Apr 2, 2008
Below is a list of a few of my favorite open source applications for the desktop. Most are available for any platform, and many are available on the OpenDisc for Windows systems (which you can download here, or, if you are a Saugus employee, simply ask and we'll send you one.) It's important to keep in mind that these applications:
  • Are free
  • Can be given to students to install and use at home
  • Offer educators the opportunity to introduce new technologies in their educational environement
  • Provide essential skills that are transferrable to applications of similar types in the commercial world


Scribus is a remarkably capable desktop publishing application that offers "press-ready" output, CMYK color with ICC color management support, and versatile PDF creation features. A number of school districts use this to produce yearbooks, newsletters, and other professional publications.


The Gnu Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is an incredible graphics tool that is often compared to Adobe Photoshop. It is excellent for such applications as photo retouching, image composition, authoring, format conversion, and even 2D animation. Can you afford to give your kids access to sophisticated imaging tools on every computer? With the GIMP, you can!


Inkscape is a scalable vector drawing program, similar to Adobe Illustrator. Vector drawings are essential mathematical representations of an image. The benefit of vector image is that it can be scaled to any size, stretched, or skewed without any loss of quality. An excellent tool for creating logos, headings, or any other graphic that you might want to use on a web site or publication.


Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is a tool that enables remote control of a distant desktop. VNC is excellent for technical support and classroom management, in that it enables the user to monitor and/or take control of a remote computer from any location on the network. Fast and platform independent, VNC can transform a classroom or technical support department.


PDFCreator is a simple add on for Windows that enables the creation of PDF documents from any application (in the same fashion as Mac and Linux users can.) Essentially, it creates a "printer" that, when selected from the print dialog, saves any document as a PDF file.

Blender 3D

Featuring sophisticated modeling and rendering tools, Blender is an incredible 3D design environment capable of meeting the most demanding student/teacher needs. Engineering and design students, as well as those interested in Pixar quality animation and gaming will find everything they need in this valuable tool.

TuxPaint, TuxTyping, and TuxMath

Three great applications for primary age kids. They are easy to use, fun, and encouraging, with great sound effects and animation that will keep elementary students engaged for hours.


Audacity is a powerful, easy to use audio recording and editing tool, which is great for recording podcasts and other live audio, converting tapes and records to digital formats, and any other digital audio needs you can imagine. Teachers even use it for reading and language fluency, speech counseling, and foreign language training.


Video LAN Client (VLC) is the media player that never says "no." Plays almost any media file and format, including streaming media files, on any platform. A great tool for Mac and Linux users who want to play those pesky, Windows only formats.

OpenOffice/NeoOffice (Mac)


What more needs to be said about OpenOffice? Handily provides for all the productivity needs of any student or teacher, including integrated word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and database applications. Pluggable and extendable, OpenOffice offers flexible tools that are free, open, and compatible.


An incredible space simulator that lets you explore the universe in 3 dimensions. Features a wealth of spacecraft and objects, unconfined 3D navigation, seamless motion, and an expandable architecture, with Celestia, the possibilities are literally endless.


Freemind is the premier free mind-mapping software in the open source world. Need to work out an idea, prioritize tasks, refactor an essay, or even write a completely new metaphysics? Freemind is the tool for you.


GCompris means "I get it!" and is a great tool for children age 2-10. Comprised of a whole suite of tasks and activities, including computer discovery, algebra, science, geography, reading, and others, GCompris offers a wealth of learning opportunities.

Of course there are hundreds of great applications available that I didn't mention, like Stellarium, CMAPTools, Dia, Math Trax, StarLogo, Virtual Microscope, and Nvu - check them all out, as well as the host of links on this site, and CoSN's k12opentech.org site for more.

Why limit your students to four or five applications, when you have the opportunity to expose them to the rich, relevant technologies that open source provides? Take advantage of the flexibility and choice of open source solutions in your classrooms today!


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  1. I hadn't heard of some of these; thanks for posting them. I had trouble connecting to Scribus- perhaps their server was down. I've always liked tools in illustrator that allowed drawing shapes and then mapping text to them. I can see that inkscape does that, but the learning curve on something as "powerful" as that is pretty stiff. Any recommendations for a scaled-down version? While Word lets you create some standard shapes with Wordart, I'd love to be able to create logos and the like with more freeform lines. How about a top 10 list for Web 2.0 apps?

  2. I've always liked the Draw program in OpenOffice.org, although it definitely isn't as capable as Inkscape. You can do things like convert text to outlines and bend and stretch them, but text on paths and the like are only available through what they call "Fontwork shapes," which are a bit inflexible. It also offers some fairly advanced features, such as some basic 3D functionality, transparency, custom shapes, patterns, and gradients.
    Am working on a Web 2.0 list - stay tuned...

  3. Looking forward to the 2.0 list. I've just started going through the web2.0 directory since CUE '08 and am having fun trying to see educational applications. I do like the keybr.com app, as well as pandora.com. If you haven't tried the latter, it's like a radio station that plays music that it "thinks" you'll like. It does this by trying to match available titles to what you've chosen in the past. As you're listening you can thumbs up or thumbs down a selection. The program, in this way, gets better at predicting what you'll like. I find quite a few new songs this way from artists I've never heard of. Conveniently there is a button you can press that will allow a quick purchase of the tune from either itunes or amazon- your pick. Pretty cool!I will also have to try out those drawing tools in Openoffice- I seem to remember some text to shape mapping that was available. It's ok if it is somewhat limited. The fact that it is already installed in the lab is a big time saver and it will allow kids to experience some of the main differences between a pain program and a drawing program.

  4. Can you recommend a good (free) image resizer for Mac? I was using Image Well, which was free and perfect for quick resizing, but every time I used it, a window popped up telling me a newer version was available. Finally, when I had a little down time, I got it. What they DIDN'T mention was that the new version erased my old one and was NOT free. I was then given the option of using a "free trial version" or forking over $19.95. I don't want to open PhotoShop every time I want to do a quick resize for my blog. Can you help?

  5. Well, there are a couple of options. One is to use Preview, which comes with Mac OS X. Open the image in Preview, then choose Adjust Size from the Tools menu. You can also use Preview to do a number of other simple operations, like cropping, rotation, basic color adjustment, and file type conversion.

    If you are looking for something more like Photoshop, you can always use the GIMP (listed above.) I personally love it, but it may be overkill for your needs.

    For a Mac only "happy medium", try Seashore. It's based on the GIMP, but is much simpler and has that distinctive Mac "look and feel."

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