Free Software

Introduction

It's nearly always nice to get something for nothing and computer users have buckets of free programs and utilities to choose from. The recommended retail cost of Adobe's creative suite before they went subscription only in January 2017 was around $1,800. They are great programs but many people can't justify spending that amount of money on software for occasional use.

I know there are plenty of ways of getting hold of expensive commercial, copyrighted, programs for free but a lot of people do not want to criminalize themselves or wait forever for some large program to download only to find it does weird things to their computer that a real copy wouldn't, or have to hunt around looking for cracks to get it to work properly then block internet access to it so it doesn't "phone home" for updates or whatever.

There is also plenty of "try before you buy" software around. Some is very good but has annoying "nag" screens that exhort you to buy the full product, some either has features, or even the entire program, that stop working after a set period of time. Other "try before you buy" software put annoying watermarks over the output. These are fine if you use the program is one that you need or use a lot. Other "free" software is advert supported which I find very annoying. Other free software depends on your honesty to either buy it or at least donate a reasonable amount to the authors. There is other free software that really is free, that is software in the public domain or has one of the GPL (General Public License) or creative commons licenses.

Other free software is offered by authors as a cut-down version of their full software. If an author does this then I've only listed it if the free part does exactly what it is supposed to. You won't find software here that, for example, tells you your computer has a virus but won't remove it until you buy the full version.

Be aware that when searching for free software many sites will say "free download" which is technically true but what you are really downloading is commercial software that needs to be activated (ie paid for) before it is usable.

There are subtle differences between "open-source" and "free" software, I'll leave that for others to debate, but for most end users, well, me anyway, the end result is the same - you do not have to pay for the software. Generally speaking, all open-source software is free but not all free software is open source. Just as "Photoshopping"" for some people now means using any old image editor then "open-source" is often used to describe free software whether it really is open-source or not.

If the software author asks for a donation and you find the software useful then please consider paying what you think the software is worth to you. This is not an exhaustive list of free Windows software but those that I use and find most useful.

This list is what I use, you may find other software better suited to you and what you do.

D = asks for a donation; O = open source; C = cut down but still fully usable version of commercial software

The Software

Audio Utilities

Audacity - Audio capture and editor (O)
GSpot - Tells you what codecs a audio / video file is looking for. Great for when an AVI only plays the sound but you know it's got video as well.

CD / DVD Utilities

AudioGrabber - CD ripper
CDBurnerXP - CD/DVD burner
ImgBurn - CD/DVD Burner

File Sharing and Collaboration

Dropbox - Store, sync, and, share files online, only 2Gb for free but can be useful
Google Docs - File sharing and collaboration. 15Gb free shared between Google services
OneDrive - File sharing and collaboration from Microsoft, 5Gb for free

File Utilities

7-Zip - opens a variety of archived files which are not supported by Windows zip utility (O)
Adobe Reader. Not really needed now as most browsers include a built-in PDF viewer
Anti-Twin - Duplicate file finder. Hideously fast. Ability to move files rather than just delete them (but hard to find – the "Delete files" option brings up a dialog box which lets you move the files rather than delete them which can be confusing and dangerous). Options for finding similar files
Bulk Rename - Great utility for quickly renamng lots of files - like image files. Lots of options
OneNote 2016 - this version has a very good OCR engine. Later versions means the recognition is done on the web and not that obvious to use

Image Editors

Blender - 3D graphics and animation
Dia - drawing / diagramming (O)
GIMP - image editor (O)
Image Composite Editor (ICE) - A great program for producing panoramas from separate photos. The stitiching is great.
Inkscape - vector graphics (O)
SketchUp - 3D drawing program

Multimedia Players

VLC - Plays practically anything and everything (O)

Programming

Strawberry Perl
Visual Studio 2019 - Visual Basic, C++, C#, Web Developer and more

Protection

DBAN - securely deletes entire disk drives - use with care
Malwarebytes - Finds and destroys malware on your PC. Will clean stuff most other anti-virus / anti-malware can't.

Repair & Recovery

Ccleaner - Great at getting rid of all those junk files that PCs accumulate. (D)
Malwarebytes - Finds and destroys malware on your PC. Will clean stuff most other anti-virus / anti-malware can't.
Memtest86+ - Wonder if your RAM is causing those annoying computer problems? This program will tell you for sure. (O)
Partition Assistant - Resize Windows drive partitions
Recuva - Fantastic file recovery software. In February 2010, this found and recovered 69,000+ files on a drive that one of my client's had accidentally formatted! I'm so glad they hadn't heard of DBAN! (D)
Reflect - Easy to use disk imaging, and cloning
UBCD4Win - The closest thing you'll get to a Windows Live CD. This is a bootable Windows CD that contains all the tools you need to bring a ruined system back to life - if it can be done at all. Takes a little work to make the CD but if you repair PCs this is absolutely fantastic. (D)

Screen Video Capture

OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) - video recording and live streaming
Wink - A tutorial and presentation creation software. The screen capture is great. Captures to MP4 format.

System Information

Aida32 - Produces full reports on your computer hardware. Great if you need to find specific drivers to make it work properly.
Belarc Advisor - Great program for investigating your PC. Will even report on all the software you've got loaded.

Video Utilities

Blender - 3D graphics and animation
DVD Decrypter - Old, but still a good DVD ripper - even on encrypted DVDs.
Freemake Video Converter - able to convert most media formats but adds an extra frame when converting media over 5 minutes long.
Freemake Video Downloader - able to download most media from streaming web sites,
GSpot - Tells you what codecs a audio / video file is looking for. Great for when an AVI only plays the sound but you know it's got video as well.
Miro Video Converter - this is the best I've found for converting media formats for use on web sites.
OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) - video recording and live streaming
OpenShot - Free video editor. Not quite so full-featured as something like Adobe Premiere but very good

Web Browser Addons

AdBlock - Blocks most adverts
Clean-StreetView - allows better screenshots of Google Maps Streetview by removing most of the overlays. Not perfect, but cleaning them up is a lot easier
Hola - Allows viewing of country specific content
Honey - Automatically finds and applies coupon codes when shopping online
Wayback Machine - If you find a "dead" site, this will take you to the archived version if it is available

Web Utilities

Apache Web Server (O)
AWStats - web log analyzer
Bitvise SSH Server - SSH, SFTP, SCP, and FTPS server. Free for personal use
Filezilla - FTP client, also the server if you need it (O)
Google Analytics - Website analytics
Google Charts API - Nice data visualization API for websites
Kompozer - HTML editor (D)
NVU - HTML editor (D)
PublicWWW - This is a search engine that looks at a page's source code rather than what appears in the browser. I first found it when I wanted to see what site used Google Charts API, the Google seatch engine just found the sites that had tutorials, this one found ones that actually used it
PuTTY - Terminal Emulator - SSH, Telnet, TCP, SCP, SFTP client (O)
Stone Steps Webalizer - Webalizer web log analizer for Windows
Strawberry Perl
UltraVNC - Remote control software
WAMPServer - Apache, MYSQL and PHP in one installation
WinSCP - FTP client and server (O)
Xenu Link Sleuth - looks for and reports broken links on your website
XML SiteMap Creator - creates sitemaps for Google, MSN, Google

Depreciated Software

Expression Encoder - An advanced audio/video-encoding and live-broadcasting application. A huge program but the video capture is great. Captures to WMV format. The free version could only do 10 minutes captures. No longer available from Microsoft
GIF Animator - simple program to create animations from GIF files. No longer available.
Format Factory - Able to convert most media formats but not to web formats, so I use other converters now.
IcoFX - icon editor. This was the best free icon editor but the latest versions disable being able to save the work unless paid for
LightScribe Simple Labeler. The entire LightScribe site disappeared in September 2014.
LightScribe Template Labeler. The entire LightScribe site disappeared in September 2014.
Microsoft Security Essentials - Not so good now as is was when it was first introduced.
Orbit - Download and save streaming audio and video. I found this software could not keep up with changing methods used by some sites such as YouTube.
Photo Story - Create slideshows with a variety of effects - background sound too, if you wanted it. No longer available from Microsoft
Pidgin - Connects to multiple chat / messenger services. No longer really sueful since the loss of AOL Instant Messsenger and Yahoo Messenger
Replace Text also known as BK ReplaceEm was the best multi-file find and replace text utility I ever found. Sadly it disappeared in 2009 but is still to be found in some software repositories
Screen to Video - great screen video capture program. Could capture screens to AVI, SWF, FLA and WMV formats.
Stickies - sticky notes for your computer. A version of this is now included in Windows 10
SharePoint Designer 2007 - HTML editor and more. This could create standalone pages and not connect to a particular SharePoint server.
Super - A good video converter. Can manage lots of audio / video formats. I started having problems with some of the encodings I did with this software.
Surething 4 SE. The entire LightScribe site disappeared in September 2014.
Trillian - Connects to multiple chat / messenger services. No longer really useful since the loss of AOL Instant Messsenger and Yahoo Messenger
Syncplify SFTP and FTPS Server - This is free for personal use only. I don't use this anymore and they seem to have done away with the free personal edition.
Types - You know those programs that keep changing your file associations? Well, this little program lets you quickly and easily change them back. I cannot find this program anywhere now.
Windows Movie Maker - Basic but surprisingly good video editor. No longer available from Microsoft

Links

See what other people say is their favourite free software...

Gizmo's Top Picks - my go to site when looking for free software
Mohawke's Best of the Best
PC Magazine (2010)
PC Magazine (2020)

This page created April 25, 2008; last modified February 25, 2021