Student's Guide to Free Software

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The resources below will help students and teachers (or anyone) load up their computers with all the legally free software needed for school. There are free replacements available for Photoshop, Illustrator, Microsoft Office, and many other commercial programs.

Free software for Windows.
Free software for Mac.
Free software for Linux.

Free Software for Windows

There are many free programs for Windows. Some excellent sites for free, legal, and safe software are:

Program Free Replacement
Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access) — free office program that is compatible with Microsoft Office. Lets you read and create Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files for free.
Adobe Acrobat Professional PDF Creator lets you create PDF documents from any programs.
Adobe Photoshop CS2 The GIMP — an excellent free replacement for Photoshop. To learn how to use the GIMP, check out these GIMP tutorials. Also try as a free Photoshop replacement.
Adobe Illustrator CS2 Inkscape — SVG vector graphics program - free Illustrator replacement
Norton or McAfee Anti-Virus AVG Free Anti-virus
Spyware Protection I recommend AVG Anti-spyware to clean bad programs out of your computer. There are many free anti-spyware programs, but that one is the best.
Software Firewall Zone Alarm Free Firewall
Internet Explorer Firefox — Firefox is more secure than Internet Explorer and has more features. See for more reasons why Internet Explorer should be avoided.
Video downloader and player Democracy Player lets you play your video files and find new videos. You can use Democracy Player to download YouTube videos, Google videos, Yahoo videos, Internet TV, high-definition videos, and much more...
Media Players Try VLC Player, Media Player Classic, and/or MPlayer.
Email client (like Outlook) Thunderbird with the lightning add-on (integrated calendar). Free Outlook replacement.
WinRAR or WinZip 7-zip can compress and uncompress many file formats. Uncompress .zip, .tar.gz, .rar files and more — for free...
FTP Program Filezilla FTP
3D Graphics Creation Program Blender is a good choice. If you want to make 3-D games, check out Panda 3D. If you are a programmer, make your own computer games with Pygame.
3D Astronomy Exploration Celestia or Stellarium.
Free Computer Games Zombies, Battle for Wesnoth
Audio Recording Audacity (use this link if the other one doesn't work for you.)
Accounting Program (like Quickbooks) TurboCash (download here)
Podcasting Juice Podcast Receiver

Free Software for Web Design

The following Windows programs are excellent free replacements for Dreamweaver, FrontPage, Photoshop, and other commonly used programs for Web design and development.

Program Description
HTML Kit HTML Kit is an excellent HTML editor that can be used as a free replacement for Dreamweaver and FrontPage.
Komposer (NVU) Another free replacment for Dreamweaver and FrontPage.
Filezilla FTP Filezilla is an excellent, free FTP program.
Putty SSH Putty is a free SSH client for Windows. It lets you login to a remote server and perform actions like modifying databases at the command line.
The GIMP A free Photoshop replacement.
Inkscape A free replacement for Illustrator.
Drupal Drupal is a free content management system that makes it easy to build complex database-driven Web sites with no programming knowledge necessary. This site is powered by Drupal. A showcase of Drupal sites can be found at
WordPress WordPress is (IMO) the best blogging software out there. It can be used to create blogs, or even used as a light-weight content management system. Highly recommended.
Apache2Triad Apache2Triad is an easy way to install a Web server and scripting languages on your Windows computer with just a few clicks. Apache2Triad includes Apache, MySQL, PHP, Python, Perl, and much more.
Web Developer Server Suite Similar to Apache2Triad in that it installs a Web development environment on your Windows computer. I haven't tried this one, but it looks good.
XAMPP Lets you run Apache, MySQL, PHP, PEAR, MiniPerl, phpMyAdmin, SQLite and more — all from a thumb drive!
SciTE SciTE is a great text editor that can be used to replace Notepad on Windows. Features include syntax highlighting and export to HTML or PDF format. I recommend this particular Notepad replacement because it loads quickly and feels a lot like Notepad, but with many more features.
Instant Rails Put a Ruby on Rails development environment on your Windows machine with just a few clicks.
RadRails IDE RadRails is an IDE for Ruby on Rails based on the Eclipse editor.
Django Project An Web development framework simliar to Ruby on Rails, but in Python.
Portable Apps A comprehensive list of portable software. Portable software is especially useful for students who might need to use their own software even when admin access to a computer is not available.

The tables above are just partial lists. Don't forget to search these other great sites for more Free open-source software for Windows:

Free Software for Mac OS X

If you use Mac OS X, you can find a lot of good Free open-source software at Check out NeoOffice (Microsoft Office replacement), Seashore (Photoshop replacement based on GIMP), Firefox or Camino (Safari replacements), Democracy Player (download and watch videos), Thunderbird email client, and many more...

Free Software for Linux

Most software for Linux is free. Ubuntu, the recommended version of Linux for new users, has thousands of free programs available. It is very easy to install free software in Ubuntu through the Synaptic Package Manager. has a great tutorial on how to install software in Ubuntu.

The table below lists some common programs that are used on Linux. For a more complete list, check out this list of free Windows replacement software for Linux.

Function Programs
WordProcessor, spreadsheet, Powerpoint-replacement and database OpenOffice — it even lets you create PDFs
Instant Messenger Gaim or Kopete — they work with Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ, IRC and Jabber, all at the same time.
Graphics program (free Photoshop replacement) The GIMP is a great Photoshop replacement. See also these useful GIMP tutorials.
Vector graphics program (Adobe Illustrator free replacement) Inkscape or Xara Xtreme for Linux
Web browser Firefox
Email client Thunderbird, Evolution or Kmail (part of the Kontact suite of applications)
VoIP — Internet phone Skype or Ekiga (Ekiga includes video conferencing)
Music player Amarok — This is my favorite media player for any operating system.
Video Downloader Democracy Player

The table above is just a brief introduction. There are thousands of free programs available for Linux. If you are interested in more information about Linux, check out Linux can be used to replace Windows or Mac OS X, or in a dual-boot configuration where your computer runs both Windows and Linux, or Windows and Mac OS X.

Linux for Web Design

Check out these other posts on how to use Linux for Web design and development:

What computer to buy for school

If you don't already have a computer you have several choices:

  • A "PC" (Microsoft Windows)
  • Apple Mac
  • Linux

Microsoft Windows

Most computers are running Microsoft Windows. Microsoft Windows is popular because most PCs come with it pre-installed. One disadvantage of Windows is that it easily gets infected with spyware and viruses.

Apple Macintosh

Apple makes some nice computers. I would recommend a Mac over Windows if you don't already have a preference. Apple does not have the virus problems that Windows has.


GNU/Linux, or "Linux" is a free operating system that you can use in addition to or instead of Windows or Mac. Although free, Linux is a powerful operating system and it powers the fastest supercomputers in the world as well as Web sites like, and others.

Operating System Pros Cons
Microsoft Windows One advantage to Windows is that there are many programs available for Windows. There are several disadvantages to using Windows. Windows is the only major operating system to have serious virus and spyware problems. Mac and Linux users don't have to worry about virus problems. It often seems like something is going wrong with a Windows computer.
Apple Mac Apple Macs are generally more user friendly than Microsoft or Linux. The downside of Macs is their price, and that they don't have as much free software available as Windows or Linux.
Linux One advantage of Linux is that it is free and open-source. Most programs for Linux are also free. Linux is used in the fastest supercomputers in the world, and you can run it in your computer for free. Linux is not difficult to use if you get a distro like Ubuntu. If you are familiar with Windows, it might take a little while how to learn to do things in Linux. Other than that, I think that Linux is the best option for students, unless you have specific software needs—like the latest version of Adobe Photoshop which will only run on Windows and Mac. If using Linux you will have a free Photoshop replacement instead though called The GIMP. The recommended configuration for new Linux users is called a "dual-boot system" where your computer has both Windows and Linux (or Windows and Mac OS X) on it. That makes the transition to Linux easier.

If you have any questions about choosing free software or a computer for school use feel free to leave comments below.


Print to pdf from browser in Ubuntu?

Hi! When I was using windoz I used a great little piece of freeware
called "Cute PDF Writer"

...then I switched to Ubuntu more cute pdf! :>(

Is there a Linux alternative? When I go to print a web page,
the onlyu options other than an actual printer is
"print to page" which produces an unreadable (at least by me!)
document of some sort.

Open Office works fine with OO docs, but I need the ability to
print web pages directly--not just "select all > copy > paste" into
a new OO doc.

Have been unsuccessful at getting WINE to work on my machine, and I
wouldn't even know how to begin installing a 'doz program now...
someday I hope to have VM Ware / Server going and make virtual machines...
mabe then I can use "Cute...", but till then, Im open to your suggestions.



Webmaster Tips's picture

Print to PDF Ubuntu

Try these links for ideas:

Print to PDF in Ubuntu
Print to PDF Using cups-pdf
Create PDF documents in Ubuntu

If you print to a file from Firefox in Ubuntu it makes a PostScript document (.ps). You can convert that to a PDF with ps2pdf. If it isn't installed by default, you can install it with apt-get or Synaptic. Type man ps2pdf in the terminal for instructions on how to use it.

Windows is weak

While windows is definitely insecure and little protected against emerging malware danger, it is the OS with tons of applications written for it and available in windows platform only. Even worse situation is with drivers. 'Win32 only' - a popular message on hardware manufacturers' websites... But Windows is absolutely naked when it comes to all kinds of virii and spyware.


'Win32 only' what ?

thank you

thanks a bunch. you've just help me on finding what software should i put on my cyber cafe. without having to think over license and stuff hehe

Great article. Well written

Great article. Well written and very useful. Thanks alot!


I registered just to say thank you to the author, this post/article has come at the very right moment for me.. and Im sure it will help many other people aswell.

Ill be a regular visitor now!

other student software

if you are a student you can get some Microsoft software for free.


Webmaster Tips's picture

Free Microsoft Software

The problem with Microsoft software is that there are strings attached. Microsoft wants to get people hooked so they will be addicted to expensive proprietary software. Once you're no longer a student, you'll have to upgrade at full price It will eventually cost money.

I think it's better to use the genuinely free open-source programs in the article.

More free software for students

Great Free SWOT Analysis Generator - excellent tool for business students:

good article, i like it

i like your blog very much,i think your blog is excellent! very super!
i will come to see you next time!


Thanks for your comment about freaa software for windows, linux and etc..

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