I’ve been doing a lot of work lately firming up my web skills. You do a lot of PM work and you tend to drift a bit in your skills so seemed like a good idea to get tuned back into what the latest tools and tricks out there were.
In digging around I found out that Microsoft, of all people has a GRUNTLOAD of their best products for design and development available to people – for free. Really. No strings, and no – this isn’t some scam web link to buy a copy of the product using an illegal scholastic license. These are full products – fully and legally licensed to you – to help build up any web development or design business you have.
Here’s a list of the toys you get when you sign up for WebsiteSpark:
For design, development, testing and demonstration of new websites – for a total of up to three users per Web design and development Company and one user per Individual:
• Visual Studio Professional
• Expression Studio (1 user) and Expression Web (up to 2 users for Companies and I user for Individuals)
• Windows Web Server 2008 R2
Which means – for example if you want a free copy of both Visual Studio Professional (which is still considered the best development IDE hands down for development on ANY platform…), or Expression Studio which – frankly is worth it just for the very very cool and highly useful SuperPreview that most designers don’t know about but probably should. Imagine being able to test your designs on IE 9, IE 8, 7, 6, Mozzilla, Chrome – all at the same time – and see the differences in how they appear in real time? Yeah… kinda figured that’d be useful. And the fun doesn’t stop there – Expression Studio allows you to work with Vector Based Graphics Design, Video Editing and Encoding, and Microsoft’s Expression Blend – giving you the ability to design and build Silverlight and WPF applications.
And then there’s Expression Web… which – I have used Adobe Dreamweaver, and just about every other Web Development environment out there – have to say, I actually prefer this to Dreamweaver, and that’s no small praise. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say there are things in Expression Web that Adobe could learn from.
The SEO check built into Expression Web will search your pages for things that you probably might overlook – and even give you hints.
For all my buddies out there who will send me nice emails about these locking people into “microsoft platforms” … oh contraire mon frer. You’ll find Expression, Visual Studio, etc work very nicely with PHP and most Open Source tools and platforms. You’ll also find these tools play well with things like Photoshop, Flash and other toys you might have – so there’s really no reason not to look at these freebies, which, btw – would ordinarily set you back a couple grand.
Now… let’s say – getting free software, training and exposures just a bit … overwhelming for you? Maybe you just want software to learn the craft with but can’t afford it, or don’t want to go the WebSiteSpark route. Microsoft, actually has you covered on that front as well.
Just wade on over to the Visual Studio Express site – and get a free copy of Visual Studio (Express version). Now I know what you’re thinking this is a handicapped version. Yup it is. But it is powerful enough that I actually have written full blown applications for a couple of Fortune 500 companies out there who … not naming any names … were too cheap to buy us a copy of Visual Studio. (True story) I’ve actually used these to build highly advanced XML parsing and processing applications, testing harnesses and so on, so them being “Express” versions isn’t a roadblock for many.
Heck of a deal … free. Can’t beat that with a stick.