iTunes U & Education Applications

I was quite sure that before the Sept 9 Apple Event, iTunes U was not available in the Singapore iTunes Store. Now, we can finally subscribe to some of the amazing podcasts that are available, many of them from the finest colleges around the world. Hopefully this also means that Singapore will have its own iTunes Music Store soon. Oh, and it shouldn’t surprise you that the first series I subscribed to was actually Stanford‘s iPhone Application Programming Course as well as Steve Job’s 2005 Commencement Address.

Anyway, since we are on the topic of education, let me share with you some of the great tools available for Mac that are potentially useful for students. Moreover, many of these applications have huge education discounts that make them affordable to most students – one of the only few things I like about being a student.

I have already covered Concentrate, but for those lazy to click the link, Concentrate basically provides you with a distraction free workspace. Which is near impossible to achieve these days with the abundance of IM clients, social media etc.

Word 2008
Just like how Powerpoint simply cannot match up to Keynote, Apple’s Pages simply cannot match up to Microsoft Word 2008 (sadly). To be honest, Microsoft Word does pack quite a bit of punch, offering some powerful word processing tools. Moreover, the 2008 version does have some unique features that are not available on the 2007 Windows version. For one, we do have this beautiful Notebook Layout:
Notebook Layout in Word 2008
which is perfect for note taking. And it’s not just an aesthetics thing – it does include pretty cool stuff like organizing your notes in tabs (which somehow isn’t shown in this screenshot), creating audio notes, allowing you to scribble (too bad no handwriting recognition yet) and quickly search through your notes. But most importantly, it provides a distraction free way of creating notes (no styles etc. to mess with). Of course, Office also comes bundled with some other cool stuff – like Equation Editor, which I frequently use now, as well as Document Connection, which provides you with a desktop client to easily connect to Windows Live Workspaces (though I am not sure if these are exclusive for the Mac). Pretty much, it’s a great product and the 2 Service Packs (yes, the horror – 2 service packs already) seemed to have fixed most memory leaks. You got to say – Microsoft really went back to its roots on this one, and that is creating software for the Macintosh platform.

For those that tried to draw graphs using Microsoft’s built in line and arrow tools, you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to draw graphs. Well, with OmniGraphSketcher, it becomes a breeze to draw these graphs. Screenshots won’t do the application justice, so I suggest you check out the screencasts available on the product website. Omnigroup also offers a educational discount of USD$10 off OmniGraphSketcher, so it’s a great buy if you often do graph sketching. By the way, the Mac does come bundled with a Grapher application (hidden in the Utilities folder), but that’s mainly for equation based graphs and doesn’t seem to offer easy export options.

The Omni Group does provide a suite of tools that are helpful to students. For your mindmapping needs, there is OmniGraffle, which is recognized to be the best mind mapping tool available for the Mac. Sadly, it comes at a fairly steep price point (USD$59.95 for the Standard Version – and that’s after $40 off from the education discount), so maybe it is better to stick to paper and pen. Of course, it does solve the problem of limited canvas size (when mind mapping using paper and pen), but it’s your call as to whether it is worth that price point.

However, I have yet to find a satisfactory program that allows me to draw chemical structures. If anyone knows of any Mac applications (I only know of CambridgeSoft’s ChemDraw, which is prohibitively expensive and seems to be loaded with bloatware) that lets me draw chemical structures, please tell me.

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