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Free WebSite Design Software

By Damian Smith
Posted Saturday, September 25, 2004

For most new entrepreneurs the biggest concern is how to save money. A great way to save money is to take advantage of free quality products and services.

There are many powerful Open Source and free website design software suites that can help business owners with little technical knowledge and veteran website designers to create professional websites. I could easily write an entire book about all the free website design software packages available, but I will focus on a few of my favorites.

If none of the applications here suit your needs, don’t give up and drop your money on an expensive solution. Go to Google and search for "free website design software". Look around, do some research. A great site for free software including web design is (www.webattack.com).

The first website I ever designed was done with Microsoft Publisher. This is not exactly a free application, but many people have Microsoft Office on their computers, and Publisher comes with many versions of Office, so it may already be available to many users. This is perfect for people who know how to use Microsoft Word or Excel, but don’t know anything about website design. You don’t have to know HTML, this program turns your text, graphics, and links into code for you. The menu and interface is very similar to other Office applications, so users should be able to get the hang of it after a little "nosing around". Users can simply pick a pre-designed template, and from there just plug in their information. This solution’s advantage is its ease of use; if a user ever gets stuck, the help menu is just a click away. It has its trade-offs; the files it produces are very large and will load slowly on the internet. The websites produced by publisher may lack the “cutting edge” professional appearance that some of the more advanced tools offer. See an example site designed with Microsoft Publisher at (http://www.flightsbyhelicopter.com) .

Another Microsoft tool that comes with many versions of Office is Front Page. This program is similar to Publisher in that it is similar in feel to other Office products. If a user knows their way around Word, they can figure out Front Page with a little work. Front Page has a similar “template” system to Publisher where a user clicks on the design they want and simply plugs in their information. The average website produced by Front Page will be faster loading than one made with Publisher, but like Publisher may also lack that clean, professional feel until the user gets used to using it. An example of a Front Page site can be seen at (http://prothemes.chainreactionweb.com/america/).

One of my absolute favorites is PHPNuke found at (http://www.phpnuke.org) . This open source (completely free) software enables even novice users to create truly amazing professional sites. PHPNuke uses the php server-side scripting language and the free database mySQL to create a powerful, fully customizable web portal. Using this software will require a little more work and knowledge of web design, but if a user is willing to invest the time to learn, the outcome can be amazing. There is an extensive peer community that is very friendly and helpful to newcomers. I highly recommend this solution to anyone who has the willingness to learn a new approach to web design. I’ll add that there is a program that split from PHPNuke early on in development called PostNuke available at (http://www.postnuke.com) . PostNuke focuses on site security as its primary goal. I have personally never used PostNuke, but from what I have seen, it seems to offer a very good option. Both (www.phpnuke.org) and (www.postnuke.com) use their respective products, but you can see another PHPNuke site at (http://www.starprograms.com). I also use this package on one of my sites, the Navy Postal Clerks Association site at (http://www.npcreunion.dreamhost.com) .

Another current favorite of mine is osCommerce available at (http://www.oscommerce.com) . This is another open source and completely free program that focuses on producing dynamic online retail sites. This solution also uses php and mySQL to drive the site. osCommerce is somewhat less “polished”, so it takes some more work, but here again, an investment of a few weeks to learn this program can yield a nice site as seen at (http://www.darkjade.com) and (http://www.moviepaks.com). Here again, osCommerce has a huge peer support community that produces great addons and scripts that enable users to get their online store to do virtually whatever they want.

A great open source program for displaying pictures online is Coppermine available at (http://coppermine.sourceforge.net/) . This program lets you upload, modify, and share your pictures with family, friends, or clients. Visitors can create accounts so they can upload their pictures for private or public viewing. Each time I have installed this program I have had a few initial problems getting it configured correctly for the server, but I know plenty of other people who got it working without a hitch. I think most people will have a little trial and error getting it to work, but diligence will reward you with a great site that visitors will love. A demo site can be found at the coppermine demo site at (http://coppermine.sourceforge.net/demo/) . Because this site is open source it can be integrated with any other open source product. There are several guidelines and scripts available for integration with PHPNuke and PostNuke.

This is a fairly short list of some of my favorite open source or free website design software packages. There are countless more excellent free solutions out there. Most of the time, you just have to "jump in there", get your hands dirty, and learn as you go. Good luck, and have fun!

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