All of the Tools You Should Be Using

A list for those in search of free tools to add to the toolkit.

“A busy desk with a keyboard, a notebook, a cable, pencils and glasses near an iMac” by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash

As a typical broke college student, I am a huge fan of free things which is probably why I have always found software so fascinating. You can literally make anything for the cost of nothing when it comes to software thanks to open source. One of the reasons I became a programmer was because there was no entry fee. The only things I needed were time, dedication, and a whole lot of patience. Despite being free, these tools are things I used constantly because of their undeniable quality.

Atom

Logo for the Atom Text Editor

Atom is one of my go-to applications and is becoming more and more useful everyday. Not only is Atom a 100% hackable text editor, it’s also a unique IDE. With it being open sourced, people have created thousands of packages to help maximize workflow and create a better working environment. Working in python? No problem, just install autocomplete-python and let it finish your sentences. Find yourself using HTML, CSS, or JavaScript? There’s a package for that. There’s a package for anything, and if there isn’t, then you can make your own. Also, Atom just looks delightful and feels great to write in.

Although it can be extremely slow to start on Windows, the launch time is not even an issue on Linux systems. I have used Atom to use all of the above languages and Ruby and it has been a charm to use for all of them.

Overall Rating: 9/10

IntelliJ IDEA/PyCharm

When I’m feeling something more fully-featured than a text editor and decide to use an IDE, my favorites by far are IntelliJ IDEA and PyCharm (both developed by JetBrains). While people will argue that vim/emacs are far superior, I began with using fully featured IDEs like Eclipse, so I find comfort in having all of the features at my disposal. IntelliJ revolves around Java while PyCharm is, as you guessed it, all about Python. (JetBrains also develops Android Studio which is essentially IntelliJ but with Android development front-and-center.

On the downside, an IDE is almost always going to be less lightweight than something as simple as a text editor, but these IDEs have always been more than enough for my needs. I have, however, found them to be far faster than Eclipse and much easier to get along with. Eclipse, while a great tool, can be quite awkward to work with and I find that JetBrains’ IDEs are much nicer to look at as well.

Overall Rating: 9/10

OneNote/Simplenote

“A fountain pen on a spiral notebook” by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Note taking is something that I think everyone can benefit from, but if you’re anything like me then you suffer from crazy high levels of choice paralysis. It’s sometimes hard to find a good replacement for pen and paper, but for those who prefer to have everything digitally saved, I’ve found that OneNote and Simplenote are the best options for note taking.

OneNote

OneNote is just one of Microsoft’s plethora of tools made available to everyone. It has a very nice way of organizing notes by Notebooks > Sections > Pages. This sort of organization is what makes it feel almost like an actual notebook full of notes all divided by subject. Although sometimes I wish things could be divided further, I think that 3 levels of organization is plenty for most needs.

Microsoft’s own note taking app is also wonderful for its drawing ability. Building off of their notebook-like organization, drawing makes it feel like taking a note in an actual notebook. I’ve used the entry level Wacom tablet recently to try this feature out and it works like a charm. I find that taking notes in this way can also help reduce wrist strain which is a must for anyone who spends a lot of time jotting down ideas or notes.

Aside from sometimes wanting more subsections, there is also no native Linux version, however, this can be fixed by using OneNote in the web browser of your choice. If you don’t need subsections, and do prefer a native Linux application, then read on.

Rating: 9/10

Simplenote

While OneNote can feel like an actual notebook full of grand ideas, Simplenote is more like a stack of loose-leaf papers. There’s no tabs to rummage through, and there isn’t a hierarchy at all. In fact, simplenote is just that, simple notes. There are notes to be made with very little formatting, no sections or subsections. Simplenote takes a more hands-off design philosophy by sitting you down in front of a blank page and letting you focus. There aren’t tabs and pages of features to explore, but a blank page to throw some ideas onto.

Personally I find simplenote to be a little too simple, but if you’re easily distracted and need a nice quiet place to jot down some ideas, Simplenote has you covered.

Rating: 8/10

Aspiring software developer fascinated with creative technology.

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