Tech Tips: Lots of Free and Low-Cost Software for Back-to-School in Chicago

Are you looking for Lots of Free Software and Low-Cost Software for Back-to-School in the Chicago?  There are plenty of free and really low cost programs out there that your kids can use this school year to tackle their homework. When you’re heading off to school, buying a computer is a major expense—even if you decide on a super-low-cost model. But a new computer is only one part of a daunting financial package. Factor in tuition, books, food, and all the other basic necessities of campus life, and even a cheap system can strain the budget. That means you’ll want to save money wherever you can, and one of the best places to skimp without sacrifice is software.There is free software available from straightforward word processors to full-fledged office suites. Whether in the cloud or on your computing device, they can handle all sorts of course loads, with features that rival Apple iWork or Microsoft Office minus the price.


Here are some back-to-school programs to help you make high marks at little to no software


With, you’ll be able to write papers, crunch numbers, and prepare presentations, just as you can in Microsoft Office—without shelling out more than the time needed for a 150-MB download. (You can even save and read files in Office formats.) Adobe’s no-cost Photoshop Express lets you perform lots of basic (but still powerful) touch-up tasks on your photos, helping you create a visual record of your college experience for posterity. Depending on what parties you go to, this may not be a plus, however. Once you’ve got your pictures looking the way you want them, pop them ontoPicasa 3 and share them—or at least the less-incriminating ones—with your family and friends.


You can even protect your computer for no cost, with key security downloads like Comodo Firewall Pro, LastPass (for keeping track of all your passwords), Panda Cloud Antivirus,SPAMfighter Standard, and ThreatFire 4.5.


Internet-Based Voice and Video Calling

Skype  Skype’s new interface makes video calls a priority and is the most intuitive out there. Sound quality has also dramatically improved, and it’s easier than ever to find people you want to talk to.



Apple iTunes    Apple’s core media app remains a near-bulletproof and worthy download, especially for sound quality buffs and the video-inclined. Support has noticeably improved for the iPhone and the iPod touch, and the iTunes Store’s now offering DRM-free tracks is a huge plus.


Photo Editing

Adobe Photoshop Express    With intuitive editing tools and tight integration with sites like Facebook, Adobe Photoshop Express is definitely worth a look for people interested in tweaking and sharing their photos.


Photo Sharing

Picasa 3    This newest version of Picasa keeps what’s good about the old and adds some killer new capabilities like retouching, movie editing, and even geotagging in Web albums.



Tablet apps

Textilus – Microsoft Word Edition (free for iPad, $5.99 premium upgrade)

Textilus for iPad gets so much right for the low price of nothing. You can create and edit documents for Microsoft Word and OpenOffice, then plop those files into folders that look like artful composition books. The free app likewise dolls up your on-screen QWERTY with an extended keyboard that features quick keys for bold, tab and more, plus a clever “magic cursor” to swipe up, down, left or right to move the cursor.

Textilus also exports and mails your work as PC/Mac-compatible RTF (rich text format) as well as TXT (text), PDF (Portable Document Format) and HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Need cloud access? Textilus syncs with Dropbox and iCloud online storage services. It also works with Evernote note-taking software.


iA Writer ($.99 for iPad and iPhone, $4.99 for Mac)

OK, iA Writer isn’t free, but it’s so good it’s worth the Washington to slap on your iPad or iPhone. The app makes tapping text a joy with a clean interface and smart keyboard extension that sports left-right navigation and handy punctuation. You can also output plain or formatted text to AirPrint-enabled printers, as well as sync documents via Dropbox and iCloud. The only real drawback to iA Writer: no formatting settings.


Documents Unlimited Free for iPad (free)

Like Textilus, Documents Unlimited for iPad also lets you craft and edit Microsoft Office and OpenOffice documents, along with PowerPoint and Excel. And like iA Writer, Documents Unlimited for iPad can print via AirPrint and export most documents to PDF. Documents Unlimited also types by voice for supported devices.


Kingsoft Office (free for Android)

All hail the mighty free office suite for Android devices. Kingsoft Office rules with simple yet sharp word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities that all play nice with Microsoft. Kingsoft supports more than 20 file types, including Word-friendly DOC and DOCX formats, as well as TXT, PDF and more. Kingsoft also works with cloud storage like Dropbox and Google Drive and has a print feature. There’s even a free PC download.


OliveOffice Premium (free for Android)

The closest heir to the Kingsoft throne, OliveOffice Premium for Android flexes its own Word power with DOC and DOCX support, plus Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation capabilities.


Cloud-based programs

Google Docs (free,

The search masters have all the free online office tools you’re looking for. Google Docs lets you create text documents, while Sheets does spreadsheets and Slides does presentations. Enjoy editing and viewing power on any computer or mobile device. You get real-time collaboration so group projects don’t require huddling around the same study table. And with Google Drive you get 15GB free online storage, plenty of room for all those book reports and office memos.


Zoho Docs (free,

Zoho’s free online office suite delivers word processing, spreadsheet and presentation features comparable to Google, with 1GB of online storage and multi-user collaboration as well as mobile access via Android or iOS app. The Zoho Writer word processor especially shines with designating a color to each collaborator for better groupthink and offline editing for when you don’t have Internet access. Bonus: Zoho Docs now syncs with Dropbox.




Apache OpenOffice

(free for Mac, Windows and Linux,

OpenOffice remains the most powerful free office suite you can plop on a computer, with extensive productivity features to keep Apple and Microsoft peering over their shoulders. OpenOffice delivers solid word processing power with Writer, which can read and save your work in Word formats. Writer also sports AutoComplete and AutoDictionary, displays multiple pages while you edit and exports in PDF and HTML.

When you need to work beyond words, OpenOffice lets you make spreadsheets with Calc and multimedia presentations with Impress, manage databases with Base, craft illustrations with Draw and formulate equations with Math.


Jarte (free for Windows,

Rather stick to writing? Jarte fleshes out Microsoft’s WordPad word processing engine with just enough features to make it mighty but still lean. You just have to find those features via a tabbed, icon-driven interface that takes some getting used to. The Windows-friendly word processor opens DOC and DOCX files as well as RTF, and also works with mobile PCs. Speaking of portability, the barely there Jarte can even run from a USB flash drive, as well as a CD or Dropbox.


Bean (free for Mac,

What Jarte does for Windows, Bean more or less does for Mac. Bean for OS X sports a very clean, very Apple-friendly interface, with a Photoshop-like Inspector panel to change the font, kerning and general look of your document on the fly. Bean reads and writes RTF but is only partially compatible with Word formats, so you may encounter image or formatting issues with DOC and DOCX. Another Bean shortcoming: It doesn’t do footnotes.

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