I started old-school, with Notepad and a book on HTML.
I then graduated to Netscape Composer, then to Dreamweaver, which I actually bought and paid for myself.
I had read a review of Dreamweaver and of Front Page, and it said that their capabilities were comparable. Perhaps they were, but…
Around the same time, I had to use Front Page at work. I found Front Page to be unnecessarily user-obsequious at a superficial level, yet easily-capable of obscuring important details. For exaple… [ul][li]It would not let you simply open a set of interlinked pages; you had to “Open A Front Page Web”. When you made a page, it put in all kinds of Microsoft-specific code without telling you, unles you turned off a highly non-obvious option.It was good at taking Word documents and creating HTML pages that looked exactly like them in Internet Explorer, but the minute you went to another browser, the pages so created often wouldn’t display properly, and they were chock full of automatically-generated and -numbered inline images and styles that were virtually impossible to edit in another application. Even when using Front Page itself to edit the pages, it was often easier to re-edit the pages in Word and re-import them rather than try to update them in Front Page.When creating pages, it did not clearly label where it was putting files and images, or how it was naming them. This is simply unforgiveable in a site-management program, where link destinations should be as clear as possible.[/ul]This was my experience with Front Page a couple of years ago; perhaps it’s improved. [/li]
As for a freeware site editing system, check out NVU: