Save a bundle on software with free, open source apps

Welcome to Thrifty Tech, a Money College weekly column about technology options on a college budget. This week, we talk about how to avoid spending a bundle on essential software with free, open source alternatives.

With back-to-school shopping gearing up, chances are you've already picked up the appliances, pencils, and notebooks needed for the start of college. But now that we live in the future, it's the stuff that goes into the laptop that counts.

Yes, software is the omnipresent back-to-school item. But since it isn't 1998, don't assume that software has to come from a CD-ROM with a price tag of more than $50. With the advent of free, open source and web-based applications, you may not need to buy software packages in-store. Let's take a look at some essential applications and alternatives. (And if you're looking for hardware, we highly recommend checking out Engadget's Back to School guide on netbooks and laptops).