Computer programs on the cheap

Photo from Creative Commons.

Computer programs vital to everyday college life have a price that reflect that need. The issue here is most college students don’t have the ability to fork out the big bucks to get what they need. Here are a couple of programs that won’t weigh down the wallets of college students in the least bit because they are free.

Open Office

Think of Open Office like what Microsoft Office should have been: free to users. Open Office is a product of the open source community, meaning it’s always improving, changing and getting better. Recently Microsoft has begun to see Open Office eat into their profits as more and more companies have switched to the free software.

Open Office provides all the bells and whistles that one would expect from Microsoft Office and more. The Open Office interface is clean, sleek and easy to use. Even as versions of the software update, the layout remains consistent, allowing for users to pick up from one version of the software to the next with no learning curve. There is no need to spend hours searching through drop down menus or ribbons to search for something that had once been somewhere else and then moved for some other reason.

Besides being a word processor, Open Office also provides other programs within the Open Office suites. One such program is the Open Office Draw program. It is more or less a simplified version of Microsoft Paint in a layout that is roughly similar to Photoshop; it just doesn’t have any of the added advantages that Photoshop has. Though, what it does have that neither of those programs can brag about are downloadable add-ons. While the base program isn’t much to look at, the add-ons can change it significantly.

Along with the Open Office Draw program there are also Base, Calc and Impress. Base is what Excel is to Microsoft Office. It provides spread sheets and can even do very basic formulaic equations. Calc is a bit more complicated; it actually analyzes the data made in the Base spread sheets, making more complicated formulas or creating graphs based on it. Open Office split the two to allow for a simpler interface for users and not clutter up the task bars in either program.


Too poor or cheap to dish out the several hundred dollars to buy Adobe Photoshop? Well, Gimp is a free alternative also made by the open source community, like Open Office. Gimp is a straightforward graphics editing program. It is capable of doing many of the same things that Photoshop and Illustrator do. However, there is one big drawback. The layout is not really new-user friendly; it takes a great amount of time of tinkering with it to figure out how to bring up the layers panel so that it actually works. Finding some of the Photoshop-similar tools in Gimp can mean browsing drop down menu after drop down menu looking for what you want.

Gimp does have an advantage thanks to the open source community. There is a portable app version of Gimp. Going somewhere but only have a pendrive and someone else’s to get your work done with is no problem. With any computer and Gimp portable you can boot up your work just about anywhere. It is a lighter and easier to use version of Gimp that still incorporates many of the same tools with a much smaller program size.

The open source community is full of many useful programs. Just because a copy or clone of a popular program is known does not mean it does not exist. These have just been a few of the money saving programs users can find throughout the open source community there are many more waiting to be discovered.