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The Best Freeware Programs Money Can Buy

by SenorRoboto
Games and Gaming

There’s a lot of Freeware out there. Here’s a guide to help you sort the good from the bad, you cheapskate!

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Desktop Customization

  • Rocketdock Adds an Mac OS-like program launcher to your desktop.
  • Rainmeter Allows desktop displays showing system stats, weather, and time in a variety of different skins.
  • Synergy Allows more that one computer to be controlled over a single keyboard and mouse using your LAN.

Productivity

  • Evernote Cloud-accessible notes, voice memos, and lists from your phone or computer. (Thanks to eyeballkid)
  • Notepad++ If you need to do any kind of coding, Notepad++ is your new best friend. Offering syntax support for many languages, this multi-tabbed editor lets you keep all your documents in order.
  • Launchy This application launcher is very configurable, allowing you to start a variety of programs or web searches with just a few keystrokes.

Downloads

  • Orbit This program will download anything: flash videos, large .exe files, etc. and supports resume, pause, and multithreaded downloads.
  • DownThemAll! (See Firefox Plugins below)

Bittorrent

  • µTorrent Fast, full, featured, and very small.
  • Azureus A bit bloated but with every feature you could possibly need, including an integrated video browser.

Pictures

  • Picasa A handy photo album/editor that allows easy uploads to photo hosting or social networking sites.
  • GIMP Originally for GNU/Linux, this free and capable editor rivals Photoshop in its features. It may not be easy to use, but it’ll do just about anything.
  • Paint.NET Somewhere between Paint and Photoshop lies Paint.NET. It’s got enough features for the day-to-day user, like resizing, magic lasso, clone stamp. It’s Photoshop Elements in freeware form.

Browsers

  • Mozilla Firefox 3 Tabbed browsing, Automatically checks your spelling, tons of add-ons, saves your pages if you close it.
  • Google Chrome Improves tabbed browsing by running each page as a separate process, meaning that if some site crashes it, you just lose that page, not all of them. A nice alternative.

Firefox Plugins

  • Noscript Stops all those pesky ads from popping up. Although it can be a bit annoying at first to whitelist things you want, it more than makes up for it later.
  • Greasemonkey Allows scripts to be run for specfic URLs. Want to download Apple trailers instead of watching them? Want your Gmail to look different? Someone’s probably written a script for it.
  • Xmarks Syncs your bookmarks between all of your computers running Firefox, Chrome, IE, or Safari.
  • DownThemAll! In-browser download manager. Allows multi-segment downloading from within Firefox.
  • Better Privacy Removes hidden Flash cookies from your browser, increasing your online privacy. (Thanks to eyeballkid)

Email Readers

  • Thunderbird Mozilla’s answer to Outlook. Now featuring multi-tabbing to allow you to have the same sort of ADD habits as you do with Firefox.

Multimedia

  • Xbox Media Center – A well-executed media manager. Scans your selected folders to find media, which it then finds box art and information for.
  • Boxee – Based on Xbox Media Center, but adds a unique browsing style and online video support for sites such as Hulu and BBC.com
  • VLC – VLC will play any kind of video or audio you throw at it. It’s fast, basic, and really all you need.
  • Foobar2000 – A very customizable audio player if you have the time to set it up. It can look like WMP, it can look like iTunes, it can look like whatever you want.
  • TVersity Media streaming and transcoding to most media devices, including the  PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. (Thanks, Wolfdaddy)

Antivirus

  • Clamwin This low-profile antivirus has no active scanning, so it only scans when you ask it to. Perfect for that media center PC that you don’t really do much besides watch stuff on, but want to be able to scan now and again to be on the safe side. Uses next to no system resources.
  • AVG Free While it’s not as great as it once was, it’s still a decent free antivirus. Just make sure to disable some of the more annoying options like the Google link scanner.
  • Avast! Another solid antivirus alternative.

Networking

  • Hamachi This is the simplest Virtual Private Network (VPN) program out there, allowing you to create a virtual LAN with your friends over the internet.
  • Peer Guardian 2 This program blocks the known IP addresses of Anti-P2P groups, as well as ads and spyware. It’s not foolproof, but it should increase your privacy online.

Communication

  • Digsby Digsby does it all: it consolidates all major IM services, email accounts, and social networks into one handy program, giving you updates and letting you chat with all your friends from one place.
  • Meebo If you’re on a computer where you can’t install IM software, just go to Meebo and login through their webpage to get access to AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Myspace, GTalk, Jabber, ICQ, and Flixter.
  • Skype Well-respected video and voice chat, free PC to PC calls, as well as inexpensive calls domestic and internationally.
  • Google Talk Available either as a download or integrated with Gmail, this service recently added video chat support
  • Ventrilo The golden standard of gaming VoIP software.

Backup

  • MozyHome 2 GB of free backup space.
  • Dropbox Instantly-syncing backup support. Web access for computers not running the software. 2 GB free.

System Maintenance

  • CCleaner This program can uninstall software, clean up your registry, delete startup items, and remove unneeded files from your computer. Running this and defrag now and again keeps most systems running like new.

DVD/CD

  • DaemonTools Lite An easy to use image mounting program. Just be sure to say no to its toolbar and other things it tries to foist on you during the install.
  • ImgBurn Need to burn files and images to a CD or DVD? This is all you need.
  • InfraRecorder Another solid image and file burner. Pick one.

MS Office Substitutes

  • OpenOffice 3 It’s free and does 99% of what office does.
  • Google Documents Like having your files no matter what computer you’re on? Google Docs can handle that for you, as well as having great import/export options.

PDFs

  • Foxit PDF Reader 3 An alternative to Acrobat Reader and version 3 now offers Firefox browser integration. Watch out for the stuff it tries to install with it though.
  • PDF XChange Viewer Also offers browser integration. The toolbars are a bit too chaotic, but it’s fairly fast and easy to use.
  • Sumatra PDF Reader A very minimalist Acrobat Reader alternative. Very fast, very simple. (Thanks to eyeballkid)
  • PrimoPDF Need to export a file to PDF? Just hit print and select PrimoPDF
  • CutePDF Another great PDF printer
  • DoPDF My favorite PDF printer. There’s no paid version, so there’s no nagging to upgrade. Has option to embed fonts.

Installing them all

So you could hunt these all down individually, or you could install many of them at once using the very easy to use Ninite (Thanks, Stav!) or the more configurable but also more complicated Installpad

SenorRoboto

Ben H has written 18 FGEC articles.

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17 thoughts on “The Best Freeware Programs Money Can Buy

  1. WolfDaddy says:

    I’d like to add TVersity for transcoding and streaming media files from your PC to nearly every other type of media device you can think of.

  2. eyeballkid says:

    Great list. I use most of those. Here’s a few more:

    The Better Privacy extension for FireFox manages those hidden Flash cookies that most people don’t know are even there and browsers have no controls for.

    I tend to use Sumatra PDF Reader over Foxit these days. It’s lighter, faster and prettier. It also didn’t install the Ask.com toolbar in my browsers or leave behind auto-updating nuggets for said tool bar in my startup locations like Foxit did, even after I asked it not to.

    Speaking of hot startup action, you can’t go wrong with the entire Sysinternals Suite for administration purposes. In particular I use Process Explorer to keep an eye on running processes and Autoruns to dig around in the registry and get rid of crap like the previously mentioned Ask.com toolbar (shakes fist at Foxit) and all the crap something like Digsby likes to install.

    This week I ran across a great open source screenshot utility called Greenshot. Comes with its own image editing tool (basic stuff like arrows, shapes and textboxes).

    Finally, I don’t know if I can live anymore without the previously mentioned Dropbox and Evernote. Evernote is free for basic users (and the free plan is really generous.) I’m a paying user not because I need the ridiculous amount of space offered but because I feel the need to give those peeps some money for designing such a great service. All my files and notes accessible from the cloud with that combitnation of services.

  3. Grither says:

    Also, this is a great post, thanks! With this and the other guide to a fresh re-install, I’m thinking it might be time for a clean install, just for kicks, cause you guys are making it so easy now!

  4. majick says:

    Terrific post. If something’s missing from this list I can’t think of it off the top of my head. You might want to edit it slightly to mention it’s only got Windows-related stuff, though. I was all excited at first…

    Also last I heard, Boxee didn’t actually have Hulu support any more because Hulu was forced by the broadcasters to bring the hammer down on everyone who integrated to them. That may have changed in the last few months, though.

    • jauntyfedora says:

      First of all, I would welcome mac suggestions. I know a few of these are cross-platform but certainly not all. Secondly, yeah I wrote this post a few months ago for my own blog and never posted it and Hulu support may be gone now. Thanks for the fyi.

  5. lagged2death says:

    Some Windows apps:

    MyDefrag, an insanely customizable, scriptable disk defragmentation utility that offers optimizations (like the option to defrag even very large files, or to sort files by directory) that built-in Windows defrag does not.

    GridMove, which makes the arrangement of many open windows fast and precise. A lot like the Windows Snap feature of Windows 7, with far more options and customizations available.

    Switcher, which makes it easy to find a particular window if you have loads open. Pretty much a clone of the Mac Exposé feature for Windows.

    7-Zip, a free ZIP utility that also expands .RARs (and almost everything else) and sports its own very competitive next-generation .7z file format.

  6. The MAZZTer says:

    I never got Synergy to work reliably (it will simply stop working, even between reboots of both client and server). When it did work it was causing problems with games that try to position the mouse cursor themselves (and this is on the host machine that the mouse is physically connected to).

    For Windows to Windows I prefer Input Director, which has neither of these problems and was easy to set up and use. Unfortunately the project is dead and there is no Linux port…

    I’ve used “Free Download Manager” for a download manager. I’ll have to check our Orbit though.

    Irfanview is a good picture viewer you missed. The author will even e-mail you back if you e-mail him!

    I usually use Thunderbird but it’s sorta starting to stagnate and there are really few good extensions for it. Windows Live Mail is very nice but I could not get my personal e-mail workong (WLM claimed my inbox was always empty when it wasn’t). When I installed Linux on my secondary comp Evolution set up my e-mail accounts very easily, it was pleasantly simpler than Thunderbird or WLM. I do like Thunderbird’s layout a bit more though.

    I wouldn’t count Winamp out of Multimedia. I like its simple library-is-your-playlist, along with filtering adjusting this playlist. foobar couldn’t do that last time I checked. Songbird is also an interesting media player to keep an eye on. (For the record I use foobar, lighter on resources than Winamp.)

    I use mplayer for video though. There are UI frontends but I just use the command line version. mencoder is great for encoding things, as well!

    LAME is also good for encoding mp3s if you’re into that sort of thing. Also good if your cd ripper only supports WAV.

    Microsoft Security Essentials is a great AV software. Low footprint, does everything you need, and you know Microsoft is going to use the proper APIs (I’ve heard horror stories about other AV software directly accessing and modifying kernel structures etc).

    Trillian isn’t entirely freeware but the free version is great, as long as you don’t mind the resource usage.

    Windows Backup in Windows 7 looks useful for backup but it is limited to a complete system image and doesn’t let you select files. I ended up rolling my own mirroring solution (I figure I only really need one backup at any one time, not looking for a heavy-duty solution ATM) and just use robocopy (included with Vista, XP users have to download the Windows Resource Kit to get it) to mirror a directory structure on my compressed external drive.

    For System Maintenance, I recommend grabbing all of Sysinternals’ and NirSoft’s tools. Both have a package of tools for download (Sysinternals’ Suite and NirLauncher; the latter includes launchers for the former as well) and they are great for thumbdrives.

    CPU-Z and GPU-Z are nice little tools for getting info on your CPU/GPU.

    For DVD burning remember Windows 7 includes a simple and nice ISO burner. Worked quite well last I used it.

    Other software that doesn’t fit into your categories:
    – TrueCrypt, great encryption, lots of ways to encrypt. Encrypt your entire computer if you want. It’s portable too.
    – Steam. The client and an account are both free. There are some free games available too. You can also pick up great games for cheap during sales.
    – Console2. There are two apps by this name, both are good, but I’m referring to the Windows app not the Firefox extension. Interesting little tabbed command line app with capabilities like Linux GUI terminal apps.
    – Internet Explorer Collection. Try out different versions of IE, very handy for web development.

  7. lagged2death says:

    One more:

    The Everything Search Engine is a near-replacement for the built-in Windows search. It has some UAC-related quirks. It’s not perfect. It can’t search the contents of files, only paths and names.

    And it is so ridiculously fast that you won’t believe it can possibly be working. Yet somehow, it is.

    I had thought the built-in search in Vista/7 was pretty good, until I saw this. Now I wonder why the built-in search falls so very short of what is possible.

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