Software and Apps

"If you apply digital to a thing that's broken, you'll have a broken digital thing."" — Unknown

Just as with devices, the software environment for fieldworkers is often unique.

The sector of fieldwork will typically require specialized software, and the connectivity environment plays an important role in terms of what is available, convenient, reliable, and affordable. This often translates to fieldworkers being very 'kilobyte conscious' about the data that they use, what they download, and how to set up their environment to take advantage of cloud-based services over local installations of programs.

This section offers a few suggestions and links to software packages and projects that I have found most useful in fieldwork environments. Unless otherwise stated, these software packages offer multiple operating system environments (usually Windows and MacOS, with some Linux distributions).


  • The Guardian Project -- The Guardian Project creates easy to use secure apps, open-source software libraries, and customized mobile devices that can be used around the world by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion, interception and monitoring.
  • Portable Apps -- Links to 'portable apps'—computer programs that you can carry around with you on a USB drive or cloud drive and use on any Windows computer (often without installation requirements). Great for computer labs and Internet cafes.

Windows and MacOS Software


  • ClamWin -- Standalone antivirus program for Windows. Not a scanner, so will not run in the background and take up processes and resources.
  • AVG -- Virus protection for personal use.
  • Norton Power Eraser -- Remove scamware and other viruses.


  • 7-Zip -- File archiver for zipped and compressed files.
  • CCleaner -- System optimization, privacy and cleaning tool.
  • Flux -- Make the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
  • SpaceSniffer -- Tree map visualize and understand how folders and files are structured on your disks.
  • VeraCrypt -- Free open source disk encryption software for Windows, MacOS and Linux.

Web Browsers

  • Google Chrome -- Google's browser alternative to Internet Explorer and Safari defaults in PCs and Macs.
  • Mozilla Firefox -- Mozilla Foundation's browser alternative to Internet Explorer and Safari defaults in PCs and Macs.
  • Tor Browser -- Browser that lets you bounce your communications around a distributed network of relays to prevent somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location, and lets you access sites which are blocked.


  • Skype -- Cross-platform messaging, able to use an account to send/receive calls from traditional phone lines.
  • Pidgin (Windows) -- Chat client for PCs that supports AIM, Bonjour, Google Talk, ICQ, IRC, Yahoo!, and others.
  • Adium (MacOS) -- Chat client for MacOS systems that supports AIM, Bonjour, Google Talk, ICQ, IRC, Yahoo!, and others.


  • GIMP -- GNU Image Manipulation Program. Graphics software for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring.
  • Inkscape -- Scalable vector graphics editor.


  • Anki -- Flash cards.
  • PowerTyping -- Offline application to learn basic typing skills.
  • Stellarium -- Constellation drawing, star names, planet viewing, nebulae watching, and more.
  • Edubuntu -- An operating system (Ubuntu/Linux) that contains all the best free software available in education and make it easy to install and maintain.
  • Bloom -- Book Making Software from SIL International. Create simple books and translate them into multiple languages.
  • SynPhony Literacy System -- SynPhony's aim is to match the words and texts of any language to the reading ability of any student.


  • Thunderbird -- Email application that is simple and convenient for offline connectivity.


  • Audacity -- Audio editor and recorder. Great for podcast production.
  • VLC Player -- Cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols.
  • XnView -- Easy-to-use photo viewer, organizer and converter.
  • Lightworks -- Video-editing alternative -- free for uploading to YouTube.


  • LibreOffice -- Office suite that includes word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, diagrams and drawings, databases, and composing mathematical formulae. (Mostly) compatible with Microsoft Office formats.
  • Calibre -- E-book application suite that allows users to manage e-book collections as well as to create, edit, and read e-books.
  • FocusWriter -- Simple, distraction-free writing environment.
  • Foxit Reader -- PDF document viewer and creator for PCs.
  • Notepad++ (Windows) -- Text editor which supports several programming languages.
  • Sublime Text -- Text editor for code, markup and prose.
  • Atom -- Text editor (similar to Sublime) built by Github.
  • Sumatra PDF (Windows) -- PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.



  • Android File Transfer (MacOS) -- Browse and transfer files between your Mac computer and your Android device.
  • BitTorrent Sync -- File synchronization between individuals and devices locally -- without using the cloud.
  • EtherPad -- Customizable online editor providing collaborative editing in really real-time.
  • FrontlineSMS -- Desktop application to manage SMS communications.
  • gPodder -- Podcast client.
  • HoRNDIS -- USB tethering driver for Androids to MacOS.
  • HTTrack Website Copier -- Offline browser utility.
  • Kiwix -- Offline reader for web content.
  • KompoZer -- Web editor that is based on the same Gecko engine that powers Firefox and Thunderbird.
  • MAMP -- Local server environment.
  • Opera -- Lightweight, customizable browser designed for speed.
  • Puppy Linux -- Lightweight Linux distribution that focuses on ease of use and minimal memory footprint.
  • QuiteRSS Reader -- standalone RSS reader for monitoring your favorite RSS feeds.
  • SDFormatter (MacOS) -- Formats all SD memory cards, SDHC memory cards and SDXC memory cards.
  • SiteSucker (MacOS) -- Download websites from the Internet.


The right apps on a smartphone or tablet device can make a huge difference in your fieldwork.

Just as with the software above, there are many apps that offer great functionality even when not connected to the Internet.

These are just general apps -- for specific apps (and software) focused on a particular topic, please check out the resources for that topic area.


  • WhatsApp -- Cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. Available on iOS, Android, and now the web (also with Blackberry) and the java-enabled Nokia S40, Symbian, and Windows Phone!). Users can also create groups, and send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.
  • Skype -- Cross-platform messaging, able to use an account (with money added) to send/receive calls from traditional phone lines. Available on iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone.
  • Google Voice -- Make cheap international calls with your Google number. Send free text messages. Place calls and send text messages showing your Google number. Listen to voicemail and read transcripts. Available on iOS and Android.
  • Facebook Messenger -- Facebook messaging on mobile platforms. Available on iOS and Android.
  • Viber -- Free messages and calls from any Android or iOS device, including tablets, on any network. All you need is 3G or Wi-Fi and you can connect with other Viber users. Available on iOS and Android.

Language and Translation

  • Duolingo -- free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app along with a crowdsourced text translation platform and a language proficiency assessment center.
  • iTranslate -- 90+ languages in your Pocket; for iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows.
  • Google Translate -- Translate 90 languages, use your camera to translate text instantly in 26 languages, and with two-way automatic speech translation in 40 languages. Also with offline iOS and Android apps!


  • ASTRO File Manager -- Organize, find, and access internal and external files on Android OS phones.
  • TurboScan -- Yes, it does cost a few dollars, but it allows you to take photos of documents, convert them to PDFs, and then email them to yourself and others which can be useful when submitting travel reimbursement, etc.
  • Dropbox -- Keep documents locally on your device.
  • Bittorrent Sync -- Fast, simple, and secure file syncing for IT and individuals.
  • GoodReader -- Great for storing and reading (and annotating) PDFs on your device. Many options for syncing and downloading.
  • Evernote -- cross-platform, freemium app designed for note taking, organizing, and archiving.
  • TouchShow -- PowerPoint on Android.

Books and Reading

  • iBooks -- E-book reading app (accepts .epub and .pdf formats). iOS only.
  • Kindle Reader -- Amazon's Kindle app. Files must be .mobi (use Calibre software to convert between e-reader formats)
  • OverDrive -- For checking out digital and audiobooks from many libraries across the U.S. though a library card number is required. Check to see if your library is a member, then books can be downloaded for free.
  • Audible -- For audiobooks, though most audiobooks must be purchased here.


  • Red Cross First Aid -- Useful for emergencies, but also once you get to site this app may be a helpful educational tool to share or use for a health club. For iOS and Android.
  • Sleep Cycle -- For iOS and Android, helps to monitor sleep patterns and wake you according to a natural circadian rhythm.

GIS and Mapping

  • -- Maps for places all over the world can be downloaded for offline use. For iOS and Android.
  • Go Map!! -- Allows for editing and contributing to OpenStreetMap. For iOS.
  • Pushpin OSM -- Allows for editing and contributing to OpenStreetMap. For iOS only.
  • Google Maps -- For iOS and Android. Also has enhanced offline functionality.


  • StarWalk -- Interactive astronomy guide that shows celestial objects in the exact positions on the sky above you, providing detailed information about them. For iOS and Android.
  • Kiwix Reader -- Offline reader for web content. It's software intended to make Wikipedia (and other packages) available without using the internet, but it is potentially suitable for all HTML content. Kiwix supports the ZIM format, a highly compressed open format with additional meta-data.

Offline Content and Databases

Rounding out the collection of software and apps, there are growing collections of useful, portable digital content.

It can be incredibly convenient to have public domain works of classic literature, offline health guides, and an offline version of Wikipedia in your back pocket.

  • Kiwix Portable Packages -- Requires the Kiwix Reader software or app -- contains a Gutenberg package, TED talks, Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikipedia, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikispecies, Wikiversity, Wikivoyage, and Wiktionary.
  • Wikipedia Offline -- Gozim is a server side tool providing web pages to cheap clients, install it somewhere and forget it.
  • XOWA -- Free, open-source application that lets you download Wikipedia to your computer.
  • Wikipedia for Schools Package -- Selection of articles focused on school children around the world (6000 articles, 26 million words and 50,000 images) from SOS Children's Villages.
  • Practical Action Offline Resources -- From Practical Action's Resource Library, over 2,000 online resources available from the team at Practical Action, including technical briefs and drawings, and audios and videos, on a range of topics and sub-topics, and in different languages. The resources are all focused on small-scale appropriate technologies aimed at improving access to infrastructure and enterprise development for people living in poverty.
  • GCF Package -- From GCF, illustrated articles and videos focusing on technology, job training, reading, and math skills.
  • Infonet-Biovision -- From Infonet-Biovision, organized and illustrated information on a wide range of agricultural, environmental, and health topics. "The resource gives farmers, trainers, students, and extension workers quick access to up-to-date and locally relevant agricultural information and related topics.""
  • Offline Project Gutenberg -- From Project Gutenberg, a searchable, categorized selection of over 400 of the most beloved and respected books from around the world, collected from Project Gutenberg.
  • Standard Ebooks -- Free ebooks, similar to the Gutenberg collection, but that have been carefully edited and formatted.
  • Khan Academy Lite from Learning Equality -- Khan Academy videos packaged for offline viewing and sharing.
  • Offline Hesperian Health Guides -- Hesperian has easy to understand, practical, accurate, and heavily illustrated guides on health topics that for remote areas where access to medical personnel and facilities is limited.
  • MedLine Medical Encyclopedia Package -- over 4,000 articles about diseases, tests, symptoms, injuries, and surgeries from Medline. It also contains an extensive library of medical photographs and illustrations.
  • CK-12 Foundation Package -- From CK-12 Foundation, textbooks, flashcards, simulations, and examples across all secondary school subjects.
  • UNESCO Primary School Resources -- From UNESCO, teachers' resources from the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa.
  • OLPC Educational Pack -- A collection of educational materials consolidated by the OLPC project.
  • RadioLab Podcasts -- Radiolab is a radio program produced by WNYC, a public radio station in New York City, and broadcast on public radio stations in the United States. The show is nationally syndicated and is available as a podcast.
  • Outernet Content -- Global broadcast data startup that provides free access to content from the web through geostationary and Low Earth Orbit satellites, made available effectively to all parts of the world. Their content schedule is available in this spreadsheet with links to raw resources and copyright information.
  • eGranary Digital Library | -- Millions of digital educational resources to institutions lacking adequate Internet access.
  • OLE Nepal's E-Pustakalaya -- E-Pustakalaya is an education-focused digital library containing full-text documents, images, videos and audio files that can be accessed through an intranet or the internet.
  • eTekkatho -- Educational resources for the Myanmar academic community.
  • K4Health Toolkits -- Practical collections of trusted public health resources, chosen by experts, arranged for easy use.
  • Disaster Apps and Tools -- This page features apps and tools shared at the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day to help address the challenges that severe weather and other disasters can pose to our communities.
  • Ebola Disk -- The WiderNet Project and WiderNet@UNC have developed the Ebola Pocket Library as a free-to-copy digital off-line library for people responding to the Ebola crisis in Africa -- especially local health care workers in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
  • Survivor Library -- "How to Survive and Prosper without Modern Technology."
  • DemTools - Cultivating Democracy -- Free, open-source software to provide civic organizations, legislatures, and political parties with the capabilities to effectively engage 21st century citizens and build better democracies.
  • Memrise -- Uses game-based and visual content to help users boost skills in vocabulary, languages, history, and science. Includes 300,000+ courses.

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