The Dell Inspiron is a great LT. If you have 3gig ram and your integrated video shares about 256mb/512mb of that, you are in excellent shape for memory my friend!

We use Dells along with MACs at many of our newsprint sites including our states USAToday site.

As for free and viable? There isn't any one program or app, I can even think of.

I had to spend some money. Flash Dreamweaver Adobe IllustratorCS2.

Any version of Adobe PhotoShop and Image Ready, will allow you some cool work with animation frames, but Flash makes better animated gifs that use much less memory in the final product size.

This link shows my attempt with simple photoshop work and frames in Image Ready. Some images and models rendered, were created with, Bryce6.0. Cost: $109.95 USD, boxed version.

This is what can be accomplished with an old version of PhotoShop off of Ebay: