When selecting school software, educational merit is critical, but so is sustainability. The last thing a principal needs it to build professional development and instructional plans around software doomed to stagnate and wither on a programming vine once the original developers have lost interest. Of course, the same concerns apply to commercial software. Apple, Google, Microsoft and countless others have changed pricing models and shuttered products after corporate objectives changed.
Free and open source software is not an all or nothing proposition. You might test a few applications at first, and add more programs once your students and staff become more comfortable with alternatives to commercial software.
Red Hat’s community site, opensource.com, is another excellent resource for software ideas and success stories.
An outstanding text editor for coding, web design, and writing: atom.io.
Audio recording and editing: www.audacityteam.org.
Free virtual classrooms and open source video conferencing with whiteboard, chat and desktop sharing capabilities. Requires a local school server: bigbluebutton.org.
A powerful 3D drawing and animation program: www.blender.org.
Comprehensive E-book management for teachers and students: calibre-ebook.com.
A groovy music player: clementine-player.org.
Advanced digital photo management by photographers, for photographers: digicam.org.
Red Hat’s innovative desktop Linux distribution is an excellent choice for schools, and for student learning freedom: https://getfedora.org/.
A distraction-free writing program that helps students and teachers stay focused on words, not websites: gottcode.org/focuswriter.
A fun suite of learning activities for primary school children: gcompris.net.
Geometry and Algebra software for learning and teaching: www.geogebra.org.
A rich photo manipulation program that can serve as a full replacement for Adobe Photoshop: www.gimp.org.
A podcast manager, like iTunes, which helps you subscribe to and download podcasts: gpodder.org.
Personal and small-business financial accounting software—an alternate to QuickBooks: gnucash.org.
Keep the beat with this advanced drum machine program: www.hydrogen-music.org.
A vector-based drawing alternative to Adobe Illustrator: inkscape.org.
A Linux desktop video and audio recorder for creating screencasts: launchpad.net/kazam.
An alternative to the commercial Follett systems, Koha is the first free and open library automation program: koha-community.org.
Play with math, programming, music, and art in this wonderful learning program inspired by the Logo programming language: www.kogics.net/kojo.
A marvelous painting and sketching application. Pair it with a pressure sensitive drawing tablet to create a classroom art studio: krita.org.
An excellent replacements for Microsoft Office. The program includes high-quality word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, and equation editing tools. LibreOffice opens and saves Microsoft Office file with fidelity: www.libreoffice.org.
Why trust your student data to third-party vendors? Build an in-house cloud storage system and take control of your school files. A Dropbox or Google Drive alternative, Nextcloud runs on local district servers: nextcloud.com.
An open source alternative to the Slack communications platform. The program runs on your local school server, and brings together private chat, messaging, and file sharing: www.mattermost.org.
Inspired by Minecraft, Minetest is an open, infinite world building game and simulation: www.minetest.net.
Create online teaching and learning communities in a collaborative, private environment with this free and open source learning management system (LMS). Moodle requires a local server, or a dedicated hosting provider: moodle.org.
Create, play, and print beautiful music with this rich composition program: musescore.org.
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)
Software for video recording and live streaming. It is perfect for a school TV studio or live event streaming: obsproject.com.
Like iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, OpenShot is a capable and easy-to-use video editing program: www.openshot.org.
Packer is a free and open source tool for creating golden images for multiple platforms from a single source configuration: www.packer.io.
A simple 2D animation and cartooning application: www.pencil2d.org.
A tool for automating infrastructure management and managing Linux systems: puppet.com/product/open-source-projects.
Students often struggle with managing notes and lesson materials. RedNotebook is a simple calendar-based journal that can help tame unruly piles of digital paper: rednotebook.sourceforge.net.
Somewhat like Hypercard, the Ren’Py creative visual novel engine helps students use words, images, and sounds to tell stories: www.renpy.org.
Created by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is helps students program interactive stories, games, animations, and other creations: scratch.mit.edu.
A replacement for Adobe InDesign, Scribes is a page layout, design and desktop publishing program: www.scribus.net.
An open source phone system, requires a dedicated server, phone lines, and desktop phones: www.sipxcom.org.
A remarkable free astronomy program featuring detailed sky maps. Use it to build your own classroom planetarium: www.stellarium.org.
A Linux screenshot tool used to capture a full screen, window or portion of the desktop: shutter-project.org.
Create film-quality animations with this powerful alternative to Adobe Flash: www.synfig.org.
A small, easy to use program to access iTunes-University media and podcasts in Linux: tunesviewer.sourceforge.net.
A fun introduction to typing skills—students learn keyboarding while playing interactive games: tux4kids.alioth.debian.org.
The most widely installed desktop Linux distribution is an excellent choice for schools: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop.
Originally an acronym for “Wine Is Not an Emulator”, use this program to run Windows programs on Linux computers: www.winehq.org.
Create a classroom blog, or an entire school district web site. WordPress is your first step to publishing nirvana. WordPress requires a local server or a dedicated hosting provider: wordpress.org.
A program for notetaking, sketching, or keeping a journal, Xournal can be used to annotate PDF files—Linux and Windows only: xournal.sourceforge.net.