Free Software

Computers are digital Swiss Army Knives. By adding different types of software a computer can perform all kinds of jobs. If you need a computer to perform a certain role or task then you find a piece of software that can do it. Your computer can be a multi-track recording studio, an artist's canvas, a photographers studio or a designers drawing board.

Having the right software is vital to producing good work. But some software can be very expensive. Luckily there is some fantastic free software available for everybody to use. Check out our reviews below for more information. For all of the software listed there is an abundance of support available online for the most basic of beginners to more advanced stuff. Remember the golden rule, one of the best ways to learn is to play and experiment. Don't be afraid of your computer or the software.

Audacity

Audacity turns your computer into a multi-track recording studio. By plugging a microphone, headset or instruments into the computer you can record multiple tracks one after the other and then make adjustments to them or add effects. Using the tools available in the program you can edit each individual track by trimming them, moving them, change the pitch, tempo or speed as well as adding echo or adjusting the volume.
This makes it the ideal tool in schools for recording the children performing poems or plays. The children can record their poem a verse at a time and then using the tools they can move the sections around so it sounds like they recorded it all at once.
The same can be done for plays they perform. Each child can record all their lines in turn and then use the tools to split the tracks up and then move them around into the desired order while adding sound effects in the background.

It is also possible for a child to record a play by themselves. Recording each part individually they can then move the parts around into the desired order and then add effects to their voice to change it. It can make them sound like a pixie or a giant. It can make a girl sound like a man, and a boy sound like a girl. They can sound like a robot or sound like they are standing in a cave.
It can also be used to record children playing instruments. I simple drum beat can be recorded into the program. Each child can then record their part individually listening to the drumbeat. Then they can all be combined to create a single track.

The program then allows you to save the tracks as a project so that you can return to it later in its multi-track format and make changes. Or it can save it as a single track in WAV format (WAVe form audio file) or as an MP3 file using the free extra program that you can add to it.

Blender

Blender is the Rolls Royce of free software. Not because of it's widespread appeal because many people would never have considered using software like this. It's because of the sheer power and capability of this program. Take a look at the demo videos on the official website and you will not believe what you can do using this software. (Click here to see demos) Even better, think what your children could be doing if they learnt to use this software?

Blender is not just a 3D program. It is what is known as a 3D suite. This is because not only can it create very detailed 3D models it also does rigging (creation of a digital skeleton for the model that allows you to move it), animation, simulation, rendering (Turning a 3D model into a 2D model with photorealistic effects), compositing (Placing a 3D model into a 2D picture. You often see it used to show what a new building might look like in place of an old one) and motion tracking (Using a camera to capture movement of a real object.)

Blender is what is known as Open Source Software. This means that anybody can view the code for the program and make changes to it, some of them being incorporated into future releases of the program. The program itself allows users to input their own code using Python to customize it's use or create their own tools.

When you first open the program it can look very intimidating, but do not be scared. There are plenty of helpful tutorials on YouTube that talk you through each step and help you learn the basics. (Click here for learners video) Once you get the hang there are others to help you learn more advance tricks and some really handy tips.

Any child who can get to grips with this program will be able to create some amazing graphics for any project.

FreeCAD

CAD (Computer aided design) has long been an important tool in engineering and design. But the cost of professional versions of CAD software and little need for most people to want to use it meant that it remained oblivious to most people.

Now with the emergence of 3D printers CAD software is becoming more popular. 

The most popular professional version of CAD will cost you £1800 per year. FreeCAD is of course free.

This program is a great way to learn about 3D modelling and using CAD. Plus this piece of software allows you to take it a step further and add animation with real world physics. 

Gimp 2

Photoshopping has become a household term for adjusting photos with a computer. Adobe Photoshop is widely viewed as the industry standard for photo editing, or bitmap editing.

Gimp2 is a hidden gem that easily rivals Photoshop.

The vast selection of tools and effects allows you to edit photos to a professional level without the professional cost.

Some have criticized the fact that the manual is not that clear or detailed, but there are plenty of websites and YouTube videos to help even the most novice of users to learn some useful tricks.

I have used this program to:

  • Crop photos.
  • Resize photos.
  • Adjusting the brightness and contrast.
  • Adding effects like sun rays.
  • Adding filters that turn photos into art drawings.
  • Converting colour photos to black and white.
  • Editing items out of photos or to enhance a photo.

If you want better photos then this program is a must.

Inkscape

This is a vector drawing program. Vector graphics are very different from bitmap graphics. Bitmap graphics are used for photos and suffer from a problem that when you try to enlarge them they appear fuzzy, or pixilated. Vector graphics are used in graphics for websites, presentations, videos and logos. This is because you can rescale them without losing the clarity.

A professional vector graphics program can easily cost you over £200 per year.

Inkscape is not only free, but contains effects to use that paid programs can charge you extra for. These effects include 3D effects and ones add the look of certain materials to your design. 

Great for creating posters, leaflets that you can rescale to different paper sizes without fear of losing the quality.

Lightworks

Mobile phones and small, cheap digital video cameras have made it so much easier to take high quality video. 

Combined with the rise of YouTube this has made videos a lot more popular and seen a rise in the number of kids wishing to be YouTube stars.

While filming videos has become easier, trying to get the perfect take first time has not, so video editing software is essential.

Lightworks allows you to simple things like trim your videos or combine clips but also has advanced realtime effects you can use.

Scratch

Our lives are surrounded by computers. They run our cars, washing machines and even our door bells now.

All of them can only do their job because of the program, or code written for them.

Many technical jobs in the future will require some basic coding skills to program the micro-computers that will be used.

MIT's Scratch program may not represent the type of coding used in the real world but it allows children to see in an easy graphical form how coding works. It also allows them to learn the correct processes for composing code.

You can use the program directly online, or there is a downloadable desktop version.

Sketch up

This simple modelling program allows you to create scales models.

The latest version is completely online, but is still a very powerful tool. 

Easy and fun to use you can recreate simple objects or buildings, or be a bit more creative with more advance designs.

There are materials you can apply to your designs, including transparent water and glass. If you create buildings you can even face them in the right direction and see how the sun interacts with it in the different months of the year.

I actually used this program to redesign my bathroom to make sure everything would fit correctly. It is great for creating plans that contain the measurements and be printed in 2D.

Tux Paint

A simple, but very good drawing program for younger children.

Originally created for the Linux operating system it made its way to Windows. 

This is a great program for children to learn how to draw using a computer.

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