By Jennifer Anne Muirhead

I’m sure you’ve heard the term somewhere before. ‘Open-Source’. But what does it mean? Simply put, it is software for which the original source code is freely available to anyone who wants to see it. Why is this so important? Well it’s all about transparency. It’s about knowing nothing malicious is hiding in someone’s code, waiting to be downloaded and run amuck in your computer.  It’s a coders way of saying “I have nothing to hide”.

So whether you’re a financially struggling Uni student, or just want some free and safe software to make your computing experience a little bit better, look no further.

1. Libre Office

A free alternative to Microsoft Office, Libre Office offers many of the same programs and benefits as Microsoft does, but unlike Microsoft, it is available for free. This is why it’s often recommended to students – a group not exactly known for being affluent. And it’s an effective substitute too; I’ve used it throughout my whole degree, including to write this article.

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Think of it this way, would you rather:

  • Pay $129 (AUD) per year to write those glorious HD essays of yours; or
  • Not pay $129 (AUD) per year to write those glorious HD essays of yours?

Oh, and don’t forget, once your student status expires, so too does your Microsoft Suite.

2. VLC Media Player

VLC is God-Tier. It can play every video file in every format I throw at it, even the corrupted ones. Windows Media Player, on the other hand, is not God-Tier. Windows Media player is the opposite of God-Tier, WMP is trash. It’ll maybe play that movie you want to watch. Oh, but only in certain formats. Oh, and only the audio. Plus it’s gotta be sunny outside, a Thursday, and all the stars have to be aligned. Practically the only thing a media player has to do – that is, play media – WMP struggles to do.

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It’s a simple thing that you should be able to expect to work every single time, especially on those important occasions when what you’re trying to play is for a work project, or Uni assessment. It’s a simple switch, and just not worth the gamble to stay. Save yourself the inevitable heartache and make the switch to VLC Media Player today.

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3. KeePass

KeePass doesn’t really have a famous competitor… except maybe fallible human memory. If the name hasn’t clued you in yet, I will. They’re a password manager. They store passwords, usernames – anything you want really, as they also store free-form notes and file attachments.  It’s all encrypted and stored on a local file system (so not in the cloud, thankfully). And all of this is controlled by a master password that you choose. They’re secure, and, you guessed it, free. If you’ve been struggling to remember all your different passwords – or God forbid, using the same password for everything (please don’t do this), then KeePass is definitely for you.  

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Let me be clear – even if you don’t use KeePass – if you’re at all concerned about being hacked, you should be using a different password for everything. The trick is just to remember them all.

4. uBlock Origin

If you don’t want to see ads, I can help you with that. uBlock Origin is the mac daddy of adblockers. It blocks all ads – yes, even those annoying unskippable YouTube ads and those pesky pop-ups. This is why it’s considered to be far superior to its predecessor AdBlock.

uBlock Origin isn’t actually software, it’s a Google Chrome Extension. It’s got more than 10 million users, and has a 5 star rating based off 18362 reviews, at the time of writing.

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Since I downloaded it in 2015, uBlock Origin has blocked 1,425,582 ads (yes, they count). Now, I’m no math major but that’s around 1300 ads per day. Although, admittedly, I do use sites like YouTube and Facebook pretty frequently, I’d argue you probably do too.  At this point, morals or not, that’s just too many ads for one person to sit through. If you want to join the 27% of Australians currently using adblockers, you can find a link to uBlock Origin below. You shouldn’t be expected to sit through a 35 minute unskippable ad.

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5. Everything and Agent Ransack

The final software on this list is actually a two-for-one. Everything is a file searching utility tool for Windows that works instantaneously. If you can remember even a small fragment of your file’s name, Everything will be able to find it for you. It dominates both Explorer Search and just the regular Windows 10 start menu, which are infamous for taking far too long to search for a single file. Plus, there’s the added benefit of being asked ‘Do you want to install Everything?’, when you’re about to download it, which makes me happy.

Now, if Everything is the king of searching file names, then Agent Ransack is the king of searching file content. No matter how obscure what you’ve written is Agent Ransack will be able to find it and deliver it to you in seconds. I’ve found it particularly useful when trying to hunt for documents I wrote years ago, and can only kind-of maybe remember the gist of what the article was about – very helpful if you’ve got multiple years’ worth of back category to search through, like I do.

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I’d categorise both Everything and Agent Ransack into ‘quality of life’ software categories. Are they necessary? Probably not. Will they make your life that little bit easier? Yes.

In saying that, if your file naming conventions aren’t exactly ‘best practice’, or the below looks at all familiar to you, I’d recommend a combination of both Everything and Agent Ransack.


[Header Image CC: “Technology Making The World a Better Place” via Shweta Suvarna].

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