10 Free Applications Every Student Needs

February 26, 2008


Unless you have money coming out of your ears, you probably won’t want to shell out the cash you’ll need to get Office, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, EndNote, and so on — even with your student discount. These free apps do the job well enough, and sometimes even better than their paid or otherwise limited alternatives.

  • OpenOffice.org: A top-quality, full-featured office productivity suite — word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, graphics editor, database, the works! Can save and open most Microsoft Office formats. If you have MS Works on your PC, ditch it and get OpenOffice.org instead. Available for most operating systems.
  • GIMP: A powerful, full-featured photo editing program, comparable to Photoshop. Available for Linux, Mac, and Windows.
  • KeyNote: Even after 2 1/2 years of being abandoned by its developer, KeyNote (not the Mac presentation software) remains the best free outlining software, with support for rich text formatting, plugins and macros, hotkeys, and a lot more. Can be run from a flash drive, too.
  • FreeMind: Great mindmapping program, useful for brainstorming, outlining projects, and keeping notes.
  • Mozy Backup: An Internet-based backup system, Mozy’s free plan allows you to store up to 2GB of files. The software runs in your system tray and automatically backs up the folders and files you’ve selected. I have it set to backup my documents folder and my email, which comes in just under 2GB. To backup photos, music, and other big files, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid version.
  • Zotero: A bibliography manager that integrates with Firefox, allowing you to automatically add webpages and, more usefully, resources from academic databases like J-Stor and AnthroSource to your bibliography. You can attach PDFs and images to your entries, as well as add your own notes. And all without leaving Firefox.
  • NVU: Mozilla’s web editor, NVU allows you to write webpages either in raw code or using the WYSIWYG interface, making webpage creation simple. UPDATE: NVU is no longer in development; the current version is called Kompozer.
  • VLC: The VideoLan Client isn’t pretty, but it will play just about any audio or video file you throw at it.
  • Pidgin: A single IM client that connects to just about every IM network: AOL, MSN, Yahoo!, MySpace, IRC, and so on. Available for Windows and Linux; Mac users can give Adium a try (I can’t vouch for it, since I haven’t used a Mac for 7 years…).



Top Ten Tools: 2008 Update

February 26, 2008


Jane Hart has asked a number of people to update their lists of favorite tools, for either e-learning or personal learning and working. I haven’t changed too much from last year’s list, but I have made a few adjustments.

1. Firefox:
Firefox is the first application I start in the morning, and it stays open basically all day. It’s the way I access most of the rest of the tools on this list.

2. Google Reader:
Google Reader is my RSS reader of choice. Last month I wrote about how RSS is one of my primary personal learning tools. Reading RSS feeds gives me a constant flow of information to absorb and a route to interact with so many great people in the blogosphere.

3. WordPress:
WordPress.com is my blogging platform and therefore another important tool for personal learning. What I learned about learning in 2007 is how much RSS and blogging really have enhanced my own lifelong learning efforts.

4. Gmail:
Gmail is a productivity tool for me more than a learning tool, but it is one of my favorites and I use it constantly.

5. Google Docs & Spreadsheets:
Google Docs is one of the main tools for collaborating with SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) during the course development process.

6. Dreamweaver:
Dreamweaver is where nearly all of the final content I develop for courses is created. The content from the Google Docs with SMEs is put into webpages, then those webpages are used within our LMS. It’s not the typical process flow, but it works for our instructor-led graduate courses.

7. Captivate:
Captivate is how I develop self-paced e-learning content that is embedded within the instructor-led courses. Sometimes this is as simple as a graphic or flow chart with rollovers or hotspots; sometimes it’s a complex branching scenario. Captivate’s a good tool for all of it.

8. Diigo:
Diigo is my primary social bookmarking tool and how I generate my daily bookmark posts for my blog. I do so much online research for both the courses I develop and for my own personal learning; a good system to track all the resources I find is indispensable. Diigo’s also improved a lot since I started using it, and they’ve learned to take user feedback seriously.

9. Skype:
Working from home, Skype is one of my connecting lines to the world. I use it to chat with and call SMEs as well as the other members of the online course development team.

10. Toodledo:
I track everything I need to do for developing courses and personal tasks in Toodledo. The ability to sort tasks into contexts (work, home, blog, etc.) as well as folders (one for each course or project) means I can stay organized without getting overwhelmed. This is my personal project management tool.