Free Tools Every Freelance Developer Should Have

If you are freelancing or working from home, then you must have some productivity tools which can really make your work from home a lot better. Why one has to invest in a service that can be available with no cost at all? Though some services are good enough to pay for, but I suggest one should not get them unless you really need one.

I have been blogging and in a job for now almost 4 years and as a programmer I am a really big fan of open-source projects which have made my/our life easy without spending a single dime. While working from home and having a decent broadband connection I utilize the power of net and networking, but it can’t be possible if you are not using the right set of tools.

Social Tools

Skype: After the software giant acquired Skype, the best VOIP tool saw lot of updates. Apart from just having your Skype contacts you can now also connect to your Facebook contacts. You can chat and make a video call, conference call (paid for video, if you have more contacts in conference, not applicable to Facebook contacts). You have other alternatives like Google Hangouts, but Skype has better voice quality over Google Hangout (my experience). Skype also allows you to record the conversation using free third-party tools like CallBurner which will allow you to record voice calls you have with your colleagues and clients so you can have a reference with you later on in case you forget something. Skype also have a desktop sharing feature that is worth checking out.

Tweet Deck / Metro Twit: If you want to keep a keen eye on your Twitter account and followers then use these desktop applications without even opening the browser. I personally used both of these applications and both of them are good. I like Tweet Deck over Metro Twit as it also has notifications for Facebook, but Metro Twit has its own awesomeness. I recommend you to take a look at both of these tools and then decide which one to stick with. Sharing prototypes and communicating with clients is a problem that mostly every freelancer suffers. It’s not a big problem but still we cannot share everything on e-mail, and the deliverables should reach client only when it is the right time and not before. How would you feel if you created a prototype of a website and share the design files with the client on e-mail? May be he will never get back to you and use your design prototype in his project with slight modification. Though there is an NDA signing and other legal docs, but why take chances? is a perfect solution through which you can easily share your screen with your clients and show them the prototype from your place. This perfect little application will download a client application nd generates a unique ID, which you can share with the clients or with your team members. Works on HTTPS and is a secured and reliable way to share your screen.

Gmail Notifier Plus: Keeping in touch with your clients and colleagues is the key to success for a freelancer. An e-mail plays this part very well and no other tool or mechanism can take this place. But why Gmail Notifier Plus? Well, I own a domain and shared hosting and e-mail service. The default e-mail server is ridiculous which is why I shifted to Google Apps and now I have a peace of mind that my e-mails will never went down. I use MS Office Outlook as my primary e-mail client, but while I am on the move or I am out I use web to access my e-mails. Gmail Notifier Plus is not an e-mail client but it notifies you if any new e-mail arrives in your inbox. Just in case if you are not into your e-mail client or in case you don’t have one, this small utility make sure that you just don’t miss an important e-mail. As a Google App user you will really like this tool as it notifies you on your desktop for a new e-mail and has a very decent integration with Windows 7 as it adds e-mail alerts in the taskbar.

Cloud Power

There should be a very good reason if you are not using any of the cloud services out there. I am using these services since their launch and I have gigs of files stored on the cloud which are synced on my machine and as well as on my co-worker’s machine.

SkyDrive: With recent big update SkyDrive is in lime light and is also offering paid service for biz users. We have data but not so much that we have to buy additional space. I have been using SkyDrive since its launch and I have 2 accounts with 25GB each. The new users will get 7GB of space but for old users Microsoft gave some time to claim your old whooping 25GB of space. It not just about putting your stuff to cloud, but it is about how much you are making out using the service. It’s free, but is it beneficial? Yes, it is. With SkyDrive desktop application I can now share my files by just dropping it into a folder which is linked to my SkydDrive. It automatically starts syncing the files when I change anything in the linked folder or vice-versa. I can also access my storage using web interface. If you are new to SkyDrive then you want to know how to setup SkyDrive desktop app for online storage. I choose SkyDrive as the best option to share files among co-workers and clients.

Google Drive: Similar to SkyDrive, I am not using it right now but Google Drive also comes up with a desktop utility which sync files between user desktop and cloud. At the moment Google Drive is offering free users a 5GB of space.

Microsoft Office WebApps / Google Docs: Sharing files with clients and co-workers on e-mails can be tedious and sometimes irritating when the changes are just too small. Using WebApps and Google Docs allows you to share files among clients and co-workers and also to make changes which will reflect in a jiffy. Office WebApps have a very efficient integration with Microsoft Office Products and you should use Office WebApps if you own Office Suite. Just in case if you are wondering, Office WebApps also have integration with SkyDrive.

Apart from these you can try using Amazon Cloud Drive and DropBox.

General Utils

Paint.NET: An undergraduate college project turns out to be a replacement for Microsoft Paint. Some people says that this is a replacement of Photoshop. I would rather say that Paint.NET has awesome features and also have amazing plugins and filter effects but not a complete replacement of Photoshop. For basic and for some advance photo editing Paint.NET is just perfect. Who can’t afford the license of Photoshop should use this tool.

KeePass: It’s free, open-source and built with .NET. If you have a problem remembering your user name and password then this tool is meant for you. It allows you to save the credentials and URLs of the website and other confidential information in the encrypted database. You can also take the backup of the database and place it on a remote server. You can login to any of the site using your credentials with a press of a button. The feature I like most in this utility is that it auto-fills the user name and password and auto-login to the website and that too with the press of a (hot) key.

You must store your credentials in your head and nowhere else.

Notepad++: A perfect notepad replacement. Includes syntax highlighting and more features than your traditional notepad editor.

RDCMan: A free light-weight tool from Microsoft to establish remote desktop connection. I work on 2 Windows machines and 1 Linux machine. I can now easily manage multiple remote connections with ease. A must have if your home/office network have more than 1 computer.

FileZilla: A free, open-source FTP client. Start using it now and replace it if you running any other FTP client.

Evernote: While working you keep on writing notes, but you forgot to save it or you forgot where you saved it. This tool will help you in to keep track of your notes you made and also serve as a to-do manager.

AutoHotkey: Automate keystrokes, mouse clicks with a little bit of scripts and lot more to do. I highly recommend you to use this because it will save you a hell of time. Awesome, free and open-source.

Online Services

Web is an ultimate resource of information and you can use the best of it. Here are few of them which I feel should be in your bookmark list.

LogMeIn: If you know then you also know about LogMeIn. LogMeIn is a free/paid service through which you can take remote control of your computer. I use a free service to take remote of my home machine while I am at work and it is all fun if the sysadmin has blocked social networking sites. If we look from a different perspective, you can access any PC remotely (of course, you must have a logmein client installed on that machine) and in a co-working environment where your co-worker is on a remote location, this service is a life-saver as you can have a full access to the remote machine.

TeamLab: A highly intutive application for small business. As working in a team you should use this to track the progress of your on-going projects. This is free and open-source software which you can also download and host it on your network or on a sub-domain. If you don’t want to get into much trouble, then sign up for the free service on Teamlab site. A famous bookmarking site to save and share your bookmarks with others. As a freelancer you should be doing a lot of RnD and you must have lots of links. Save it and share it with others so you never have to lose an important bookmark if your system crashes.

PayPal: Do I have to say something about this service which dominates the mode of online payment. I believe everyone has one. Discuss site design more specifically without sharing your screen. Mark it up on the page and share it with others.

There can be more of them and it all depends on the user and the way they are working. My list ends here, but if I found something useful, I’ll share it here. Feel free to leave comments and share any other tool/utils/service you are using.

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