Freeware makes computer software more affordable

By Mariah Smith Extension Center for Technology Outreach

Many parents are spending money on computers to help students have a competitive edge in the classroom. One way to cut costs during these difficult economic times is by downloading ³freeware,² or software that is made available for free.

Almost all computers purchased in retail shops come with an operating system. The operating system is what you see when you first boot up the computer. It allows you to use your mouse to point and click on icons. If you didn¹t have an operating system, you would have to type a series of commands to make the computer respond. Operating systems make it easier for those of us who are not programmers to use a computer.

Next, your student will need a productivity software package, such as Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office usually costs around $100 to $200. However, you can download LibreOffice for free at http://www.libreoffice.org/download/. LibreOffice comes with word processing software, spreadsheet software and presentation software, just to name a few. It is also compatible with Microsoft Office. Another free option that has been getting good reviews lately is IBM¹s Lotus Symphony.

No computer is secure without antivirus software. Common brand names include Symantec and McAfee. A free antivirus program can be downloaded from Microsoft Security Essentials. AVG antivirus is also free and available at http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage. Pick one antivirus program and keep it updated. Running two different antivirus programs can wreak havoc on your poor computer¹s brain. If your child is headed off to college, find out if the university provides a free antivirus program to students. Many colleges do so to help prevent virus attacks on the school¹s computer network.

Most students will be out on the Internet checking in with friends on social networks or researching for school assignments. Anytime a computer is on the Internet, it could pick up malware and spyware. This is the software that causes annoying pop-ups and slows the computer down to a crawl. Free software like Spybot Search & Destroy (available at http://www.safer-networking.org/) and Malware Bytes (http://www.malwarebytes.org/) can be quite useful if they are updated and run frequently.

Backing up important documents, such as midterm papers, is criticalŠbut few students remember to do it. Thankfully, there are online tools that can make it easier to access files from other computers or even a Smartphone. One such tool is Dropbox, found at http://www.dropbox.com. It¹s perfect if you really do need to prove the dog ate your homework. Simply pull up the assignment on your Smartphone and show the teacher.

If your child will be far from home, consider using videoconferencing software like Skype or ooVoo (http://www.oovoo.com/home.aspx) to stay connected. This software lets you chat with your student or answer desperate calls those first few weeks away from home when they are trying to figure out how much water to put in the macaroni or which clothes can be washed together.

With newfound freedom comes new responsibilities, and free Smartphone apps like http://www.rememberthemilk.com/ allow students to keep up with homework assignments, upcoming tests and rent payments.

Free software can save you money and make your student more productive this school year.