My friend Susan over at OfEveryMoment.com recently wrote a Love and Hate Post which inspired me to think of some of my favorite things. (Being a tech geek, I of course thought about some of my favorite tech gadgets and programs.) Then, PC Magazine put out a post called The Best Free Software of 2015 and I was inspired to put together my own list of free software I use and enjoy.
I hate to spend money so, if I need new computer software, I’ll do research and usually am able to find a free option with good reviews. Below is a list of free programs I’ve found (or have been recommended to me by trusted sources) and I regularly use.
Note: These are all being used on Windows computers. They may have versions available for other operating systems but this post focuses on Windows programs only.
Free Software – Pictures and Graphics Programs
Adobe Photoshop is, of course, the standard when it comes to graphics editing. But, it comes with a hefty price tag. After some research I found a highly recommended alternative called Paint.net. Paint.net offers functions similar to photoshop, without any cost! Between paint.net and PicMonkey (below) I have been able to edit and create all the graphics for this blog and for my personal use.
Paint.net is a great tool to edit graphics. But, to create a graphic, I use an online program called PicMonkey. PicMonkey is a great choice for editing pictures, adding text and fun graphics, borders, etc. It’s very user friendly, quick and easy to use. The majority of the graphics on this blog were created with PicMonkey and Paint.net.
3. FastStone Image Viewer
FastStone Image Viewer is an easy to use program which makes organizing and viewing digital pictures a breeze. It also includes some photo editing features and allows you to create slideshows.
I am an extremely organized (maybe borderline OCD 🙂 ) person so I had to come up with a way to organize my digital pictures or I’d go over the edge! Edited: Since writing this post I’ve added articles on how to find duplicate images on your computer and how I use FastStone Image viewer to organize my pictures and make them easy to find.
Note: If you’re looking for more advanced features you should also check out ACDSee and Adobe Elements.
Free Software – Video Tools
4. Open Broadcaster Software
Open Broadcaster Software is screen capture software which can be used for live streaming and recording. We use this program to create computer tutorials for our YouTube page.
5. Real Downloader
RealDownloader is a free program which allows you to download videos you find on the internet. In this post I go into depth on how I use RealDownloader to download YouTube videos to save them on my computer for later use.
6. VLC Media Player
My expertise in video files and formats is definitely lacking but, I do know that I’ve been frustrated a time or two because my standard player can’t read the file format and won’t play the video. VLC Media Player solves all that. This player is awesome as it can read almost any file format you come across. It can play from files, CD’s, DVD’s and live streaming. In addition, it gives you the capability to convert files to a different format if you wish.
Free Software – File and Data Programs
In this post we review what the cloud is and compare various cloud services programs. Dropbox has been my go to cloud storage option at work and at home for years now. It’s easy to use and the content is accessible on all my devices. In addition, their folder sharing makes it easy to share content with others.
Evernote is a popular program which helps you organize your life. It’s great for jotting down notes, organizing thoughts, keeping notebooks of recipes, whatever! The uses for this handy little software seem endless. I like it because I can capture thoughts and notes, keep them organized and access them from any computer or device quickly. If you’re interested in learning more about Evernote or finding uses for it check out this post.
Free Sofware – Computer Tools
9. Classic Shell
If you were a windows user who upgraded to windows 8.1 you probably felt the frustration of not having a start menu in the desktop version of windows 8. Well, in this post we walk you through getting that start menu back using classic shell. I highly recommend anyone using windows 8 or 8.1 installs this program.
While most of us are comfortable with the idea of sharing our files in the cloud so you can access them anywhere not as many are probably aware of how easy it is to work on your own computer remotely. Teamviewer is a powerful free tool which allows you to connect to your computer from anywhere you have an internet connection. (LogMeIn is also a great service if you don’t mind a paid option.)
11. Folder Size Explorer
With programs getting larger and all of us taking more digital pictures filling up your hard drive is becoming a problem we’re all more aware of. However, what’s taking up all of the room on your hard drive? It’s hard to figure out since windows explorer no longer shows you the sizes of your folders. In this post we walk you through how to use Folder Size Explorer to find out what’s taking up all your hard drive space and figuring out what to delete.
12. Mozilla Firefox
When Internet Explorer started having technical glitches and security problems I did some research on alternate internet browsers. While Google Chrome is a popular choice I am conscious of all the information google collects about me and didn’t want to provide them that much more (a hopeless cause maybe). Then I came across Mozilla Firefox. The browser is clean, easy to use and I’ve converted to using it at home and work for a few years now with no complaints.
Free Software – Security Tools
Everyone needs to have an antivirus software. Avast is a free antivirus software that’s just as effective as some of the paid options.
Avira is another free antivirus software with excellent reviews. While you shouldn’t install both Avast and Avira on your computer at the same time, either of these options is an excellent choice to help you keep your computer and information safe.
Note: I’ve recently heard good things from some IT folks about Eset anti-virus software.
Malware is similar to viruses but attacks a computer slightly differently. Therefore, you should always have malware protection on your computer. Malwarebytes is one of the most highly recommended malware protection programs available. I’ve used it to successfully clean up infected computer and trust it immensely.
There are so many free programs and tools out there it was hard to narrow down this list so we ended up writing part 2 of this post.
Part 2: 15 more free programs
Which free software and tools do you use the most? Please share with us below in the comments. We love discovering new resources!
SusanF - ofeverymoment says
I am so happy that my love/hate post inspired this Amy! Such a helpful post.
I am already using some of these. I am solely an Apple user, but I am pinning this so I can figure out which of these other programs might be helpful to me. VLC Media Player and FastStone Image viewer sound particularly of interest. Evernote is fast becoming a favorite of mine!
SusanF – ofeverymoment recently posted…It’s Never “Mostly Flat with a Bit of Downhill” in Montana!
My post wasn’t quite as heartfelt as yours though. 🙂
I should probably broaden my horizons and include more information for apple users out there…thanks for mentioning that. 🙂
for photo editing I also love FOTOR! it’s free and so easy to use.
Craftynail recently posted…Wendy’s FAST FOOD NAILS for #omd3nails Day 16
Ooh…thanks for the tip Jacqui! I’ll go check that one out! 🙂
Hi there Amy, great post. I am in SA in computer training and use many of these myself and for clients. Now writing a course to help people download, file, edit and share their pics taken with camera or cell phone and using Picasa as an online editor. Great program with many features I didn’t know about.
Thanks Debbie. Picasa is another good one. I have a feeling I’ll need a second post for some of the other programs I forgot to include in this one. 🙂 That sounds like a great idea for a course – good luck!
Naveed Ahmed says
Your post made me know of many software and apps that I otherwise didn’t know of. You made a wonderful effort by sharing these free softwares, that must be used to ease our computing lives.
Thank you – I hope you find some of them useful.
Melony Smith says
PicMonkey is no longer free, I had it before a couple of years ago. Now it has 30 day trail, $4.99 a month after.
No, it’s still free. You just go to their website and use it online – no need to login or anything. I’ve used it for almost all of the graphics on this blog that way. Just did one today – check it out. 🙂
I have been using Comodo internet security (also free) on my laptop and it seems to work great. Would love to know your thoughts.
Thanks for stopping by Aruna. I’m not familiar with Comodo so I took some time to read a bit about it. Based on some reviews I found (by sources I trust) it seems like the negatives about the program are false-positives it may find.
PC Magazine’s Comodo Internet Security Review
PC World’s Comodo Review
Basically, a program you WANT to run may be blocked by Comodo because it suspects it’s malicious. If you’re not experiencing problems during the normal use of your computer then I don’t see any need to switch. If you are experiencing delays or error messages when trying to use VALID programs, Comodo could be the source. If you decide to switch, I’d use a combination of an anti-virus and malware programs listed above. Hope this helps!
Great list for most people.
Thanks Morten…and thanks for stopping by!
Danielle @ tiny-trots says
These are really helpful as software is not my expertise. I do use Dropbox and PicMonkey love them!
Danielle @ tiny-trots recently posted…How I Got My Kids to Taste and Like Vegetables
I hope you’ll try a few out – they’re all very helpful to me. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂
Great list for windows and some even for android. Other software you may want to look at is:
To name a few:
– Linux/GNU of course – it is a complete free OS, desktop, and everything you need.
* You can turn old hardware to a useful computer/router/etc. (or new computers like
a raspberryPi, etc.).
– Gimp – http://www.gimp.org free and awsome graphics and or photo editing. It is scriptable.
* Available on linux, windows, mac
– Blender 3D – 3D graphics/animation suite: http://www.blender.org
* Available on linux, windows, mac
Good additions Mark. I’ve heard a lot about GIMP but haven’t tried it. Since I wrote this article I’ve come up with so many new programs to add…I may have to make a another part to the list!
Is there a “free” software program that would allow me to watch a webinar on my desktop and also share both the video & audio with a couple friends on their desktops? I tried VNC but it only allows sharing the video but not the audio. If no free software, what fee software would allow sharing both audio & video? TIA
Michael, I think teamviewer should work for this purpose. You’d install it on your computer then provide them a password to access it. Check it out. -Amy
RealDownloader is not free.(name, email) is not impotant.
It is free – that hasn’t changed as far as I can tell…
Excellent list! I picked up several new ones today.
TRELLO: The free version of https://trello.com is a treat tool for sharing memo pads. My family uses it for our shared shopping lists (grocery, hardware, errands). Anyone can update on their smartphone app or PC via the website. Securely shared.
Trello is a good one. I played with it for a while but couldn’t really get into the habit of using it. I love how organized it is though so I may find a use for it in the future! Check the blog out tomorrow for a post about the grocery list app I just found and love! 🙂
It’s almost funny how I didn’t know a single free graphics program haha. When it comes to security I was using the premium version of MalwareFox but in the end I went to MalwareFox because it was slightly cheaper. I don’t know just how much protection a free Anti-Malware can offer so I always choose the paid option to be on the safe side.
Have you been pleased with MalwareFox?
Os sorry for taking so long to respond, I’ve been busy. Actually yeah, so far so good.
Edwin Barton says
Instead of FastStone Image Viewer I prefer either XnView or XnViewMP (XnViewMP is a rewrite of the original XnView aimed at making it’s features available on Multiple Platforms (hence the MP in the name), it’s more powerful in terms of helping you manage your image collection by supporting a ratings system, full tagging support, some built-in editing features (things like auto color balance and auto brightness/contrast just to name a few) and supports showing full screen previews on secondary displays if you have one attached.
As for web browsers I prefer using Opera now as it is less invasive of your privacy than Chrome is and (thanks to the installation of one extension) can use most extensions from the Chrome Web store that are originally designed for Chrome. As for Firefox I recently read an article on HowToGeek.com regarding how Mozilla (creators of Firefox) have been sneaking things into Firefox that invade your privacy as well as even going so far as to partner with a company in Germany to supply them with the browsing information of some of its users in Germany. Additionally with the newer releases of Firefox older trusted and heavily developed extensions have become non-functioning due to Mozilla’s departure from their original scripting language for extensions by moving to a system they’re referring to as Web Extensions. As a direct result Firefox no longer has a very sizable extension collection available to it’s users to extend the features of the browser as it once had.
For things like Word Processing and Spreadsheet and Database development I personally prefer to use LibreOffice which is a fork of the popular OpenOffice but features a more aggressive development and release schedule than that of OpenOffice while also maintaining overall compatibility with both OpenOffice and Microsoft Office.
For powerful free Desktop Publishing have a look at Scribus, it features many features usually only found in professional grade software (though may be a bit too powerful for when you just want to make a simple poster for something like a garage sale or something).
And if you need to work with Vector graphics images (like say some of the clipart that’s available in formats like .eps/.ps/.emf./.wmf/.svg and even older versions of Adobe’s own Illustrator vector graphics files with extensions of .ai), then you may want to have a look at Inkscape, while not quite as powerful as Illustrator it is capable of doing a great many of the same tasks that Illustrator is capable of. Though like with Gimp its interface is again rather dated by today’s standards, and the software has a rather steep learning curve as well.
Thanks so much for adding some great programs to the list! I haven’t heard of XnView…going to have to check that one out. Keeping track of digital photos is overwhelming!
It’s sad about Mozilla but I’ve heard good things about Opera.
I’ve used Inkscape in my crafting life…good program but has a decent learning curve…well, I guess most graphic programs do.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment!
A great free alternative for computer security is Alyac, also known as Dr. Capsule. It’s a South Korean program and is great. There is also a version for android tablets and phones.
Thank you Chip – I haven’t heard of this one.