The best free back to school software 2017

With students everywhere preparing to head back to school and college, it's time to make sure you and your kids are prepared with all the essentials for the coming term or semester.

Whatever the subject and level, this toolkit contains all the essential software students need to get the most out of lessons and seminars, and make their assignments shine.

We know this can be an expensive time of year, so all the programs we've picked here are totally free for students to download and use, leaving you with more money for all the other school essentials.

LibreOffice is packed with everything you’d expect from a modern office software suite

1. LibreOffice

There are some great student discounts available on premium office software, but there's no need to pay at all

Almost every subject involves writing in some context, and for this you'll need a reliable word processor. Microsoft Word might spring naturally to mind, and students get a discount on the regular price, but there are plenty of free options out there too.

LibreOffice is a powerful free alternative to Microsoft Office, and its powerful word processing tool matches Microsoft Word almost feature-for-feature.

LibreOffice also includes a spreadsheet tool, a presentation tool and much more. And just because you're opting for free software, it doesn't mean you have to save your documents in weird formats – LibreOffice is fully compatible with Microsoft Office so you can create, share and open files with other people with ease. The software is updated very frequently, and extras such as support for cloud storage are a nice touch. There are also addons available which can be used to extend the capabilities of an already-powerful suite, making this well worth a look.

Review and where to download: LibreOffice

A reliable antivirus tool is essential for protecting valuable work

2. Kaspersky Free

Kaspersky's newly released security toolkit will protect your work from damage caused by viruses and other malware

Keeping your computer free from viruses shouldn't cost you a lot of time or, ideally, money. But if you want to ensure that your valuable work doesn’t get destroyed by a piece of malware, or your computer is not rendered inoperable by some form of nastiness, protection is needed. By Kaspersky's own admission, Kaspersky Free offers the "bare essentials". What this means is that you're protected against dangerous websites, and your emails, downloads and files are automatically scanned for signs of infection. If anything untoward is found, the offending file is quarantined for you.

Delightfully simple to use, you may never have to do anything to the software. Once it's installed it will keep itself up to date and scan your computer on a regular basis. Kaspersky Free's detection rates are high, thanks to using the same database as the company's premium offerings. You really are getting high-class protection – without impacting on system performance – for free. What's not to like?

It's still wise to make regular backups of your work in case of physical damage of your PC. Thankfully, there are lots of excellent free backup tools that make this a piece of cake.

Download here: Kaspersky Free

Simplenote is ideal to jotting down ideas during lectures and seminars

3. Simplenote

Manage important tasks, stay on top of deadlines, take notes, and keep everything synced between desktop and mobile devices

You don't always need a fully fledged word processor; sometimes you just want to take quick notes using a simple app with an uncluttered interface and no distractions. This is precisely what Simplenote is, and it lends itself beautifully to a huge range of uses.

Simplenote is a brilliant tool for students heading back to school. It can be used for everything from basic shopping lists and reading lists, to taking notes in class and creating reminders. There's even support for versioning, markdown formatting and sharing, all wrapped up in a wonderfully minimalist interface.

What's particularly appealing about Simplenote is that it is a cloud-based tool which is available for various platforms. There are desktop apps for Windows, Mac and Linux, and mobile apps for iPhone and Android. As soon as you create a note, or make a change, it's available on all of your device instantly.

You can use tags to organize notes and make them easier to find, but there's also a powerful search function to help you easily track down your notes without having to hunt for them manually. 

Review and where to download: Simplenote

Make sure your work and emails are perfect before submitting them to tutors

4. Grammarly

An advanced grammar and spelling tool for your web browser

When you're writing in a word processor, you have a spelling and grammar check whirring away in the background pointing out your mistakes – but what about the writing you do online, like preparing an email to a tutor or submitting work via an online form?

Grammarly is a browser extension (available for Chrome, Safari and Firefox) that will not only check your spelling but also, as the name suggests, keep an eye on your grammar for you.

While the core software is free, this version only checks for what are termed 'critical' spelling and grammar issues as well as punctuation and contextual spelling. If you want more comprehensive checking, plus plagiarism detection and support for different writing styles, you'll need to upgrade to Grammarly Premium. At US$11.99 (about £10, AU$15) per month, this is a little on the expensive side, but it might be worthwhile for essays and theses. 

For most people, the free tool will suffice and being a web-based tool means it's accessible from anywhere. You can even use it to check your offline documents thanks to an online editor where you can paste text for analysis. 

Download here: Grammarly

Paint.NET is particularly handy if you need to prepare images for a class presentation

5. Paint.NET

A powerful but accessible editor for all kinds of everyday graphics tasks

Whatever course they're studying, all students need a graphics program from time to time. Whether you need to touch up a photo you're not entirely happy with, scan a document to share with someone, or crop in on a screenshot you've taken, Paint.NET is ideal for the job.

While not as powerful as the likes of Photoshop, the program is highly capable and covers all of the essentials. There's support for layers and even plugins so you extend the program to suit your needs, but the base program should be enough for most people.

If you like the idea of getting to try out new features before anyone else, you can sign up to get the beta versions delivered to you as app updates, and the developer does a great job of keeping on top of any bugs and problems that are reported. An essential piece of software for every student's PC or Mac.

Review and where to download: Paint.NET

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