[LINK] Best 50 Free PC Downloads
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Fri Mar 13 05:20:25 EST 2009
Web's Best 50 Free Downloads
March 13, 2009 5:02 AM AEST by Tim Danton etc © 2009 Dennis Publishing
(Note: clickable-links for all software mentioned at the above website)
Stack your system full of software without paying a penny, with our guide
to essential downloads
Here, weve compiled our top 50 downloads from apps that are measured
in kilobytes to the Google Packs 200MB all of which are guaranteed
performers. Weve covered a wide range of applications, including
everything from browser add-ons, security software, music packages right
through to Photoshop alternatives.
Before you start downloading, a little housekeeping: although weve taken
great care to personally test each of the software downloads we
recommend, we havent installed all 50 on the same machine. So while
were happy to vouch for them individually, we cant guarantee that any
of these downloads will be compatible with each other or with other
software on your PC. Wed also implore you to download the software from
our recommended sites and scan it for malware before you install it.
1. Google Pack
Size: up to 240MB
Googles ever-expanding compendium of free software is now so impressive
that it outstrips the bundled applications that come with most PCs. The
latest addition to the family is StarOffice, the slightly enhanced
version of the open-source OpenOffice. With a high-quality word
processor, spreadsheet, PowerPoint-like presentation software and
database, its a genuine alternative to Microsofts premium-priced market
Spyware Doctor sifts through your hard disk with commendable diligence,
ripping out malware that even our paid-for security software failed to
detect. Skype remains the best and most widely used VoIP application on
the market, while Firefox is our browser of choice.
All thats before weve mentioned Googles own-brand software: the
elegantly designed Picasa excels at organising and making basic edits to
your digital photo collection; Google Desktop keenly sniffs out files and
documents that youd long since given up hope of seeing again; while the
Google Toolbar includes a useful pop-up blocker and other enhanced search
features for both IE and Firefox.
There are a couple of makeweights in the Pack, but the smartly designed
installer makes it easy to pick and choose the applications you want.
Google Pack also provides regular reminders when theres a new version of
an application or fresh additions, meaning you dont have to keep
checking back. For a company that focuses on online apps, Googles not
half-bad at desktop software.
Anyone whos interested in digital imaging but doesnt want to shell out
for Photoshop (or even Photoshop Elements) could do a lot worse than
download this sparkling gem.
Paint.NET started life as a Microsoft project to replace the woefully
underpowered Paint application thats bundled with Windows, and is now
being lovingly maintained by former project members. Its updated
regularly with bug fixes and new features, although it already offers
almost everything youd expect to find in paid-for rivals and then
some. Paint.net will prove invaluable for photographers, with control
over curves, hue and saturation, as well as both manual and auto-level
adjustment. Theres full support for layers, plus a generous selection of
artistic effects to add fizz to lifeless photos. Like Photoshop, extra
features (such as the ability to import RAW files) can be introduced with
a dazzling library of free plug-ins, and theres also a huge selection of
online tutorials to dive into. For us, it just holds the edge over The
Its no coincidence that this tiny utility ends up installed on all the
PCs and notebooks that come into the PC Authority Labs: it takes mere
seconds to tell you everything you need to know about the core
components. Constantly updated to support the latest CPUs, it gives you
real-time clock-speed readouts, along with details of steppings,
multipliers and cache; motherboard model and chipset; RAM speed, timings
and even the memory slots youve filled. In short, its a Rough Guide to
your own PC.
Pidgin handles your every IM need, allowing you to communicate using one
interface across a huge array of networks, from AIM, MSN and Yahoo, to
the less common Zephyr, Bonjour and others.
Its a little rough around the edges, but its open-source roots mean its
constantly improving. And while many would argue for the inclusion of the
more polished Trillian (www.ceruleanstudios.com), Pidgin gives you access
to all these networks for free.
5. Startup Control Panel
Were not going to pretend this application does anything particularly
glamorous, but for quickly gaining control of your systems startup
programs its invaluable. Categorised by the locations that startup
programs can hide themselves away, each entry can be disabled, deleted or
edited the latter being particularly handy for changing command-line
switches. Once you delete an entry, it stays in a holding area rather
than disappearing completely, keeping everything tidy but giving you a
backup if something stops working.
We know that many PC Authority readers wouldnt touch Internet Explorer
with a bargepole, but for those who do IE7Pro is a must-have. A
customisable inline spellchecker and inline search are on par with
Firefox, of course, but the mouse-gesture support, sophisticated ad-
blocking and powerful cut-and-paste features make for a more pleasurable
experience. The fact that it runs discreetly is the icing on the cake,
and new features (as well as a handy selection of user-written add-ins)
appear in each of the regularly updated new versions.
7. Foxit Reader
Few people look further than Adobe Reader for opening PDFs, but Foxit
is a worthy alternative. The first thing that strikes you is its speed.
of viewing PDFs at Adobes dawdling pace, the swift response of Foxit is
a revelation. Pages packed with high-quality pictures and text open with
minimal fuss and scroll without the irritating lurches so common to the
industry standard bearer. The install is very quick, and the 2.2MB
download snack-sized when compared with Adobes 20MB meal. Despite the
small footprint, most familiar features are accounted for, although
thumbnail views of pages are conspicuous by their absence.
8. Sun NetBeans
Suns free Java IDE (integrated development environment) is a stunning
programming tool. As stable as you could ever expect an IDE to be, it has
every feature youd find in commercial offerings. Download the profiling
tool and you have a powerful method of developing the fastest Java apps
possible. You can even use it for C and C++ development with the add-on
pack all free. Other open-source projects, notably Eclipse
(www.eclipse.org) are an alternative, but nothing can touch NetBeans for
its stability and ease of use.
For anyone whos realised they forgot to record the latest episode of
CSI, WebGuide is ideal: this nifty program lets you remotely access a
Windows Media Center system to schedule recordings, and manage recorded
TV programmes from any internet-connected computer. Now completely free
WebGuide offers features such as streaming video, TV, music and photos,
and is ideal if you forget to schedule a recording. And there are
versions for both XP Media Center Edition, Windows Home Server and Vista,
10. Microsoft SyncToy
SyncToy is one of Microsofts PowerToys, and is an excellent tool for
backing up files over a network. The program allows you to create folder
pairs each folder can be anywhere on your network and then keeps the
contents of the two folders synchronised. It even keeps track of when you
rename files, so changes are reflected in the other folder. This also
applies when you move or delete files.
Webaroo lets you search and browse the web when youre on the go without
an internet connection. It does this using pre-made web packs, which you
can download from the website. Alternatively, you can download pages from
any website you like. Once you download the content onto your laptop or
mobile device, you can browse it like normal, and when you connect to the
internet again your device will be updated with fresh versions of the
12. DupKiller 0.8.2
Youd be surprised at how much disk space you can free up by running this
program, which detects duplicate files on your hard disk. It will also
search network drives, removable storage and CDs or DVDs. You can choose
to exclude certain folders or file types from your search, and opt to
delete the files to the Recycle Bin or directly from your hard disk.
Binary comparisons mean the files dont even have to have the same
filename. Very clever.
Size: 3 MB
Windows already supports FTP transfer, but as anyone whos used it will
testify its pretty basic. FileZilla allows you to store frequently used
FTP sites along with their accompanying usernames and passwords. You can
also send server commands, making FileZilla a godsend for those who run
websites hosted elsewhere. Secure FTP (SFTP) is supported as well a
feature lacking even from some paid-for FTP software.
Spend a lot of time with Linux? If so, youll be familiar with the hassle
of finding software that can handle ISO files. ImgBurn weighs in at a
shade over 1.5MB, yet is incredibly handy. You can burn ISOs to CDs and
DVDs, and theres a utility for erasing RW discs. Alternatively, you can
capture an ISO image from an existing disc, which is useful for long-term
Its only natural to be curious about the health of the components in
your PC, but to be absolutely certain you need this brilliant little
utility. SpeedFan collects the information from the temperature-sensing
components in your PC, allowing you to determine whether your noise-
killing fan adjustments are making your CPU run too hot, for instance.
You can also control fan speed and see the SMART status of your hard
disk, giving you access to your disks early warning system.
Size: 14.7 MB
You can view your TV and photo collection and access other media files
wherever you are, courtesy of Orb (www.orb.com)
There are plenty of other applications designed to let you access your PC
remotely, but there are none with the media-handling capabilities of Orb.
Once installed, you can access your PC, of course, but besides being able
to browse your hard disk and open your documents you can also get at
music and film files. Click on one of them and Orb will transcode the
file on-the-fly, adjusting quality settings for the speed of the networks
youre connected over.
17. Sun VirtualBox
Sun (formerly Innotek) VirtualBox is a complete virtualisation system
that can run any x86-compatible operating system within Windows or Linux.
The virtualised OS runs at almost native speed and can use the hosts
network connection and even much of its hardware (drivers permitting). It
isnt the only virtualisation package in the world, but its our
favourite thanks to its ease of use and its custom extensions that
improve performance and usability in common operating systems.
Thunderbird is a POP3 mail client that does everything Outlook Express
can, and more. Multicoloured tagging and almost instant searching make it
easy to get around your inbox. The Firefox-like find-as-you-type feature
is also handy for swiftly tracking down buried messages. Best of all,
hundreds of plug-ins let you extend the software to your taste, adding
optional features such as integrated encryption, a localised spellchecker
or navigation by mouse gesture.
19. Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
AntiVir beat many paid-for security apps in our Labs test.
Everybody needs virus protection, and our antivirus group test (web ID:
108813) found AntiVir to be one of the most effective and its
completely free. True, it isnt the most fully featured antivirus package
around, and you have to live with the occasional nag window urging you to
upgrade to the paid-for version. But for sheer effectiveness, AntiVir is
almost unbeatable, with only the commercial Kaspersky Anti-Virus package
doing better in our Labs test.
Hard disks are like sock drawers: they always seem to be inexplicably
full. JDiskReport shows you where all your precious space has gone,
visually breaking down your usage by folder so you can see which
directories are the fullest or by type, enabling you to see at a glance
whether your MP3s or your family photos take up more space. Theres even
a simple top 50 file list, to lead you straight to the worst culprits.
UltraVNC is a powerful remote access system that lets you connect to any
computer and use it as if you were seated in front of it. It isnt the
only free remote-access package, but its the most versatile, with built-
in file transfer and a whole host of features for making remote computing
practical and relatively painless.
22. SiSoftware Sandra
While techies love the raw figures provided by CPU-Z (see no. 3), Sandra
gives a wider-ranging overview of your system, laying bare every detail
of your BIOS and hardware in a series of easy-to-read reports. It can
also benchmark components and compare scores against a huge database of
hardware, so you can check how your system measures up. A paid-for
version adds extra modules, but the free edition is fully functional and
not restricted in any way.
HijackThis is a simple but extremely useful tool in the right hands: it
lists every non-standard startup setting on your system, whether in the
Registry or another configuration file, exposing unwanted startup items,
browser helpers and even malware. A single click returns settings to
their default value, preventing the unwanted software from launching with
Windows. Use with care, though, as untutored meddling in the Registry can
have dire consequences.
BitTorrent has a reputation as the technology of choice among pirates,
but it also has plenty of legal applications, such as distributing Linux
ISOs. In our view, the king of BitTorrent clients is Azureus, a
standalone Java application that offers a great range of features,
including watched folders, IP filtering, SSL encryption, extensive
torrent statistics and a plug-in architecture to add even more features
should you have more esoteric needs.
FFDShow is a DirectShow decoding filter for decompressing DivX, XviD,
H.264, FLV1, WMV, MPEG1, MPEG2 and MPEG4 movies. If you dont know what
that means, dont worry just install it and revel in the fact that
Windows Media Center can now play movies in the popular DivX and XviD
formats. More technical users will also appreciate the huge range of
options the filter exposes, from closed captioning to custom audio mixing
and adaptive video quantisation.
26. Stardock ObjectDock
The Start Menu is all very neat and logical, but lets be honest: if you
only use a few major applications the Mac OS X dock is a prettier and
more accessible interface. And now you dont need to buy a Mac to get it:
ObjectDock is a beautiful, fast, free implementation of the OS X dock for
Windows thats even more versatile than the real thing, with customisable
graphics and live mini-thumbnails in Vista.
IsoBuster is a handy tool for extracting files from a CD, DVD or Blu-ray
disc image without needing to burn it to a disc. It supports a huge range
of formats, including ISO, BIN/CUE pairs, Nero images and even Apple DMG
files. In addition, you can use it to explore the structure of physical
discs and attempt data recovery from damaged media. The free version has
limited UDF support, but is otherwise fully usable.
Audiograbbers interface may seem a little unpolished compared to the
audio ripper built into Windows Media Player, but its a far more
powerful package, letting you configure every aspect of the ripping and
encoding process. It can normalise the volume of ripped tracks before
encoding them, take tracks from a folder instead of a disc, and use a
free online CD database to identify inserted CDs and automatically tag
29. Rockbox Utility
Ever wished your portable MP3 player knew a few more tricks? Rockbox is a
complete firmware replacement for a range of MP3 players, including
Archos, iriver and Apple products.
It supports all the playback features youd hope for, and lets you manage
files and playlists on the move. Extra treats include bookmarks, gapless
playback, real-time MP3 encoding (for devices with microphones), OGG and
FLAC support, and a five-band EQ.
If youve ever felt the urge to revisit a classic adventure, you need
ScummVM, a Windows-based virtual machine that can run a wide range of old
LucasArts games based on the Scumm scripting language, including Maniac
Mansion, Day of the Tentacle and the Secret of Monkey Island. You still
need the data files from the original game, but ScummVM handles
everything else, leaving you free to concentrate on vanquishing the evil
31. Google SketchUp
After SketchUps original developers added the ability to produce 3D
buildings for Google Earth, Google bought the company, improved it
further and then amazingly made it free. While theres still a paid-
for version, the free edition would be superb even if it cost hundreds.
Its all you need to model and render complex objects, as well as simpler
items such as text.
Its blissfully easy to use (and comes with excellent tips to get
started), and you can even model and texture your own house with
photography and put it onto Google Earth. An essential app for the
budding architect or designer in all of us.
With the burgeoning popularity of RSS feeds, a host of readers have
popped up to satisfy our inner news junkie, and Feedreader is among the
best. This latest version supports all major syndication formats and is
packed with preloaded feeds for those still searching for their own
favourites. The user interface is sparse, which may not be to everyones
taste, but its highly configurable, quick and simple to use, which makes
handling multiple feeds a doddle. All in all, Feedreader is good news.
AbiWord is billed as word processing for everyone, and with versions
for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux it pretty much has the whole computing
gamut covered. As you might expect from a word processor that arrives in
a mere 5MB download, theres no great sophistication here: its basic
feature set is roughly comparable to Google Docs & Spreadsheets, but
without any of the online services grating delays or awkward interface.
The streamlined feature set and large icons make it a great choice for
the kids computer, and it writes to virtually all the major document
formats (including DOC, RTF and ODT), so compatibility wont be an issue.
A DOCX converter is on the way.
This deceptively powerful little app is a fuss-free backup manager.
Simply point the software at the files you wish to back up, set the
destination drive and SyncBack does the rest. Handily, the software runs
a simulation of the backup first, so you dont spend half-an-hour backing
up your C drive only for it to choke on a troublesome file near the end.
The scheduler can be set to wake your PC for out-of-hours backups, and
theres a bevy of advanced options to perform backups to an FTP server,
compress documents into a Zip folder or close certain apps before
35. Free Download Manager
So much more than just a download accelerator, FDM handles everything
from the basics like resuming broken downloads and finding mirrors, right
through to creating multiple connections and setting up scheduled
downloads. It can download everything from a website in one go, or just
selected file types and extensions, and theres even a social side, as
you can request other users opinions of a file before you download it.
Better still, its open source.
Quite rightly nicknamed the Swiss Army knife of audio, dBpoweramp has
long been a staple of PC Authoritys Real World Benchmarks. With a no-
fuss interface, it supports just about any format known to man via plug-
ins. Licensing restrictions mean the LAME MP3 encoder and AMGs music
guide expire after 30 days, but theyre no huge loss and theres no
There are two paid-for upgrades, but the free version will still interest
audiophiles with its wide support for obscure and lossless formats, along
with tidy integration into the Windows Shell.
If evidence were needed that open-source software is capable of
greatness, this is it. This tiny download is a surprisingly comprehensive
multitrack audio recorder and editor; capable of recording a full band,
yet perfect for podcasts or simpler setups.
The number of simultaneous tracks you can make is naturally limited by
your hardware inputs but, crucially, theres support for real-time input
monitoring and playback while recording, so you can make any overdubs you
need. MIDI support is limited, and editing slightly idiosyncratic, but
its astonishing how much this program is capable of.
The free ZoneAlarm firewall has been a favourite in the PC Authority
office for many years, delivering dependable security without the
constant nagging of other security software. ZoneAlarm will alert you
when apps attempt to access the internet for the first time handy for
knee-capping those apps that snidely report back to base without any
Theres also a one-click Internet Lock that immediately shuts off all net
traffic if you suspect somethings gone horribly wrong on your system.
Its undoubtedly inferior to ZoneAlarms paid-for protection, but sturdy
enough for those who dont need granular control over their security
HandBrake is an open-source DVD-to-MPEG4 converter for Windows, Mac OS X
and Linux. It allows you to watch your movies on a portable video player,
or store them on a hard disk for on-demand playback using Windows Media
Center or a network video-streaming device.
HandBrake can work directly from a DVD or a VIDEO_TS folder, and can
output to MP4, AVI or OGM formats, using either MPEG4 or H.264. For
audio, you can select AAC, MP3, Vorbis or AC-3 passthrough.
40. VLC media player
If you have a strange media file that no other video player will touch,
throw it at VLC and the chances are it will play. The interface is
nothing to write home about, but it will deal with anything, even ISO
images containing video CD or DVD content. In fact, the only thing it
wont touch is RealPlayer files. Its name stands for Video LAN Client,
stemming from the fact that it can act as both client and server for
media-streaming apps using a range of streaming protocols.
VirtualDub is a legend among open-source apps. Written according to old-
school principles, it aims to be the fastest tool for capturing,
processing and re-encoding video files from one format to another.
Performance-critical sections are hand-coded in assembly language a
practice almost unheard of in these modern times, but it certainly pays
off, with VirtualDub regarded as one of the fastest encoding applications
there is. It isnt especially easy to use, but technically its near-
42. Gainward ExperTool
Is the whine of your Nvidia graphics cards fan driving you up the wall?
Nvidias latest driver control panel lets you control fan speed, but only
in 3D mode, which doesnt help when it decides to spin up while youre
editing a Word document. Intended only for Gainward cards, ExperTool
nonetheless works with a great many other Nvidia-based cards, and allows
you to control the fan in both 2D and 3D modes for blissful silence
without forking out S100 for a quiet heatsink. A little gem.
43. Process Explorer
Process Explorer is a powerful replacement for the Windows Task Manager.
It gives you full diagnostic and descriptive information for all the
processes running on your system, including details of which DLLs and
memory-mapped files have been loaded by each process. Colour highlighting
lets you see at a glance what state processes are in, and naturally
anything unwanted can be killed with a mouse click. Its the system-
monitoring tool that should have been bundled with Windows.
44. TVersity Media Server
TVersity is a completely free media server that offers many benefits over
using Windows Media Connect or other servers. The program (still in beta)
lets you manage all your media and create a tailored entertainment guide
a personalised line-up of channels. It can serve this media to almost
any networked device in your home or an internet-connected device such
as a PSP transcoding video and audio on-the-fly so that, for example,
you can watch DivX videos on your Xbox 360, even though the console
doesnt support DivX.
TweakUI gives you easy access to all of Windows XPs hidden user
interface settings that the normal Control Panel wont let you play with.
Want menus to pop up more quickly? Dont like the little arrow that
appears on shortcut icons? TweakUI lets you change these defaults and
many, many more. It isnt just cosmetic, either: useful functions include
automatically logging on a particular user at startup and disabling
autoplay on selected drives.
46. Password Safe
There are lots of utilities around that act as a secure repository for
all your passwords, but few can claim a world-leading cryptologist as
their author. Password Safe uses internationally renowned cipher man
Bruce Schneiers Twofish algorithm, rendering your online credentials as
safe as you could expect them to be.
The idea is you let it remember all your passwords bank, webmail and so
on then choose and remember just one super-secure password to protect
them all. The project is now open source, but Schneier was the original
author visit his page at www.schneier.com/passsafe.html
47. LogMeIn Free
If you thought Windows Remote Assistance was an impressive remote-
support tool, prepare to be amazed. LogMeIn Free is Dom Perignon, Remote
Assistance is Strongbow. Once youve downloaded the utility onto your PC
(or the person youre supporting has), you can access it from any
location via the LogMeIn website and, perhaps best of all, as the
service is web-based it works through any firewall or router, which is
the key advantage it holds over UltraVNC (see no.21).
So if you want to access your own computer, you can do so: send and
receive email, browse directories, run programs and so on. Likewise,
fixing someones PC becomes as simple as walking them through the
installation of LogMeIn Free. Unlike UltraVNC, however, file transfers
48. VMware Server
VMware has established itself as the worlds leading virtualisation
software company. Previously a commercial product, VMware Server is now
free, although you still need to register and get a product key. Dont
let the name fool you you can install graphical non-server OSes and use
any standard PC hardware. Whats more, you can download a huge range of
ready-to-run virtual appliances, complete virtual hard disks with
operating system and applications already installed.
Weve found VirtualBox (see no.17) an easier system to set up, with
simpler networking, but if you have trouble installing a particular
operating system or application, or just want to use the industry-
standard virtualisation application, give VMware Server a whirl instead.
49. Taskbar Shuffle
No prizes for guessing this tools party trick, but you might be
surprised at how useful it can be, particularly for those with a dozen
applications open at once. With support for XP and Vista, Taskbar Shuffle
adds the much-needed ability to rearrange not only your taskbar buttons,
but System Tray icons, too, as well as swiftly changing their auto-group
settings. Best of all, you can set it to be transparent, so all you get
is the extra features with none of the shouting.
50. Cypherix Cryptainer LE
Encyrption isnt just for ASIO agents: anyone who handles sensitive
information should consider it. And you cant hide behind too-difficult-
to-use excuses: not only is Cryptainer LE free, its also simple to
install and use. It creates a secure volume (under Vista, this appears as
a device with removable storage in Computer), which you then drag and
drop your data into.
The main restriction of this product is the vaults maximum 25MB size,
but theres no compromise when it comes to security, as Cryptainer offers
you the choice of either the highly respected Blowfish448 algorithm or
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