8 Great Apps that Every Freelance Developer Needs

screenshot_01Every freelancer has certain apps they use in their day-to-day business operations. Developers, especially, have to keep a tool belt full of useful apps that touch multiple areas in development, design, client management and billing.

It’s important not to let your apps rule your working life. If it’s not quick enough, crashes all the time and is too pricey, perhaps you should think about switching to something else.

I’ve tried lots of different apps over the course of my freelancing career, but have only found a few that really speed up my workflow, are inexpensive and intuitive. What are these great apps?

1. Adobe Photoshop $999


I’ll say this right now–I hate Adobe products. They’re overpriced, bloated, very buggy and their customer service stinks.

That being said, there really is no good alternative to Photoshop that I’ve been able to find. I’ve tried a couple of other alternatives:

  • GIMP–It’s free, but doesn’t support layer folders (which I can sorta live without) and rasterizes all PSD text (which I can’t have at all).
  • Pixelmator –It’s $59 and has an awesome interface, but doesn’t support layer folders either, and was very slow and buggy on my Mac running Snow Leopard.

Why does a developer even need Photoshop? If you’re a backend programmer, you can easily get away without having Photoshop and using one of the free alternatives for the occasional image edit.

But, if you specialize in front-end development, like XHTML and CSS, you have to have a powerful image editor to cut up your clients’ PSDs and optimize the images for the web.

2. Coda $99


After I dropped Adobe Dreamweaver, I tried out several all-in-one development apps, but I really liked Coda the best. It comes with the FTP program, Transmit, built right into it and handles all development file extensions, so you no longer need a ton of applications open when coding. Plus, it’s pretty snappy and takes up little computer resources.

3. Billings $39.99


The perfect app to send estimates, track time and bill your clients with. I prefer this app over Freshbooks, a similar online-based app, because it stays on my machine, backs itself up and has a one-time fee of $30, versus a $20 a month fee and limited clients on Freshbooks. I have more control over the way my invoices and estimates look and what information is included in them.

I also love how they include the timer in your top task bar, which allows you to start or stop and quickly move between open projects and clients. It also runs great reports, which allowed me to file my taxes quickly and painlessly.

4. Adium $Free


A freelancer needs to be available to clients in as many ways as possible–but there are over ten instant messenger companies! To have all of these open at once would kill your computer–and your productivity.

Adium is a free instant messenger app that has 15 of the most popular chat clients integrated in it. You can have as many accounts signed in as you want, and they all display nicely in one buddy list.

5. Skype $Free


Skype is probably the most popular, and useful, way of communicating with clients and doing business. It includes a regular instant messenger, screen sharing and video and audio chat. Calls to any Skype user anywhere in the world are free.

6. iPhone $99


Freelancer…meet “Mega App”. While the iPhone itself isn’t technically an app (it’s a device), it carries lots of useful apps I can use while on the road or away from my desk to help clients.

Some of these useful apps include:

  • Twitterific–I try to only check Twitter this way, to stay productive
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Fring–An all in one IM client, including Skype
  • USAA–My bank, allows me to deposit checks on the iPhone!
  • Budget Touch–Syncs with Budget, a personal finance app
  • Billings Touch–Syncs with Billings
  • WordPress – allows user to add/edit posts and moderate comments.

7. XAMPP $Free


An awesome free app from Apache, XAMPP allows you to set up a local testing server, so you can view your websites without having to upload them to an actual server. Combined with Firebug in Firefox or Chrome, this speeds up development time exponentially.

8. SnapNDrag $Free


SnapNDrag allows you to take screenshots by selection, by window or the whole screen. This app has been super useful on more than one occasion. As a matter of fact, this app took all the screenshots on this post!

What Apps Are Necessary to You?

Do you have an app you consider necessary to your business? What is it?


  1. says

    Great list :).

    Only one thing – I use both Photoshop and Pixelmator and I’m quite shocked with what you said: “very slow and buggy on my Mac running Snow Leopard”.

    On my Mac it’s very, very fast – and I mean when I fire it up and when I’m working in it. More than that, if I do some basic edit and apply just some basic effects – it’s really faster than Photoshop.

    Not so good thing about PS is that when you launch it it loads EVERYTHING in his repository – doesn’t matter if you’re planning on using some some basic featurs.

    So if I do some simple work – I use pixelmator. Much faster.

    If it reaquires something more complicated – I use Photoshop.

  2. Higgy says

    iPhone for $99?? How about the HUGE connection expense? Add it up and if you’re a (normal) freelancer, you ain’t got that much to throw around. Yeah, it does a lot, but so does your computer, which you’re supposed to be in front of, remember?!

    OTOH, SnapNDrag is super. And so is YemuZip – which would be a great addition to this list!

  3. says

    Keep in mind that many of those listed above are Mac apps & many developers (non-graphic designers) are either on PC or Linux.

    Here are a few apps/services that I use just about every day (all are web, PC or BlackBerry based, but many have other OS versions too):

    Google Apps: Gmail, Calendar, etc (FREE)

    Firefox: Web browser (FREE)

    Thunderbird: Email client (FREE)

    WordPress: Blogging Software (FREE)

    Pidgin: IM Client (FREE)

    TopStyle: Excellent CSS Editor ($79.95)

    UltraEdit: Excellent Text Editor ($49.95)

    FileZilla: FTP Client (FREE)

    TortoiseSVN: SVN Client (FREE)

    Jing: Screen Shots (FREE)

    Twitter: Social Media (FREE)

    Twhirl: Desktop Twitter App (FREE)

    FeedDemon: Excellent Desktop RSS Reader (FREE & Paid)

    BlackBerry: Just plain awesome data phones (Varries)

    Seesmic Mobile: Excellent Twitter App for your BlackBerry or Android (FREE)

    WordPress BlackBerry App: Blog from your phone (FREE)

    Google Mobile: Google apps on your phone (FREE)

  4. says

    @Toby and @mark firefox makes me angry with it’s slowness. I’m reall loving the new version of chrome and it’s super fast plugins ;)

    @Maximilan Why do you replace billings with freshbooks?

    @Mical yeah that’s what I heard from other people – but it’s very boggy on my machine. I’m running a 1 yer old 2.4 core 2 duo with 4gb of ram

    @higgy and iPhone plan will run you $70 with unlimited data. I use my phone much more that it pays for itself in terms of customer service. I know lots of people without iPhones who pay much morethan that. I use the smallest voice plan and still have lots of Rollover.

    @Damian unfortunately all the best apps are only for the mac ;)

    @Brian that’s untrue. I’m a developer an a mac user. Most of the developers I know are mac users or are one foot inthe door users. There have been a lot of switchers lately.

  5. says

    @Amber by developers, I’m talking about PHP/coder type of folks that don’t tend to use WYSIWYG and I don’t personally know a single one in that group using Mac (even the new Intel based Linux Macs) & the hard core ones are Linux all the way and scoff at both Windows & Mac.

    For us, our graphic designers (and I’ll lump *some* of the CSS ones in there, though not all) are the only ones who use Macs at all, which is the way it’s been for years.

  6. says

    @amber “yeah that’s what I heard from other people – but it’s very boggy on my machine. I’m running a 1 yer old 2.4 core 2 duo with 4gb of ram”

    I wonder why. I’m running 2gb of ram and 1.6 core 2 duo. That’s just strange :).

    By the way – totally agree on that chrome>firefox statement. Firefox was great for quite a long time – but then it jus started being slower and slower with every version.

    Chrome is super fast, it doesn’t eat this amout of ram that firefox did (the samy goes for chrome’s plugins) and it’s more stable.

    P.S. In firefox when one tab crashed – the whole browser crushed. I hated that. In chrome if one tab crashes, the test is still working properly. And it crashed on my machine only once (when firefox did it many times).

  7. says

    @Brian … I’m afraid I’d have to disagree. All of our PHP developers are on Macs (including myself). The UNIX platform provides all the useful bits and pieces you’d get with Linux but you have the added benefit of being able to use all of these beautifully designed apps and the slick ui too.

  8. says

    This is a great list of apps! I just started using Billings about a month ago and love everything about it, especially the invoice/statement sending.

    In regards to all the Linux vs. mac talk, I don’t use a WYSIWYG editor and do backend PHP coding and I love my mac for this. Especially using Linux to manage one of my work servers.

  9. Vladimir says

    Nice list. However I recently had some issues with XAMPP (on Windows, though) – it was behaving way too restrictive compared to the original LAMP server, so I switched to Virtualization stuff. I’m running a Sun VirtualBox with Kubuntu as a guest OS and everything works flawlessly (for) now.

  10. says

    It’s a shame that this article is so mac biased.

    For those who are not victim to Apple’s marketing… ;o)

    For Coda: try PsPad :: Free :: Seems to do everything Coda does…

    For Billings: try XpertTimer :: 49euros :: Very powerful timer I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do…

    For iPhone try (as already suggested) ‘Smartphone’ :: Various prices :: I use a touch pro 2 on WM6.5, it’s almost a pretty as an iPhone, has a fully QWERTY keyboard and I’ve never failed to find a version or equivilant of an app that i saw on an iPhone for it, if I wanted to.

    for snapndrag try Snagit for a powerful commercial option, snipply for a quick Adobe air based cutter or Vista’s own built in screen clipper (basic but effective).

    So really, 8 out of 10 for the idea for the article, probably 7 out of 10 if I was a mac user, (I’m amazed that cyber duck isn’t in your list), but only 4 out of 10 for inclusion and usefulness to the freelancer globe a a whole.

    But hey, it’s got a debate going :oD

  11. says

    In addition to some of these.. don’t know if I could make it through a day w/out Firefox/firebug, SequelPro, LittleSnapper, and most recently Postbox. If you haven’t tried Postbox yet, you should.

    I love Pixelmator for quick edits.. also surprised by the mention of it being slow. It’s blazing fast for me on Snow Leopard. A nice alternative when PS isn’t required. As mentioned, layer grouping is the only thing I miss.

    Am I the only person who prefers the TextMate/Transmit combo over Coda?

  12. Travis says

    Pretty good list. I haven’t seen anyone mention Adobe Fireworks. Less than half the price of Photoshop and more than enough horsepower for web and application development.

  13. says

    @Kyriakos I wasn’t being generic because not all “smartphones” have apps or are as useful as the iPhone. You could apply the same argument to the rest of the list, for example why do I just say billing apps and image editing apps instead of Billings and Photoshop? Because not all billing apps and image editing apps are as useful.

    @Cornwall Web Designer Cyberduck isn’t on the list because Coda includes a built-in version of Transmit

  14. says

    The best program I’ve bought for my PC is WebDrive – it turns your hosting account into a networked drive on your computer – program also available for PC.

    I’m looking for a good invoicing app for the PC and a replacement to photoshop – advice anyone?

  15. says

    Being a primary Linux and occasional Windows user puts some of these application out of my reach. I do use PhotoShop, primarily because I receive PSDs from my clients and Gimp doesn’t import effects very well.

    I use NetBeans for development which works well for me because It’s very robust and provides all of the features that I need. My only complaint is that it can be a resource hog, but I think this is primarily due to the fact that it’s built in Java. I used to use Eclipse with PDT, but got tired of it’s constant crashes and errors.

    Using Kubuntu (http://www.kubuntu.org) as my primary OS/Window Manager provides several great applications right from the start. This include Kopete, an all-in-one instant messenger client, and KSnapshot, which provides excellent control over screen shots and can even send your screen shot directly to Gimp.

    I have used XAMPP on my Windows installation and it makes development so much easier than setting up Apache, MySQL and PHP separately.

    I know many people that have iPhone’s and I used to be a little jealous (I have Verizon and have no desire what so ever to move to AT&T). I have since upgraded my phone to a BlackBerry Storm and I don’t think I could switch to the iPhone at this point. There are things that the iPhone has that the Storm doesn’t, but I think there’s more about the Storm that I wouldn’t want to give up.

  16. Anton says

    Really? You’re a developer and not a single repository application? Or a ticketing app?

    Personally I use Git, and Bugzilla, both of which tie into Eclipse – Eclipse also lets you run a proper debugger rather than just echoing data throughout your code :P

    Most developers I know are enterprise, and avoid Macs like the plague, choosing Linux, and even Windows in preference. The few who have to use Macs use them as a host for a VM running Linux.

    Personally I’d chuck XAMP, in favor of Turnkey LAMP-it uses a bit more disk-space, but you can build an entire server specific to the needs of the application, without breaking other applications you’re running. This is the only thing I actually download, everything else is built into my operating system.

    Which would suggest a VM, VirtualBox OSE is good, and free.

  17. says

    I couldn’t imagine a world without Photoshop.

    I also use an app called Firebug which is a really useful developers tool that allows you to change CSS and HTML and other code on a live site which makes it a lot easier than any kind of trial and error you might have with Dreamweaver.

    Its a firefox plugin.

  18. says

    With so many apps out there today it is easy to get lost in choice and end up with multiple apps that essentially do the same thing. All this results in slowing your computer down and your productivity with it.

    There are some fine choices here, and it’s interesting to read about the alternatives to Photoshop in particular. It is often taken for granted that all Designers automatically have Photoshop, but after reading the comments here it seems this is not the case.

    Discovering good alternative content is always a positive thing, and reading the comments here gives some excellent feedback on what choices are out there. It is surprising to read about how many designers feel Photoshop is to bloated and buggy, maybe this will be addressed by Adobe in due course if designers start moving to alternative softwares.

  19. says

    Thanks for sharing these apps. I would certainly agree with you on Coda and Skype.

    I think a really good alternative to Photoshop is Adobe Fireworks – cheaper and maybe even better at optimizing images for the web.

    Paparrazi! is also a great screen grab app – it can give you full length screenshots of websites.

    Finally, I use MAMP, rather than XAMPP.

  20. says

    In my case Photoshop is a must. Cannot live without it. For my layouts I use crimson editor (a free “code” editor I’ve been using for years). I have total commander manage my FTP connections. I have a mobile phone that rings and sens messages (it’s a “modern” touch screen one, but I don’t need all the bells and whistles). I am online 14 hours a day, when I am not, it means I have something better to do than be again online, so I refused to activate the internet on it :D

    Adium seems pretty good, even if I don’t spend time on messengers. I do have some clients who want to be on skype and if this can connect YM too (for those who still use it), it’s a good addition. Or I can just tell them to use good ole email. Cannot work productively if my people are messaging me every time they have an idea.

  21. says

    Although Mac hardware is superior in design, I prefer to format and put Ubuntu Linux on it. I get better memory management, almost no lockups, zero viruses, less reboots, and free apps on that than I would on OSX.

    On PM tools, I have enjoyed ActiveCollab and Basecamp. It’s a tossup on which one I like better because each have features I like that I don’t get in the other. I go with what the client wants. And if the client doesn’t have cash but would like something to manage a project with me, then I just mix Skype with DropBox and “FreeCamp”. I have tried other PM tools but they either had large, unnecessary learning curves, high cost, were quirky, were missing some glaring feature that AC, BC, or FC had, or were slow. Ultimately on this front, though, I would like to code my own PM tool and may just do that someday.

    I don’t have to pay for invoice software. I use OpenOffice.

    I like Skype a lot — cannot live without it. But it is troublesome in its interface. Wouldn’t you like to be able to create groups in your contact list? Wouldn’t you like a less cluttered interface? I dislike accidentally clicking on something in Skype only to find out it’s a pay-feature — it’s all too easy in the interface unfortunately to accidentally click an area and that happens. For now, I live with it.

    I live with Gimp’s misgivings regarding PSDs. The problem is really the PSD proprietary format. If projects were originally started in Gimp, then we would get layers without hassles. This is why when I request a PSD, I also request whatever was used with it, like TTF font as well as an uncompressed TIFF output of the page so that I can reproduce in XHTML/CSS what the designer sees. So far, this has worked well for me.

    I also use Inkscape a great deal for page design if the client doesn’t want the extra cost of a designer. Inkscape is free and cross-platform.

    For FTP connections, if I don’t use command line, then I use the FireFTP plugin inside Firefox.

  22. says


    That is a very unique list for web designers in my opinion. As Apple provides excellent hardware as a baseline for their systems, it is still far from the top. My personal favorite development and freelance tools are open source. As a programmer I can add functionality tailored to my needs instead of an exterior locus of control, which is what many proprietary software vendors offer.

    I have a lot of respect for you as a veteran web designer and developer, and appreciate your contributions immensely. Thank you for a provoking post today!

  23. says

    Nice list of apps if you have a use for them. I don’t need a time tracking and billing program. I have been doing this for 14 years and know how long it take to do tasks. Since I use the 50 – 50 plan for anything $12,000 and under, it would useless to me.

    When I am working on Windows I use



    A very old copy of Homesite

    Topstyle Pro



    for IM Miranda

    On my Linux box, The sky’s the limit.

  24. says

    The Twitter client I like is Hoot Suite. As part of my work, I create and manage several different twitter avatars. Hoot Suite lets me easily see what’s going on with all of them, carry on several conversations at once, post the occasional automated tweet. Yes, it’s free.

  25. says

    Nobody mentioned my favorite app of all, my notebook! Even when I have my developer hat on I am constantly scribbling. I find it much more convenient than typing random notes in a text editor and I have it with me wherever I go.

  26. says

    @Dustin I use Google Voice and it really comes in handy. It allows me to switch what phone my calls are redirected to, or turn it off so all calls go right to voice-mail.

    @Shawn How could I forget my notebook?! I don’t think I can count the number I’ve gone through in the years that I’ve been a developer. I prefer a notepad (standard 8.5×11) over a spiraled or 3-ring notebook.

  27. says

    @James I used to use yellow legal pads, extra fine ruled because you could fit so much on a single page! Not to mention the yellow paper stands out when ever they end up in a pile with everybody else’s white paper ;-D. But my new favorite is the Volant Moleskine because you can easily fit them into a coat pocket which is great since I don’t always have my messenger bag on me.

  28. says

    Nice list, thx. And good follow up discussion as well.

    Photoshop a must? Yeah, probably. Latest version of Photoshop necessary? Given Amber’s mention of bloat, price, etc., probably not. The savings in being a version behind might be worth investigating.

    Btw, I’m surprised Abode’s free (for now?) Acrobat.com wasn’t mentioned. Presentation makes professional looking presentations easy to make and easy to share. And it lacks PowerPoint’s bloat, cost, etc. For those who fear Big gBrother, the document app is a handy alternative to Google Apps.

    And Zoho, what about anything from Zoho?

    And for what it’s worth, the whole iphone thing is overrated. It’s only a matter of time before Letterman adds “Stupid Phone Tricks” :)

  29. says

    A ditto for Travis. While I eventually added Photoshop, I did web sites for years with only Fireworks, and as an optimization app, it’s far superior to Photoshop. And easier to use in many respects, as well. I dip into Photoshop for a handful of tasks that Fireworks isn’t quite robust enough for (or more likely, that I have PS-only filters to accomplish), but 90% of my web graphic work is done in FW, not PS.

    I also find a good colour scheme app to be very handy. I now use ColorSchemer Studio 2, which I like very much.

  30. says

    Thanks for the great list. As a novice developer, I plan to check many of these out (some I’m using). I’ve been using a freeware billing app called Time Tracker. It’s been very versatile, I’d be interested in hearing from people who’ve tried it and the paid one you mention above.

    Also, I agree about Fireworks. Indispensable for web design.

    I’ve been posting about some of my SEO adventures on my blog. If you’re newer at this and want to avoid some of my mistakes check it out at http://victoria-web-design.ca/blog

  31. says

    I would also recommend Billing Boss from Sage Software (www.billingboss.com). They offer a FREE online invoicing app, and currently offers unlimited invoices for unlimited customers. You can also create estimates, easily convert them into invoices and add comments for your customers, and track which customer has paid and who hasn’t. It gives you a lot of control over the content. If your accountant joins as an accountant for your account, your accountant/bookkeeper will automatically have access to your invoices/estimates/track payments, without requiring you to actively send files. And best of all, it’s FREE!

    I work with a lot of freelance developers, run my own jewelry business (and I’m also a contractor of Sage), so I know how time consuming invoice management is. In fact, it’s probably my most disliked part of the business. So I was super glad to have found Billing Boss for my own jewelry business as I have saved a lot of time!

    Please note: This author has been compensated by Sage.

  32. Andrew says

    Nice list, but you left off Fanurio.

    Fanurio helps with the less appealing aspects of freelancing like invoicing and keeping track of time. It’s a useful application, with a user-friendly interface.

  33. says

    I think that Firefox’s FireBug and Safari’s & Chrome’s WebInspector are good free alternatives to coda. CyberDuck can replace Transmit for free.

  34. says

    I don’t drop a comment, but I looked through a few remarks here 8 Great Apps that Every Freelance Developer Needs | FreelanceFolder. I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or do a few of the responses look like they are left by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are posting on other online social sites, I’d like to follow you. Would you post a list of the complete urls of your shared sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  35. says

    Thanks for giving your ideas. I might also like to mention that video games have been ever evolving.
    Today’s technology and improvements have assisted create realistic and enjoyable games.
    Most of these entertainment video games were not really sensible when the concept was first being tried out.
    Just like other styles of technological know-how, video games
    way too have had to develop by many years. This itself is testimony towards fast progression of video games.


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