Smart software solutions that are cheap — or free


Having just spent hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of dollars on a computer that will inevitably become the cornerstone of your very life, it’s easy to forget that apps costs money too — a lot of it, in some cases! And since textbooks and tuition are expensive enough, here’s some smart software to help you save more money where you can.

Lots of people use Skype for free audio and video calls between friends and family. But what many don’t realize is that, for just $3 per month, you can make unlimited long-distance phone calls to cellphone numbers or landlines anywhere in North America. That’s far cheaper than what your cellphone carrier would charge. And with free Wi-Fi in practically every coffee shop and shopping mall in existence, you can use Skype from your smartphone and avoid wasting local minutes in a pinch.

Meanwhile, one of the benefits of living in Canada is — oh, who are we kidding. When it comes to streaming movies and TV shows, there aren’t many. South of the border, however, things are bit different. Netflix has a larger catalogue of movies you actually want to watch. For recently aired television shows, you get Hulu. And of course, there’s the knowledge that even the smallest of YouTube clips will almost always be available in your region, no geoblocks in sight.

You could bemoan our country’s ongoing status as a technological backwater — or, with a handy app called TunnelBear, make it appear as if you’ve been living in the U.S. all along. TunnelBear routes all of your internet activity through a virtual tunnel to the U.S., and for $5 per month, gives you unlimited access to all that’s fit to stream. If the BBC is more your thing, you can flip a switch to have your internet connection routed through the U.K. instead. There’s even a TunnelBear for iPad and iPhone, in addition to the usual Mac and Windows support.

But what of music? Services such as Rdio will let you stream practically all of your favourite and newly discovered artists, instantly, for less than the price of a single album. For $5 per month you gain access from any web browser on any computer, while $10 lets you sync your favourite songs and albums to your smartphone or tablet for offline listening too.

And if you’re using TunnelBear, be sure to check out Spotify. It’s an Rdio competitor that’s rumoured to be hitting Canada soon, and you can stream its entire catalogue from your browser for free (expect the occasional ad).

But it can’t be all play and no work. Adobe Photoshop, the advanced image manipulation software that everybody pretends they know how to use, comes with a hefty $250 price tag — and that’s with a student discount. If you’re on a Mac, opt for Pixelmator instead (a whopping $15 in the App Store, for a limited time). All of Photoshop’s basic tricks are here, from layer-based editing to image retouching and special effects that put Instagram to shame. Not to be left out, Windows users can download, a free image editor that does most of the same.

And what of more traditional editing — Word documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoints and the like? There are myriad free options here too. Microsoft offers an online version of Microsoft Office for basic changes to fonts and formatting. Google Drive — formerly Google Docs — is another online option in this space. And if you need something more robust, OpenOffice has long been the best Microsoft Office replacement around — and you can download it for your Mac or Windows PC for free.


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