GadgetGuy 2015 back-to-school laptop guide

Software solutions

Software is one of those things you won’t be able to live without, or your kids won’t anyway, and so to determine what you need, we’d approach your school and find out from them.

Get your kids to ask their teachers what they’ll need, or contact the school yourself as an interested parent. In some schools, you may even find the bodies that run the schools already have licenses for various applications, with some schools providing free licenses to major software packages to their students.

Some of these can even be found online with web services able to tell you if a state school body is included in various discounted online software systems, such as with “OnTheHub”, a service used by several state education departments, including the NSW education system, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania.


The Microsoft software on offer from OnTheHub in NSW.

Even if your school doesn’t provide a free license or heavily discounted software, you should be able to find it from various software companies.

For instance, while some computers arrive with a free one-year license of Microsoft’s Office 365 — such as the aforementioned HP Stream 11, Asus X205TA, and the Pendo Pad 8 computers — students of all sorts can find a four year license of Office 365 available for $99 from Microsoft’s online store, as part of Office 365 University edition, with this version working on both Mac and Windows PCs.

Microsoft’s Office isn’t even technically a requirement, as you can find a free office productivity application in the form of OpenOffice, as well as with Google’s online Drive which provides free and online versions of a document writing application, spreadsheet editing, and even slide presentations. As these are different from Microsoft’s Office program, there may be some formatting differences, though these are often minimal.

Microsoft also provides a system for young programmers and developers called “DreamSpark” which offers up free installations of its Visual Studio development environments for creating applications and games, meaning this stuff gets reduced from its often thousand dollar price to something a little easier and closer to, well, free.

Adobe’s suite of applications will likely be another necessity, but if you don’t qualify for the discount apps found via the OnTheHub system and your school hasn’t signed up to anything, you may be a little concerned over the cost of admission.

Previously, Adobe’s applications could be found with discounted academic or educational pricing since it was originally selling software in boxes with discs. These days, though, that is mostly no longer the case, with most of Adobe’s software pushed out through its online network, the Creative Cloud.

Fortunately, it does cut prices for students who need applications like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Premiere, After Effects, and Audition, with access to the Creative Cloud discounted for students.

As such, in Australia, Adobe makes its entire Creative Cloud available for $15 per month or $180 for the year if you’re at a primary or secondary school, as well as at university, with a photographic plan with Photoshop and Lightroom available for either $10 per month or $120 per year.

Parallels Access is another possibility that could help out, as it provides a way of letting anyone — students included — access their home computers using only their phones and tablets.

At home, the computer is left on with a Parallels client installed, with a phone or tablet logging on remotely and able to access all the files and applications on that computer from afar, making it a possibility if the home computer is a desktop and the kids can only bring a phone or tablet with them.

In Australia, Parallels Access costs $20 per year.

The one final piece of software you definitely need is internet security, because no computer should be going online without it.

It’s not just a matter of antivirus versus internet security, or even Mac or Windows; if you own a computer or a tablet (and it’s not based on Google Chrome), you need security, full stop.

So what do you get?

While there are loads of choices out there, and we’re gradually going through all of them, our best bets for families with a few students are solutions that cater to multiple devices, meaning you can have one account that installs to several devices. It’s worth noting that all of these are subscription based, meaning you’ll have to pay yearly, so just be aware of that.

Symantec Norton 360 Multi-device

Price: $100 for 1 year and 3 devices; $130 for 1 year and 5 devices;

It’s hard to go past Norton as one of the best security solutions out there, and its multi-device solution of Norton 360 includes antivirus, internet security, parental controls, and insights into the possibilities of scams when you’re on Facebook or web searching, plus it can be installed on Android phones, too.

McAfee LiveSafe

Price: $130 for 1 year and unlimited devices;

McAfee’s idea of a multi-device security program counts as many devices as you have, catering for both computers, tablets, and smartphones, while bringing a password manager, some web safety technology, and a dose of cloud storage to the table.

Kaspersky Internet Security Multi-Device

Price: $90 for 1 year and 3 devices; $130 for 1 year and 5 devices; $300 for 1 year and 10 devices;

Kaspersky’s security application has always been one of the strongest ones in our arsenal, and we’ve found it speedy in the past, so we’re keen to see some of the new inclusions, such as improvements to parental controls, anti-phishing technologies, and now security notifications based on WiFi networks, which could be very handy if computers suddenly jump on free wireless when they see it.

If for some reason you don’t end up purchasing a security solution, you do need something, so make sure to install something like AVG Free, which is available on both Mac and Windows. While this isn’t going to help with internet security, it will at least prevent some of the major security issues that viruses can bring to the table.