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List of the best free software for students

We've done a whole load of research to find some of the best free software available for students at the moment. The best things in life are free, right?take your laptop to lectureFree software might sound a little suspect. After all, it's free and useful… so why aren't they making us cough up for it? How often does that happen?

The free software market has expanded massively in recent years, as those in the know seek to oppose bigwig software companies and make great software readily available to all.

If you're willing to compromise a little on aesthetics, you could save yourself a small fortune on software.

Types of free software

Free office software

Whatever you study, you're bound to need some sort of office package similar to Microsoft Office, or at least something that's compatible with it.

Here's a selection of the best free software to use for uni work, without having to pay for the privilege.

  1. Apache Open Office

    Apache Open OfficeCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Apache is currently the leading producer of free open source software.

    The software package includes all necessary office programmes. It has a word processor which is similar to Microsoft word, (NB: the grammar checker is not as good, though!).

    Open Office also includes other features like the ones you'd find with a Microsoft Office package – for example, to produce spreadsheets, presentations, databases, and an illustrator programme.

    As Open Office's features mimic those you'll have encountered with Microsoft Office, this makes them pretty easy to use. Open Office also supports a range of Microsoft Office files saved as, .doc; .xls, .ppt, and other formats such as PDF, HTML, and XML.

    Think of the difference between Apache Open Office and Microsoft Office as like the difference between a Big Mac and a Whopper  – they're essentially the same thing, just presented to you a bit differently.

    Download Open Office »

  2. Oxygen Office Pro

    oxygenoffice proCompatible with: PC and Linux

    Oxygen Office Professional is essentially just an enhanced version of Open Office and is branded as 'Open Office with extras.'

    Although Oxygen Office might not look as up-to-date and pretty as Open Office, you might find some of these extras are useful to you.

    They include: templates, fonts, clip art, new and updated import filters, enhanced palettes for colour, and overall enhanced performance.

    Note that Oxygen Office isn't available for Mac!

    Download Oxygen Office »

  3. LibreOffice

    Libre OfficeCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    LibreOffice is another fork off from Open Office and, after plenty of research we've found the general consensus is that the two are pretty much exactly the same, and LibreOffice has all the same programmes as Open Office.

    A few small notable differences are that LibreOffice can handle Scalable Vector Graphics images in its programmes and supports a larger number of languages.

    We also heard through the geek-vine that LibreOffice is just slightly more compatible with Microsoft Office than Open Office is, so if you'll be doing a lot of presentations at uni (where Microsoft Office is the standard) this might be a better option.

    Download LibreOffice »

Free office software (online only)

Using free software online means you can save your documents in online files, which avoids clogging up your hard-drive.

This also means you can access it on any kind of computer at any time, as all your data is stored in the cloud.

  1. Microsoft Office Web Apps

    Microsoft Office Web AppsIf slightly unfamiliar office software isn't for you, then you might want to stick with Microsoft Office, and this is a great way to use it free of charge.

    Microsoft Office Web Apps are stripped down versions of the most popular office features – Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote are available.

    All you need is a Windows live account (which is also free), and you can access the programmes via your browser. One downside of the Web Apps is that they don't include all the best features as the programs are simplified for online use.

    Use MS Office Web Apps »

  2. Google Drive

    GoogleLogominGoogle Docs is our top pick for students – it's super straight-forward to use and allows you to create basic documents, spreadsheets and presentations online.

    It includes all the familiar editing tools such as font changing, text editing, cell editing, etc. Google Docs also allows you to upload your existing files in DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, and PPT formats.

    What makes Google Docs a cut above the rest is that it makes collaborations and group projects easy. The software allows you to invite others to access and edit your documents, all in real time.

    This allows multiple people to work on the same document at once, tracing the edits that are made and by who (and you can even discuss changes in a live chat window whilst you do so).

    Google drive also autosaves regularly, so if you suddenly lose internet connection or you laptop battery dies, you can be relaxed in the knowledge that your work will still be there when you get back online.

    Amazingly, you can also easily restore or view previous versions of your document, so if you've deleted something previously that you'd like to resurrect, it's easily done!

    Use Google Docs »

  3. ThinkFree

    thinkfree logoGreat for use on mobile and desktops, ThinkFree is getting more and more popular due it's similarity to Microsoft Office suite.

    Although ThinkFree is an online software, you so still have to go through an installation process before you can use it. Don't be fooled by this though – you can still only access it online, and if you do want to upgrade to offline use you'll need to pay £35 for ThinkFree Office.

    Perhaps the best thing about ThinkFree is that it does fancy stuff with your browser so you can still use all your normal keyboard shortcuts.

    Use ThinkFree »

Free antivirus software

Anti-virus software can be really expensive, but no one wants a laptop  on the blink – particularly when there are deadlines to meet!

The unfortunate situation is that most of us don't think seriously about installing antivirus software until it's too late. Don't make this mistake (we've been there, and it's not pretty)!

Warning: Take care when searching online for free antivirus software, as (ironically) some of these can be viruses in disguise. This is how they get ya.

  1. Avast

    AvastCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Avast is a free and fairly comprehensive antivirus software. The software can detect viruses, spyware, worms, Trojans and malicious adware.

    The software offers browser and email scanners which offer protection from spam, phishing emails and viruses.

    Avast is pretty easy to use, but has been known to slow down your computer's performance whilst running a scan. Small price to pay to keep your computer protected, though!

    Download Avast Antivirus »

  2. AVG Free

    AVG AntivirusCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    AVG offers a decent antivirus software, if you don't mind the aggressive advertising.

    As well as the basic protection against viruses and malware, AVG scans incoming and outgoing emails, and automatically uses red, yellow or green warnings to rate the security of results in your browser.

    The downside of AVG is thatit constantly advertises costly updates, and the size of the software can make a pretty large dent in your computer storage.

    Download AVG Free »

  3. Microsoft Security Essentials

    Microsoft Security EssentialsCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Microsoft Security Essentials is simple to install and use, but is a little on the basic side.

    Microsoft's antivirus software effectively protects against viruses and spyware, and includes a variety of computer scan options including whole system or custom scans.

    Security Essentials offers browser and email protection but it has been reviewed as less effective as Avast and AVG.

    Download Security Essentials »

Free image editing software

Image editing software is a necessity for many students – whether specifically for their course, or just in order to create photoshopped pictures to send to their mates (both equally important).

Either way, Photoshop costs a bomb so we've scoped out some of the best image editing software which does the job for free.

Note: Be wary of the different file formats you save your work under when using this software, as they might not be compatible when transferred to other computers.

  1. Paint.net

    Paint.netCompatible with: PC

    Aaaawww Paint. That trusty software you would only expect to use when defacing photos with bright moustaches and devil horns, right?

    Well, despite the name, Paint.net is surprisingly sophisticated in what it offers (moustaches and all).

    Paint.net includes many features usually only available with expensive software – it uses multiple layering for rich photo composition so you can get your pic looking just how you'd like it.

    There is also a wide range of colour editing options and a 3D rotate and zoom effect.

    Paint.net supports the file types, BMP, GIF, HD PHOTO, JPEG, JPEG 2000, PCX, PNG, and RAW.

    Download Paint.net »

  2. ProAutodesk


    autodesk logoCompatible with:
    PC, Mac

    Autodesk offer free design software to students, cause they're nice like that. You can get their software free of charge for three years if you sign up to the Autodesk Education Committee, which requires your uni email address.

    The free software package includes programmes worth hundreds of pounds such as AutoCAD, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, AutoCAD Map 3D, and AutoCAD Architecture.

    One drawback is that all print outs will have a watermark to show they are from the free student version of the software. Annoying!

    Download ProAutodesk »

  3. Gimp

    GimpCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    WARNING: Please be wary when searching online for this free service, you might be, erm… surprised by what the search pulls up. We learned the hard way.

    According to Gimp, their intention is to rival Adobe Photoshop with free software of equal quality – and they've done a pretty good job of it.

    Gimp includes loads of features similar to Photoshop, and has been highly recommended both amateur and savvy Photoshoppers alike. They offer a huge range of editing tools, which allow both simple and complex photo manipulation.

    Like Photoshop, there are a range of plug-ins available for Gimp to make your editing easier and more advanced – a quick online search will show you what's available.

    Gimp supports a broad range of file types including, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF among others.

    Download Gimp »

  4. Sketchup

    sketchup logoCompatible with: PC, Mac

    Sketchup by Google is a free downloadable software that allows you to easily produce 3D models of anything you like. It's a free and less advanced version of Trimble's Sketchup Pro, but still has a lot to offer.

    The software is pretty easy after a bit of practice, and the results are pretty impressive. You'll find yourself looking for any excuse to use a 3D model in your uni work.

    Download Google Sketchup »

Free online image editing

Edited images can take up a lot of space on your hard drive. To save on space try some of this free software for editing images online.

  1. Picasa

    PicassaCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Picasa is primarily a space to organise and backup your photos, but it also offers some simple and handy editing tools too.

    Basic features such as red-eye reduction, cropping and colour enhancement are available and pretty handy for filtering all your night out pics where everyone looks a bit read and sweaty.

    You can also use Picasa for reducing photo size, creating image time lines and photo sharing – and to use it, all you need is a Google Account.

    Use Picasa »

Free audio and video software

It may be part of your course, or maybe you just enjoy being able to edit tunes or procrastinate by making silly videos to wind your mates up.

These free video and audio software packages won't help you to make the next big blockbuster, but they will get you on the right track at least!

Note: Although these programs are all compatible with any computer, be wary of the file formats you save your creations under. Otherwise, they might not be compatible when transferred to other computers.

  1. Audacity

    AudacityCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Audacity is free software that allows you to record, convert, edit, copy, slice, mix and do much more to your chosen audio.

    Amongst other tools, the software allows you to dub over existing tracks to create multi-track recordings, monitor volume levels before, during and after recording, and remove static, hiss, hum or other constant background noises.

    Audacity enables you to import and export WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC and Ogg Vorbis files and create WAV or AIFF files which are suitable for burning to a CD.

    Download Audacity »

  2. MusicBrainz Picard

    MusicBrainz PicardCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Anything named after a Star Trek character is bound to have the computer boffin seal of approval!

    If your online music collection is a mess of untitled artists, incomplete albums, and misspelt song titles, then MusicBrainz Picard can sort it all out for you.

    The software will take an audio tracks unique digital 'fingerprint' and match it against the MusicBrainz Picard database. It then adds tags to your tracks, including correct spelling, comprehensive release information and assignment to the correct album. It's like hiring a cleaner for your music collection!

    Download MusicBrainz Picard »

  3. VLC player

    VLC Media PlayerCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    If you've often spent hours downloading a video, only to find it won't play on your media player (aaargh!) then VLC player is the software for you.

    VLC claims you'd be hard pressed to find a format that it can't work with, and it can even play broken, corrupted or unfinished video or audio files.

    The software leaves a little to be desired aesthetically, but it's really easy to use and does exactly what it says on the tin.

    Download VLC Player »

  4. Videora Converter

    Videora ConverterCompatible with: PC, Mac

    Videora is free software, and it can actually save you money to boot, hooray!

    The software allows you to convert a variety of formats into files which can be played on your iPod, phone, PSP, Xbox, or whatever other device you have.

    This could save you pennies as it means you don't have to shop directly at the apple store (for example) to get your files in the right format if you already have them.

    Download Videora Converter »

Other free software

There's loads of free software out there to help with you uni work, socialising and much more. These are the best of the rest!

  1. Dropbox

    DropboxCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    If you like to access your files wherever you are and worry about losing anything (hard drives do get lost, stolen or broken, remember) then Dropbox is a great plan.

    Dropbox allows you to bring all your photos, documents and videos into one neat and tidy place. The cloud based software saves you the trouble of emailing yourself, losing memory sticks, or crying when your computer breaks down and you lose everything on it.

    Alter/add files in your Dropbox and these changes will be available on whatever device you use Dropbox on. It also includes a sharing function, which is great for group projects.

    The free version of Dropbox starts off with 2GB, with a maximum of 16GB of space if you refer friends onto the service.

    Download Dropbox »

  2. Ccleaner

    CcleanerCompatible with: PC, Mac

    If you've been taking advantage of all the free software we've shown you, then your laptop may be a getting a little clogged up.

    Not to worry though – Ccleaner is a system optimisation which clears space on your hard drive by removing unwanted files, emptying your recycle bin and clearing your internet history.

    Ccleaner runs pretty quickly and can make your laptop running time a lot faster.

    Download Ccleaner »

  3. IMGBurn

    IMG BurnerCompatible with: PC

    IMGBurn is free software that allows for easy CD, DVD, HD-DVD, or Blu-Ray burning. It allows you to achieve a range of burning tasks that can often be temperamental.

    It allows you to read a disk to an image file, write an image file to disk, check if a disk is fully readable, and more.

    Download IMGBurn »

  4. Prezi

    ad4a3c6db607d36fa780cd49c678e2c2Compatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Increasingly popular with students, Prezi is a free and easy to use presentation tool that creates really impressive slides that will impress your classmates and lecturers!

    Not only can you make some impressively good looking presentations, but all of the storage is online so there's no chance of forgetting your memory stick.

    It's free to use for everyone but students can also look forward to increased storage – just 'cause.

    Try Prezi »

  5. Evernote

    unnamedCompatible with: PC, Mac

    Whether it's remembering everything on your daily-increasing shopping list, or you're working on projects with people and need access across a variety of different devices, Evernote is great at organising your life all in one place.

    You can collate all of your files, notes, pictures and favourite web pages all in one place so you can read or view at any time (even on your phone when you're out and about) and then share them with whoever you like.

    Download Evernote »

  6. Microsoft Imagine (formally DreamSpark)

    microsoft imagineCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    So, Microsoft have caught on to the fact that since students are more immersed in technology and tend to pack in some pretty amazing ideas, they've created free software that aims to bring these ideas to life.

    With Microsoft imagine, you can use their tools to develop apps, build a project or even design a game if you've got a flare for that stuff.

    This software has specifically been designed to nurture ideas from current students, so it's only available with an active student email address or ISIC number.

    Download Microsoft Imagine »

  7. Zotero

    zotero logoCompatible with: PC, Mac, Linux

    Plugged as 'a personal research assistant,' Zotero is a free reference management software that aims to help students collect and save sources as they go along, making referencing for essays and projects so much easier.

    Zotero works by creating an online folder for your different projects, which you can add sources to with a single click – be it a journal article, a website, an ebook, or any other source.

    Then, like the magic little genie it is, Zotero will automatically insert in-text citations based on what you've collected for that project, and create your bibliography for you – error free! The amount of hours this will save on your dissertation is just crazy.

    Download Zotero »

Do you use any great free software that you'd recommend other students try out too? Fill us in using the comments section below!

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