With the arrival of September, students around the world will be returning to classes this week (unless there is another pandemic outbreak). And for those who are starting out at college or university, one of the most important considerations is how to live on a budget. These are the years when one has little or no income, but must bear the expenses of living independently for the first time. While giving advice on living on a budget is far too expansive to cover in this blog, I can tackle one small aspect of student life by providing a list of valuable software that is available at no cost. I have used most of these for many years, especially while I was a university student, and so I can attest to their utility. Without further ado, here is the list:

  • OpenOffice: A powerful and free alternative to Microsoft Office, this package combines a word processor and spreadsheet that can rival any paid programs.
  • LibreOffice: Another free office suite that is quickly surpassing OpenOffice in popularity. I haven't used it very much, but many of my colleagues swear by it.

  • GIMP: The GNU Image Manipulation Program, a free alternative to Photoshop with nearly as many features. For most people, it provides plenty of power for drawing and photo editing.

  • MikTeX: Word processors are weak at handling mathematics and science papers, and so students also need to learn to typeset with LaTeX (although it is also useful for serious typesetting in other subjects as well).
  • TexNicCenter: In using LaTeX, it is far easier to use a dedicated typesetting program, and TeXNicCenter is a very good and free example of this. I typed my entire dissertation with this software.

  • VisualStudio: Students who need to learn programming, which is most in this technology age, need a good compiler. One of the industry standards is Microsoft Visual Studio, and it is free.
  • Anaconda - An all around platform for Python and especially for use in data science and machine learning projects.
  • Jupyter - This is the best software for learning Python, and is also quickly becoming the industry standard in many computer science fields. 

  • AVG Free: Instead of paying high subscription rates for the better known anti-virus software, AVG can be downloaded for free and is more than enough for the average computer user.
  • Comodo: In addition to anti-virus software, any computer connected to a public network on campus should have a strong firewall. Comodo produces a good product, and they offer it for free.

  • Ubuntu: For those who are in to building their own computers, another way to save a few hundred dollars is to install a free operating system, such as Ubuntu. In my opinion it is better than the commercial OS packages, and there is a growing library of software that runs on it.

  • RaspberryPi: This isn't free, but rather costs around $50 for a full computer system with WiFi. It is a valid alternative to buying a laptop, and it can fit in your pocket. And most important to math and science students, it comes with a free copy of Mathematica! (I am also told that with Oracle Virtualbox it is possible to install a free copy on a standard computer as well, or to access it on a RaspberryPI using different remote desktop programs)
I am sure that I have forgotten a great many useful open-source programs, but a little time spent online should allow you to assemble a suitable suite of programs for your specific needs. And every year, more opensource becomes available. 

So to everyone starting college or university, or just returning to school, have a great year and make the best of it!