The 4 years of engineering study is by far the steepest knowledge curve for a student. He/She gets exposed to all kinds of knowledge – software, hardware, non-academic, hobby-craft etc.

But, one trend that has seen a growth is the use of more and more software by students to get their work done. Students are more and more dependent on internet for knowledge. More and more references cited are now websites and web-pages.

Another parallel trend is the rise of FOSS usage among students. As a student of BITS Pilani, I came into contact with a number of software for technical as well as non-technical purposes — photo-editing, video-editing, sound-editing, web-design, UI design, document-editing, data analysis, plots, schematics, circuit designs, scientific computations, simulations, presentations, animations — a typical engineer comes into contact with all such activities in his/her college life.

Here is a small list of the FOSS that I have used instead of the well-established commercial software and would recommend to you too!

1) Photo-editing: GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP is a very good substitute to Photoshop. It has a very light-weight UI and if you are already familiar with any other software like Photoshop, using GIMP will be a cakewalk. There are buttons for selection, lasso, crop, path-marking, cloning, color-picking, healing, burning, dodging, text insertion – these are all standard in any image manipulation software. But, I found GIMP to be quite fast compared to even Photoshop! One downside is the lack of brushes – but this shall pass.

GIMP works on Windows and Linux both.

2) Sound-editing: Audacity

Audacity has been around for a few years now and is a very mature software as far as sound-editing and processing is concerned. I had experience with Sony Sound Forge already before I started using Audacity so it did not take much time to adjust to the UI. It is a standard UI with options for dual channel and mono channel waveforms. There is the option to place multiple markers and select multiple regions and apply operations simultaneously. Keyboard shortcuts make life easier. I recommend you to use it. You never know when you might be required to remove that fart from a silent movie you are working on.

Audacity works on Windows and Linux both.

3) Web-design and General Programming: Komodo Edit

I am not saying this is the best editor around. But, I have been working on Komodo Edit for the past two years and it is simply wonderful. The Komodo IDE is commercial – not the editor. Komodo Edit has all the qualities of a standard editor – syntax highlighting, predictive coding, color-indications, group tabbing etc. and much more. But, the inbuilt browser facility is a real plus. No need to open a browser and refresh the page every time you make a tiny change. A number of keyboard shortcuts available. Apart from web-design, it supports programming in a number of languages – C, C++, Java, Javascript, Perl, Python, Haskell, LISP, PHP, TcL, VHDL! Give it a try.

Komodo Edit works on Windows and Linux both. 

4) Office: Open Office or Libre Office

9/10 users have a pirated copy of MS Office on their computers. I don’t think Bill Gates minds me using MS PowerPoint for my presentation even though I have not paid him for it. But, there is no need for all this now. Libre Office and Open Office are two alternatives to MS Office. There are alternative for basic packages like MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Excel, MS Access etc. Besides, these two give an extra impetus to your presentation/document as they have more beautification and formatting options. As fas as PDF generation is concerned, that option is available too.

Both these office packages work on Windows and Linux both.

5) Scientific Computation, Plots, Analysis: Octave

Octave or GNU Octave is an excellent alternative to MATLAB. The best part is that the speed is more or less similar (for an average user, the complexity is not that high to expose the difference in software quality). And it is FREE! MATLAB is a hit with almost all engineering disciplines because of a simple reason – calculations, plots, analysis. Octave and MATLAB codes are more or less same. So, porting your code is not a problem. It DOES NOT have the immense variety of toolboxes like MATLAB, but for the basic purposes, it does the job and does it well.

Octave works on Windows and Linux both.

6) Schematic design: EAGLE Student Version

EAGLE (Easily Accessible Graphical Layout Editor) is a very popular CAD tool for electronic circuit design. The student version of EAGLE is FREE and is excellent for schematic design. It has an immense library collection and I have never had a problem locating the desired IC in the library (it is not like I use a large number either). Use it to believe it! Get your schematic ready in minutes. And yes, it supports all kinds of packages – DIP, SOIC, QFN, QFP etc.

EAGLE works on Windows and Linux both.

If you know of any other software that you have found useful for a student, please share it with me.

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