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Doug Johnson's Tech Proof

Tech Tips for No-Cost Computing Tools


If your bank balance is anything like mine right now, youre looking for ways to save money. Heres one means of economizing -- stop buying computer software.

No, Im not advocating becoming a pirate. Johnny Depp can pull it off, but I wouldnt recommend it for educators. (Too few of us look that good in mascara.) Instead, take a serious look at some high quality software that is now available -- at no cost.

And just how can they do it for such a low, low price," you might be asking. There are basically three types of free" software:

  • Open source software uses code that the creator has placed in the public domain and that a large body of users then re-writes and adds to. The Linux operating system is probably the most famous open source product available.
  • Minimally-featured versions of commercial products are made available by a producer who then hopes that features available only in the purchased version will sell the software. The popular e-mail reader Eudora operates that way.
  • Web-based software applications that derive revenue from advertising are growing in popularity. Yahoo mail uses that economic model.

The following small sample of free computer-based software is useful and reliable for the average Joe or Josephine computer user. All run both on Macs and PCs and have good track records of reliability.

  • Audacity allows the user to edit sound files.
  • Inkscape is a drawing program comparable to Illustrator.
  • OpenOffice (NeoOffice for the Mac) has many of the same tools as Microsoft Office, and is compatible with Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
  • Scribus is desktop publishing software similar to Publisher.
  • TuxPaint works much like the childrens drawing program KidPix.



Want More?

Want to read more about Doug and his thoughts on library media and technology? Visit his Web site or browse his new blog. Got a compliment, a complaint, or just a comment to share? E-mail Doug at [email protected]

Here are a few of the dozens of online tools you might find useful.

  • organizes your bookmarks.
  • Flickr is an online photo album.
  • Google Docs do word processing and create spreadsheets online.
  • PBwiki allows you to share your writing and allow others to edit it as well.
  • Ta-da List lets you get organized with an online to-do list.

Two big advantages of online tools is that they can be accessed from any computer connected to the Internet and that the information stored using those tools is designed to be shared.

For more online tools, see the School Computing Wikis Best Free or Open Source Software.

Of course, freeware has its critics as well. Librarian Karen G. Schneider observes: Yes, I know, open source is a saint and you'd let your sister or brother marry it. But I hate the idea that for some if a particular software is open source, hands down, it's the right choice. The right choice is the software that meets the mission."

You will need to ask yourself if free software really does have both the features and reliability you need to get your tasks accomplished. Sometimes you do get what you pay for. As educators, a commercial presence (a bit of advertising with ones e-mail) can be troubling. But if you or your district is strapped for software funds, freeware can be a reasonable alternative to having nothing or being illegal. Give it a shot. Its not like youll be risking a lot of money.

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Updated 03/17/2010