People often ask us about good, cheap computer programs for their Windows-based computers.
Well, how about good and free? Quality free software does exist, but isn’t the always the easiest thing to find. There’s so much bad stuff floating around — poorly written bloatware, crippleware, nagware and all the nasty programs with adware and spyware built in. So to get a recommendation from us a free program must also offer:
- Ease of use. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it at least has to be usable.
- Stability, even if it is still in “beta”. It’s no good if it crashes your machine every 30 minutes.
- Ease of removal. If you decide you don’t like it, you should be able to remove it easily, without it screwing up your system on the way out.
- No viruses, spyware, adware, malware or anyware; you get the program you ask for, and nothing more.
- No 30-day trial nonsense.
- No crippleware. Offering a free “lite” version is fair game, provided the program can still basically do what it is intended for. The whole “oh you can make the document, but you can’t save it” crap is unacceptable.
- No copy protection trickery. For example, MSN Messenger is free, but requires you to validate your copy of Windows in order to get it. No good.
With that in mind, here are ten good free software programs that do what they say, with no adware, no viruses and no nonsense.
Around for years, Irfanview is the ultimate image viewer. Small, fast and able to display and print virtually any image format, it is a great thing to have installed if you like downloading pictures. When your friends overseas send you a picture encoded in some weird format you’ve never heard of, you’ll be ready for it with Irfanview. Licence: free for non-commercial use.
Miranda is an instant messaging client like MSN Messenger. Unlike other IM clients, its simple, unobtrusive style lets you know when you’ve got messages without hitting you over the head with dancing smilies or huge popups. But more important than its minimalist style is Miranda’s multi-protocol capabilities. Not only can it do MSN, it can do Yahoo, AOL, Jabber, ICQ and IRC, all at once, all in one easy to look at window. Licence: GPL; freely usable by anyone.
7-Zip is used to open and make compressed file archives, like .ZIP files. If you don’t feel like dealing with Winzip or Winrar nagging you all the time, 7-Zip is for you. The simple archiving program is small and quick and supports a wide variety of compression formats. Licence: LGPL; freely usable by anyone.
Ripping CD audio
Ever wondered where all the good MP3s come from? CDex is a popular tool for extracting audio from compact discs and turning it into an MP3 for playback on devices like the iPod. CDex is equipped with the freeware LAME MP3 encoder, which produces compressed MP3 audio of the highest quality. It also supports CDDB, allowing it to fetch the appropriate album and track names from the freeDB.org Internet database. Licence: GPL; freely usable by anyone.
Audio and video playback
Winamp is the original MP3 music player and even after all these years you can still get it for free (the lite version, anyway). In addition to MP3 files, Winamp also plays a wide range of audio and video formats. Fast, snazzy-looking and easy to use, Winamp continues to be the industry benchmark for audio playback. Licence: free for non-commercial use.
Peer to peer file trading
Limewire is a music and file downloading system. Having boldly and publicly renounced their use of adware in the past, a clean Limewire now finds itself the premier filesharing client on the Internet, with more users than ever. A commercial version with additional features is also sold, and the Limewire program will politely ask you now and again if you want to buy the pro version. Licence: GPL; freely usable by anyone.
Anti virus software
If you have grown weary of paying the Norton tax every year, you might consider AVG Anti Virus Free Edition. Producer Grisoft sells a commercial version of the product, but the free edition has been available to home customers for years. It catches all the same viruses that Norton and McAfee do, just without eating so much of your money. And it’s faster, too. Licence: free for non-commercial use.
Spyware detection and removal
Ad-Aware is one of the best adware/spyware removal tools available. Like AVG, maker Lavasoft also sells a commercial version, but offers the Personal edtion free of charge to home users. Licence: free for non-commercial use.
Abiword is a well featured, easy to use word processor similar to Microsoft Word. It includes all of the stuff that you might expect from a word processor: text formatting, inserting graphics, spell check, etc… all without the Microsoft baggage and price tag. It is even able to open most Microsoft Word documents. Licence: GPL; freely usable by anyone.
Firefox hardly needs an introduction; it is the second most popular web browser on the planet and probably the most functional. Its use of RSS bookmarks, tabbed browsing, quick search, extensions and themes make other web browsers like Internet Explorer look old fashioned by comparison. Its focus on security, along with its ease of use make it a must have on any desktop. Licence: MPL; freely usable by anyone.