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Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences

Productivity Tools: Software Every Student Should Know

By Stephanie Quick

Ever wondered if there is an easier way to get the software you need? Or if there was software you were missing out on? Trust me, I’ve been there. There have been many different software packages that I never knew existed until well into my undergraduate degree. If I knew about them, it would have saved me hours of frustration. 

Thankfully, I spoke with some fellow students and alumnae to put together a list of some tools that should help you through your studies. From package managers to simple software apps that help manage homework, this list should accommodate the needs of almost every student, and even faculty! 

Package Managers

A package manager is a system or set of tools used to automate installing, upgrading, configuring and using software. Most package managers are designed for discovering and installing developer tools. 

Typically, package managers use specific instructions to download an application depending on what the user needs. Once the manager follows the given instructions, the software is then installed and configured onto your computer. The package manager reduces the time spent getting an environment ready, and it helps ensure the same versions of packages are installed on their machine.

Ninite and Chocolatey are two of the most popular package managers for Windows systems. While Ninite does have a GUI [Graphical User Interface], Chocolatey does not. Because of this, people who are unfamiliar with using the command line should try using Ninite to begin with. Large companies like NASA and Sony use Ninite as well. 

If you are using a MacOS or Linux device, don’t worry, as there is a package manager for you too. Homebrew is terminal-based, similar to Chocolatey for Windows. You can simply make a script or go into your terminal to do so. 

From these package managers, you are able to download and install a wide variety of applications all at once. Some of the generic types of applications you can download includes developer tools, web browsers, media, and even security tools. Specific software include VLC, Blender, FileZilla, Eclipse, PuTTY, and many more. 

I know that some students might already know about package managers, but never felt the need to use them. However, using package managers has saved me a lot of time compared individually downloading each software and worrying about if it’s the right version. I believe that it’s worth giving a try yourself and deciding if you prefer this approach.

Integrated Development Environment [IDE]

Throughout my programming courses, IDEs have always been an essential software that I have used to assist me with programming. I couldn’t imagine coding without using one now, as it greatly enhances the experience.

However, I noticed many people would use a simple text editor to program. I have nothing against text editors, but many of these people never wanted to download another software when the editor worked perfectly fine. I believe that IDEs are worth working with and spending the time finding the one that you need. 

One of the biggest benefits to using an IDE is how amazing it is to debug with this software. Instead of using ‘echo’ or ‘console.log’ commands to debug, it takes some time to find out where the bug is located and it’s a lot of typing. With IDEs however, there is a debugger tool within the environment. 

A debugger is a tool that is used for analyzing programs on a line-by-line basis, monitoring variables, and output generated. There are also features to debugging such as breakpoints, stepping, spawnpoint control, and remote debugging. All these features make debugging a breeze and finding solutions faster. 

A few other benefits to using an IDE is that you do not have to go into the command line and compile your code yourself. The IDE does that for you when you run it! There is also automatic code generation, organized imports, and unit tests. 

Some specific IDEs that are useful for students include Eclipse, Pycharm, NetBeans, and Visual Studio Code. Eclipse is primarily used for developing Java applications, but it is also used for C, C++, C#, JavaScript, and even PHP. 

PyCharm is specifically used for Python alone, but since that is an increasingly popular language it is definitely worth learning about. NetBeans also supports Java and C++/C, but also XML, HTML, and PHP.

 Lastly, Visual Studio Code is a light-weight source-code editor and is a bit different from the others above. While Eclipse and Pycharm are strictly IDEs, Visual Studio Code allows you to have extensions to download support for whatever languages you need.

Office 365

As most people have used Word or PowerPoint at some point in their education, many people start using Google Docs once they graduate high school because they don’t want to pay for Office. However, one thing that some students don’t know is that a lot of universities provide licenses to their students for free. 

Like many universities, thankfully Lewis University also provides Office 365 for their students for free. To obtain your license, you can go to the office website yourself and enter your myLewis username along with @lewisu.edu afterwards. If myLewis username was joDoe, then the email I would enter would be joDoe@lewisu.edu. The link will be given at the end of this email. 

Homework Management

Most students struggle with procrastination and become disorganized with their coursework pretty early on in the semester. From then on, it’s always a catch up game to turn in assignments on time and college becomes the biggest stressor in your life. However, using some of these homework management tools can significantly improve your time management skills and take some stress off your shoulders.

One of the homework applications I used the most throughout my undergraduate career is the myHomework app. I discovered this during my sophomore year and it changed my procrastination habit ever since! 

The one thing I love about myHomework is that I can use it on my phone (Android or iOS) or on my computer (Windows and MacOS) as well. As long as you’re signed into your account, the new assignments you add will stay synced so you can access it whenever you like. 

Not only that, but the GUI is extremely organized and friendly for adding/dropping new classes every semester. It is a great substitute if you don’t have the time to write in a planner or always forget to carry it on you. It has definitely kept me from forgetting little things that were due for my general education courses and kept me on track of my assignments. 

Links for Software Mentioned

Package Managers:

Chocolatey: https://chocolatey.org/

Ninite: https://ninite.com/

Homebrew (macOS): https://brew.sh/

Supported packages (Chocolatey): https://chocolatey.org/packages

Supported packages (Homebrew): https://formulae.brew.sh/cask/

IDEs

Eclipse: https://www.eclipse.org/downloads/

PyCharm: https://www.jetbrains.com/pycharm/

NetBeans:https://netbeans.org/

Visual Studio Code:https://code.visualstudio.com/

*Supported on all platforms*

Homework Management:

MyHomework: https://myhomeworkapp.com/

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