Typora – fast, free word processor for your everyday writing.

TyporaTypora is free Markdown-based word processor.

Microsoft Word and Apple Pages are amazing word processors but bigger is not always better.

I have much more modest needs for that vast majority of my writing — bold, italics, headlines, etc. I must not be alone because a whole bunch of Markdown based word processors have recently sprung-up.

My favorite is Typora. It is free, simple and cross-platform. I have used the Linux and Windows version for months.

For those not familiar: Markdown is a very simple text formatting scheme that came from how people were already writing emails.

bold   italic

You can use a minimal text editor to write Markdown because it’s just a text file but Typora allows you to see the formatting as you write. Formatting can also be done with short-cut keys. ctrl+b = bold,     ctrl+i = italic,    etc.

Typora exports to Word, PDF, OpenOffice, HTML etc. There are also programs which convert Markdown to just about any format.

I have used Markdown for book-length manuscripts and it worked very well. The file was gigantic and it bogged down my full word processor to a crawl. Since Markdown is just a text file, it didn’t have this problem.

You can insert graphics but you won’t use it for desktop publishing. For your everyday writing, Typora and Markdown could be ideal.


Description: Markdown based word processor for Windows, Linux and Mac (beta)

License: proprietary but free for now.

Usefulness: very


SoundBible — free sound effects

soundBible-iconThe folks at SoundBible have collected hundreds of CreativeCommons licenses and public domain sound effects from around the web. The sound files are tagged with the license clearly displayed.

If we demand that our students obey copyright laws, then I believe we should make it easy for them to obey the law. SoundBible does just that.

The only downside is that the sound effects can be a little hard to find.

Bottom line: free sound effects for mutli-media projects.

Tool: soundbible.com

Description: sound effects for students media projects, with clear licence reqirements.

License: CreativeCommons, public domain

Usefulness: possibly

The Book Patch — affordable, honest self-publishing

book_patch_logoThe “vanity publishing” industry has a reputation right down there with Nigerian emails but there are some good ones and TheBookPatch really stands out.

The biggest scams seem to be minimum quantities, set-up fees and hidden costs. The Book Patch has none of these. Disclaimer: I have not personally used this service but I found almost no complaints about TheBookPatch,which is unusual.

TheBookPatch is truly self-publishing which means they will publish anything but leave all the editing, design and marketing to you. They provide templates and writing tools but your book is your responsibility alone. While they sell books on their own site, promotion and sales are also up to you. Most teachers and schools don’t need these services, anyway.

For a class book project or a school memory book, TheBookPatch is an excellent choice. A teacher can print a 60 page, B&W, 6” x 9” class book for less than $3 a copy. A full-color book would be less than $10. This is considerably less expensive than other self-publishing services I have used. Very helpfully, you can order a single copy (at a reasonable price) of your book for proof reading. In my experience, typos are much easier to find in an “advance copy” of a book and well-worth the cost.

To publish with TheBookPatch, you need to create a PDF for the body of the book and a separate color JPG file for the cover. TheBookPatch offers templates and clear, specific instructions for creating these. They can also create an ISBN number, also at a reasonable price. ISBN numbers are not required unless you want to sell your books through retailers.

Write_onlineTheBookPatch is also a cloud site for writers. They offer an on-line word processor that integrates with their print publishing service. I would probably use OpenOffice or Google Docs (if you need collaboration tools). Any application that creates a PDF file should work.

Bottom line: An affordable source for class or school self-published books.

Tool: TheBookPatch
Description: Affordable self-publishing
License: Open Ethos
Alternatives: Lulu, Kinkos, local quick print, others
Usefulness: very

imgur — easy, no registration photo hosting.

Imgur_logo.svgimgur does one thing — photo hosting. But, it does it very well. You simply upload your photo and use it on your web page.

Imgur seems almost too good to be true. It allows you to upload your image, without registration, which the site says will never be deleted.

Imgur accepts JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PDF files, which should include any type of graphic you’ve created. Any files, besides JPG, will be converted to PNG, which should not be a problem since PNG files are standard for web browsers. Nicely, Imgur also accepts XCF files which are native to the open-source GIMP photo editing program. I’m not aware of any other hosting service that allows this.

Bottom line: a very easy way to post a photo with no registration.

Tool: imgur.com

Description: photo hosting with no registration

License: Open Ethos

Alternatives: Flickr, Tinypic, many others

Usefulness: very

Bootstrap – a template for mobile-friendly websites

jjffjj_bootstrap_logo80% of Internet users have a smart phone, so your web sites simply must be mobile-compatible. Thanks to Twitter’s free Bootstrap template, this is now easy. Bootstrap has quickly become the most used template for mobile websites.jjffjj_bootstrap_screenshot

With Bootstrap the same web page adjusts itself to look good on full-size computers screens, laptops, tablets, phones, etc. Think of it as a “one size fits all” web page.

Bootstrap comes in all levels of complexity but it does require some basic HTML skills. There are many variants, so you can start with a simple blank page or a fully designed one. Bootstrap is also well-documented and has good tutorials.

Additionally: Google provides a very useful Mobile-Friendly Test site to see how your page looks on a phone and will give suggestions for improving. While Bootstrap is pretty amazing, it still may take some adjusting. Another good test site is here.

Bottom line: a great template if you are comfortable with a little coding.

Tool: Bootstrap
Description: Mobile-friendly template for websites.
License: MIT
Alternatives: WordPress, others.
Usefulness: very

tinypic — quick and easy photo and video hosting.

This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.
This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.

tinypic.com-logoThere several good free photo hosting sites but it’s a real time-waster for your students to create accounts. tinypic will host your students’ photos and videos with no registration or hassle.  tinypic is the free version of PhotoBucket which is a flagship photo hosting site.

A convenient feature of tinypic is that it provides the linking code for HTML and other common formats. And, it lets you link directly without advertisements. tinypic allows you to upload a photo directly from your phone via email (a feature I didn’t test).

There are better choices if you need your image to last for years since tinypic keeps your students’ images for only 90 days.  Even so, this should be fine for class assignments.

Original Video – More videos at TinyPic


Another potential downside is that all images are public but the odds of anyone stumbling across your photo are probably minimal. Photos are limited to 1600 pixels on the longest side and videos are limited to five minutes. If you submit larger items, they are automatically reduced.

The bottom line: tinypic is a super-easy way to post photos and videos for sort-term projects.

Tool: tinypic.com

Description: photo and video hosting with no registration

License: Open Ethos

Alternatives: Flickr, Imgur, many others

Usefulness: very

Archive.org Community Media – free, cloud publishing

Archive dot LorgArchive.org is now a great way to publish your eBooks.

You probably know Archive.org as a repository for live music or their Wayback Machine.

communityTextArchive.org also has a community media section where you can upload your eBook. It is an easy, open way to publish your students’ ‘zines, eBooks or student newspaper. One of the best features is that it allows you to embed your document in your website without advertisements.

For most people, the simplest way is to upload a PDF/Acrobat file of their ebook. I prefer the Comic Book Archive format and that works as well.

The only downside I can think of is that Archive.org has NSFW (or school) content. But, if your ebook is embedded on your own site, your students needn’t visit Archive.org or even be aware that it exists.


Tool: archive.org Community Media

Description: repository for self-published eBook

License: Creative Commons

Alternatives: Google Drive, Scribd, others

Usefulness: very

Pixabay – free graphics and photos with no restrictions

Pixabay-logo.svgNothing beats free and Pixabay offers pictures and graphics with the CC0 license which is the least restrictive license possible. Simply put: take the image and forget about it.

Pixabay_screenshotBest yet, these are good quality images.   Pixabay has almost 300,000 images which can be found with Google.

Pixabay does not require attribution although I always require my students to credit their sources even when they are public domain. Pixabay does not require sign-in although they limit your downloads to medium size.  The site comes in Spanish as well as number of other languages.

colored-pencils-168392_1280This is a fantastic site.   My only minor quibble is that they also include Shutterstock photos which are not free. This might be confusing for some students.

If your students need pictures for their projects, Pixabay is a fantastic resource.


Resource: Pixabay

Description:  Thousands of high quality pictures and graphics with no licensing restrictions.

License CC0/no restrictions

Alternatives: Wikimedia Commons

Rating: highly useful

WPS Office – the best free office suite you probably haven’t heard of

I hadn’t heard of the freeware WPS Office but it has millions of users worldwide. It was started over 25 years ago as a DOS program by Kingsoft. This long history shows in its polished interface.
WPS Office looks vaguely like Microsoft Office but is more comparable to Libre/OpenOffice in its features. Power users will keep using MS Office but, for many users, WPS Office has more than enough features.

“WPS” stands for Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheet. It doesn’t have a database, desktop publishing, note-taking or other modules included in MS Office or even OpenOffice. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you only use the main three modules in MS Office.

WPS Office is highly cross-platform with implementations for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android. The Linux version worked flawlessly for me but was less impressive on the iPad.  It claims to have collaborative and cloud features which I didn’t test.  There is also a pro-version but the free version is not crippled.

WPS Office offers templates and product support within a document window of WPS Office. You don’t need to web browse to separate page to find templates. Some people may find this intrusive but I expect more products to start doing this.
I like how WPS Office handles style sheets. Styles can be modified directly from the side panel without having to burrow down through menus. It is also very easy to switch between print view mode and web view mode which is useful if you are writing for both.

I was disappointed that WPS Office doesn’t support the Open Document standard but many people will be glad that it can use Microsoft formats by default.
WPS Office’s native format uses a *.wps extension (confusingly, the same as MS Works.) If you want to test compatibility I’ve exported an original .wps document to:  PDF  .doc and .docx  (right click to download)

I probably won’t switch from OpenOffice/LibreOffice since I use the draw module more than anything else and WPS Office has only the three modules. That being said, the Writer module of WPS Office handled frames well which is the core feature of desktop publishing. Also, as a matter of principle, I favor open source tools rather than just freeware.

Bottom line: good free suite if you often work with MS Office documents.

Tool: WPS Office
Description: three-component freeware office suite
License: open ethos (freeware)
Alternatives: LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Abiword, Google Docs
Usefulness: very

Laverna – encrypted note taking with no registration.

Laverna_logoLaverna is another encrypted note taking program, similar to ProtectedtText which I reviewed in September.    While not a feature powerhouse, Laverna has more formatting options than ProtectedText.   It also has the security advantage of storing your files on your own computer, if you are worried about your files being stored on the ProtectedText servers.
Laverna files can also be stored in DropBox which is convenient but a concern if you are worried about the NSA or other high-level snoops who collect this kind of data.  However, it’s good if you are worried about privacy at work, since your files are stored off-site.  In any case, your files are powerfully encrypted and (supposedly!) not accessible even by the NSA.
Laverna_Screenshot   Laverna requires no registration and is very easy to set-up if you store your files locally on your computer.   Storing your files on DropBox involves a somewhat complex set-up.  You need to create a DropBox “app” for Laverna which is a little geeky but worked flawlessly for me.
I’m not sure which program is more secure but Laverna is much better for formatted text since it supports basic word processor features  (bold, italic, images, etc).   ProtectedText is simply text.
Even if you don’t use Laverna or ProtectedText, you should use something like it.  Hackers and snoops are a real problem and “cloud” office suites give you no protection from them.  Both programs automatically encrypt your notes while remaining easy to use.
Bottom line:  While a little difficult to set-up, Laverna is worth the effort if you want a secure note-taking program.  (and you should want it!)

Tool: Laverna
Description: free encrypted note taking, with no registration
License: OpenSource (GNU GPL v.3)
Alternatives:  ProtectedText
Rating: useful