Tag Archives: software

Moving to a more standardized instructional platform

JpegWe are planning to make some significant changes in our systems for next year. In order to be more standardized and make teaching and learning easier, we will be requiring the use of specific operating systems.

Operating Systems: ALL teachers, TAs and students will use either Windows 8.1 or Macintosh OSX 10.10 (Yosemite). All school-owned student computers will have Windows 8.1 installed on them. All school-owned laptops will be upgraded to Windows 8.1 or OSX 10.10. All personally-owned teacher, TA or student laptops will need to be upgraded to Windows 8.1 or OSX 10.10.

  • Will you upgrade my laptop’s operating system for me? All school-owned laptops will have Windows 8.1 installed. We are asking all teachers and students to upgrade their computer’s operating system during the break. It’s a time-consuming process. If you ask us to do it in August, it will require several days. (Do it when you’ve got a high-speed connection!)
  • Windows 8.1 is not a free upgrade. Will ICS provide me with a license? We are working on a licensing option and can assist with that BUT it is a license with an annual fee. If you take that option, your license for Windows will expire when you leave ICS. If you want to pursue this, please talk with us.
  • Will my computer accept an upgrade? If your computer was purchased reasonably recently, it will upgrade to the latest system. Please see the Microsoft or Apple system requirements or ask for help from the IT Help Desk if you are unsure.
  • Is upgrading easy? Changing the operating system of your computer is not very hard, but it’s not trivial. Please make sure you back up all your data and applications beforehand! (Please note that some applications may not work with your new operating system.)
  • What if I refuse to upgrade? We will not support other systems. We are only supporting these two operating systems to make teaching & learning easier.
  • Can I upgrade to Windows 10 or OSX 10.11 when they come out? No. We are only supporting Windows 8.1 and OSX 10.10.

Productivity Software: We are licensing Microsoft Office 365 for all school computers. This will also cover all teacher-owned or student-owned computers. We will install Office software on all school-owned student laptops during the summer, and will help teachers and students get it installed on personally-owned laptops in August. Office 365 includes the latest version of Office (Office 2013 for Windows, Office 2011 for OSX). This is an annual license – if you leave ICS, your software will expire.

  • What if I have my own copy of Microsoft Office? If you are using the current version, then you may continue using that. If you are using an older version, you will need to either buy your own upgrade or use the school license. You must use Microsoft Office 2011 (OSX) or Office 2013 (Windows).
  • What about all my LibreOffice files? We recommend you keep that installed and use it to convert files from .odt to .docx and so forth. Microsoft Office does not always easily read LibreOffice files. We will use Microsoft Office for all school work.
  • What if I need help doing things in Microsoft Office? We will have both face-to-face and online training sessions scheduled. Help Desk staff will be available for assistance as well. We will be requiring all teachers and TA’s and students to demonstrate competency in using Microsoft Office.

We’ll be sending out more information over the next few weeks: by email, in the Yezare Samint, and on this blog, If you have any questions, please let me know.

Gift-giving: Free Software, Free Music

For many of us, it’s gift-giving time. Choosing or making a present, wrapping it up and putting it under a tree or handing it to a friend or loved one.

This Christmas, why not give free gifts? There are great sources of free software AND free music. They are not only free to download and use, they’re free to share (and free to adapt & customize). It’ll save you money and it will come with the fringe benefits of freedom – the people who receive the gifts can share with others. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Free Software

These are free and open source software packages that we use at school with students and teachers. They are fully functional, cross-platform (so they’ll work on Windows or Mac OSX), and free to share. Download a copy and install it on your computer. Put a copy on a flash disk and give it to a friend or neighbour. They are all licensed so that you can share them freely.

Here are a few choice software tools that we use at ICS (and I personally use and enjoy!).

Powerful Productivity: LibreOffice

libreofficescreenshotLibreOffice is a free and fully-functional office suite. It has a word processor (Write) that can be used to type up a simple poem or format a multi-sectioned formatted document. The spreadsheet (Calc) supports all the usual functions and graphing features you would expect. The slide presenter (Impress) lets you make boring bullet-list presentations or slick graphics-full slides. Furthermore, there’s a Math formula editor, a powerful database component and (one of my favourite features) a drawing component that lets you create graphics or lay out brochures, posters, etc.

The main commercial competitor to LibreOffice is Microsoft Office. They both have strong features and each have functions that the other lacks. LibreOffice can open just about any MS Office file (.docx, .xlsx, etc. files) and also save files in Microsoft formats. See this LifeHacker article for comparisons.

In a review, PC World calls LibreOffice “extremely capable” and “highly configurable, extensible and cross platform.” It’s 100% free and available for Windows, OSX or Linux. Download it for free from the website.

Creativity Unlimited: The GIMP

gimpThe GIMP has an aweful name, but it’s an awesome program. The GIMP (it’s short for GNU Image Manipulation Program) lets you edit image files (photographs, etc.) in both simple (cropping, adjusting brightness, colors, etc.) ways and also in much more complicated ways. It has a range of artistic and creative filters you can apply to a whole image or part of one, multiple layers and brushes, etc. It’s an incredible creative program.

The GIMP’s main commercial competitor is Photoshop and it’s often compared to it. Expert Photoshop users find the GIMP’s interface and workflow different and might find it hard to work with. They both offer similar features, and both are incredibly powerful. If you’re a professional photo editor you might want to pay for Photoshop. If you just want to get creative with photos, try the GIMP. Here’s a simple and balanced comparison.

A review in ExtremeTech lauds the GIMP’s “extensive and powerful set of features” and states that “in some areas …it actually outshines Adobe Photoshop.” Check out this gallery to see some examples of amazing work with the GIMP.

Download the GIMP for Windows, Mac OSX from the website. (Click “other versions” for links to OSX and Windows downloads.)

Incredible Drawing Tool: Inkscape

Inkscape-1024x777Inkscape is a vector graphic drawing tool. That means it focuses on drawing and construction, rather than “paint-like” tools. With it, you can create graphics projects that are simple diagrams, plain clip art or complex artwork. It’s all SVG files – scalable vector graphics – so you can zoom in as much as you want and the graphics are crisp and detailed. There’s a great plugin (Sozi) which lets you create zoomable presentations. (Check out a workshop I presented about it here.)

The main commercial program that rivals Inkscape is Illustrator. Again, they both have powerful tools and can do many things the same. Check out this comparison on BrightHub.

MacWorld gives Inkscape 4 mice and calls it “powerful” and “highly extensible.” Download Inkscape for Windows, OSX or Linux here.

Want more?

Audacity is great for audio/podcasting, VLC is simply the best for playing any videos, Thunderbird is a terrific email client, KeePass is a secure way to store your many passwords, Celestia is incredible astronomy software, GeoGebra is a fantastic math learning program…

Check out the OpenSource.com website for much more information, or see these sites for free & open source software for Mac OSX or Windows.

Free Music

Sure, you can download “free” music from various sites on the internet, but much of that is pirated. You’re breaking copyright laws and violating licensing agreements. There have been cases where individual downloaders have been taken to court and fined hefty fines. And you’re really stealing the music – taking something without proper permission by the owner.

However, there are a number of musicians – independent, lesser-known artists – who share their work freely and give you permissionto download, listen to and even share their work. They don’t use copyright laws, but license their work with Creative Commons licenses. This is a way artists (even you or me) can protect their work but give permission to others to use, share, remix, etc. The artist can control how the work can be used (commercially? mashed-up or just like the original?) but all require attribution (giving credit to the artist), so you can use but not steal.

I’ve wrttien about this topic, including some of the Christmas music I found to give away, on my own personal blog.

Here are a few sites that I go to for great music.
fmascreenshot

FreeMusicArchive.org

The Free Music Archive is a great source of all types of music and podcasts. I often find interesting artists and good music to listen to. The music all has different licenses – mostly some version of the Creative Commons licenses. One of my favourite finds here is the Debo Band – an American/Ethiopian band that plays some great funky versions of Ethiopian jazz music.
jamendoscreenshot

Jamendo.com

Jamendo is another place I go to find interesting and free music. There are all kinds of independent bands that release music on the site, with all kinds of styles. I recently found and got hooked on the band I Am Not Lefthanded – featured on the website screenshot.

MusOpen.org

MusOpen has some beautiful classical music – all in the Public Domain. That means there is no copyright or restrictions on the music at all. Use them as you wish. They also have sheet music and educational resources …it’s a great site.

Happy holidays …give freely!

Giving the gift of free software

box-15737_640It’s Christmas time and many people are rushing around, scrambling for presents. Here’s an idea: give things that are free.

Free software not only has a great price (who can beat $0?), but also come with an ethos of freedom, openness and collaboration. They’re developed by the community, as people create plugins and extensions and then share them back to everyone in the community. The same is true for documentation and tutorials. It really is a gift that keeps on giving!

Here are three of my all-time favourite free software tools – freely downloadable for any operating system.

Free Office suite: LibreOffice

libreofficescreenshotLibreOffice is a powerful cross-platform office suite that includes not only the usual word processor, spreadsheet and slide presenter, but also a strong database and math formula editor. It’s more powerful than the tools you get on Google Docs and definitely stands up to Microsoft Office. Two features that I use regularly which MS lacks: a one-click “export to PDF” function (which also includes the capability of embedding the doc itself, making the PDF editable) and a Draw environment for graphic layouts of posters, brochures, etc. (Far simpler than trying to force Word to do it.)

PC World gives it 4 stars, calling it “an extremely capable office suite …highly configurable, extensible and cross-platform.)

Free photo editor/manipulator: GIMP

gimpThe GIMP has an awful name (it stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program), but it’s an awesome product. The GIMP is an image manipulation software – you can edit photos and other images, use a wide variety of tools and filters to apply artistic effects, change colors, etc. It’s comparable to the commercial Photoshop software. People do some amazing work with the GIMP.

A review in ExtremeTech lauds the GIMP’s “extensive and powerful set of features” and states that “in some areas …it actually outshines Adobe Photoshop.”

Free graphics creator/editor: Inkscape

InkscapeInkscape has made even a non-talented person like me an “artist.” (Well, at least I’ve created some graphics that one might consider art …or just clip art.) With Inkscape, you can create graphics projects that are simple diagrams, plain clip art or complex artwork. It’s all SVG files – scalable vector graphics – so you can zoom in as much as you want and the graphics are crisp and detailed. There’s a great plugin (Sozi) which lets you create zoomable presentations. (Check out a workshop I presented about it here.)

MacWorld gives Inkscape 4 mice and calls it “powerful” and “highly extensible.”

More

Want more? Audacity is great for audio/podcasting, VLC is simply the best for playing any videos, Thunderbird is a terrific email client, KeePass is a secure way to store your many passwords, Celestia is incredible astronomy software, GeoGebra is a fantastic math learning program…

Check out the OpenSource.com website for much more information, or see these sites for free & open source software for Mac OSX or Windows.