Freeware App #1 – OpenOffice

Not necessarily the best, but I think it would be worth documenting some of the freeware/open-source/beta/shareware applications that I use in some capacity as a teacher.

Where possible I opt for open-source[1], cross platform software to give pupils the opportunity of using the same software themselves.

The first application I’m going to talk about is OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice is an open-source alternative to Microsoft Office and features a word processor (Writer), presentation software (Impress), mathematics package (Math), drawing package (Draw), spreadsheet (Calc) and database (Base).

The interface is not quite as polished as it’s commercial opponents but it will happily read and save documents in a vast variety of formats. The core functionality is there in every application and, although pre-written macros in Excel are not going to run, you can make use of the more advanced features to automate tasks using the OOo equivalent. You can certainly complete GCSE level tasks using Calc and Base.

OOo comes in flavours prepared for Windows, Linux, Solaris, OS X and FreeBSD. The OS X version can be somewhat troublesome, however, and NeoOffice is an alternate implementation that I use in the classroom.

OOo is useful, not just because it is considerably cheaper than Microsoft Office, but it offers an opportunity to introduce transferable skills. Instead of teaching pupils how to perform an action in Excel, you can teach them how the action works and then they can use whichever spreadsheet package they like to achieve the same results. This means that my Year 9 pupils should be well prepared when they first meet the KS3 test environment this week[2].

[1] Open-source means that the original ‘source code’ or programming instructions are available to the general public so that anyone can improve or add functionality. It is often called ‘free as in free speech’ as opposed to ‘free as in free beer’. Most open-source software does not cost any money to use, although some does. The Linux operating system is probably the most famously open-source software in use.

[2] Yes, we’re still doing the tests. A summative test can be a good motivator and we’ve spent 3+ years running pilots and writing Schemes of Work so we’re not abandoning it just yet.

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