It’s hard to believe that it’s December of 2011. Especially because it feels like I only just got used to writing 2011 instead of 2010. At the beginning of 2011, I provided a list of great free tools for .NET developers. However, I’ve bumped into a few additional tools and resources throughout the year that I think that .NET developers should know about.
Free Tool Lists
Developers and IT pros love tools—especially those that are free or cheap. This year I’ve provided a list of free SQL Server resources for developers, along with a list of free tools for .NET developers and IT pros.
And I’m hardly alone in providing lists of free tools. Megan Keller at SQL Server Pro (formerly SQL Server Magazine) has maintained her own "Mega Guide to Free SQL Server Tools" for a while. Similarly, DevProConnections featured a list of 50+ free tools for .NET developers, and I assume that most developers can’t help but feel like kids in a candy store each time Scott Hanselman updates his "Ultimate Developer and Power User Tool" lists.
Excellent New Free Tools and Resources
Although there are tool lists galore out there, I still felt that some new tools and resources that I bumped into in 2011 deserved explicit mention.
Okay, I didn’t find this tool in 2011. But I was stunned the other day when I bumped into a web developer who didn’t know about it. So, if you do anything with the web, networks, or have any geeky bones in your body and don’t know about Fiddler, you’re missing out. Enough said.
A while back I started zeroing out or resetting my CSS—effectively removing every default rule and style definition. That sounds like a lot of work (and I’m sure that getting it to work correctly would have been a pain, but I just used a friend’s reset.css style sheet), but it’s impossible to state how much of a benefit that provided in terms of styling new websites. With this approach, the need to deal with layout bugs and styling problems from one browser to the next all but disappeared. Yes, I still obviously had some layout problems and troubleshooting to deal with, but the use of a reset.css style sheet (and accompanying directive in my Normal style sheet) saved so many hours of development and troubleshooting that it wasn’t even funny.
Recently, however, I found an even better approach with normalize.css. Instead of nuking existing styles back to the Stone Age, I just started dropping in a normalize.css file and directive that's kept up to date with some of the best and most logical normalizations for CSS. It’s an ingenious approach to styling that will help you save gobs and gobs of time, and it’s free and insanely easy to drop into place. I really couldn’t live without it at this point.
Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools
I’ve mentioned this tool in the past, too, and I think that almost everyone knows about it. But, on the off chance that you’re reading this and don’t know about it and actively use Visual Studio, I’ll wait while you go download it from the Microsoft Visual Studio Gallery. While you were checking out this tool's awesome features, did you notice that it had been downloaded more than 1.1 million times? It’s a slick tool that’s free with your purchase of Visual Studio, and it provides several great features that you can’t find anywhere else.
I can think of no greater compliment for httpstat.us than to say that sometimes the simplest ideas can make for some of the most elegant tools or resources. With httpstat.us, you just punch in the URL’ of the HTTP status code you’d like to get back (such as http://httpstat.us/404) and you’ll receive the requested status code. I’ve found this tool to be invaluable for some of my developer projects in which I’ve needed to do some initial testing on my applications’ ability to properly handle response codes. So, above and beyond being insanely simple and intuitive, this tool is also free.
I think that extension methods are easily one of the best features in the .NET Framework. They’re insanely beneficial not only for helping create frameworks but also in terms of increasing code readability. To that end, ExtensionMethods.NET is just what you’d hope it would be—a free library of ranked and sorted extension methods that you can peruse at lunch for awesome new techniques, insights, and functionality that you can easily integrate into your .NET solutions.
And speaking of free, cool, .NET functionality that you can implement into your solutions, that’s a great segue way into NuGet, which hopefully everyone knows about. Personally, I only started using NuGet this year. But in the short time I’ve been using it, it’s impossible to determine how much time I’ve saved from not having to troubleshoot nasty configuration problems stemming from adding external libraries into my solutions. And although you can search for various plugins, the nuget.org site also provides a less than stellar gallery in which you can peruse existing packages by popularity, name, and relative age—well worth a look every so often.
Stripe is the only tool that isn't free in this list. But it has such amazing potential that I’d happily lump it into a list of free tools and not feel bad at all—simply because it helps developers save so much time, effort, and money that it might as well be considered free. The stripe.com site does a fantastic job of marketing what its solution provides: full-blown e-commerce functionality and online-payment processing without the need for a merchant account. I could go on and on about other things that really excite me about Stripe, but I think I’ll save that for a future post in which I’ll talk about my experiences actually using it for a full-blown project.
Finally, free tools (or those that save so much money they can fairly be lumped in the free tools list) are always going to be a big hit with developers—simply because good tools provide such a great way to increase productivity. Along those lines, I can’t help but share one final link that I think plays well into the notion of increasing developer productivity. Only it’s not in the same realm as any of the links I’ve provided above. Instead, it’s a link to a site dedicated to nerd fitness (nerdfitness.com). And although it might seem cheap to link to a fitness site as a free resource (especially when exercise can cost money or when the shirts being sold on the site are obviously not free), there’s also the notion and truth that fit nerds are smarter nerds—meaning that when I exercise regularly, I’m so much more mentally on my game that it’s not even funny. And, to that end, if you get nothing more from this site, I defy you not to be motivated in some fashion or another—even if it’s not fitness related— by NerdFitness.com's "It Will Never Be" post published earlier this month.