Mary-Jo wanted to find the killer-apps of Vista, but I think I've found the killer applications for students. Regardless of educational establishment status, we have to consider multiple things in a killer-app (defined as an application which you essentially "must have"), such as open-source where possible, available across platforms, considerably save yourself time, increase productivity whether for social-downtime or performance-uptime, and most importantly - free.
Students shouldn't, and thankfully don't spend all day and night revising and studying - it would be a huge waste of money to do so, as having an effective down-time is just as important; I've reflected this in my list.
From hours of research, gallons of coffee consumed, and a quick look in Add/Remove Programs, I present the 10 killer apps of academia.
Audacity is an open-source audio editor, enabling even novice users to edit all kinds of audio file types like WAV, OGG, MP3, MIDI and more. With a simple to use interface, this application can be used for cutting down audible hyperbole from lecture recordings, aid you in your own recordings for later revision, and even knocking together podcasts if it’s something you are interested in. The only downside is that it doesn’t come with the LAME MP3 encoder, but with an extra download and a preferences tweak, you can convert media into MP3 format within seconds.
Free Download Manager comes in two packages – simple and small, or slightly bigger and more powerful. Either way, you still have a tremendous download manager which looks clean and simple (unlike many on the market), quick in downloading files, and even boasts a traffic limiter to conserve your bandwidth for other network activities. Import a collection of links to download or even an entire website – it seamlessly integrates into your browser so its downloading power is only a right-click away. With the amount of videos and television students download off the Internet (legal note – ZDNet and I do not endorse such activity) but this will almost definitely cut your download time by a good percentage.
Paint.NET is the best imaging software I’ve ever used. PhotoShop may have all these newfangled features with the ability to take 40 years off your grandmother’s wrinkly face, but this has a clean design and does more than enough to satisfy most people’s needs. Resize, crop, add effects, blur and manipulate layers without getting confused, as well as a comprehensive colour palette. With new features being added all the time, this is a photo editor beyond most on the market.
Firefox has been around for a good few years and is ever decreasing the gap in the market share between its rival, Internet Explorer. It’s faster than IE, runs a smooth and consistent interface, and can be made portable to flash drives. If you need a plug-in, it’ll find it for you and install itself. You can even write add-ins and plug-ins to expand the power of the core engine. Once you start using Firefox, there’s little chance you’ll want to go back to your old browser.
Every now and then, Microsoft tries to throw a student offer to entice you into buying a version of Microsoft Office. Why bother when you can use OpenOffice, which supports full compatibility in file types and document conversion? It costs absolutely nothing, and holds all the features and functionality of Microsoft Office with a sneaky application name change in each product. Word becomes Writer, Excel becomes Calc, PowerPoint becomes Impress, but that really is about it. It’s free, downloadable and redistributable, and it will take the average user no more than a few application runs to get used to it.
A revolution in IPTV, the BBC iPlayer is unfortunately only open to residents and citizens of the United Kingdom, but it isn't half brilliant. You can download high-quality programmes spanning 8 channels over 7 days, but using peer-to-peer technology, it splits the downloads over different peers as to keep the downloads flowing. Even with the busy student schedule, 7 days is enough time to get round to watching something, and with the average university network speed, you can download a 60-minute programme in anything between 2 minutes and 20 minutes.
Being able to access your computer from anywhere allows you to be more independent with how you work; forget carrying around flash drives or emailing files to yourself, just remotely access your computer as if you were sitting there. I've used LogMeIn Free for many years and never had a problem. It works across browsers and uses a range of technologies to suit almost any computer; Java, ActiveX, and an optional plug-in for extra security and features. Even with some strict security settings on public machines like libraries or Internet cafés, you should still be able to use it without a hitch.
Notepad++ is a product installed on every single public PC at my University, and rightly so. Any developer who likes to get knee deep in their own code, bathe in it and roll around in it, should use Notepad++. It supports languages older than me, more languages than hot dinners I've had this month (don't ask) and is an essential part of raw code development. With brace and indent guideline highlighting, multi-document viewing and XML syntax highlighting, you'll never look back or towards any other editor.
There are many alternative email clients out there, but by far the most convenient (amongst many things) is Windows Live Mail. Tens of thousands of students have Hotmail accounts as well as their own university email accounts - so manage them from one single location. Other email clients can often have a tantrum when it comes to collecting Hotmail accounts, and Windows Live Mail is designed specifically as a desktop client complementing the web version.
The exception to the rule: Microsoft Math
I could not have passed my two maths modules this academic year just gone without this - it helped me work out how to solve the most complicated equations, and I can't find for the life of me, another product on the market like it. You literally type in the equation you are given and it'll not only solve it, but most of the time it'll guide you through how it has worked it out, so you can learn from it. It supports graphs, visual maths such as Cartesian co-ordinates and vectors, as well as all the functions you'd have on a calculator. It's not free, but there is a free trial - but I'm sure I couldn't stop you from attempting to download a pirated copy (
Rapidshare *cough*), if you couldn't afford to buy it.