Top 10 Back-to-School Software Picks

Once you’ve decided on the perfect laptop for school you’ll need to load it up with software that will help you get through the semester. We’ve found ten programs that will help you take notes, complete your assignments, stay organized, up your efficiency, protect your files, and keep your notebook healthy until graduation. Most are both Mac and PC-compatible, half of them are free, and the other five won’t put too much of a strain on your Back-to-School budget.

Microsoft Office Professional Academic 2010

The newest version of Microsoft’s industry leading productivity suite ups the ante with a variety of new student-friendly features, ranging from robust note organization to better copy and paste options in Word. If you already own a copy of Office 2007, the upgrade isn’t very compelling. But for users who need a new office suite to go along with a new computer for school, it should definitely be on your list. Along with an updated interface, Microsoft also added the ability to customize ribbons so that power users can tweak it to their liking. Other enhancements include adding OneNote to all versions, plus online storage, editing, collaboration and sharing. Office Home and Student costs $119 and only includes Word, Excel, OneNote, and PowerPoint. But Professional Academic also comes with Outlook, Publisher, and Access and costs just $79. To qualify, you must have an e-mail address that ends in .edu.

Price: $79  / $119 | Platforms: PC (Mac version coming later in the year)

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OpenOffice 3

No student should be without a good office suite, even with budgetary constraints. You don’t have to settle for TextEdit on your Mac or WordPad (or Office 2010 Starter) on your Windows notebook. Instead, snag a copy of OpenOffice, which gives you more applications than Office Home and Student Edition, looks/works almost exactly the same, and reads all major file formats, including Microsoft’s. The suite includes word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation, and graphics programs, all designed to work together.

Price: Free | Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux

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Evernote

Evernote makes it easy to write and organize traditional text notes, but the real power of this software is in its ability to clip and keep notes from dozens of applications and the web, then sync them to the cloud. Between the desktop software, browser plug-ins and apps for nearly every smart phone, students can take notes anywhere. Evernote automatically syncs notes across all of your devices, so you’ll always have access to them. Store text, images, audio, files, and more, then organize them by notebook/folder and create hierarchies to match your note-taking style.

Price: Free | Platforms: PC, Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Mobile

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MyScript Studio

Some students learn better if they take handwritten notes instead of typing. But having a searchable digital copy of those notes makes it easier to organize and reference them later. MyScript Studio works with digital pens such as the Livescribe or with stylus input on many touchscreen tablets to store and translate your handwriting into text and drawings into graphics or diagrams. You can then export the result to your word processing software or plain text. Download MyScript Studio Notes Edition for tablet PCs or MyScript for Livescribe to add it to the pen’s apps.

Price: $75 / $37 (Livescribe app) | Platforms: PC, Mac

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Syllabus

The perfect tool for the organization-challenged, Syllabus pulls together all of the data about your classes from schedule to assignments, files to notes, and more. While it won’t enter all of the data for you, students who have trouble staying focused, turning in assignments on time, and keeping track of everything they need to do with a full class load if they spend just a few minutes each day updating Syllabus. The program allows for multiple student profiles so that parents can stay on top of each child’s schedule and put an end to surprise projects due the next day.

Price: $19 | Platform: Mac

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Mozilla Sunbird

Keeping up with your class schedule, appointments, events, tasks, assignments, and mom’s birthday is much easier with a calendar program. Mozilla’s Sunbird is particularly useful because it allows users to create multiple local calendars and integrate or update online event data from Google, Facebook, Remember the Milk, and many other calendar/task services. You can also integrate its functionality into Mozilla’s Thunderbird email client.

Price: Free | Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux

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Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing

Hunting and pecking will only get you so far. And being able to type almost as fast as you come up with the words will cut down on the amount of time you spend writing papers. This venerable instruction program promises better typing skills in two weeks and teaches via a multimedia-rich interface. You’ll be able to chart your progress as you play games, receive video instruction, and learn how to create a more ergonomic typing environment.

Price: $19 | Platforms: PC, Mac

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SugarSync

Remembering to make regular backups is probably not your number one priority in college, but it will be the first time you lose data via a hard drive crash, a misplaced flash drive, or notebook theft. We hope none of these terrible things happens to you, but just in case it’s a good idea to keep a backup of your most important data. SugarSync makes this easy by syncing folders on one or several computers to their cloud-based storage service. Not only will you have that extra layer of protection in case you lose your data, but you can also access the files via a browser on any computer or via apps for iPad/iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. SugarSync offers 2GB of storage for free or you can pay a monthly fee for more space if you want to back up all of your files.

Price: Free (2GB), $4.99/month (30GB), $9.99/month (60GB) | Platforms: PC, Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, webOS, Windows Mobile

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BitDefender Total Security 2010

If you’re serious about protecting your notebook and the data on it, then you’ll need more than just a virus and malware scanner. BitDefender Total Security is easy to use for both less tech-savvy and advanced users. Just specify how tech-savvy you are, and the UI will change to fit your comfort level. The program provides antivirus, malware, and identity theft protection, tune-up utilities, IM encryption, a firewall, home network security, and 2GB of online storage. In addition to this laundry list it will also encrypt and password protect sensitive data from prying roommates.

Price: $34 | Platform: PC

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Microsoft Security Essentials

Virus and spyware protection is essential, but if you need to keep your computer clean on a budget Microsoft’s Security Essentials is a good alternative. Like paid solutions Norton and McAfee, Microsoft keeps the virus and spyware definitions up to date automatically. The program will prompt you if it needs to connect to the server, and will also notify you if it hasn’t had a chance to scan for a while. Other virus scanners can tie up the CPU, even when they aren’t doing a deep scan. Security Essentials doesn’t hog system resources and runs well even on netbooks.

Price: Free | Platform: PC

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