What should a student install on his laptop?
June 16, 2006 1:12 AM   Subscribe

What should I install/do to my new laptop (I am a student)?

I am going to be a freshman in college and am wondering what useful pieces of software would be beneficial for me to install on my new laptop. I am open to study/note-taking software.

I searched for a thread like this and didn't find one.
posted by bd to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
OpenOffice, its just as good as Microsoft's Office Suite - you can download it from here.
posted by xvs22 at 1:14 AM on June 16, 2006

Lots of goodies on here: http://www.opensourcewindows.org/

And the increasingly inaccurately named "46 best-ever freeware utilities" list is also pretty good:

Pricelessware used to be great, although it's becoming more and more out-of-date:
posted by IvyMike at 1:18 AM on June 16, 2006

Best answer: Open Office is a free office suite that acts just like Micro$oft's Office.

I'd suggest Mozilla Firefox for browsing the web.

DivX for watching downloaded TV and Films.

A bittorrent client like BitComet to download music / films.

A decent Antivirus application (AVG is free)

Adobe Acrobat Reader will be useful for reading notes and such like.

Whats your major? Then we might be able to suggest more useful subject specific software!

Hope that helps!
posted by philsi at 1:19 AM on June 16, 2006

Maybe not what you're thinking of, but I highly recommend AV software BEFORE you get to school. There was a nasty virus (both connotative meanings of nasty. In this case, it was endless porn pop ups until your computer froze, and everyone had the problem) going around the network during move in week last year. And of course, the usual Spybot & Adaware.

For a while, I had this program that let you put your calendar ask the wallpaper (as in: you could add events, etc to your actual desktop). It was pretty spiffy until 23532532 different kinds of web calendars with way more features came out.

FoxItReader >>> Acrobat
posted by mittenedsex at 1:24 AM on June 16, 2006

How could I forget!
VLC Media Player.

never worry about codecs or installing more random crap just to play a video or audio file. a godsend.
posted by mittenedsex at 1:26 AM on June 16, 2006

My answer is to the question: "if you know you want an app that does X, what's a good free version?

Upon re-reading, your question might be more along the lines of "what sort of apps should I, as a student, be looking for in the first place?" I'm not sure if it would have helped me much as a student, but the "Getting Things Done" crowd have created a lot of good software around organizing your time. The sites lifehacker and 43folders are two that have good ideas along these lines. Of course, sometimes I wonder if they spend as much time playing with their GTD toys as they save using them...
posted by IvyMike at 1:27 AM on June 16, 2006

As a recent student at a college where we were encouraged to bring a laptop to class:

What you need is some games :) Playing sorta mindless games (standard windows games or emulated retro games usually) put me in the right frame of mind to learn things without falling asleep. Your experience may vary, though.
posted by JZig at 1:46 AM on June 16, 2006

If your new laptop came with a restore disc that can do a clean install of Windows (assuming it's a Windows system), go for it. Vendors usually shove a lot of useless programs and annoying advertisements and free trials into retail laptops, and with a fresh install, you can start out with exactly what you want instead of dealing with a bloated system.

As for the other part of your question, I think Software for Starving Students will meet a lot of your needs.
posted by roomwithaview at 2:09 AM on June 16, 2006

p2p, such as DC++.
posted by duende at 3:20 AM on June 16, 2006

What I'd really like my students to have is referencing software so that they can all hand in work that's properly referenced and I don't have to bollock them every single time. I use Endnote but there are other options. There may be a cost attached, depends on your institution and its licenses.
posted by biffa at 3:59 AM on June 16, 2006

When I put together a collection for my daughter, it included:

NoteTab Pro - plain text editor with a number of nifty tools, including clipboard retention. Check out the clip libarary.
Atlantis - RTF editor, with clipboard retention and a clip library as well.
pdfFactory - to create PDFs from other programs, including web pages.
Treepad /MyNotesKeeper/Keynote - to collect and organize text items.
PIMEX - includes calendar and contact management as well as notes.

A warning about OpenOffice - it's a great suite, but don't relay on the claimed interoperability with MS apps. My daughter did a presentation under OO but then it was completely unuseable under PowerPoint, even though it had been saved in PPT format.
posted by megatherium at 4:19 AM on June 16, 2006

Start using EndNote (if you use M$ Word) early and often - I started tracking all my course readings and research readings in EndNote as a Jounior and it has paid off BIG TIME now that I am in grad school.

There are other reference managers out there, but I don't have experience with them - There was a good discussion of it in this AskMeFi...

I use open office because it works well on Unix, which I use a lot for classes (I'm a geographer), but for my own writing I use friggin' Microsoft Word & EndNote
posted by sablazo at 4:32 AM on June 16, 2006

For note-taking in lectures I use Microsoft OneNote, which comes with some versions of Office. It's like Word, but streamlined for note-taking, so you can draw diagrams easily and not worry about remembering to save stuff. Excel is good enough for most of the stats I need to do since I installed MegaStat, a plugin that came free with a stats book.

I looked at OpenOffice, and liked its equation editor, which is much better than Microsoft's, but I ended up using Microsoft Office instead. OpenOffice doesn't always open or save Word docs with complex formatting properly, and it's far slower to start up. The OpenOffice spreadsheet isn't as powerful as Excel with MegaStat, either. I found lecturers and supervisors regularly sent me Word documents that didn't work properly in OpenOffice.

For sending essays or notes to other students or professors, I would use PDF because its reliable and ubiquitous. The free PDF995 software is all you need to create PDFs from Word. Firefox is great, and I'd recommend adding some academic search engines from mycroft.mozdev.org to the search toolbar, such as Jstor and Google Scholar.

One thing I've found really useful is Google Desktop Search. It's far faster than Windows search and it's great for quickly finding lecture notes.

My college told us not to use Outlook, so I use Thunderbird which works well. You can set up a saved search folder, which shows you, for example, all the emails you've got from lecturers and professors. The advantage that Thunderbird has over Outlook is that the messages appear in you saved search folder while they're still actually in your iinbox, so you don't end up with multiple copies of emails scattered around the place.

Aside from that, McAfee VirusScan Enterprise and Windows Defender (formerly AntiSpyware) do a good job.
posted by matthewr at 4:33 AM on June 16, 2006

Assuming your new laptop is a Windows machine, make sure you get Google Pack. Anti-virus, Anti-malware, Google Earth, Firefox, Google Desktop, and more, all rolled into one nice easy to install download.

Yay Google.
posted by patr1ck at 4:41 AM on June 16, 2006

Before you pay for software, call your university's student help desk and ask what they offer free or cheap. For example my university gives away free Symantec Anti-Virus and sells Microsoft Office for $25.
posted by Sfving at 6:50 AM on June 16, 2006

If you're taking any studies that have math courses, gnuplot.
posted by shepd at 7:58 AM on June 16, 2006

Yahoo Widgets (ne konfabulator). It's a nice application that lets you run a ton of small, useful and sometimes whimsical applications.

For Laptops I especially like the battery meter and WiFi signal meter, much better than the ones that come with the laptop.
posted by oddman at 8:09 AM on June 16, 2006

Dave's Quick Search Deskbar (again, but nobody ever believes me..).

In this case, because you have instant easy access to dictionary, thesaurus and wikipedia searches, right on your desktop.

Other recommendations would depend on your subject area - MATLAB, for example.
posted by Chuckles at 8:33 AM on June 16, 2006

You may want to try EverNote for taking notes in class (link). I use it at work but I wish I would have used this in class. You just type in your notes and it automatically saves it. You tag the notes, organize them, add clipping from firefox and IE. The free version has all of these features, if your laptop turns into a notepad you can buy the full version which adds "Handwriting and Shape recognition, Advanced Note Recognition (ANR) and Ink-Note Search."

It is very highly recommended by me.
posted by aurigus at 8:33 AM on June 16, 2006

Obligatory Killjoy Suggestion: Temptation Blocker.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2006

I can see from the tone so far that my whuffie score will take a beating for mentioning it, but Microsoft OneNote served me very well at the university.

I've used it mostly with TabletPC's, but it's a very useful tool indeed on a standard laptop, and even on my desktop. Simply put, it stores and organizes notes very effectively.

It's $100, but you can get an Academic license for $50 at your university's book store.
posted by SlyBevel at 5:04 PM on June 16, 2006

Whoops, matthewr beat me to it. Oh well, consider it seconded.
posted by SlyBevel at 5:05 PM on June 16, 2006

Norton Antivirus or McAfee VirusScan
Firefox w/Adblock and NoScript

Set your home page to snopes.com and search there whenever you get a chain email before forwarding it.

Here's your desktop wallpaper.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 9:58 AM on June 17, 2006

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