Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What Free Software Should We Install?

As usual my school will be getting some new computers over the summer. Not as many as last year’s grant-fueled frenzy (over 250), but still quite a few (current count 128). Last summer I added some free software to my images and that appears to have worked well, so I’m going to do that again this summer.

It occurred to me that perhaps I could get advice from the edublogosphere about what free software you might recommend. My district went all Dell about five years ago, but I will be getting a few Macs as well (it’s a long story, but just so everyone in my district is clear on this, the district standards have not changed). Since I added some free Windows-based software last summer, I have a head start on that list, but would love additional suggestions (or warnings for that matter). And I could really use advice on the Mac side since my knowledge there is pretty rusty (since the last time I was really knowledgeable of Mac software in terms of what a school would use, OS 9 was still the OS of choice).

Here are the specs:

Windows Desktop: Dell Optiplex 740, AMD 64x2 4200+ chip (2.2 Ghz, dual-core), 1 GB RAM, 80 GB 7200 rpm hard drive, DVD+-RW optical drive, integrated NVIDIA Quatro NVS 210S Graphics, 17-inch flat panel monitor. Running Windows XP SP2.

Windows Laptop: Dell Latitude D630, 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (T7100) chip, 1 GB RAM, 60 GB hard drive, Intel integrated graphics, 24x DVD Combo drive, Dell Wireless (a/g), 9-cell primary, 6-cell modular battery (replaces optical drive), 14.1 inch screen. Running Windows XP SP2.

Apple Desktop: 17-inch iMac (hoping Apple releases next generation of iMac by July 1st, but these are the specs at the moment), 2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip, 1 GB RAM, 160 GB hard drive, DVD+-RW optical drive, ATI Radion X1600 graphics (128 MB SDRAM), and 17-inch widescreen display. Running OS X 10.4 (Tiger).

Here’s the software:

Windows Software
Owned by district/school: Windows XP SP2, Office 2003, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Fathom, Logger Pro, Microtype Pro, Symantec Anti-Virus, Adobe Creative Suite 3 (Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat Professional), whatever version of Roxio that ships with the optical drives, things that ship with Windows XP (Movie Maker, Media Player, etc.)
Free, downloadable, plugins, etc.: Firefox, Realplayer, Flash, Shockwave, Quicktime, iTunes, JAVA, PowerCalc (MS), Photo Story 3 (MS), Google Earth, Picassa, Audacity, CMAP, Nvu, Celestia, Wink, Skype (depending on location of computer).

Apple Software
Owned by district/school: OS X 10.4 (Tiger), Office 2004, Geometer’s Sketchpad, Fathom, Logger Pro, Symantec Anti-Virus, Adobe Creative Suite 3 (Indesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat Professional), things that ship with OS X (iLife: iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, Garageband; Quicktime, etc.).
Free, downloadable, plugins, etc.: Firefox, Realplayer, Flash, Shockwave, Windows Media Player, Google Earth, CMAP, Nvu, Celestia.
So, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a comment if you have something to add to that list, or if you have a comment on the existing list of software.


  1. We installed CutePDF for our folks in St. Vrain. Now every one can create PDF's without needing to have just the right version of MS Office to create a PDF.

  2. You could try the following link. That contains a huge list of free software for windows - provided by microsoft itself. They are well categorized too.!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1231.entry


  3. Thanks Lauren. I installed PDF Creator last summer (similar to cutepdf), but with Acrobat Professional available this summer, I didn't think I'd need any of the free PDF creators. Is there something about cutepdf that you'd recommend over Acrobat Professional (remembering that we already have the license for Acrobat, so there's no additional cost involved)?

  4. Maybe you want to download a Linux LiveCD and give it a spin.

    There is one specifically for young ones call Edubuntu which can be found here

  5. maintains a great list of free software for the Mac. I have referenced in the past as the place to start looking for software. I will look at my images later and let you know what else I have used for the Mac.

  6. Those iMacs are going to come with a very nice built in webcam so be sure Skype is on your image. Picasa has an uploader app and an iPhoto plugin for uploading. We're finding that we need both Safari and Firefox on our Macs. Some things work well with one but not the other.

  7. Karl,
    Check out my post, "Free Tech Toolkit for UDL in All Classrooms" at
    These are tools that support students with special needs and struggling learners.

  8. Google Sketchup, Artrage and Alice would be my three picks missing from your list.

    My favourites are at

    Good question BTW. I've picked up some good tips from your comments.

  9. I'd consult Software for Starving Students. They have the greatest collection of open source software for both Macintosh and PC's. The iso can be downloaded from their site at They have I believe 54 titles and they include Open Office, Gimp, Stellarium, Juice, Audacity, Wink and many more. We have been handing the disk to many of our students and I've been taking the disks to regional technology integrator events and handing them out.

  10. A great website for apple software (free, trial, etc.) is

    I recommend Seashore (very much like adobe photoshop, and you don't need x11 installed), Skype for Mac, and iSquint, which converts virtually any video into an ipod formatted video.

    There is an education section on

    Another great website is

    Good Luck

  11. Karl,

    I've found that for our technophobic folks, the CutePDF is so easy to use, they are much more likely to utilize it.

  12. I would also add to your list:
    **Audacity for podcasting on pc
    **Photostory 3 for digital storytelling

  13. I use Remote Desktop for Mac managment. Comic Life for lit projects, Google Earth for history and Sketch-up for fun. Tough choices ahead, good luck.

  14. For a list of free resources suitable for education and particularly special education check out

    It was created by a teacher specializing in assistive technology.

  15. I am curious, are any of you using any type of cybersitter? Thanks for all the great tips, our school is meeting to create our "image" next week and I find this very helpful.

  16. Definitely Sketchup, there are tons of possibilities, and you can integrate it into Google Earth. Also - open source Photo editing at

    I also love GameMaker for more advanced projects.

    and maybe Scratch

  17. Upgrade office to 2007. If you are licensing the software under an educational volume license, the upgrade is most likely covered (fits "free" category). The program is vasty different in UI and functionality and is current.

    I run IT for decent sized company and one of my biggest beafs is that schools teach what they know not what is coming.

  18. Wow! Thanks everyone for the suggestions.

    do-it-yourself: While I’d love to play around with that, there’s no way I'd be allowed to put Linux on our network (at least not yet).

    Diane: I was thinking of just using iChat on the Macs, but I suppose I should put Skype on there as well for maximum flexibility. Is there any way to make iChat work with Skype names?

    Bear: Last time I checked, Comic Life wasn’t free, otherwise I’d love to include it.

    CarNorLar (and others that mentioned open-source Photoshop alternatives): Since we’re going to have a license for Photoshop (that’s a first for us), is there a reason to consider installing these others? (Other than philosophical reasons, of course.)

    Kris: You’re correct, our license does allow us to install Office 2007. The problem is that the district IT folks won’t let us yet. Given your comment, I think that might qualify as ironic!

  19. There is a great application for macs called cocoabooklet
    that allows you to create booklets from any application. We found it incredibly helpful when the kids were doing a magazine project. It prepared your final product as a pdf where pages 1 & 16 appeared on the first page, 2 & 15 on the second, upsidedown so that when it printed doublesided... really nice so we didn't have to have any kind of a template and the kids could be really creative.
    We do a lot of collaborative docs on the macs over our own network with subetha edit. You can download it for non-commercial use and it is FREE. I love that you can export the final doc as a webpage and it captures who says what in the document.
    CaptureMe is a great free application that can allow you to take not only screenshots, but create movies of their screen (no audio)

  20. Mac: Xmeeting- a great, open source video conferencing client.
    Picasa web album add-on for iPhoto

    Win: Safari & iTunes,

  21. If it's not too late, I can highly recommend Windows Livewriter for 'off;ine' blogging... I know it's a contradiction in terms but Livewriter is a much better way of writing to your blogs than the original online version! It links into most of the major blog services including any you might be hosting yourself...

    It makes adding photos/screengrabs/just about anything a breeze... and you've got many more formatting options available at the click of a mouse that would require some pretty advanced knowledge of html on the original sites...

    My biggest regret is that it is (and will probably remain) PC only... I think it's one of the best pieces of software for the PC, bar none... and it's from M$ and it's free!

    Highly recommended!

    For the Macs, I love 'Himmelbar' ( and CELTX ( is a great screenwriting/wordprocessor for free (ALL platforms).

    Final thought, iZoom ( great for quick and easy resizing of images on the Mac, though you might prefer the online QuickThumbnail service (

    Enjoy... and thanks for the post... it's given me some ideas to chase up myself!

  22. Just wondering if you are adding new computers or replacing old. In the case they are a replacement, do you have to pay for "new" windows licenses?

  23. Mary - we are doing both, replacing old computers and also adding to our total number of computers. The new machines will come with the OS (XP on the Windows side, OS X on the Macs).

    Then, we currently have a district-wide software licensing agreement that costs us $65 per machine per year. I don't know exactly how that breaks down, but it's along the lines of $10 for Symantec Anti-Virus and $55 for Microsoft licensing. The Microsoft licensing includes the OS, the client access license (for access to Windows servers), and Office (including hooking into the Exchange mail server). Note that we pay the same fee for every machine no matter the age (including Macs).

    As I indicated, we are an "all Dell" district at the moment, although I got special dispensation to get those few Macs (the first new ones into the district in about five years). One of the problems with that software licensing fee, of course, is that it ends up forcing us to dispose of computers we would otherwise keep. We've gotten rid of quite a few old iMacs (CRT, OS 9) and GX110's that we still could've used for basic word processing and other things, simply because we couldn't justify the $65 per year fee for their limited uses. My CIO is exploring other options regarding that, so hopefully that issue will go away sometime soon.

  24. I like Irfanview as a good easy to learn graphic editing program. Also I'm big on free utilities for heavily-used school computers: Justzipit which is a superior replacement for the confusing and slow unzip utility in XP and especially Vista; Cleanup! 4.52 for removal of temp files (works in Vista also, but a trifle slower); SpywareBlaster by Javacool for some extra protection (Symantec is OK, but nothing does it all).