Best Free Software for Vassar Faculty (& Others)

by Baynard Bailey

Recently, Pete Naegele shared via a NITLE mailing list an article titled “101 Free Alternatives to Commonly Used Paid Software“. I thought people might not have time to review all 101, so I’m cherry picking those I find most suitable for Vassar faculty. (Note: I’m also only picking things that are options for Windows AND OSX users.)


Google Mail

Google mail syncs with practically every email system out there. It’s a great client. It can handle multiple accounts and will automatically reply with the email account you pick. The Google search-ability and portability is unmatched. A Gmail account also opens the door for a whole host of applications they offer (Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google Reader, the list goes on….) They’ve just released a new priority In Box feature that helps you deal with get control of your In box. Amazing! If you don’t have a Google account already, what are you waiting for?


Thunderbird is a cross-platform open-source mail client that works great. It even comes on Linux.

Office Programs

Google Docs (as an alternative to Microsoft Office)

Google Docs has the core programs of Micros, such as word processing, spreadsheets and calendars, and not only is it free, but it can be accessed anywhere thanks to cloud computing. You can also edit documents simultaneously with collaborators and/or publish to the internet. The online form enables you to collect data via email or websites, with instantly graphed results. Stop emailing documents to yourself and join us in the clouds.

OpenOffice (as an alternative to Microsoft Office)

As an open source office suite, Open Office allows for the utilization of the best office programs online such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and databases. User contributions can be made to the project, which means that it is constantly growing and evolving.


An easy and efficient way to store, share and sync your files, Dropbox is a cloud service that allows users to access their files anywhere in the world. Very popular!

Website and Application Building

WordPress icon


WordPress is a simple and easy way to publish to the Internet. It can handle simple static sites or more complex sites. Faculty and students working with faculty can request a WordPress site hosted by Vassar here. Training and support available from ACS.


Free and open source web browser, customizable with tons of great add-ons. Empower your browsing!

Graphics / Photo Editing

GIMP (as an alternative to Adobe Photoshop)

Also known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP allows for easy image composition, retouching and photo authoring. It also works on all operating systems. It does just about everything you need in Photoshop.

Flickr (online image collection and management)

Flickr is a great way to store photos and to share photos. It also comes with a whole suite of plug-ins and functionality. If you like to take digital pictures, you’ll instantly like and later fall deeply in love with Flickr. The free one is great and the professional upgrade (with unlimited storage!) is only $25.00 a year. It was developed by a Vassar grad! If you need uncopyrighted images, remember to visit the Flickr Creative Commons.

Audio & Video

VLC (video player and light video editor)

A player that is capable of playing almost every file and media codec, the VLC player means that you don’t have to open and close different programs to run DVDs, VCDs, CDs, web streams and other forms of media. Especially great at creating screenshots from DVDs or videos.

Audacity (sound editing)

Audacity allows for easy recording and editing of sound files, as well as the conversion of tapes and other media formats.

iTunes and iTunes U

Not everyone can go to college, but everyone who has a computer can access iTunes U. Filled with subscribe-able podcasts and video podcasts on every subject imaginable. The media can be played on phones, computers, .mp3 players, or i-anything. If you are interested in developing content for Vassar’s iTunes U, please email me (babailey [@]


"The fabulous voice system able to put your family together.” Designed by advertising agency Moma"

"Skype: the fabulous voice system able to put your family together.” Ad designed by advertising agency Moma

Voip (voice over IP) service to make free computer to computer calls, or cheap computer to phone calls. Very popular amongst those who like to make calls overseas.


Hulu is a front runner of online video services. Their tagline is “watch your favorites, anytime, for free.” If you missed that last week’s episode of “The Office” and don’t have a DVR, this is the site for you. They have a bevvy of free content or you can pay a modest fee for upgraded services. Embed their player right in your Moodle site!


Great program for ripping clips off DVDs. See my post on Good News for Clip Rippers. Learn how to use Handbrake here.

Also available for Windows.

Let us know if you (at Vassar) need help with any of these programs!


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