Setting up a Computer with Free Software

Posted July 6, 2011

by Lensyl Urbano

[Updated: 7/22/17] The open-source and free-software movements have matured to the point where a teacher or student can reliably outfit a new computer with software that is free and compatible with their proprietary cousins.

The first place to look for free software for whatever purpose you need should probably be SourceForge. It feels odd having to say this, but it’s legal, free software. Mind you, it has a lot of programs that are still in development, many are not terribly polished, and not everything will be available for your operating system. Add in a few other pieces, like Firefox and OpenOffice, and you have all the basics you need for a basic loadout. I typically find these to be most useful.

  • LibreOffice or OpenOffice: Free, but not as powerful alternatives to MicroSoft Office. They can open and save MS Office files, but also has some of the irritating auto-formatting issues as Office. So for text editing I usually prefer Smultron (on Mac) or Atom (on Windows). Also, Gnumeric is an excellent alternative to Excel.
  • Atom (Windows and Linux): An extremely versatile text editor that a lot of my students like for coding.
  • Smultron (Mac): for writing text and only text, forget the formatting (and also useful for writing computer programs).
  • Firefox: For web browsing.
  • GIMP: instead of PhotoShop for editing images.
  • Inkscape: For drawing diagrams (like this one).
  • VUE: For mindmaps (like this) and flow charts.
  • Audacity: works well for sound editing (I’ve only used it a little for trimming sound files when I was trying to create sound effects). Unlike SOX (see below) Audacity has a user interface.
  • OpenSCAD: For creating 3d models using basic shapes (spheres, boxes etc.) for 3d printing.
  • VPython: I usually introduce my students to programming with VPython, which is a Pythno library for creating 3d visualizations. The VPython downloads pages include instructions for installing Python.

There are other odds and ends that you’ll find on my computer, like vlc for playing DVD’s, Combine PDF for rearranging pages in pdf documents, and TexShop for really nice typsetting, but there are a lot of good, free alternatives out there. Not a whole lot of games however.

Command Line Programs

If you’re comfortable using the Linux command line there are a number of programs, most of which have been ported to the major operating systems (and you can use the Cygwin program to use a lot of Linux commands if you’re on Windows), that can also be very useful:

  • SoX: For generating sound tones and notes (e.g.),
  • ImageMagick: the convert command is particularly useful for working with images (their example page is excellent). The GIMP is based on this program.
  • gifsicle: for help making animated gifs (particularly for optimizing them).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Setting up a Computer with Free Software, Retrieved April 22nd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

One Response to “Setting up a Computer with Free Software”

  1. Bit-Byte

    WOW !!! First off, I have to comment on the site. Clean, well laid out, and good colors for viewing. One hell of a hyper-link list too. I’m very impressed w/ the site. Kudos to the Web Master & all involved with its design.
    I generally don’t sign up to sites that require any information about me, but I haven’t seen a site like this since the early ’90’s (don’t change it.) I can see this info is to help and to educate .
    I came across this site on a web search for ‘matricies in programming’ . (I’m well aware that I misspelled “matrices”.) Here’s why I had to create an account and post.
    * The above article is good, but it is dated.
    *Open Office is now Libre Office and can save documents and .ppt, .ppx and all the other Microsoft office compatible file extensions, or it can save files in Libre office dot 3 extensions.
    * This goes out to all the students – do not fear open source software – fear disreputable download sites.
    * You are correct in recommending as a download site. The main sites I trust including SourceForge are:
    > Majorgeeks
    > Filehippo
    * Some of the freeware programs I run are:
    >CCleaner – Best crap cleaner out there
    >EaseUS Partition Master – One of the best partitioning tools
    you can find.
    >Rocket division Software’s -‘Starburn’ –
    smokes ‘Nero’ to
    a crisp

    >UltraDefrag – stay away from ver. 5.5 –
    the others are good.
    > – WiFi SiStr for
    signal strength
    (Sorry-TextBox is formatting funky)

    >Foxit PDF reader – Screw Adobe Bloat-ware
    >TextShield Fusion – Programming ‘notepad’ w/ hellacious language support
    >Process explorer
    >Teracopy – puts MS file transfer to shame, plus you don’t lose the entire transfer on large files if it runs into a problem like you do w/ Microsloth Winblows
    >Ultrasearch – Blows Microsloth out of the water
    >Inkscape – SVG (scalable vector graphics) – Awesome program
    >the ubiquitous GIMP

    Those are just the tip of the iceberg of the freeware programs that are out there. Every system is different so you have to try them out to see if they interfere w/ what’s running one your system. The apps I listed above I have had no problems w/ at all.
    My (Laptop) System specs are: 2004(yah, ancient) Toshiba M-55 S3294 custom built, factory refurbished, 2.0 Pentium 4(no hyperthreading) 1 GB RAM – upgraded to 1.5GB, original 80GB HDD – upgraded to 320GB (largest PATA I could get.) I’ve got the girl running Triple-boot (Win XP Pro – for development, Win XP Pro – for all the stuff I don’t want on the dev side, & Ubuntu 12.04 – for when I need to get some real work done.(plus I’ve got Backtrack embedded in the Win-Dev side for testing purposes)).
    When I write code, the IDE is up & running, The media player is running, I generally have 2-3 instances of web browsers open(different browsers), data is feeding through (the 4 )USB ports plus I use splitters(commonly referred to as hubs) to run what I [need ?] to.
    Yes my laptop is old, but I’ll put her up against ANY Win 7 or Win 8 Factory system and blow them out of the water. (& I have 2 generation older hardware). Linux systems, I don’t stand a chance against them. I’m running 32-bit architecture.

    I almost forgot; Set your home page to either IXQUICK or StartPage. – Online proxy search engine Privacy search engine w/ the option to proxy
    You’ll get Google results from your searches, but you won’t be tracked .

    I hope some of this info helps out.
    ‘Til next time … 10-7

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Creative Commons License
Montessori Muddle by Montessori Muddle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.