Tools for small schools: Ninite.com

If you’re working at a larger school, chances are your computers are networked and it’s a little easier for you to install and update your machines. At my small school, anything I want to install has to be done manually, sitting in front of each computer. Ninite.com is a huge time saver and makes my life so much easier.

Ninite gives you a great list of programs to choose from.

Head on over to ninite and get started. You just choose the programs you want (including many open-source options) and then download an installer. The installer skips all those annoying toolbar downloads and saves you a ton of time. I’ve been using ninite for about a year to set up school and personal computers, and I’ve been happy with every experience.

If you’re curious, the blend of programs I usually download from ninite for school machines:

  • Chrome
  • GIMP
  • LibreOffice
  • Foxit Reader
  • Microsoft Security Essentials
  • Google Earth
  • 7-Zip
  • MalwareBytes

Anyone else have good tools they like to use when setting up a new computer?

Why open source is great for schools

  • It’s free (usually). Here I’m referring to the open source movement as a subset of the free software movement (see here).  When you’re teaching kids from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, free is better. You shouldn’t train kids to use programs that they can’t actually acquire at home. That’s part of why I love teaching with Google Apps – it’s free for them to get at home. Same goes for GIMP, OpenOffice, Avast, etc. If they can get it for free, they can use technology to improve their lives at home, not just at school.
  • It’s just as good. Yes, proprietary versions of products can look prettier, but nine times out of ten there’s an open-source alternative that might be rough around the edges with the same functionality. Prime example: Word vs. OpenOffice or Libre Office. I don’t have Word on my school or home machine and I don’t miss it at all. Same goes for open-source virus protection, which in most cases I actually prefer to Norton.
  • It’s a great philosophy. Open-source is all about freedom of information and relies on members of the community helping each other. Those are great values for any student, and I like that the story is also a concrete example of what it means to be in an intellectual community in the real world.

To me, those are the big three, but this is a nice article that highlights some of the more technical reasons to appreciate open source. Check it out.

What to delete off your new computer

Came home today to the most wonderful kind of mail – my new laptop! Thanks to woot, I’m now the proud owner of a Lenovo Thinkpad. Not the prettiest of computers but it has the specs I wanted and the price was most definitely right. And now I get to go about my favorite part of setting up a new machine – cleaning it out!

Before you get to adding iTunes, Photoshop and games to your new computer, you should take the time to clear out the junk. Yes, your brand-new computer already has a bunch of crap on it. Most computers come with what’s called “bloatware.” These are programs pre-installed by the manufacturer, most of which you really don’t need. Bloatware comes in different packages, but look for ambiguously named programs labeled with the name of the manufacturer. On my new laptop, “Lenovo ThinkVantage.” Yikes. HP is notorious for coming with lots of bloatware, for instance, the “HP Solution Center” that comes with printers. These programs are meant to make it easier for the consumer to access settings and brand-specific help pages. But you’re a smart consumer, and you have half a brain, so you don’t really need any “centers.” Take the time to get to know the Windows Control Panel, and ask your local techie how to target your Google searches to get answers on any software or hardware question you may have. No bloatware needed.

Not sure what to delete? Again, consult with the nearest nerd, but if you’re feeling confident, just Google “bloatware” + make and model of your new computer. Check out a couple of different results and if you’re not sure, err on the side of caution until you can ask someone in the know – you don’t want to accidentally delete important drivers.

Computer manufacturers also sometimes partner with software companies to pre-load your laptop with all kinds of goodies. Sometimes these are convenient – for example, I was excited to see that my Thinkpad came with Google Chrome already installed – that’s my browser of choice and having it ready to go saved me a step. But my computer also came pre-loaded with Norton Antivirus, which takes up way more space than an antivirus needs to. Goodbye, Norton! Hello, Microsoft Security Essentials. Same goes for CD burning utilities, media players, and trial versions of programs you have no intention of buying. If you know of a free, open-source, or cheap alternative, go ahead and get rid of that pre-installed program (Google tip: search for “open source alternative to” + name of the program you’re getting rid of).

With a little time and research you’ll get the hang of what’s OK to delete and what you want to save. The same way you’d strip the wallpaper off a wall before laying down a new coat of paint, you should always remove bloatware before tricking out your new machine.

Next post: what to install on your new computer, and why open-source is great for schools.