Back to school can be an expensive time – whether you're in college yourself, or getting your kids ready for the new term.
Even if you've had to pay for a new laptop and textbooks, there's no need to spend even more money on software – everything you need for the new school year is available to download free if you know where to look.
Students can often get discounts on premium apps, but all these programs are totally free to download and use, and easily rival their paid-for counterparts.
A full office software suite that's yours to download and use free
An office suite may not be the most exciting sort of software, but it's an essential addition to any student's computer. With WPS Office Free, you get everything you'd expect from an office suite: a word processor, a spreadsheet app and a presentation tool, all of which are comparable to Microsoft's offerings. In addition, you get a PDF tool and access to 1GB of cloud storage. This can be shared between the desktop software and the iOS and Android versions of the suite.
There are some thoughtful touches that help make WPS Office Free stand out from the competition. Not only can files be saved as PDFs, but existing PDFs can also be converted Word-compatible files. Performance is pleasingly fast, and the interface is similar enough to Microsoft Office to make it easy to switch from one to the other.
The suite is fully Microsoft Office compatible, and perhaps the only downside worth mentioning is the fact that there are some advertisements (as is becoming increasingly common in free software).
A student-friendly security suite that offers complete protection
Every student needs a solid security suite to protect their privacy and keep their work safe from dangers like ransomware that could damage or encrypt crucial essays and reports.
BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition is the best free antivirus around – fast and well designed, with excellent detection rates. Its behavioral analysis makes it particularly good at picking up zero-day threats – those that haven't yet been identified and catalogued by its security experts, but have been spotted based on their behaviour.
BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition isn't bloated with add-ons that you'll never use, but it does include anti-phishing and anti-fraud tools to keep students safe when they're banking and shopping online.
A cloud-based notebook that's perfect for gathering research in one place
When you're researching a project, you need somewhere to keep all your notes and resources. Evernote lets you upload 60MB of data per month (which goes a long way when you're mostly dealing with text), syncs across two devices (the mobile apps are also free), lets you share notes and whole notebooks with friends, and makes everything you've clipped searchable.
Evernote also has a web interface, which means your notes are accessible from any device with an internet access – including computers in the IT center or library that don't have the app installed.
To get the most from Evernote, we recommend installing the Web Clipper browser extension so you can add whole webpages, bookmarks, or individual articles to your notebooks with a click.
Protect work from accidental deletion, malicious attacks or drive failure
Your college work is irreplaceable, so a regular backup routine is essential. You never know when your PC's drive might fail, you could fall victim to a ransomware attack, or your laptop might be lost, broken or stolen on campus.
EaseUS Todo Backup Free makes protecting your documents as easy as possible. It can make an image of an entire drive (including the operating system), or just selected files or folders. The first time you start it, it begins backing up your documents folder automatically. After that, the choice is yours.
Getting started and setting up a regular schedule is simplicity itself, and restoring from a backup is just as straightforward if the worst happens.
Stay in touch with friends and family using any device – mobile or desktop
You might already have the mobile app on your phone, but WhatsApp is also available for desktop devices. Just download the app from the Windows Store or iTunes, then scan the QR code on the screen with your phone to log in and sync your messages.
WhatsApp's main advantage over most chat apps is its double-ended encryption, which keeps your messages safe from interception. It's no longer just for text conversations either – it also supports video calls, and a recent update added the ability to set up group calls with up to four people.
A fantastic, feature-packed photo editor without the price tag
You don't have to be working on a design or photography course to need an image editing tool – they're incredible versatile pieces of software that can be used for screen grabbing, logo making, document scanning, photo retouching and so much more. As is so often the case, there is a bewildering choice in this software genre, and it can be near-impossible to find a free program that's powerful enough for demanding users. But Paint.NET is different.
Available for both PC and Mac, Paint.NET does great job of competing with the greats such as Paint Shop Pro – and even Photoshop – but remains delightfully accessible. From the offset, this is a powerful piece of software with a great range of tools for you to work with, but support for plugins – and there is a massive and growing selection available – means that it is possible to further extend the capabilities of an already incredible program.