Spare a blank CD

UPDATE: Software for Starving Students is no longer maintained. Visit the latest host at the University of Western Oklahoma's Software For Starving Students page or from OpenDisc

There is a little bit of everything available on the Internet aimed at starving students. There are starving student cookbooks, guides for survival on a starving student's budget and entertainment guides with low cost entertainment ideas. And now there is free software for starving students. Software for Starving Students is a collection of free and open source software all on one CD-ROM. There are versions for Windows and Mac.

Software for Starving Students is a free collection of programs organized for students (but available to anyone). One CD contains a list of best-in-class programs (one disc for OS X, one for Windows), including a fully-featured office suite, a cutting-edge Web browser, multi-media packages, academic tools, programming tools, utilities and games.

The CD collection is created by a group of volunteers led by Dave Turnbull, president and chief executive officer of

"We try to release a collection every semester so students going to school will have a fresh disk." said Turnbull, an information technology grad from Brigham Young University. "We still remember what it is like to try to make ends meet."

In addition to assembling a collection of software that can be downloaded, the group wants donations to become a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. That status will help the group raise donations that are exempt from taxes. The group must raise $330 of a $500 goal.

Distributing software to starving students and raising money has it's challenges.

"Most of the people who volunteered tend to be technically oriented and they know all about the coolest software," Turnbull said. "We have difficulty at times remembering that our core users may not be technically oriented. We need to constantly remember our core users."

He says the project has gotten publicity through word of mouth and online articles on a few very high profile Web sites aimed at tech savvy users: Download Squad, Lifehacker, Engadget and 43 Folders. The project has not received publicity via mainstream publications and newspapers.

Despite the lack of publicity, about 118,000 people have downloaded the CD-ROM. That's based on 75 terrabytes of data.

"The kids today have it easy; when I was young we had to walk five miles just to use Google to find our free software, said Scott Gilbertson, a reporter with Wired News, when he discovered the package.

"You could of course scour the web yourself like we used to do, but why bother when someone else has already dug it all up and put in one easy to download CD?" Gilbertson said "Just download, burn a copy and pass it down the hall to your friends. It's all legal."

Downloading the software will be a challenge unless you have broadband like Road Runner or EarthLink.

There are two ways to download the software:

  1. Use a BitTorrent client to download the ISO disk image. BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer (P2P) file distribution software written by programmer Bram Cohen and debuted at CodeCon 2002. It is written in Python and is released under the BitTorrent Open Source License (a modified version of the Jabber Open Source License), as of version 4.0. Using BitTorrent may take more time than conventional downloads because it spreads the work over many computers.
  2. Or, download it the same way you download any software from the Internet. Downloading it will add to the's cost because they have to pay for the bandwidth.

Before using Software for Starving Students you'll need to download the BitTorrent client. Downloading the client and installing the software can be challenging.

Both the direct download and the BitTorrent version consist of an ISO disk image. A disk image is a computer file containing the complete contents and structure of a data storage device such as a CD-ROM. Many CD burners include features that convert ISO images to a format that can be read by Windows computers.

Merely copying the ISO file to a CD will not make it readable. BitTorrent uses peer-to-peer sharing.

Once you have the CD, it has an installation program, at right, that explains each program's purpose. You can pick and choose.