Like many other pursuits in life, your experiences with phpBB will be strongly influenced by the tools at your disposal. The better suited your tools are to the task, the more likely you are to achieve higher quality results with less effort - you and your users will find your forums more satisfying.
So, what tools do you need? Simple ones, really. In each of these categories, there are several options available which are a good fit for the job. The one that you are most comfortable with is probably the best choice.
Ok, so that's a little obvious, but I didn't want to leave it out. Of course since you are reading this, I guess enough has been said.
An Archive Tool
You need to open the files you download, which will generally be compressed. WinZip, WinRAR and others will do a fine job.
An FTP Tool
As you install your phpBB and customize it with new hacks, add-ons, templates, etc. you will find yourself uploading / downloading your phpBB files a good bit. A dedicated FTP application is an indispensable tool that will likely save you considerable time and effort. CuteFTP, SmartFTP, WS_FTP and others are examples of these programs. Most have additional features which you will most likely find quite handy. I wouldn't leave home without one.
A Text Editor
All of the phpBB files that you will use, with the exception of the images of course, can be opened and edited with most any text editor. This is a good thing since it means you don't need expensive software, it is a bad thing in that it suggests to many people that Notepad is a suitable choice. While Notepad works, it certainly doesn't qualify as suitable. Many prefer WordPad which, frankly, is a very small step up.
As you work with phpBB, line numbers will become very important. Many files used will contain well over 1,000 lines; finding line 673 can become a source of frustration. A text editor with automatic line numbering is really a necessity.
You will be working primarily with .tpl files, which are essentially html files and .php files. Many text editors will recognize these types of files and automatically color-code the text. This is a big help when editing files. As you get more familiar with the color-coding (which does not take long), it will make it much easier to spot errors since they will often be displayed in incorrect colors. Even though most editors won't naturally recognize .tpl files, if they recognize html files they can probably be set to recognize .tpl files.
Again, there are a number of choices here. EditPlus, PHPedit and VIM are but a few examples. I use EditPlus, but this is definitely a matter of personal preference. As with the FTP programs, a decent text editor will also have a number of additional features that you will find invaluable.
Many people go with one of the WYSIWYG editors. In my opinion, for working with phpBB files, these cause at least as many headaches as they solve. The way the pages of your phpBB are generated does not lend itself that well to most WYSIWYG editors. Also many of the editors will add their own code to your files, code which may not be compatible with phpBB.
That about covers it. Of course, if you want to edit the images used by your board or create new ones, you will need an appropriate graphics program, but that's really beyond the scope of this article.
Last, but certainly not least ...
A Strategy for Hacking Your phpBB
Alright, so it's not a software tool, but of all the tools mentioned, this simple concept will likely help you avoid frustration more than the rest combined. All I'm talking about is a few simple steps which will ensure that you can easily undo any edits you make to your phpBB files. This will take away a good bit of the uncertainty when installing hacks, especially if you've already added a number of hacks to your board.
But, this article is
about software tools, so for a simple yet effective strategy, be sure to take a look at:
Strategy for Hacking Your phpBB: http://www.phpbbhacks.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=20599
John McKernan (JohnMcK)