Educators often need turn to productivity software in order to do some of the tasks expected of them. Many are fortunate and are able to afford the best that there is, while others battle to survive on financial crumbs and are of the opinion that they have no means of acquiring the much needed software. This idea is often born through a lack of knowledge and ignorance of what is out there. In this article I want to shed some light on the matter and also provide some knowledge of productivity tools that are available. The great thing is that some of this software does not even cost an arm and a leg.
Before I proceed let me first of all clarify what is meant by productivity software. This is software that is used in most businesses and homes and over the years has commonly become known as office suites. Most of them consist at least of a word processor for typing, a spreadsheet for graphing and calculations, a presentation program for producing slides and an email program for correspondence. I am sure most of us encounter these tools almost on a daily bases.
This is probably the most well known of the office suites and is produced by Microsoft Co-operation. To acquire this software a user licence needs to be purchased. Many types of software licences are available and range from a personal user licence, student/educator licence, business licence, multi-user licence, etc. The type of licence that is purchased determines the extent to how the software may by used. People often forget that when they freely copy this software and share it with others they are actually breaking the law. However, this is a topic for another day. The long and short of the matter is that to be able to use this software a financial investment is required, one that could be unaffordable to many.
Being a commercial product, as a user you have the satisfaction of being backed by a huge team of programmers who are constantly working at improving and producing new versions of the software. These upgrades often have extra add-ons, and improvements over their predecessors. In most cases these upgrades are not free and you are required to fork out more money in order to gain access to this improved tool.
Microsoft Office is an extremely stable product which has built a lasting reputation over many years. Its also has a huge number of advanced features which are often for “power users”. In essence you get a product with all the bells and whistles, but in the day to day using of the program, most people in fact use less than ten percent of its features. So the question arises: do you need all of the bells and whistles? This is a question I leave with you to answer.
I will spend the next few paragraphs unveiling some other alternative which are freely available.
Google Office Apps
I have termed this set of apps Google Office. In fact these are three separate pieces of software which together function as a traditional office productivity suite. When you sign up for your Google account in order to get access to Gmail, you automatically have access to all three of these pieces of software.
The word processor is called Google Docs and has a Microsoft Word feel to it. Similarly the spreadsheet has a Microsoft Excel touch to it, and is called Google Sheets. Google Slides is the Microsoft Powerpoint alternative. and is an excellent tool for creating slides and presentations as in Powerpoint. All of these tools are free to use and only proviso is that you must have an internet connection and have a Google account.
Bear in mind that this is not Microsoft Office and a few basic functions may work slightly differently. On the upside you have access to your own drive of 15 GB to save your files to free of charge. This is all stored on the Google cloud,so you have no more worries about backing up information. All files are also backed up to the drive continuously while you work. Definitely an option worth looking into if you have internet access.
The following options are stand-alone software suites like Microsoft Office. Both are absolutely free to download legally as they fall within the group of software called open source. The beauty of this type of software is that it is entirely free, but does not necessarily need to bow down to its commercial counterparts in terms of quality. The code belongs to the community and there many hard-working individuals which releases updates on a regular basis.
This productivity suite has been around since 1999 and can be downloaded from its official website. OpenOffice has an excellent word processor called Writer, a spreadsheet called Calc and a presentations program called Impress. The current version is Apache OpenOffice 4.1.5. Besides the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs; the suite also includes a good relational database, a drawing program and a good mathematics equation editor.
Besides its great basic functionality and excellent office suite, OpenOffice has a number of other excellent features which adds great value. These include to ability to open files created with Microsoft Office, as well as the ability to export OpenOffice files from their native formats to other popular formats. In addition, many developers have developed OpenOffice templates. Some are commercial products, but many are freely available in the public domain.
Open Office is definitely a noteworthy contender in the office suite category for educators.
LibreOffice has been around since 2011 as a spin-off from OpenOffice. It is developed by the Document Foundation and may be downloaded freely from this link. The latest version of LibreOffice is also able to save files into docs and xlsx format (more compatible with the latest versions of Microsoft Office) when compared to OpenOffice.
It shares the same names for its word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc) and presentations (Impress) program with OpenOffice. In comparison to its open source rival, LibreOffice has a few extra add-ons and templates. Recently an online version of the suite has also been released, which initially only includes a basic version of Writer and Calc. The online version connects to a few of the more well-known cloud storage services such as Google Drive, One Drive, and Dropbox. This innovation allows you to use the software anywhere where you have an internet connection. The cloud storage service takes care of backing up and keeping your data safe.
There are a few other lesser known and used office productivity suites around as well. These seem to be the major contenders however. I hope that this serves as a source of information for educators who are cash-strapped and are in need of acquiring good quality tools for performing this vital part of their day to day activities. I have dedicated this article to educators specifically, but in essence the options briefly described above are available to anybody in need of an office productivity suite.
22 February 2018