For most tasks, your device will require additional software. Luckily, there's free software for most tasks, from simple text edition to video production. Here's some recommendations for the most common tasks.
Generally, you can access Microsoft Office and its applications like Word, Powerpoint and OneNote through your school, university, or employer. This is also the case for other non-free software you might need for your studies. For Office, it's usually enough to register here with your institutional e-mail address. If this is not the case or you need access to other non-free software, check with your institution or its IT service desk.
Office, text & note-taking
Our sales numbers and a glace at any modern classroom prove that touch devices and the paperless workflow have become quite popular - no wonder, as this allows saving on paper. There are multiple options for editing PDFs and taking notes:
- Drawboard PDF (Windows, iOS, iPadOS, browser)
A flexible and comfortable solutions for reading, editing and annotating PDFs. Base functionality is free, only some advanced features are locked behind a subscription paywall.
- Xodo (Windows, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Browser)
A fully free alternative to Drawboard PDF with slightly different operation. Handles big documents better, but is less flexible when it comes to annotation.
- Microsoft OneNote (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Browser)
A complete note-taking solution. If reading and annotating PDFs is all you want to do, the two previous applications are preferable. OneNote however is superior when it comes to categorizing, organizing, and synchronizing your handwritten and typed notes. It is also available for free for most students and pupils.
- Skim (macOS)
For Apple computers without touchscreens, Skim is an all-around improvement over the built-in reader. It handles even very large documents without breaking a sweat and offers more annotation features than «Preview».
For writing assignment, preparing presentations or typing up a budet spreadsheet, an office suite is indispensable.
- Microsoft Office (Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, iPadOS, Browser)
Office remains the gold standard and is very widespread. It is available for free for most students, pupils and employees of universities and schools, including the quite useful OneDrive cloud service. Therefore it should be the first choice for most in these groups. However, Office can also be bought in a subscription model (with OneDrive) or as a one-time purchae (without OneDrive).
- LibreOffice (Windows, macOS, Linux)
An open source alternative to the Microsoft offer. If you can get used to the more old-school user interface, you get a fully functional office suite with a comparable feature set. LibreOffice generally handles Microsoft Office files well, though problems will from time to time occur.
- Google Docs (Browser, iOS, iPadOS, Android)
For simpler documents or presentations, browser-based solutions like Google Docs are more than sufficient and present other advantages, too: first, sharing and collaborating on documents is very easy. Second, simpler applications mean that the most common and often used features are easily found. Finally, documents are automatically stored in the cloud and can be read and edited from (almost) anywhere.
In some fields and programs, LaTeX is widespread or even standard, because it allows you to write quite elegant documents after some headaches.
- Overleaf (Browser)
LaTeX is known for its various distributions, packages, toolchains, and editors, which can lead to big installations and obscure problems. You can avoid all that by using an online service like Overleaf: no installation is necessary and a robust community can support you with problems and questions. Thus it is a good choice for those who don't want to get knee-deep into LaTeX, but it also offers all the functionality pros are used to. The payed option should not be necessary for most users.
- MiKTeX (Windows, macOS, Linux)
Mostly Windows-oriented. The advantage of this distribution is that components are only downloaded when they're needed, which permits saving time and disk space.
- MacTeX (macOS)
A TeX-Live based distribution optimized for macOS.
Internet, backups & security
The security features built into Windows 10, Windows 11 and macOS are proven and regularly updated. Thus it is generally not necessary to install additional security software. However, this only holds true if you regularly update your system.
We recommend you regularly back up your data to minimize damage, for instance if your internal drive should break. Windows customers receive Langmeier Backup for free, a fully-featured backup solution for backing up on external drives. Apple users can use Time Machine. Cloud services are a good alternative for partial backups.
Avec le nouveau navigateur de Microsoft, nous pouvons désormais dire qu'avec Safari pour macOS et Edge pour Windows, tous les ordinateurs que nous fournissons disposent d'un navigateur digne de ce nom. Mais ce ne sont pas les seules options :
Thanks to the introduction of the new Microsoft browser, we can now state that both macOS with Safari and Windows with Edge feature a good browser choice right out of the box. Nevertheless, they are not the only choices:
- Google Chrome (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, iPadOS)
An attractive choice especially for people with Android smartphones, as integration with Google accounts and smartphone sychronisation works very well.
- Mozilla Firefox (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, iPadOS)
An open source classic with all the features and comfort of Chrome or Edge, but without being developed by a multi-billion company siphoning your data.
We heartily recommend installing an adblocker in your browser. It stops prevents from loading and rendering (even on YouTube!), which makes browsing faster and much less infuriating. We recommend uBlock Origin, which is available for Edge, Chrome and Firefox. Since Safari on macOS supports only a limited form of adblocking, you should use another options for ad-free browsing.
It is prudent to verify with your school or institution whether they recommend or maybe even require the usage of a specific cloud. For instance, SWITCHdrive is a solutions many Swiss universities collaborate on. Polybox is the ETH Zurich equivalent. For some documents and personal or restricted data, you may be obliged to use these services!
Depending on your device and situation, other services may be worthwhile. Generally, all clouds can be used in your browser via their web interface. Clients are also available for all common devices - the only exception is iCloud, which does not feature an official Android client.
Especially useful for windows devices thanks to the seamless integration. Office documents can be edited directly in the browser and, thanks to your school or university, you can usually access up to 1 TB of storage. Otherwise, OneDrive offers up to 5 GB for free.
Good choice for people within the Apple ecosystem, as integration with all kinds of Apple devices is very tight. 5 GB of storage for free, additional space is available quite cheaply.
- Google Drive
Tight integration for users of Android smartphones, Google Chrome and/or Google Docs. If you use Android, you've probably already got a Google account anyway. Unlike other services, Drive gives you 15 GB for free, and more is available for little money.
- KeePassXC (Windows, macOS, Linux)
If you are not satisfied with your browser's built-in password functionality, KeePassXC allows you to exert more systematic and fine-grained control over your passwords. It also offers features like import and export, password generation, management of SSH and PGP keys, and more.
Things have changed in the last years: both in photo and film editing, there are attractive choices that can rival the traditionally quite expensive «original software».
- VLC Media Player (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS, iPadOS)
Reads just about every video format ever created. Seldom needed, but all the more useful in those cases is the capability to sync up subtitles or audio, should they slip.
- DaVinci Resolve
The free version offers an impressive featureset encompassing the entire post-production workflow: cutting, editing, tracking, rendering, all in one program. For free, you can only edit video up to 4k and 60 FPS, but that's probably not an issue if you're reading this here.
- PhotoPea (Browser)
An impressive browser-based image editor. Does everything and compatibility with Adobe files is a big plus. Also useable for simple vector graphics.
- Vectr (Browser)
The vector graphics equivalent to PhotoPea. Works everywhere thanks to being browser-based.
- Scribus (Windows, macOS, Linux)
Open source classic for desktop layout and publishing. Similar in scope to InDesign, requires some practice however.
- Audacity (Windows, macOS, Linux)
Offers everything you need for recording, cutting, editing and exporting sound. Opens almost every audio format, especially with the optional FFmpeg extension.
- REAPER (Windows, macOS, Linux)
This digital auzdio workstation allows you to record instruments, MIDI and voice, to apply effects and equalization, to edit and finally to produce entire songs and albums. After the WinRAR principle, REAPER can be used indefinitely even after the 60 day test period is over.
- 7-Zip (Windows)
Opens almost all archives, including some frequently used ones that Windows does not support out of the box, like RAR and tar.gz archives. In terms of usage and speed, 7-Zip is also superior to the ZIP tool integrated in Windows.
- Keka (macOS)
macOS equivalent to 7-Zip.
- WinDirStat (Windows)
WinDirStat helps you find out what happened to all your disk space. Big folders and files are visually represented and can then be checked or deleted.
- Disk Inventory X (macOS)
WinDirStat equivalent for macOS.