As I said in my roundup of iPad apps on Tuesday, the back to school season is upon us once again. As many begin to gather their supplies, they are also shopping for a new computer for this next year. While the PC remains dominate in many circles, it is quickly losing ground among students. That means that there are thousands of students trying to find the essential apps for education to run on their Macs.
Fear not! I am here to help, and I have brought a list of 5 of the most essential apps for Back To School 2011. This is list is going to cover note taking, organization, paper writing, time management, and even relaxation. All of these apps come from my experience as a university student, and they are all amazing. Without further ado, let’s get to that list.
1. NeoOffice (Free)
I think that its important to start with something that everyone can understand. That’s why the first app on my list is NeoOffice. Neo is a branch of the OpenOffice.org project that was rethought specifically for the Mac. I have been a user of OpenOffice/LibreOffice for a number of years now, and NeoOffice is a great version. It offers all the usual programs, including a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation editor.
Neo is completely free for certain versions. You get a complete office suite, much like Microsoft Office, for no money at all. However, I have donated $10 to them, and have access to their latest beta release. That version comes with Lion support, including versions and full-screen mode. That makes NeoOffice a fantastic addition to my machine, which runs like a top on Lion.
Overall, I think that the need for an office suite is obvious for the aerate student. You will write papers, analyze data and even create presentations throughout your educational career. If you are looking for a cheap alternative to Microsoft or Apple’s offerings, or if you want to support a good open source project, I can’t recommend NeoOffice enough.
Alternatives: OpenOffice (Free), LibreOffice (Free), iWork ($60 – Mac App Store), Microsoft Office ($85)
2. Evernote (Free)
Many students buy a light weight laptop, like the MacBook Air, with the hope of using it to take notes in class. While there are arguments that this is best done with a word processor (see number 1 on this list), there are just as many reasons as to why you should use a dedicated note taking app. In my opinion, there is no better app for taking notes then Evernote, which is completely free.
Evernote, for those who aren’t aware, is a note taking and organization application from Evernote Software. They offer one of the best Mac apps I have come across in my search. It is feature rich and includes the ability to record audio, record video, link documents to notes, and even share notes with friends. It is also cross platform, with apps available to iOS, Android, Windows, and the web.
I really like Evernote. As I said in my iPad roundup, I use it to sync my handwritten notes with my Mac, and it works wonderfully. I also keep track of assignments, manage my PDF notes, and even use it in class occasionally. It’s free to use, and is probably the best note taking app around. Download it here.
Alternatives: Word Processor, Growly (Free), Nevernote (Free)
3. Caffeine (Free)
This probably the strangest app on my list of 5. Its going to seem like something incredibly simple, but it really is a lifesaver sometimes. The app is called Caffeine, and it allows you to prevent your Mac’s screen from going to sleep. I suspect that most college students will have MacBooks of some kind, be they Pros, Airs, or White Plastics. That means that they have a power save option that is one by default. This will turn your screen off after a given amount of time spent inactive.
While that may not sound like a big deal to many people, its a huge deal to students who are trying to take notes in class. Often, a professor will go off on a tangent, and you won’t type anything for 10 minutes. Then, they will tell you all the answers to the test in the next 2 minutes, and you don’t want to waste any time waking your machine back up. That’s where Caffeine comes in to play.
Caffeine will install a small coffee cup icon into your menu bar. You click it, and its activated. It’s that simple. It’s completely free, and you can pick it up in the Mac App Store.
Alternatives: None. It’s free. Go install it.
4. iProcrastinate (Free)
One of the biggest problems for the average student is time management and scheduling. I have tried multiple methods for handling this issue, and it was hard beat. I finally discovered iProcrastinate, which is a free Mac app that allows you to create a simple calendar with events and assignment due dates on it. While you can do that in iCal, iProcrastinate lets you take your organization to another level.
iProcrastinate allows you to set up steps to a task, each with its own check mark. That way, you can set up a plan for researching your paper, writing the rough draft, proofreading it, and then writing your final draft. The calendar display is quite good, showing you all your tasks and their due dates for a given time period.
iProcrastinate is awesome for managing not only your school work, but all of your life. Be sure to use it to schedule some relaxation into your schedule. It will allow you to color code things, letting you see them easily in the calendar. It also gives you nice notifications reminding you of due dates. You can grab it for free in the Mac App Store.
Alternatives: Any To-Do App, Wunderlist (Free)
5. Steam (Free)
This last app is something that I think every Mac user who likes to play games should install. While the Mac isn’t known for having the best games on the market, that landscape is certainly changing. One driving force behind that is Steam, Valve’s digital distribution service, making its way over to the Mac. With that, they now offer a number of top notch titles.
You may be wondering why this is on the my Back to School app list. That’s because the most important thing you can do as a student is relax. If you try to do nothing but study, you will drive yourself mad. Steam will give you access to a ton of games, many of them for next to nothing or completely free. One game I recommend is Team Fortress 2, which is a great free shooter.
Like I said, this is a must have for students. I think the best time I spend in college is the time I set aside for gaming. It helps me forget that I have a heavy course load that requires so much of my time. However, it’s important to remember that you still need to study some of the time. That’s why you should use Steam in combination with iProcrastinate. Seriously. Do it. You can download Steam for free here.
Alternatives: Mac App Store? Seriously, just get Steam.
Get Downloading and Get Studying
So there you have it. 5 apps that every college student who uses a Mac should use. I know that I use these apps all the time. If I could add one more, I would recommend Dropbox, just because it’s so much better than carrying a flash drive. It’s a lifesaver most of the time. Also, even with Dropbox, all the apps on this list are Free, which is awesome for poor students like me.
What apps would be on your list? Do you think I missed something major? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.