add-ons that increase functionality and make web surfing and site development easier. For example, I use two add-ons to make developing 3photoshop.com less painful – Firebug and Web Developer. Together these add-ons make it easier to query the hard HTML, CSS and other code on my web pages, find paths to images and elements and actually make temporary changes to code and see the results in real-time within my browser window. To me, and I’m sure to almost every other web developer out there, that kind of control and access in invaluable to getting my site looking and working the way I want it to.
 
There’s also a couple of features that I really like, such as the bookmark buttons I love and couldn’t live without. And although stable, Firefox has a highly effective crash backup facility. Within seconds of a crash I’m back up and running inside the same tabs as I had open when the crash occurred. Maybe someday I’ll write an article featuring my top 10 tips and tricks for Firefox but until then you’ll just have to believe me, it’s the best browser out there in my humble opinion, and certainly worth a look if you’re not happy with the browser you’re using.
 
For more information visit the Mozilla website here.
 
Firefox

Notepad++

If you’re familiar with Windows then you’ll know that the standard Notepad application is just that - a very basic open-page note-making facility with very few formatting options. It’s great if you just want to make a few notes about things in plain text but that’s about it.
 
Notepad++ is perhaps the older, wiser brother and is primarily designed for writing and editing web-associated code such as XML, HTML, PHP and CSS, and although it’s possible to write in any of those languages using plain text, Notepad++ offers a more equipped environment to do it in, as well as subtle pointers in the right direction with features such as auto-completion and text-folding. During the development of 3photoshop.com, I got quite involved with writing and (especially) editing cascading style sheets (CSS), and I’m sure that without the auto completion feature it would have taken a lot longer  as there were many occasions typing b, for example, would allow me to search for the border-color property without specifically having to remember exactly what I was searching for.
 
For more information visit the Notepad++ website here.
 
Notepad++

Filezilla

Filezilla is a file Transfer Protocol Client that makes it easy to transfer files between your computer and remote server. I’ve been using it for a few years now and am extremely impressed with how lightweight yet powerful it is.
 
I use it to interact directly with the drupal installation on my remote server, so anytime I’m updating modules and themes, or manually adding files to my webspace – Filezilla is the perfect way of getting the job done.
 
For more information visit the Filezilla website here.
 
Filezilla

Camstudio

I’ve been experimenting with a few programmes that claim to be able to record your screen output to a video file and CamStudio is the best free, open source one I’ve found. As you can imagine, turning my screen actions into a video is crucial as without it I couldn’t create any video tutorials and this video tutorial site would be rather dull! Luckily, CamStudio provides a free recorder and editing package, is extremely easy to use and works wonderfully with its own CamStudio codec, which just so happens to work effortlessly in producing high-quality, reasonably sized master files for any project I’m developing.
 
For more information visit the Camstudio website here.
 
Camstudio

Audacity

Although CamStudio records and outputs sound there’s always times when I need to do some additional vocal work, perhaps in the editing process, maybe mixing out mistakes, removing pops or that annoying hissing sound I sometimes get from being too close to my computer when recording. In any event, if I need to work with an audio application then it’s usually going to be Audacity that I choose.
 
Although it’s been a little problematic at times under Windows Vista, nine times out of ten Audacity delivers a reliable workflow and high quality files. It works great with a whole array of microphones and headsets and as most of these applications I’ve included in this post do, has a helpful community and many other support facilities on its website.
 
For more information visit the Audacity website here.
 
Audacity

Cobian Backup

Early in 2009 I wrote the outline, followed by speaker notes, for a new series I was contemplating recording on the subject of Layers. It was aimed at the ‘basics’ but included something like 32 separate tutorials. Then my hard drive crashed and several weeks and two hard drives later I had to give up hope of anything being recovered. What annoyed me the most is that I am one of those people that regularly tells others to back up because ‘you never know when something’s gonna go wrong’. I didn’t follow my own advice and paid the ultimate price. Thankfully I had all my personal photos and most of my older files backed up to an external drive, but it was still pretty hard to take.
 
Since that time I’ve looked into what software would do the best job of backing up my data, it needed to be able to work to a schedule, not encode or lock the backup (I prefer to keep the files in a mirror directory in case the need to find something manually arises) and something that would make a master back up and then only back up the data that had changed. There were a few good options out there, and I didn’t download and check out many, primarily because Cobian was my first poke and prod, and I haven’t looked back since.
 
Cobian is light and runs quickly in the background. It has many options and allows you to build a specific set of path names and save them as a project, making it easy to keep an eye on the files and folders you’ve stipulated to be backed up. Hopefully I’ve never suffer a dead hard drive again but if I do then I know I’ll be ready!
 
For more information visit the Cobian website here.
 
Cobian Backup

VLC Player

There’s so many media players on the market, most of them free, that’s it’s sometimes difficult to choose between them. They all seem to have their advantages but just as you’ve got the right one you realise there’s something you need doing that it doesn’t cater for. VLC player is the most versatile player I think I’ve ever worked with, it supports almost every video and audio format you care to mention, container formats like the popular MKV for high definition output, and has been downloaded over 18 million times on download.com alone.
 
For more information visit the VLC Player website here.
 
VLC Player

Texter

When someone subscribes to my Youtube channel I like to say a quick thanks, so I navigate to the subscribers channel and leave a message saying I appreciate them subscribing to me. I have 2-3 people subscribing every day so it gets a little tiresome writing the same message over and over again. That’s where Texter comes in. Using Texter, I can save the message as a string of text, and then activate it using a special sequence on the keyboard. For example, if I navigate to the subscriber’s channel, place my cursor in the comment box, and type ‘sub’ followed by the pressing of the tab button, the string is quickly replaced by my message of thanks. Instead of typing out a whole 20 word message, I simply type three letters and press tab. It’s great to watch and as you can imagine, a fantastic time saver in the long term. I really don’t know how I ever lived without it!
 
One thing I will note about Texter, and something to be wary of, is that it can clash with the keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. In particular, I had issues with using my space bar as a temporary Hand Tool, and using the CTRL + spacebar zooming in trick (as well as the CTRL + ALT + spacebar zooming out one). I didn’t actually trace the problem to be Texter related until I installed a new operating system earlier this year, but I’ve found a quick and easy workaround.
 
I leave the Texter installer on my desktop, and then every time I’ve finished using it I’ll uninstall by right clicking on its quick launch icon and selecting ‘uninstall’. It takes a matter of seconds for it to remove itself, and then when I need to use it again, I can double click the installer on the desktop, wait a few seconds, and it’s ready to use again – along with all the text strings I’d previously created.
 
For more information visit the Texter download page here.
 
Texter

7-zip

When I prepare project files for the site I always pack them into the zip format. Not only does that compress them to a smaller file it also acts as a container to make them easier to store on the server and for users of the site to download. There are also other reasons and situations where I may want to pack or unpack files into a container, or get my money’s worth as far as file size is concerned. 7zip allows me to do just that, it has its own archiving format – 7z, but also includes support for numerous other formats such as ZIP and TAR. In additional to the formats it packs, it can unpack an even wider selection including ISO, RAR and CAB. All in all it’s a fast, smooth and lightweight programme that I highly recommend.
 
For more information visit the7-zip website here.
 
7-Zip

 

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