Five free tools for building websites

With the help of these apps, you can build a topnotch website without spending a dime. And they aren't just free--they offer a rich assortment of features for both newbies and seasoned web builders.

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Without a web presence, your business--be it small, medium, or large--is missing out. But you probably already know that. What you may not know is where to begin or even how to build the site you need. Most people new to the idea of a web presence assume they'll have to dig into some cryptic coding language to build their site. Fortunately, that's not the case: There are plenty of tools out there ready to do that job for you.

Before I get into the tools, I should mention that, yes, there are lots of web services that will build a site for you. If you can connect with a reputable developer or service, and you can afford it, that could well be your best bet. However, if you can't afford it, and you have the time to build a site of your own, these five tools will do a great job of helping you to easily create a site for your business.

With one exception, these tools are skeleton frameworks that can be hosted on your own server or on a third-party server. Some hosted services even offer tools like Softaculous, which can install the framework with just a couple of clicks.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: WordPress

WordPress (Figure A) is by far the most popular blogging platform in the world. But did you know there are extensions and themes readily available so that you can convert this blogging platform into a business-ready marketing or ecommerce tool? You'd be surprised at just how easy it is to turn what was once a simple blogging tool into a full-blown, business-ready website. Even better, WordPress makes it incredibly easy to build and manage your site.

Figure A

Figure A

This is truly a tool for every level of user. Even managing the settings of your site is simple. If you can blog, you can build. It's that easy. WordPress is open source, so the code is available and you can get it for free.

2: Drupal

Drupal (Figure B) is to content management what Wordpress is to blogging. But don't think you can only build a CMS with Drupal. You can build both a back office and a front-facing store with this single tool. Before you dive into Drupal, understand that it does take a little bit more work than Wordpress. It's still an easy point-and-click tool. But to get what you want out of it, you'll need to put a bit more time and planning into the process. The result will be a powerful one-two punch for your business.

Figure B

Figure C

What's best about Drupal is that you'll not only wind up with a powerful, flexible web presence, your site will also include a highly useable content management system that can help boost your workflow. Drupal is an open source tool and is free to download, install, and use.

3: Joomla

Joomla (Figure C) does to Drupal what Drupal did to Wordpress... and ups the ante for those seeking to create a powerful online presence. Joomla allows you to build both a backend and front end for your store, and it also includes built-in banner management--so you can easily add an advertisement component to your site. You also get contact management, versioning, syndication, and much more.

Figure C

Figure C

If you're looking to add functionality, Joomla has an extension library with more than 8,000 entries, so you're sure to find what you need. This tool does require a few more skills than does Drupal, but it's still do-able. Joomla is open source and is readily available to install for free.


XOOPS (Figure D) starts to venture into the realm of challenging for the average user, because it does require quite a bit more work to create a usable business site. But you in the end, you'll have the site you need with the features you want.

Figure D

Figure D

XOOPS also offers the ability to expand the site, with the help of installable modules. Out of the box, only three modules are ready to install (Private Messaging, User Profile, and Protector). If you want more, head over to the XOOPS Module Repository and search for what you need. XOOPS is also open source and free to download and install.

5: Bluefish

Bluefish (Figure E) is where we depart from prefab frameworks and actually dive into coding. This cross-platform HTML editor also supports a lot of advanced web programming features. What's really wonderful about Bluefish is that it's full-featured but not nearly as slow or resource-intensive as its competition.

Figure E

Figure E

Bluefish also offers multi-threaded support, multi-document support (it can open 500+ documents), powerful search, project support, a snippets sidebar, unlimited undo/redo, a spell checker, syntax highlighting and indenting, customizable programming language support, and much more. Bluefish is open source and available to install and use free of charge.

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What website builders have you used?

There you have it: five tools that can help you get your personal or business site up and running, from bare bones to sophisticated. Whether you're a newbie or an advanced programmer, some great tools are available for you. Are you new to website building or are you a seasoned pro? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.