Recommended Software

I've used lots of programs to create this website, and some of them are really quite something. With the exception of the big imaging applications, the following are all freeware (not adware, spyware or any other kind of annoyingware, and none of them require registration or your email address).
In this page:
Text, HTML and CSS
Image editors

Text, HTML and CSS

freeware; Joe Barta / Professional Web Design,
Let's start at the beginning. Once up a time, many many years ago (well, three), I had absolutely no idea of how to create web pages. I'd only just mastered the art of navigating the internet, and the weird and confusing language of HTML was, well, just weird and confusing. So, for you those of you who similarly have no idea but want to learn, don't panic - it's surprisingly easy once you get the hang of it. In fact, it can even be fun - especially with WebTutor, Joe Barta's interactive step-by-step HTML tutorial, which is not only easy to understand and pretty comprehensive to boot, but laced with a good measure of humour, too.

NoteTab Light
freeware; Fookes Software,
A text and HTML editor, and one of the most effective and beautiful pieces of computer programming ever written. For sure, it doesn't look beautiful, but for someone who needs a powerful hands-on tool for manipulating HTML, CSS, JS or other text-based files, the level of detail and zillions of customizable options - including a supremely versatile "clipbook" system for including plug-ins and clips - make this by far the best non-graphical HTML editor out there. As an indication of how well written it is, I've been using it extensively on customized versions of Windows 98 using computers that are quite ancient by today's standards, and yet it's only crashed whenever I've tried to edit open and edit over five hundred files simultaneously (it works fine with 480!) Among its many features are extensive search and replace capabilities (across hundreds of opened files if you so wish), and its speed, even on slow 486 computers. All this is the freeware version (NoteTab Light). I haven't tried the Standard or Pro versions (I haven't needed do, though the spelling and grammar checkers in those versions are certainly enticing, and Fookes promise that those versions work even faster - mind-boggling). In short, if you're serious about HTML and are beyond the need to use a WYSIWYG interface, get it!

TopStyle Lite
freeware; Bradsoft,
A CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) editor. Helpful if you've never messed with style sheets before, although the freeware version lacks a detailed help file, so a quick search on Google for style sheet tutorials is needed. The main feature is that you can define available elements according to target audience browsers (being a kind soul, I've restricted the options used on this website to those understandable by versions 4 of Netscape and Internet Explorer, rather than more recent flavours). Nonetheless, the freeware version doesn't advise on the many and varied quirks of each element (you get this in the Pro version), so it's advisable to install both Netscape and Internet Explorer on your computer (and Opera for good measure) if you want to be sure that the design looks right on both (if you're not careful, there are huge differences between each browser's rendition of the same page).

1st Page 2000
freeware; Evrsoft,
In creating this site, I've avoided using graphical WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") HTML editors as most of them make a hash of the coding... That said, 1st Page 2000 - a combination of WYSIWYG (graphical) and textual HTML editor - is an excellent exception. The folks at Evrsoft must be insane: 1st Page is an astonishingly complete, and easy to use, webpage editor, which should really be sold rather than given away for free (shush - don't tell them!) Like NoteTab, it's a beautiful piece of programming, and should appeal to all experience levels thanks to its various modes (easy, normal, advanced/expert, and hardcore). Plus, it doesn't mess with your code, is extensively customizable, and covers all bases from standard HTML to Java, Javascript, DHTML etc. There are two downsides, however: although the Help section contains masses of useful information about tags and their use, it's not much help for the program itself; and secondly, the program seems to lack an easy way of creating image maps (like the interactive map on this website). Still, given that NoteTab covers most of my needs, I've barely scratched the potential of this software. What's certain is that if a powerful and user-friendly WYSIWYG editor is important to you, this one's too good to pass up.

Search & Replace 98
freeware; The Andromeda HTML Workshop,
A small and handy utility for changing text in multiple files, either in one directory or recursively including subdirectories. It allows basic wildcards for file masking (eg. a*.htm*). Although this functionality is similar to that offered by NoteTab Light's search/replace options, the advantage with this program is that you don't have to open all the files you want to change - helpful on a low-memory system.

freeware; Easy Software Products,
Despite the ubiquity of PDF (Portable Document Format) documents on the internet, the proprietary nature of the format (it belongs to Adobe) means that there only very few easy to use and free programs for actually creating the damn things. HTMLDOC is one exception, although it can only create PDF files from HTML ones. Whilst being nothing fancy, it does the job well (unlike a number of commercial programs I could mention).

freeware; Eric Nitzsche,
A small and efficient tool for creating hyperlinked indexes, primarily of websites, and useful both for building navigational pages (like the index page accessible from the menu bar above), and for checking the titles of HTML pages across an entire site.

freeware; PicoSearch,
An excellent website that provides free search engines in the style of Google (I've used it on my search page). It's extensively customizable, and they serve no ads on the results pages - their only condition is that you include a link to their main page. Nice.


freeware; open-source,
Ah, the blessings of open-source (who says that free software ain't any good - okay, so Microsoft say that, but they would, wouldn't they?). Although early days yet, Audacity has the potential to turn into a great sound file editor. The options are somewhat limited at present (although perfectly adequate for 90% of sound file editing requirements), so it's one to watch.
   Two good commercial sound editors are Cool Edit (whose current incarnation is extremely slick, and worth the dollars if you have them - over $100 including some essential plug-ins), and the more humble Goldwave ($40), whose new version 5 (in beta-testing at the time of writing) is an excellent and invaluable program (and which I've used to digitize and clean up a whole lot of truly abysmal recordings).

freeware; open-source,
An amusingly minimalist GUI encoder (a spinning boggle-eyed cartoon fish) with a full range of customizable settings for creating audio files in the brilliant open-source OGG format, which beats RealAudio, MP3 and WMA hands-down both in terms of outright sound quality and in the quality-to-compression ratio. The files can be streamed through the M3U playlist protocol (also used for streaming MP3 files).

freeware; un4seen,
One of many players that now handle OGG and M3U files, enabling OGG files (see above) to be streamed "live" from websites without the need for specialized server software. XMPlayer is my personal favourite simply because, at the time of writing, it is/was quicker in loading than the competition, plus it has the OGG codec built in. Like most media players nowadays, it has a skinnable interface, though the layout is confusing to say the least, and requires some time to get used to, and it still has a few bugs. But as I say, it does the trick, and it's much quicker in loading than the rest (R.I.P. Winamp version 3; how on earth did Nullsoft manage to so comprehensively cripple what had been such a zippy little player? - it takes fully half a minute to load on a 350MHz 96MB box, compared to XMPlayer's five seconds!)

Image editors

I've yet to find a fully-featured freeware photo manipulation application that comes anywhere close to Paint Shop Pro, Micrografx Picture Publisher, Corel PhotoPaint or Adobe Photoshop (with the possible exception of The Gimp; see below). Most of the image manipulation for this website was done through a cheap, slimmed down version of Micrografx Picture Publisher (version 8; Micrografx is now owned by Corel, which might herald the end of it). Although lacking many of the frills of more recent photo apps, and pretty buggy to boot, it has everything I need for photo-realistic darkroom-style editing, from scanning to saving or printing, so I haven't really looked for anything else. From what I've seen of Paint Shop Pro version 7, though, that application is looking ever more attractive, and now appears to come close to the excellent but obscenely overpriced Adobe Photoshop (forget about the simplified Adobe Photoshop Elements, which, despite the reduced price, is thoroughly outclassed by the other editors mentioned here). However, I still can't stand Paint Shop Pro's interface (especially that horrible oversized tool options box, even with the roll-up feature), and some of the tools are too simplified to be really useful. Corel PhotoPaint is the other major photo application I've used, and looks and feels extremely professional. Its colour management options are similar to Adobe's (and much better than Paint Shop Pro or Picture Publisher), and so if I had to shell out some money on a new photo editor program, this would be it.

The Gimp
freeware; open-source,
This is the main free competitor to the commercial image editing suites, although it requires a large monitor (17" at 1024x728 minimum) to avoid having an unworkably cluttered interface. As such, I haven't tested it, although I recently upgraded my monitor after the old one blew up, so I might give it another whirl.

IrfanView (Iview32)
freeware; Irfan Skiljan,
An excellent and compact imaging utility that's especially useful for mucking with GIF palettes and transparency colours, and for batch operations. The only niggle is the lack of visual indication when saving in JPG format, though as the program is constantly being improved, perhaps it's just a matter of time for this. Apart from handling more image file formats that you can shake a stick at (including the ability to extract embedded icons from DLL, EXE and other files), it also handles a wide range of audio and video formats, both natively and through plug-ins, making it a plausible alternative to unwieldy behemoths like Windows Media Player and, latterly, WinAmp. It's extensively customizable, doesn't take up many system resources (or disk space), doesn't mess with registry settings, comes with basic photo manipulation tools, and docks well with scanners and printers - a great little tool.


Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya
Copyright Jens Finke, 2000-2003

also by Jens Finke
Chasing the Lizard's Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle - fine art photography