Reducing your computer costs
by Laura Lushington
Being in post-secondary is not a cheap endeavour. Tuition, books and living expenses can leave your bank account dry.
Add to that a laptop or a desktop computer and you’re in the hole again. But, wait — did you forget about software to run on your new machine? Microsoft Office alone can run you over a hundred bucks. Luckily, there are many free options available for download on the web.
If downloading programs online has you worried, computer science instructional assistant Steve Kalmar has a few tips to help you navigate the world of free software.
1. Get the program from the original creator. “If you don’t, you may be getting somebody’s hacked version, in which case they might have put in who knows what and it could compromise your system.”
2. Research the software. “Google the name of the software. See what the reviews are, see what people think about it before you actually go and download it and certainly before you install it, so you don’t put something on your system that may or may not be compromised.”
3. Make sure your software offers support in case there is a problem. “Support with free software may not be as quick and as readily available as it would be with something provided by a major software manufacturer.”
The Reflector spoke to instructional assistants Kalmar and Jordan Pratt to find out some of the best options available.
Similar to Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org is a free, open-source software package. It includes programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. It can be installed on any computer and documents created are saved into a standard format that can be opened on most computers. OpenOffice.org also recognizes other file formats, such as .doc, which is used by Microsoft Office, making it easy to edit and open other files.
Like OpenOffice.org, Google Docs allows you create word documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and forms online. With Google Docs you don’t have to download any software because it is done via the Internet and stored by Google. One advantage to Google Docs is that groups can easily collaborate on a document because it is stored in one place. Google Docs will keep track of the changes so you know what everyone has contributed. You can also upload files from desktop software such as Microsoft Office to work on. All that is required is that you sign up for a Google account.
If you’re sick of PowerPoint presentations try Prezi — a free online presentation tool. Instead of using slides, Prezi offers a continuous flow of information allowing you to create a more dynamic spread. You can even embed YouTube videos right into your presentation. Although it might be a little tricky to navigate at first, the tutorials are great help for beginners. The program is free once you register.
GIMP is an image editing software, much like Adobe Photoshop, except it’s free. It can be downloaded on to Linux, Windows or Mac systems. GIMP actively seeks user input into how to make the program better. The website also has a tutorial section to learn image editing techniques. If there are any features that GIMP lacks, you can probably download an add-on made by a dedicated coder in the program’s user base.
Also an image editing software, Paint.NET is only available to those with Windows operating systems. It works similar to Adobe Photoshop, with features such as layers, magic wand and clone stamp. Paint.NET also has a tutorial and forum section where you can get help.
Free for only 30 days after signing up, Gliffy is an online diagram software where you can make fancy flow charts, Venn diagrams and specialty diagrams such as floor plans. The software allows groups to collaborate on a design. After the 30 day free trial, there are affordable options for continuing on, with plans starting at $5 a month.
If none of these options works for you, or you need a different kind of software, check out Softpedia. An encyclopedia of free software, Softpedia has hundreds of thousands of downloadable programs. It offers programs for Linux, Windows and Mac systems, ranging from security applications to games.