Download a la Mode!

by Miguel Guhlin
adapted from
“So, what new software,” I ask myself some late evenings, “is available out there for free?” Over the last few years of research, many exciting software programs have jumped out at me.
Like me, many educators I run into ask themselves what software--or web-based services a la Web 2.0--are available for free. Over the last few weeks, these web-based and software programs have jumped out at me. They may not be necessarily the newest or the best, but they are usually free. If you don’t mind, come along with me and we’ll take a quick look at some of the free software out on the Internet. Most are either 1) Free, Open Source (FOSS) or freeware programs — fully functional programs that the author or company allows anyone to use without asking for ANY payment for it.

Software Tools to Make Computing Easier

Often, I have had to seek out free tools to use in workshops because the teachers, administrators, and/or parents may not have the funds to purchase the commercial software. As an educator, I can appreciate the meaning of “free” or “low-cost” alternatives to expensive products. For example, the academic version of MS Office costs $150. For most educators, their students, and parents, $150 translates into another cost. “We bought the computer,” they say, “and now I have to buy that program for how much?” But you can get OpenOffice at no cost! And, if you want to heighten collaboration, GoogleDocs, ZohoShow are other online Office suites featuring a word processor, spreadsheet, and slide show presentation tools you can take advantage of!

Why Write About Free Tools?

In the past, I was asked to present at conferences with more than 1600 participants. It was a marathon conference and I was asked to prepare 5 different presentations. Of all the presentations, the most popular — that is, the topic that packed the room and resulted in standing room only — was entitled, “Freeware Internet Survival Tools.” I was shocked. Over the years, I had started to think that this type of article and/or presentation was a waste of time. But it became clear to me that the words “free” or “almost free” attract educators and students in a powerful way.

Questions Educators Ask

The following is a short list of some of the questions I have heard from education colleagues, or asked myself:

  1. How do I compress multiple files for transfer as an Email attachment?
  2. How do I quickly share information with others?
  3. How can I set up my own Web server?
  4. How do I set up an FTP server?
  5. How do I set up an Email (SMTP) server and why would I want to?
  6. How do I protect myself from spyware or adware?
  7. How can I protect my computer from viruses?
  8. I’ve heard that Internet Explorer has problems. What browser might I use instead?
  9. How can I ensure that my Email is private, not public?
  10. Where can I find all these free programs?

Compress Multiple Files To Share

Sending email attachments is easy, but can cause a lot of trouble for the recipient of your Email message. Before you send an Email message, contact the recipient and agree on a compression format that you can use. Compression programs work like electronic suitcases that allow you to carry your clothes on long trips. You put your clothes in a suitcase for easy carrying. This is the same reason that compression programs are used. There are several formats; some of the most common ones you can find on the Internet can be handled with one program — Aladdin Expander (note that you can click on the filenames to download these on the Web).
The most popular compression format is ZIP. This is an established compression format that is available on Linux, Windows, and Macs. The programs that you use to decompress files include but aren’t limited to the following:
First of all, those using Windows XP/Vista/7 can create, as well as decompress, zip files using built-in ZIP compression. Simply right click on the file or folder of files you want. There are a variety of tools you can use that are FREE. One of the best that works cross-platform includes the 7z format. For Windows computers, you can use the built-in tools to ZIP files or use PEAzip to do the compression. PEAzip features the same interface for Windows and Linux, (BTW, there’s a portable one, too) and offers secure deletion of files as well. It is a cross-platform file and archive manager featuring volume spanning, compression, authenticated encryption; it supports 7Z, 7-Zip sfx, ACE, ARJ, BZ2, CAB, CHM, CPIO, DEB, GZ, ISO, JAR, LHA/LZH, NSIS, OOo, PAQ/LPAQ, PEA, QUAD, RAR, RPM, split, TAR, Z, ZIP.
On the Macintosh OS X side, simply right mouse-click and ARCHIVE files to ZIP them. While there really isn't a free, equivalent program to PEAzip on the Mac, you can get GUITar, a very simple application that will let you uncompress files in 7z or zip format.

Sharing Information with Others

Set Up Your Own Web Server

One classroom teacher at the TCEA State Conference said, “I want to set up my own Web server in my classroom because I can’t get space on the District server. Am I able to do that?” The answer is, “Of course!” Then, I reminded the person that they should check into their district’s acceptable use policy. At this point, the person just smiled and we moved on to the details.
If you enjoy sharing student work or publishing your own work, but lack funding to buy your own server (approximately $10,000 for a Windows model) to place in the District’s server farm, or lack support, then you are probably considering setting up your own Web server using a desktop machine. You wouldn’t believe how many other educators are doing the same thing. In a few hours, you can probably find a wealth of free Web server software to use.