Free Windows Software Recommendations
I wanted to share a list of free software programs that I either use or recommend. I have been asked on numerous occasions to recommend programs and lots of times, I end up recommending free programs because quite frankly, they are as good or better than a lot of “boxed” software. So here it is.
PDF Reader – Foxit Reader
Most people probably just install Adobe Acrobat Reader without a second thought and leave it at that. Problem is, Acrobat Reader is a bit bloated, slow, and a security risk that requires constant updates. The solution? Foxit Software’s Foxit Reader. It has a much smaller footprint, is very quick, and to date, I have not found that it lacks anything that Adobe’s Acrobat Reader has.
CD/DVD Mastering Software – CDBurnerXP
Many moons ago, I used to use Adaptec EZ CD Creator to copy or create CDs. I moved on to Nero but even Nero became bloated and slow. A few years ago, I discovered CDBurnerXP. Not only is the GUI prettier and easier than Nero, it does pretty much everything Nero can do, including mastering CDs and DVDs, supports ISOs and Blu-Ray. It installs in seconds and doesn’t take up a lot of space either.
Antivirus/Anti-spyware – AVG Free
I’ve used a bunch of free antivirus programs over the years. I’ve recommended them to others as well and I somehow always come back to AVG. It definitely isn’t better than using Norton or Kaspersky, but if you need very basic protection or can’t afford to buy the best, then AVG Free deserves a look. Still, if you only buy one piece of software every year, I would buy Norton Internet Security or Norton 360. Stop upgrading your Quicken or Adobe Photoshop Elements every year and get something actually worth buying.
Photo Organizer – Picasa
I have yet to find a better photo organizer, paid or otherwise, than Google’s Picasa. It also does amazingly well at face recognition.
Photo Editor – Paint.NET
I don’t do a whole lot of photo editing because I’m just not that good at it, but whenever I’ve had to, Paint.NET has been pretty easy to use and had most of the tools I needed. Not quite a Photoshop replacement, but it probably has 80% of the tools that 80% of people need.
Photo Editor – Gimp
I saw Gimp back when I initially started fooling around with Linux and it was a pretty decent, yet basic editor for Linux environments. Nowadays, Gimp is a much more powerful editor and is now compiled for Windows. I rarely use Gimp because it can be quite complex and is a bit slower to load than Paint.NET, but it’s worth checking out.
Sound Editor – Audacity
If messing around with audio files is your thing, Audacity has no equal. There is a learning curve for newbies but it is quite powerful and worth learning. Available for Mac OS X and Linux as well.
Password Manager – LastPass
I’ll bet that a lot of people I know are using the same password for everything on the web. Tisk tisk. Terrible idea. The only problem with creating unique passwords for every website or forum is that there’s no way you can remember them all. The solution is of course a password manager. I bought and used a program called Roboform for many years. The problem was that I had to buy a license for every computer or device I had and I had to manage the passwords on multiple computers. Ick. Then came LastPass, which would allow you to install it to any of the major browsers, including Chrome, and it would sync. I was initially very weary of storing my passwords in the cloud, but I’ve since become convinced that it’s not a problem.
Defrag Utility – Auslogics Disk Defrag
While a defrag utility comes with Windows, they’re usually very basic and hard or impossible to schedule. The Auslogics Disk Defrag will defrag your hard disk when idle, so you don’t ever have to manually defrag it or worry about making sure your computer is on during a scheduled job. Would I rather have Diskeeper? Yes. But not for $100.
General System Utility – CCleaner
CCleaner, which once stood for crap cleaner, is a good general purpose system tool. It does a number of useful things for your system. It will get rid of all the temporary files and cookies from web browsers, your Windows system, and even clean your registry. It even has a secure delete function so you can get rid of any sensitive files without worrying about someone recovering it.
Office Suite – OpenOffice
OpenOffice is probably the program I recommend or install for people the most. Why? Because people think that they need Microsoft Office so that they can write a letter or school paper. Nope. In fact, OpenOffice is compatible with MS Office so you can open Word or Excel files with it.
Word Processor / Spreadsheet – Google Docs
Keep your documents in the cloud! Very convenient to use though not as full featured as a local office suite. I love it for the ability to collaborate with others by sharing documents.
MP3 Ripper – LAME/Exact Audio Copy combo
If you happen to be one of the few people who DO NOT own an iPod, iPhone, or iPad and don’t use iTunes, then you might be wondering what the best way is to rip your music collection to MP3s. For pure sound quality, that solution is the combination of the LAME MP3 encoder and Exact Audio Copy CD ripper. It’s not super user-friendly, but it works well and sounds great. Best of all, it is free.
Music Player – Winamp
Yes, believe it or not, I still use Winamp. I think it has gotten bloated by trying to do too much over the years, but I still really like its library management. I used to use MusicMatch but then Yahoo! bought it and ruined it.
Music Player – foobar2000
I only recently discovered foobar2000 but I really like it so far. It is very customizable, very light, speedy and powerful. It supports just about every audio codec there is, including my personal favorite, FLAC.
Video Player – VLC Media Player
If Windows Media Player isn’t cutting it on your system and you don’t want to pay for WinDVD or PowerDVD, then VLC Media Player is your best bet. It supports all sorts of video files. It doesn’t have the prettiest GUI, but it does the job.
File Compressor/Archiver – 7-Zip
If you don’t zip or compress files on a regular basis, then 7-Zip will more than meet your needs.
File Synchronization – Microsoft SyncToy
If you prefer synchronizing your files for backups rather than archiving them, SyncToy is a very simple way to do that. It works especially well for photos. It has some things that annoy me, but it IS free.
Hard Disk Sanitizer – DBAN
Darik’s Boot And Nuke application is one of the best ways I know of to sanitize your hard drive before you sell it or recycle it, other than physically drilling several holes through the platters. It looks intimidating at first but it’s quite easy. You have to create a boot disc with it then boot to it using the disc. Once there, you can select a number of different methods of erasure to sanitize your disk. If you do not wipe your hard disk, your files can be recovered. Just deleting your files or even reformatting it will not completely destroy your files. Caveat emptor.
This is just a small list of free programs that I have experience with and enjoy using. I hope this list is useful for those seeking out free alternatives to commercial software. I am sure there are other great free programs out there. If anyone feels another program should be added to this list, please feel free to leave a comment.