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What Software Does Your Institution Provide Free or Cheap?

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The other day I was working on a project that required some image editing power. That’s not a typical requirement in my work, and so I didn’t have a good image editing program installed on my work computer. My first instinct was to download GIMP, a free alternative to Photoshop. I also spent some time exploring cheaper Photoshop alternatives, wondering if there was a good program with a solid user interface that wouldn’t cost too much.

Then, however, I remembered something I seem to forget every time I need software. My institution pays large licensing fees for a wide range of software, taking advantage of bulk discounts, and offers that software to faculty and staff either free or at sharply reduced rates. When I visited our university’s IT page, I found that I could use their pricing to buy a subscription to the complete Adobe Creative Suite (which is now an online service) for $9.75 per year. Normally the same version of the complete creative suite would cost $49.99 per month. I am glad I checked before purchasing any software on my own. I had a similar experience when I needed GIS software a few years back, though in that case it wasn’t a university license, but another department’s license with plenty of available seats—they were happy to let me claim one of them.

The lesson here is simple. If there’s a piece of software you need, it’s worth investigating whether your institution (or some part of your institution) offers cheap or even free access to it before making a purchase. Your results will of course vary by institution, but I’ve been surprised enough times that I should at least know to check first.

How about you? Have you had success finding institutional access to the software you need for your work or teaching? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

[CC-licensed Flickr photo by Gisela Giardino]

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