The Web Designer's Toolbox.
When you're a web designer, there are lots of little programs that you'll gradually accumulate to make your life that little bit easier. When you've spent hours doing something by hand and you're dreading ever having to do it again, it can be a big relief to learn that there's a free program out there that can do it quickly and effectively for you the next time
One of the thorniest issues you'll run into as a web designer is colour. Because web colours are all expressed in the somewhat mysterious HTML colour (#000000 to #FFFFFF), it can be hard to get the exact colours you want in your design. Don't be fooled into thinking there aren't many to choose from: those colours are in hexadecimal, meaning that each one of those six numbers can have a value anywhere from 0-F (that is, 0-9, A-F). 16 possible values to the power of 6 makes over 16 million possible colours – that's 24-bit colour, not bad at all.
So, really, instead of trying out millions of colours by hand to see which you like best, it's much better to download an HTML colour picker tool – an essential part of every web designers toolbox. It might sound like they'd be very simple, but there are all sorts of features they can have: suggesting 'complementary colours' to the one you've chosen, for example. Some let you take a picture of your screen and click on parts of it to see which HTML colour is being used – useful when you see a colour somewhere that you think would work great on your website.
My personal favourite colour program is Color Schemer, available at www.colorschemer.com – it has all the features you could really want in an HTML colour picker. If you're after something free, though, you might like to try the more compact Pixie, from www.nattyware.com/pixie.html, which sits in the corner of your screen and tells you the colour code of any colour you hover over.
There's not much competition when it comes to HTML checking: what you really need is the W3C's HTML Tidy, or one of the many programs based on it (see http://tidy.sourceforge.net/). Tidy can clean up truly disastrous HTML, including the kind of thing produced by many of the more popular editor programs like Dreamweaver, and applications like Microsoft Word. Even if you think your code is great, the chances are that Tidy will be able to make it smaller and better.
Mozilla Firefox Extensions.
When you use Firefox as your web browser, you gain access to lots of extensions that you can install quickly and easily. Since so many people using the browser are web designers, there are more extensions available for web development tasks than there are for anything else. This makes Firefox an ideal browser to use when you're writing a website.
Which extensions are most useful? Here's a quick list:
Web Developer's Toolbar (http://chrispederick.com/work/firefox/webdeveloper/). This is the most useful Firefox extension out there for web designers. Its best feature is that it lets you experiment with CSS styles 'live', so the style of your page changes as you do it – a great way to write CSS.
LinkChecker (http://www.kevinfreitas.net/extensions/linkchecker/). You absolutely must check your website for broken links, but it's usually quite a chore. Because LinkChecker integrates with the browser, it can check your links for you on-the-fly. It highlights working links in green and broken ones in red. Simple, but very effective.
HTML Validator (http://users.skynet.be/mgueury/mozilla/). Lets you check whether your pages are valid HTML without having to type all their URLs into an online validity checker. Takes a lot of the pain out of code validation, which makes you more likely to actually bother to do it!
SearchStatus (http://quirk.co.za/searchstatus/). When you're trying to monitor your site's position in search engines, this extension is indispensible. It shows you the Google PageRank and Alexa ranking for your site, giving you an idea of both the link popularity and traffic the site gets. It also lets you check who links to your site, and whether the search engines have added it to their index yet.