Free College Software Guide

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December 11th, 2008 in Technology

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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.

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 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 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

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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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



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

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

Download Vuze today.

  • 1

    Skoberlink States

    December 12th, 2008 at 12:58 am

    I am a college student and have used all of these except oOctave. Most of these are far superior to their pay counterparts (and usually expensive as well). I use Eclipse almost daily and for hours and couldn’t be happier, far superior to Visual Studio. I highly recommend it if you are programming.

  • 2

    hi there States

    December 12th, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Bravo for some originality. I was expecting the same old bull…. But oddly enough I clicked anyway.
    As soon as I read I was like “ohh shit I was right;” however, it got interesting towards the end. thanks

  • 3

    J States

    December 12th, 2008 at 8:21 am

    It’s ironic you mention bittorrent and Vuze and yet talk about expenses and open software. With bittorent and the utorrent client (much better than Vuze) you can download everything you need. I know you know that, but just wanted to mentioned, since is seems it must have slipped your mind.

  • 4

    Mark States

    December 12th, 2008 at 9:54 am

    I like everything on your list but I think itunes is just crap

  • 5

    David Peralty States

    December 12th, 2008 at 10:01 am

    Mark – Do you have an iTunes alternative? Not just for playing music, but downloading music, podcasts, television shows, movies, and more? I think most people that hate iTunes, only feel that way because they either don’t have a need for all of its features, or they find the user interface fustrating and the software bloated.

    I hated iTunes too, until I started really getting into video podcasts.

  • 6

    Olav States

    December 12th, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Most of these program are very standard programs for the average school laptop, nice list!

  • 7

    Steve Holden States

    December 12th, 2008 at 10:25 am

    An alternative for iTunes could be Songbird.

  • 8

    Craig Belpedio States

    December 12th, 2008 at 10:45 am

    What about Ruckus, free music for college kids?

    Register with a university email address (has to be a university), download their player, and get free legal music.

    Only downside is it won’t work on an iPod/iTunes (its WMA-DRM’ed), but it’s still great!

  • 9

    Rick States

    December 12th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Zotero is worth a mention–it is a reference manager for Firefox that can send references to Writer.

  • 10

    Larry W. Virden States

    December 12th, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    If you have a need for a lightweight, easy to learn language to write your own applications, take a look at TCL ( ) which is available for free, runs on all platforms, and easy to learn. There are plenty of other programming languages as well. But for students who are not in a computer science track, TCL is a great way to get something done quickly. Take a look at for tutorials, applications, how to’s, etc. There are also IRC channels, USENET discussion groups, mailing lists, and so forth.

  • 11

    Christopher States

    December 12th, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I would recommend utorrent over Vuze/Azureus any day…

  • 12

    Marty States

    December 12th, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Pandora anyone? I can’t think of a website that I found more music on that I actually like!

  • 13

    CheshireCatlayst States

    December 12th, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    KomodoEdit (aka: openKomodo) is a great eclipse alternative, and is lightweight compared to eclipse.

  • 14

    mrtt States

    December 12th, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    all time monster media player for Mplayer !

  • 15

    Jo Jo States

    December 12th, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    you forgot…. free streaming internet radio that helps you find music… legit..

  • 16

    Mike States

    December 13th, 2008 at 1:40 am

    I would suggest people look at netbeans too. I use it daily, and find it to more intuitive than eclipse. Netbeans is also free, so the only main difference is just personal preference between the interfaces.

  • 17

    MrChris States

    December 13th, 2008 at 2:31 am

    It is true that you can avoid buying an uber expensive C++ IDE by using Eclipse. But did you know that Microsoft is giving away Visual Studio 2005 / 2008 Professional for FREE to college students? Check out the Microsoft Dreamspark website. You can also get Windows Server 2003 / 2008 Standard, Expression Studio 2, and other Microsoft developer tools at no charge. You must be a student in higher education to take advantage of this.

  • 18

    UR States

    December 13th, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Octave is a great Matlab program, but it’s command-line only. A good free Matlab program with a GUI and M-file editor is FreeMat.

  • 19

    Cody States

    December 13th, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I think everything on the list is pretty decent except for Vuze. It is the most bloated bittorrent client possible.

    alternitives include utorrent, and transmission.

  • 20

    Jon States

    December 13th, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I’m a student, and I’ve gotta agree you hit the nail on the head for a lot of these.

    I’d also say
    XAMPP for those of us doing web development as part of the course
    Notepad++ for when you need to poke around a little with some code, but don’t need a whole IDE
    OpenTTD (Well, we all need a little down-time)
    Sunbird (saves having to buy paper to write appointments etc on)
    OneNote (or, if you’re anti MS, one of the many note-taking equivalents)… especially if you use the laptop to take notes as is becoming more and more popular.

  • 21

    Brian States

    December 13th, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    iTunes? Give me a break.

  • 22

    asdf States

    December 13th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    you should have mentioned Winamp which is far superior to itunes.

  • 23

    Valerie States

    December 13th, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    Google is coming out with fascinating useful tools that are free with a google account (gmail). Such as google docs, a more exclusive google scholar and books. But the most exciting part is they can be accessed anywhere with internet, so no need to lug your computer around!

  • 24

    ashoka1 States

    December 13th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    Very nice list may also mention Netbeans for IDE development. It’s very useful.

  • 25

    Lincoln States

    December 14th, 2008 at 1:03 am

    A great alternative to itunes is MediaMonkey which allows you convert and sync music to your portable device with ease.

  • 26

    ThePeoplesHero States

    December 15th, 2008 at 4:22 am

    For audio/music editing: Audacity- its free and has plenty of features. Maybe not for the “professional”, but still fairly powerful and it suits all of my needs.

  • 27

    Tyler States

    December 15th, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Agree with this, apart from iTunes.

    Zune owner…

    I’ve had three iPods, but I hate Apple. etc… not going to rant…

  • 28

    jeans_shaggy States

    December 16th, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    iTunes? how about Songbird (think firefox to internet explorer)

  • 29

    quod.erat.demonstrandum States

    December 17th, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Songbird ( is much better than iTunes. To scrape the surface, Songbird allows for multiple music devices which music can be transferred among.

  • 30

    Chris States

    December 18th, 2008 at 6:29 am

    The most obvious open source free software is Linux, Ubuntu and Fedora are both user friendly and have many free, open source educational packages including most of the ones you mentioned, VLC, Open Office, Gimp, Eclipse and FireFox.

  • 31

    JC States

    December 18th, 2008 at 11:28 am

    Songbird is an excellent itunes replacement with many addons

    here are some add ons for it

    - I also recommend SongBeatPlayer – with it you can find and download music for free – it also finds internet radio stations and new music you might like

  • 32

    Jeff States

    December 18th, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    You may want to mention Apple’s Xcode developer tools. Free, even after college. It’s a large collection of tools, including a full development environment (C/C++/ObjC/Java/etc IDE), the web dev tool Dashcode, lots of diagnostic tools, docs, code, command-line utilities and more besides.

  • 33

    Divya States

    December 19th, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    all sound very good but I’m a winamp girl through and through. I actually moved back to Windows from Linux just so i could have my winamp.

  • 34

    Amber States

    December 21st, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    The only thing that doesn’t do is a linear regression curve which is the bane of all science majors.

    Unfortunately me and my Mac had to bow down to Microsoft and all of Excel’s glory, though I regret every second of it.

  • 35

    MJ States

    December 22nd, 2008 at 10:38 am

    atunes is a good itunes replacement (only as a player with no music store) available at

  • 36

    lewax00 States

    December 23rd, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    An expensive IDE like Visual Studio? VS 2008 Professional is free for college students:
    (As well as a bunch of other stuff. Also high school students can get it to by one of their alternate methods of proving you’re a student.)

  • 37

    projectautomatika States

    January 23rd, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Most of the software presented are open-source, which is nice.

  • 38

    Bdidi States

    April 21st, 2009 at 8:36 am

    @Amber – actually, as of version 2.4, OpenOffice does show linear regression curves, including displaying the equation (prior to 2.4, OO would draw the curve, but not show the equation, which was rather pointless).

  • 39

    Avery States

    July 10th, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    A great alternative to itunes is MediaMonkey which allows you convert and sync music to your portable device with ease.

  • 40

    Bittorrent Fan States

    August 24th, 2009 at 1:50 am

    also utorrent is another bittorrent client. I think its better

  • 41

    Russ Franey States

    September 30th, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I haven’t tried, I have tried pandora and grooveshark- grooveshark blows pandora away. Listening to it right now

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