First Programming Tools, Part 1

Dennis Faas's picture

It occurs to me that there are a lot of folks that, like me, enjoy using the computer. It becomes more than a fancy typewriter or a games machine or even a jukebox for playing music. We start thinking about how much we would like to make the computer do what we want. We want to 'program' the machine!

Strangely enough, it doesn't take years of education at the college level to do that. There are tutorials and free software available that we can collect and use to become the magician. Not to mention the thousands of books that are sold in bookstores that cover the subject. So, exactly what tools should we consider necessary to venture into the 'Woods' and make a start?

First thing you need to do is decide what type of programming to start with. Probably the easiest to learn and be able to see immediate results is HTML and developing Web Pages. There are tutorials and resource sites available that can get you started and a good distance down the road when it comes to programming in HTML. How do you find these sites? Just type 'html' in a search engine and see them listed on your browser screen. To top it off, it really isn't hard to learn but it is a challenge to master. As the man said, "You gotta start somewhere!"

So, let's say you've taken the initial steps and have read a few pages on HTML on one of the tutorials and you're excited about getting started to try out the things you've learned. How do you start? Let's open the toolbox and see what we need for the task. First off, we need a browser. Firefox, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Netscape, Opera? Pick one. I will warn you here that IE or Opera doesn't handle some of the HTML you might want to use. But, since Firefox, Netscape, and Mozilla are free for the downloading, there shouldn't be a problem.

Next you need an editor to actually write the page code. There are basically 2 main types of editors available. General Editors that have some nice bells and whistles, and Function Specific Editors, that support one function, in this case, building Web Pages.

You could use your word processing program, but that entails handling the code (the stuff you write) in special ways and it just isn't necessary. There are several different editors that will 'fit the bill'. One of them is Notepad, that small but useful editing program that is installed as part of the Windows system. But, it just doesn't have the power or features you will need to ease the task. MetaPad is another nice little editor that's free for the asking and it does have quite a few more features than Notepad, but even that editor isn't best for this kind of task.

Crimson Editor is a good little editor I've found for general editing. This editor allows you to edit different text-based files such as programming languages including HTML, C/C++, Perl, Java, Matlab, LaTeX, ASP, PHP, JSP, EDIF, VHF and Verilog-HDL. Basic FTP functions are provided for uploading your code. You can also create macros and use search-and-replace. Column mode editing is supported in this update. Depending on the programming language you're writing in, the editor will highlight keywords and a long list of other visual cues to help write or maintain your code. Another nice feature is the ability to have several files open and available so you can switch between files and compare code, check syntax, etc. You can also close the editor and, when you start it, it will load all the files you were working with in your last editing session, even opening the last file you touched and place you where you left off. Do get a copy of this one. You'll find a lot of uses for it!

Crimson Editor

ConTEXT is an even better choice for a general editor. I have never seen a text editor as feature rich, or as flexible as this one. ConTEXT is a small, fast and powerful freeware text editor, developed mainly to serve as a secondary tool for software developers. The program uses 'highlighter' files to highlight language keywords and structures. There are 170 languages supported currently, each available for download. In addition, there are 35 language translations available. Once installed you can select any of 20 programming languages and 30 international translations. And that's just the beginning. If the editor doesn't have the programming language you need, go download it from the web site. They have almost everything from '0 to z' in their list.

If you need to use a code template to get started, this editor has a lot of them. The list of features is as long as my arm so I can't give them to you here, as much as I would like to. I do, however, urge you to take a really serious look at this editor. The template and highlighter definitions are modifiable, which means you can add new ones or change old ones yourself if you need to.

ConTEXT Editor

HTML editors next in Part 2.

Doug Godbey

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