Free! College Software Guide

There is one thing college students don’t need when it comes to their software: another expense. With books, tuition and the million other expenses that come with going to college, the last thing you should have to pay for is some decent software.

Thankfully, there are many great free options to load up your computer with. While these might not be everyone’s personal preferences for the best free software for College students, I think that most people will find everything on this list useful, and being that the price is “free”, there is high value in all of this software.

OpenOffice.org

For those of you that can’t afford to pay the premium price in purchasing Microsoft Office, even with a generous student discount, you’ll want to look at OpenOffice.org. It is a free piece of software that works on any operating system, and includes access to software to write documents, create spreadsheets, presentations, and more.

For those of you using NeoOffice or other productivity software on your Apple Mac computers, you’ll now be happy to know that OpenOffice.org runs natively on Mac OS X, meaning that there is no need to load that strange X11 emulation software thus increasing the usability and usefulness of OpenOffice.org.

It also reads and writes Microsoft Office formats, meaning it is perfect for opening documents from school, or sending essays to your professors.

Download at OpenOffice.org.

GIMP

Don’t want to buy or use Photoshop illegally? No problem. GIMP is freely distributed image manipulation software that runs on all major operating systems (though with Macs you’ll need to install X11 emulation). GIMP is great for creating graphics and logos, photo tweaking, creating animated GIFs, etc.

While installing and running GIMP on Windows and Mac OSX are not as straightforward and easy as you may be used to, there are plenty of online tutorials that should make the process painless.

Download at GIMP.

Adium & Pidgin

If you have friends on MSN, Yahoo, AIM, and Google, you’ll want to find one piece of software to easily manage your conversations with all of them, and Adium and Pidgin will allow you to do that.

Both pieces of software allow you to combine your collection of friends and family into one long list, making it easy to communicate. Of course, you’ll be missing certain features that native applications have, like Google Talk’s video chat, but being able to be organized, and using fast and light pieces of software are worth any trade offs.

The choice on which multi-client instant messaging software to use is yours, and it really comes down to personal needs and tastes as well as which operating system you use. Adium is only for Mac OS X, while Pidgin works on nearly all operating systems. If you have a Mac though, both are free so give them both a try and stick with your favorite.

Download Pidgin and/or Adium.

Octave

Think Matlab is way overpriced? So do we. The good news is that there is a solid free replacement called Octave. Almost everything that can be done in Matlab can be done in Octave. Plus, if you used to have to go to a special computer lab to do your Matlab work, now you can do it on your own computer.

Just like Matlab, Octave is an ultra high-level programming language that is used to solve mathematical problems and plot their solutions. The nice thing about Octave is that it is modular and can easily be expanded to perform additional functions.

Download at GNU Octave.

Eclipse

For those of you who are computer science majors or just taking a few computer programming courses (which is becoming more and more common, especially for science majors) the good news is that you don’t have to buy an uber expensive C++ IDE package like Visual Studio. Instead, Eclipse gives you an amazing, fully featured development platform with all the plugins you could possibly want. Plus, Eclipse runs on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux.

Download at Eclipse.org.

iTunes

Listen to music? Want to be able to download movies, television shows, podcasts, and your favorite songs? Well, iTunes pretty much corners the market when it comes to legal downloadable media and the software is free.

For students on a budget, the myriad of video and audio podcasts available for free on nearly any topic or interest is a great way to pass the time, and iTunes has a radio section that allows you to listen to an unlimited amount of streaming music on hundreds of different stations.

Download iTunes from Apple.

Firefox

If you are still browsing the web on Internet Explorer, then you need to get with the program. There are many other web browsers out there that are better, faster, more secure and easier to use than Internet Explorer. One of the best is Firefox.

Not only is it faster but it allows for extensions. Extensions allow you to add features to your web browsing experience, from adding the weather and your e-mail count to always display on the browser, to being able to look at the code of a website easily, there are a million different things extensions can do to make Firefox even better than it is “out of the box.”

Download Mozilla Firefox.

VLC

Trying to play video formats, and having issues? Check out VLC. An amazingly lightweight piece of free software that plays nearly any video that you ask it to. It can be used to play DVD movies as well.

It also is available for nearly any operating system, making it a great choice for everyone.

Download VLC.

Skype

If you are away from your family, or don’t want to pay crazy prices for a home phone line, take a look at Skype’s offerings. One of the highest quality voice over the Internet services available Skype has many great advantages over getting a traditional phone line in your dorm or apartment, and is easy to use.

Also, if your family and friends get Skype on their computers, you can have free chat, audio or even video conversations with your family and friends.

You can even purchase phone numbers through Skype so that people that don’t have Skype can call you. And if you buy SkypeOut credits, or service you can call regular phones from your your Skype account. Many people use this as a cheap long distance service, especially for overseas calling.

Download Skype.

Last.fm

Want another great way to listen to music, especially if you don’t know exactly which songs to buy or download, check out Last.fm.

Last.fm lets you create “stations” based on your search preferences, from things as simple as “alternative” to listing your favorite bands and having it try to find others that you may enjoy as well.

It is free, and totally worth using for parties and events where you want a wide variety of music.

Download Last.fm.

Vuze

Understand BitTorrent? Then you’ll want to get Vuze, a great way of managing torrent files in an easy to understand way. This will allow you to download movie trailers, open source software, and videos from sites like Revision3.com.

Vuze rounds out my list of the top free College software.

Download Vuze today.

13 Free Online Sources to Help You Through School

Whether you’re struggling with a particular class or just want to expand what you know, these 13 sites can give you a library’s worth of information right from your laptop.

1. U.C. Berkeley Webcasts

Get podcasts and webcasts of current and archived courses at the University of California, Berkeley, and both live and on-demand webcasts of notable appearances, campus events, and prominent speakers and lectures.

2. MIT Open Courseware

Choose from over 1,700 courses spanning MIT’s entire curriculum, and download free lecture notes, exams, problem sets, labs, video lectures, video demonstrations, and more.

3. Wikipedia

Almost every significant event, person, place and thing has a page on the Wiki. Just remember that Wikipedia is a user-generated and user-monitored site, so what you’re reading may not necessarily have passed a thorough review for accuracy. Wikipedia’s a great place to start when you want to know more about pretty much anything, but you may not want to rely on it as the main reference source for your term paper.

4. Podcast Alley

A directory of over 36,000 podcasts, Podcast Alley lets you search for podcasts by key words or by category. Find hundreds of language-learning choices in the Education section, Mac Attack weekly tips and tricks for your Mac in the Technology section, or The Naked Scientists’ plain-English answers to your science questions in the Science & Medicine section.

5. YouTube

Sure, you can kill time—and brain cells—watching Britney Spears going down in flames at this year’s VMAs, or witness what happens when you mix Diet Coke and Mentos. But you can also find an introduction to calculus functions, Arabic language lessons, and a series on how to create fire effects in Photoshop. Rely on other viewers’ ratings to help you filter out the YouTube junk from the truly useful.

6. Education Index

The Education Index puts a huge database of educational websites at your fingertips. Simply click on a subject like archaeology, political science, or military technologies, and instantly get a list of links to sites both general and specialized that hold a wealth of information.

7. HowStuffWorks

From the light bulb to a rocket engine, HowStuffWorks breaks down how almost anything works with diagrams and easy-to-follow explanations. Don’t have an engineering streak in you? Check out “How the Batmobile Works,” “11 Stupid Legal Warnings,” or “What if everybody in the United States flushed the toilet at the same time?” No matter what you’re wondering, HowStuffWorks probably has an answer.

8. The History Channel

Surf through video galleries, timelines, maps, celebrated speeches, significant moments, and “This Day in History.” Enter in your birthday, and learn what’s happened throughout the years on the month and day you were born.

9. Dr. Math’s Math Forum

The Dr. Math forum answers thousands of common math questions, from elementary school to college level problems. Users submit their questions to the forum, and Dr. Math will post a response. If you’re having trouble in math class or with a problem set, it can help to read through old posts on the subject—chances are someone else has had the exact same problem you’re having.

10. Science

Not just for science geeks, the online version of the popular Science magazine offers thought-provoking and easy-to-read articles on everything from advances in neuroscience and astronomy to the latest in HIV research to “did you know” conversation starters, like why it makes evolutionary sense for certain animals to eat their young or why broccoli rubbed on your skin can help prevent sunburn damage.

11. Google News

Why pick and choose between news websites when you can harness the power and variety of all of them? Google News is a news aggregator that pulls all the top stories from thousands of news sites. You can use the power of Google search to find specific news items, browse standard categories like Health, Entertainment, and Top Stories, or personalize your Google News homepage and add custom categories of your own based on key words you choose.

12. www.chemistry.about.com

Articles, diagrams, walkthroughs and Q&As at About.com cover both the chemistry basics for new students and more specialized questions for more advanced students.

13. Education Arcade

Home to educational video and trivia games suited for middle school to college students, Education Arcade is entertainment that works your brain. In one of their augmented reality games, you can use GPS-enabled handheld computers to interview virtual characters and conduct large-scale environmental analysis to try to uncover the source of a simulated toxic spill.

13 Free Online Sources to Help You Through School

Whether you’re struggling with a particular class or just want to expand what you know, these 13 sites can give you a library’s worth of information right from your laptop.

1. U.C. Berkeley Webcasts

Get podcasts and webcasts of current and archived courses at the University of California, Berkeley, and both live and on-demand webcasts of notable appearances, campus events, and prominent speakers and lectures.

2. MIT Open Courseware

Choose from over 1,700 courses spanning MIT’s entire curriculum, and download free lecture notes, exams, problem sets, labs, video lectures, video demonstrations, and more.

3. Wikipedia

Almost every significant event, person, place and thing has a page on the Wiki. Just remember that Wikipedia is a user-generated and user-monitored site, so what you’re reading may not necessarily have passed a thorough review for accuracy. Wikipedia’s a great place to start when you want to know more about pretty much anything, but you may not want to rely on it as the main reference source for your term paper.

4. Podcast Alley

A directory of over 36,000 podcasts, Podcast Alley lets you search for podcasts by key words or by category. Find hundreds of language-learning choices in the Education section, Mac Attack weekly tips and tricks for your Mac in the Technology section, or The Naked Scientists’ plain-English answers to your science questions in the Science & Medicine section.

5. YouTube

Sure, you can kill time—and brain cells—watching Britney Spears going down in flames at this year’s VMAs, or witness what happens when you mix Diet Coke and Mentos. But you can also find an introduction to calculus functions, Arabic language lessons, and a series on how to create fire effects in Photoshop. Rely on other viewers’ ratings to help you filter out the YouTube junk from the truly useful.

6. Education Index

The Education Index puts a huge database of educational websites at your fingertips. Simply click on a subject like archaeology, political science, or military technologies, and instantly get a list of links to sites both general and specialized that hold a wealth of information.

7. HowStuffWorks

From the light bulb to a rocket engine, HowStuffWorks breaks down how almost anything works with diagrams and easy-to-follow explanations. Don’t have an engineering streak in you? Check out “How the Batmobile Works,” “11 Stupid Legal Warnings,” or “What if everybody in the United States flushed the toilet at the same time?” No matter what you’re wondering, HowStuffWorks probably has an answer.

8. The History Channel

Surf through video galleries, timelines, maps, celebrated speeches, significant moments, and “This Day in History.” Enter in your birthday, and learn what’s happened throughout the years on the month and day you were born.

9. Dr. Math’s Math Forum

The Dr. Math forum answers thousands of common math questions, from elementary school to college level problems. Users submit their questions to the forum, and Dr. Math will post a response. If you’re having trouble in math class or with a problem set, it can help to read through old posts on the subject—chances are someone else has had the exact same problem you’re having.

10. Science

Not just for science geeks, the online version of the popular Science magazine offers thought-provoking and easy-to-read articles on everything from advances in neuroscience and astronomy to the latest in HIV research to “did you know” conversation starters, like why it makes evolutionary sense for certain animals to eat their young or why broccoli rubbed on your skin can help prevent sunburn damage.

11. Google News

Why pick and choose between news websites when you can harness the power and variety of all of them? Google News is a news aggregator that pulls all the top stories from thousands of news sites. You can use the power of Google search to find specific news items, browse standard categories like Health, Entertainment, and Top Stories, or personalize your Google News homepage and add custom categories of your own based on key words you choose.

12. www.chemistry.about.com

Articles, diagrams, walkthroughs and Q&As at About.com cover both the chemistry basics for new students and more specialized questions for more advanced students.

13. Education Arcade

Home to educational video and trivia games suited for middle school to college students, Education Arcade is entertainment that works your brain. In one of their augmented reality games, you can use GPS-enabled handheld computers to interview virtual characters and conduct large-scale environmental analysis to try to uncover the source of a simulated toxic spill.

10 FREE Online Services: Free E-mail, File Storage, and File Sharing for Students on a Budget

If you’re a college student on a pretty tight budget, you’ve probably already mastered the gourmet Ramen-noodle dinner and the art of interior decorating with crate-box and garage-sale furniture.

But while you’re limiting how much your offline lifestyle eats into your budget, make sure you’re not spending your precious food or rent dollars on online services like e-mail, file storage, or file sharing. You can get every single one of these services for free, with features comparable to or even better than the paid versions.

With all these free options, you should be able to satisfy your online communication and file sharing needs without ever dipping into your wallet. Heck, with the money you’ll save, you might even be able to upgrade to macaroni and cheese.

Top 5 Free E-mail Services

Sure, free e-mail has been available for years, but not with the kind of storage, features, and security you can get these days.

Every one of these five major e-mail providers offers really decent basic service that won’t cost you a single penny. Some of them also feature POP3 or IMAP capability (or both) so you can access and organize your webmail using your favorite desktop e-mail application, like Outlook or Mail.

1.  Gmail

Google’s webmail service, this is probably the best free e-mail out there. It’s super-easy to use, offers good technical support, and comes with great features, awesome spam control, tons of inbox space, and a lot of extras.

  • Inbox Storage: Virtually unlimited (6+ GB and growing every day)
  • File Attachment Max Size: 10 MB
  • POP3/IMAP: Both
  • Extras: Calendar, mobile access, built-in IM/chat with Google Talk, message notifier, language support, no pop-ups or banner ads

2.  AOL Mail

Long the butt of jokes for mass-mailing CDs offering their online service, AOL actually offers pretty decent free e-mail, with super spam protection. But beware: Customer support can be difficult to contact.

  • Inbox Storage: Unlimited
  • File Attachment Max Size: 16 MB
  • POP3/IMAP: Both
  • Extras: Calendar, notes, mobile access, built-in IM/chat with AIM, integrated text messaging, message notifier, language support, personalized domain, games

3.  Yahoo! Mail

A great user interface and e-mail organization make this a strong choice, but no POP3 or IMAP access will be a problem if you want to use your own e-mail application instead of your Web browser.

  • Inbox Storage: Unlimited
  • File Attachment Max Size: 10 MB
  • POP3/IMAP: None
  • Extras: Calendar, news, notes, mobile access, built-in IM/chat with Yahoo! Messenger, integrated text messaging, message notifier, games

4.  Inbox.com

Inbox.com has some pretty standard features, but lacks a phishing filter, which might bother some people.

  • Inbox Storage: 5 GB, or 2 GB if you want POP3 Access
  • File Attachment Max Size: 20 MB
  • POP3/IMAP: POP3
  • Extras: Calendar, news, notes, message notifier, 5GB online data storage, photo sharing, games, e-cards

5.  Windows Live Hotmail

Microsoft’s new-and-improved free webmail (formerly MSN Hotmail) provides some nice integration with your operating system, especially if you’re running Windows Vista. This is a distinct improvement over the old Hotmail.

  • Inbox Storage: 5 GB
  • File Attachment Max Size: 10 MB
  • POP3/IMAP: None
  • Extras: Calendar, mobile access, built-in IM/chat with Windows Live Messenger, message notifier, games

Top 5 Free Online File Storage and Sharing Services

Instead of eating up your hard drive space, you can store some of your bigger files, like videos and MP3s, online with one of these five providers.

Some of these services come with unique interfaces to share specific things, like photos, and even to host videos, websites, blogs, and other stuff. But you’ll need to be running Windows to get all the benefits each provider has to offer — sorry, Mac-heads.

1.  MediaMax

Huge storage, plus lots of extras.

  • Online Storage: 25 GB
  • Extras: Sharing, hosting, backup and sync, browser access, Windows desktop software

2.  Xdrive

Provided by AOL. Small storage, but lots of extras.

  • Online Storage: 5 GB
  • Extras: Sharing, backup, browser access, Windows desktop software

3.  ripway

Lots of storage and good features, including lots of hosting options.

  • Online Storage: 30 GB
  • Extras: Sharing, hosting, backup and sync, browser access

4.  box

Limited storage, but neat extras and awesome Web 2.0 interface.

  • Online Storage: 1 GB
  • Extras: Sharing, browser access, mobile access, desktop widget

5.  OmniDrive

Limited storage, but smooth integration with Windows and the ability to edit spreadsheets and word processing docs.

  • Online Storage: 1 GB
  • Extras: Sharing, backup, browser access, Windows and Mac desktop software, integration with Windows OS and with Zoho office applications

Free! Google Book Downloader

Thanks to Google’s drive to add more and more books to the Google Books project, including thousands of public domain volumes, you’ll find quite a nice selection to choose from. Google Book Downloader helps you download them to PDF.

Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start. Google Book Downloader will not let you pirate books. It will however let you download books that are flagged as full-access such as books in the public domain and books with limited-preview—although you’ll only get the preview parts, not the entire book.

While using the application isn’t as simple as say right clicking on a file and saving it, the difficulty level isn’t high. Once you’ve installed the application, fire it up, and feed it some books you want to download. Although the instructions for the Add dialogue box indicate you can use ISBN numbers, we didn’t have much luck with that. Since you’re already searching Google Books to find the books you want, you might as well cut and paste the URL for the book at Google Books—that method never failed.

Once you’ve added your books they’ll appear in the download queue. From there start the downloads and let it go. Occasionally as the application pulls down data you’ll need to enter a captcha to keep the pipeline open, but other than that it’s an unattended process. Check out the tutorial available here to get a more in-depth overview of the process and make sure you get off to the right start.

Google Book Downloader is freeware, Windows only and requires .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 or above.

GoogleBookDownloader [via HackADay]
Courtesy LH.

5 Online Tools to Help You Cite Your Research Papers

There’s nothing like MLA or APA citation formatting requirements to add even more tedious hours to your research paper that’s already dragged on for weeks. But with these easy-to-use online tools, you can get picture-perfect bibliographies and Works Cited pages at the click of a button.

1) Citation Machine

Citation Machine offers free, automatic formatting for MLA, APA, Chicago, and Turabian styles. From the left-hand menu, choose the style manual you’re using, then the type of source you need to cite (book, journal, website, etc.). You’ll get an online form to fill out with information like author name, page number, and publication date. Simply plug in the info, click “Submit,” and your formatted citation pops out, ready for you to copy and paste into your paper.

2) Source Aid

Source Aid works almost the same as Citation Machine. Select the style guide you need, and click “Start Citation Builder.” Choose the type of source you’re citing, then fill out the form with the necessary publication info. Click “Next” to get your fully formatted, rules-compliant citation.

3) Easy Bib

EasyBib is a free MLA citation tool for sources of all kinds. Just select your type of source from a drop-down menu, specify what form you found it in (print or electronic), then click “Next.” Fill out the citation info (just like in Citation Machine and Source Aid), click “Format Citation,” and you’re done! You can even view your formatted citations online or save your Works Cited list in a Word doc format as you go along. For $7.99 a year, you can upgrade to MyBib Pro to get access to APA formatting as well.

4) Knight Cite

This citation tool on the Calvin College website is possibly the simplest tool of the bunch. The entire page is nothing but fields asking for author, title, page numbers, and basic publication info. Type in the info, click “Submit,” and out comes your citation. Choose from MLA, APA, and Chicago styles, and a variety of print or electronic sources.

5) Carmun Easy Bibliography Formatting

This handy tool formats citations for five different standards: MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian, and CSE. As with the other tools, all you have to do is fill in specified fields with requested source info. Then click the green “Format Bibliography” button at the bottom of the form, and voilá — a quick, painless, standards-compliant citation for your paper.

As you’re probably noticing, these online citation tools are all very similar. The one you end up using the most will depend on what style guide your professors require, your input and layout preferences, and the interface that you find easiest and quickest to use.

Tuition is Recession Proof!

With many colleges and universities raising tuition by as much as 30 percent this year, how does this play in with the “recession” that you and I are facing today? Also, if you remember, back in February $17 billion was appropriated to federal student aid, yet in light of this, why is my fee bill from this year significantly higher than that of last years?

Recent studies have come to the conclusion that increase in federal financial aid actually causes an inevitable increase in tuition, so in a sense, colleges are raising the cost of tuition in an effort to compete with the “charitable” efforts of government. The government actually subsidized these tuition hikes, after all a college is not different from any other business that wants to maximize its profits. For example, if the government guaranteed that anyone who wants to buy plasma televisions from Best Buy would get aid from the government, you can bet that Best Buy would raise the price of plasma televisions, in order to make as much money as possible.

“The $17 billion that will be appropriated to federal student aid will continue to fuel skyrocketing college tuitions. Federal financial aid has created a catch-22 for those trying to help students and their families pay their way through college. The goal of federal aid is to reduce the cost that students have to pay to attend college, but the irony is that more federal aid leads to an increase in tuition.
The reason this happens is supply and demand. More aid means more demand. Higher demand leads to a higher price.  Suddenly students that might not have been able to afford college can suddenly afford to pay. Colleges can raise tuition because they know that the government will give more aid if tuition becomes more expensive.”

To back up these claims, I went to the actual College Board website to do some research….of course I had to do some snooping around to find the two different pages that deal with increasing tuition and increasing aid…funny they don’t put them on the same page. They say that “both total grant aid per undergraduate and total federal loans per undergraduate increased by about 5.5% in 2007-08, after adjusting for inflation,” however, just a few clicks over, they also say, “private four-year [tuition is] $25,143 (up 5.9 percent from last year) [and] public four-year [tuition is]$6,585 (up 6.4 percent from last year).”

And so with all this going on, I have made it my duty to bring such news to the average college student….and not just bad news, but good news as well from smart ways to make money to smart ways to save money.

“Waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both. Without industry and frugality, nothing will do, and with them everything.” Benjamin Franklin