What is an IDE / Integrated Development Environment?

Up until recent years, most all of my work consisted of just a few rudimentary web tools:
  • A Text Editor - Notepad / Notepad 2 / CuteHTML
  • An FTP Client - CuteFTP / FileZilla
  • Graphic software - Fireworks / Paint Shop Pro
  • Web browsers - Firefox / IE
When text editors began highlighting different types of code in different colors -- wow! Well, the 1990s are over, hon. Things have moved forward by leaps and bounds, and many of the tools available for developing web projects are free.

Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) are programs that combine a number of editing tools together along with file management methods, object-oriented programming support, and the ability to debug and preview a project inside the IDE.

IDEs are not easy to figure out. They often require studying of a manual or taking a class from someone who has knowledge of the particular IDE. Once you understand what you're looking at, they can be quite useful in managing large, complex projects. But don't think that it's going to be self explanatory from the get-go. Plan on spending a lot of time getting to know the layout of the interface and learning exactly what the IDE can and cannot do for your needs.

Some Popular IDEs

Microsoft provides a number of simplified versions of it's powerful but complicated development software. The Microsoft Visual Express versions are free and allow you to develop working projects while working your way toward a better understanding of that company approaches software development. Windows only, of course. Find out more here:
Aptana Studio is an IDE for web development. Again, Aptana is free software that allows you to create simple programming projects or more complex Object-Oriented projects. It takes some figuring out -- just setting up the FTP client to my site took a couple of days to find. Aptana offers a lot of nice features for a lot of different web-favorite languages like PHP, Ruby on Rails, AJAX / Javascript, and of course HTML and CSS. The company provides other services that you would have to pay for like web hosting. (At one point they had an iPhone environment, but dropped that aspect in mid-2009.) Windows, Mac or Linux:

I know there's got to be tons more, like Adobe's Creative Suites, which cost a lot, but offer a lot, too. Dreamweaver is absolutely invaluable sometimes, and the inclusion of Adobe's AJAX suite called Spry really makes fancy javascript menus and tabs as easy as 1-2-3.
Adobe's  Creative Suites

Wikipedia has a great list of the different IDEs and the languages they support.
Wikipedia: Comparison of integrated development environments

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