OpenOffice.org (Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris)
In a nutshell, OpenOffice.org is the free alternative to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite (that includes Word, Excel et al). You can create, open, edit and save documents in the native Office formats, all while laughing at the spod next to you who paid £110 for Microsoft’s Home and Student edition 2010. LibreOffice, made by an offshoot of the OO.org team, is also worth a blast.
Gimp (Windows, Mac, Linux)
We’ve already detailed 5 of the best free online photo editing sites, but when you need to work with large files or can’t jack into the network, Gimp is your image-manipulating friend. It’s worth noting students can pick up Adobe’s CS5 (including Photoshop) for under £170 – a far cry from the £935 most of us have to stump up, but not as good as Gimp’s gratis asking price.
Blender (Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD)
Not so long ago, design and art students were lucky to get a few hours with computer 3D modelling software. Yet thanks to the ever-rising power of the PC (thanks, Moore’s Law) and big-hearted types like those at Blender, it’s now available to anyone at the low, low price of zilch. Talent not included, sadly.
TweetDeck (Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome, iPhone, Android)
Knowledge is power. Knowing what’s going on on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn nad Foursquare at the same time is omnipotence. And being able to tweet “FFS, this is boring” in lectures without being told to “Keep it down at the back” is just a bonus.
Sketchup (Windows, Mac)
Google’s 3D modelling tool is so simple a dog could use it. And it’s not just for architecture students… you can use it to create a 3D mock-up of your living room and work out whether that sofa on Freecycle is going to leave room for the traffic cone collection.
Antivirus software used to be like an annual tax you paid for using Windows. Avast! is its Robin Hood, offering a free download that’ll keep bugs at bay without asking you to cough up cash. After all, you’ll need those extra pennies to pay for your tuition fees. Swings and roundabouts.
If you’re on a Mac, you’ve got Time Machine for your backups (and if you haven’t, we recommend the excellent Carbon Copy Cloner). For Windows users, you’re also covered by the parent company. Head for Microsoft’s Download Centre to pick up your free copy of SyncToy. As well as keeping your distinction-grade dissertation safe, it’ll help you share files between computers painlessly and wirelessly.
Spotify used to be a great way to get free music online. Now you can barely get a slap from it without paying. It’s worth looking at Grooveshark as a decent alternative for freebies – you’ll be pestered to get a paid account at registration stage, but that’s it. The genre-filtering Grooveshark Radio is the perfect study aid. Yeah, just keep telling yourself that.
yEd (Windows, Mac, Linux)
The paid (and briliant) OmniGraffle Pro is the king of diagramming apps, but yEd is its freebie nemesis. It’s not quite as clean as OmniGraffle, but it doesn’t want for power and it’s easy to use. It’ll import data from spreadsheets, intelligently neaten your messy diagramatical dog dinners and export in your favourite flavour of file. Essential.
Viber (iOS, Android)
Not all VoIP apps are created equal, and Viber will be the first to tell you that. It automatically scans your contacts to find out who else is on its network, establishing at a glance who you can call for free. It’ll also run in the background with zero battery drain, so there’s no reason not to download it and keep it active at all times.