(Updated on August 8, 2013)
With a new school year now at hand, it’s that time again…time to make sure that students are outfitted with the best software applications for academic success.
Every college or high school student needs a good office suite, of course, for putting together those all important school reports. Other types of software can come in very handy for taking notes in class, converting speech to text, enhancing photos, and producing videos. Students also need software for backing up their work, keeping their PCs tuned up and virus-free, and — let’s face it — just plain having fun.
Here’s our list of top ten essential software applications for academic survival, with updated information about new and upcoming releases of some these products. All of these applications run on Windows, and most are also available for Mac OS?X and/or mobile platforms such as Windows RT, iOS, and Android. To find out more about each software application, click on the links below and read the full, in-depth reviews on NotebookReview and TechnologyGuide sister sites such as TabletPCReview and DigitalCameraReview.
#1: Microsoft Office 2013
On the market since January, Microsoft Office 2013 is the latest and greatest edition of Microsoft’s long-time and pervasive office suite.
Office 2013 is the first version of the suite to be specifically tailored to Windows 8 and its touch interface. The suite also runs, however, on Windows 7.
The Home & Student edition, which is also available for Windows RT tablets, includes the Microsoft Office Word word processor, the PowerPoint presentation package, and the Excel spreadsheet program.
With Office 2013, you can save documents directly to your SkyDrive account for cloud storage and file sharing. You can also insert video and audio from online sources. Other new features include a clean and distraction-free new Read Mode in Word and a new Presentation Mode in PowerPoint.
#2: Microsoft Office 365
This subscription-based approach to Microsoft Office can be a better alternative for students living in houses with multiple PCs and/or Macs around…and for anyone who prefers pay-as-you-go to plunking down a bigger wad of cash for the Office Home & Student software package, which carries list pricing of $139.99.
Priced at $8.95 per month for up to five PCs or Macs, Office 365 includes not just Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote, but Microsoft Outlook, Publisher, Access, InfoPath, and Lync. It also comes with Office Web Apps, editions of these same programs with somewhat limited functionality. The Web Apps can be used from remote locations — such as libraries or friends’ homes — without any need to download software.
In comparison, Office Home & Business 2013 — list priced at $219.99 — provides only Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote, along with Outlook software for email, calendaring and tasks. (Meanwhile, the forthcoming Windows 8.1 operating system is set to include an updated email client.)
For high school grads heading off to college, Office 365 University might be the most worthwhile investment in terms of Microsoft Office software. Pricing of $79.99 covers two PCs or Macs for four full years.
Over the past couple of months, Microsoft has sweetened the Office 365 deal further by releasing Office Mobile for the iPhone and Android, two apps available to Office 365 subscribers only.
Available in Windows Desktop, Windows 8/RT, Mac OS X, iOS and Android flavors, Evernote is a set of cloud-enabled apps for taking notes and storing and organizing just about any number of electronic documents.
With Evernote, you can create not just text notes but audio and photo notes, too. You can clip Web pages (including text, links and images), and you can search for text within snapshots and other images.
That’s all quite useful, of course, for keeping track of the contents of class lectures, of course, and for producing school reports (whether multimedia or not).
#4: Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements 11
Speaking of multimedia, Adobe Photoshop Elements (PSE) & Premiere Elements (PRE) is a fantasic tool. Offered in editions for Windows and Mac, the package combines software programs for photo and video editing.
Whether you want to touch up a photo for a Facebook page, put together a photo essay for a photography class, or post a video of your college campus or a music concert to Youtube, this package has you covered.
Cool features in version 11 include face identification for locating photos of specific people; geotagging, for organizing images by place; an events view for organizing photos by time and place; and time remapping, for slowing down or speeding up video clips with just a couple of clicks.
In June, Adobe moved to subscription-only pricing for its higher-end Creative Suite (CS), a product aimed at the professional market. So far, there’s no indication that PSE and PRE will also be included in the Creative Cloud Suite (CCS) pricing model, although that could always change. Adobe traditionally releases new editions of PSE and PRE in late September.
Many people — particularly those who aren’t accomplished typists — find it faster and easier to “speak” their reports into a computer than to type them in via a keyboard. The Windows-based Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) software package does an excellent job of converting those spoken words into text.
DNS will also transcribe just about anything — classroom lectures, interviews, etc. — that’s been recorded with a digital voice recorder (DVR).
Moreover, if you’re not that fond of either a keyboard or a mouse, this software program will let you use voice commands for controlling your PC.
With autumn on the way, look for a new release of DNS.
Here’s the grim reality. PC hard drives do fail sometimes, and laptops can get lost or stolen. Computers can get ruined by floods and other natural disasters. Then what happens to all of those course materials and reports in progress?
However, by using a cloud backup service such as Carbonite, you can make sure that you won’t lose valuable computer-based information by storing a copy of it on a server in a data center.
If you couple Carbonite with Mirror Image — which is included in the subscriptions for the Home Plus and Home Premium editions — you can back up all of your software applications and system files, as well.
Carbonite is available for Windows, versions XP through 8, and for Mac OS X.
#7: Norton AntiVirus 2013
Norton AntiVirus 2013 is one of the most effective remedies out there, according to our team of expert reviewers. It runs on all versions of Windows, from XP through Windows 8 (although Windows 8 also includes some built-in protection through Windows Defender).
The 2013 edition of NAV offers a slicker user interface, a better version of SONAR threat detection, and an enhanced update service.
More enhancements are sure to be on the way in the forhcoming 2014 edition of NAV.
#8: Advanced System Optimizer
Like any PC, a student’s computer can get easily cluttered up with software “junk” in places like the Windows System Registry and Web browser cache.
As a result, the PC can start to slow down, freeze up, or even crash.
Advanced System Optimizer (ASO) is one of many Windows system management tools suites aimed at scanning the computer and at identifying and applying the right fixes.
It is also widely regarded as one of the best.
Now we get to the really fun stuff. After a hard day of hitting the books, every student deserves to be able to curl up with a good movie.
Beyond its Web brower-based movie streaming, and its apps for iOS and Android, Netflix now offers an app specifically for Windows 8 PCs and RT tablets.
That’s just perfect for helping students to avoid the cost of cable TV, and for a cramped dorm room or crowded apartment where a flat panel HDTV might be hard to fit.
In its?screen design, the?Netflix Windows 8 app does an enviable job of getting around the limitations of the Windows 8 “Modern” user interface.
A subscription to the Netflix streaming video service, which works with the app, makes for a highly entertaining graduation gift.
If music is the student’s pleasure, Spotify could hold the key. In addition to its huge database of 15 million tracks for streaming music, Spotify supplies great tools for finding tunes, creating playlists, and sharing them on social networks.
Spotify offers downloadable apps for PCs, Macs, and mobile platforms like iOS and Android, along with a new Web player which works with major browsers.
Although a free streaming music service is available, subscriptions priced at $4.99 and $9.99 per month bring more features, such as a radio mode and — in the Premium edition — offline listening.