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Freeware Programs
(And where to snag them)
Updated 6/17/2016

Contents:
Watch out for the bad stuff
Where to find the good stuff
Windows 10 is here now!
Internet Browser Alternatives
Free Business programs
Free Graphics Programs
Free Email program
Play media files
Small, fast PDF Readers
Streaming Music
Other Free Programs
Security software
What to watch for and other options
32Bit or 64Bit programs
Automate install and update for selected programs
Free suppport from your PC manufacturer
Recommended Programs

The Internet is bulging with (purportedly) free stuff.
    As always, buyer beware!
    However, there are quite a few desirable, many useful, and a very few nearly-indispensible programs to be had if you know where to find them.

First - Watch out for the bad stuff:

    Didn't want (or need) another browser tool bar (or another browser)? Or goodness knows what other bloatware to clutter up your hard drive? My advice is to pay close attention not only to what the installer program is actually installing but also to which download button you click on the free download site.

    Many vendors of free and low-cost software have added other software to their installer programs - in addition to their own. The installers will place other, unasked-for, unnecessary and generally unwanted software on your PC if you don't decline it.
    While some of this extra software is useful most of it is not. In some few cases these extra programs amount to nothing more than cleverly packaged spyware that Antivirus software companies call PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs).

    So it's wise to always watch what the installer is doing to note what is happening and what is being installed, especially before you click the OK, Continue, or NEXT button.

    With legitimate software, you can deselect the check boxes - either before installing or during installation - and this extra software will not be placed on your PC. You may need to choose a Custom Install option to avoid this extra software.

For an in-depth explanation of this problem check out How to Geek's article on how to avoid junk software.

    If you see indications of other programs to be installed but find you can't deselect anything then perhaps it would be wise to quit the installer and search for another program with the same features. There's plenty of good stuff out there.
    You could also use a small, free program to download and update some of these programs called Ninite. (More about Ninite below.)

    It appears that some (thankfully few) vendors of free or low-cost software really want you to install these extra (and usually unnecessary programs) so be aware that in some installers the options to decline are either intentionally confusing or not very obvious.

Confusing profusion of Download Buttons on Download sites
    Many of the free download sites, including my favorite FileHippo, have placed a number of ads on the software download pages. This can easily cause you to click the wrong download button by mistake if your attention wavers. So be sure that, no matter which site you use, you click the correct button for the software you actually want and not one for an advertisement for another product on the same page.

    If you want to get older program versions as well as the latest offerings you can go to FileHippo. They promise that their downloads will be malware and virus-free.
    However, it is always a good idea to be on guard for unwanted installs by the software installer programs once you have downloaded them.
http://filehippo.com

    At one time I had high praise for CNET's Download.com. However, now I rarely use it to download software programs any longer.
    Why? CNET started using a download manager program that will place unasked-for and usually unwanted software on your computer - as well as the one you wanted - if you do not decline their offerings within their, sometimes confusing, installer.
    On the other hand, much of the software listed is rated by the CNET staff and also by user feedback. These ratings can be very helpful when trying to choose between two or multiple programs for the same purpose.

    If you wish, you can use Download.com simply to find free software, but then download it elsewhere, either from FileHippo or by way of a simple Google search for the name of the software. Then download the program directly from the creator's website - or get them from Ninite whenever you can.
    Caution! Be sure the page is actually the creator's actual homepage. There are some copycat sites out there. And, always watch what the installer program is actually installing!

Perhaps Download.com will eventually see the light and cease using such a crappy downloader/installer program.

See what the Pros recommend
    See this helpful file from PC World Magazine which recommends good free software.

A great list from PC Magazine
    Finally, PC Magazine has compiled a list of their favorite free software, with descriptions and links to the installers. It is truly an exhaustive list, which includes some programs that I didn't know existed. Includes 148 free programs separated by category - (See Contents on page.)

Free Games
    Extremetech has posted their list of 20 free games for the PC. Time to buy a USB joystick? Logitech's F310 is pretty good and easily affordable.

Windows 10 is here!

    If you just got a new desktop or laptop PC with Windows 8.1 installed you may be exasperated with the Start Screen and also with the lack of a truly functional Start Menu in the desktop - if you have managed to get there yet.
    Wait! Don't pull your hair out. Simply take advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade to Windows 10.

Of course, it would have been much more simple to get a new PC with Windows 10 preinstalled, but you got what you got and you may have saved some money. Just upgrade it for free. See this
Microsoft page to learn how to do it.

Get a new Start Menu
    Perhaps you don't wish to perform a comprehensive upgrade of your entire operating system. Or perhaps you have but then discovered that you really do not like the new Windows 10 Start Menu with it flickering tiles. You can install a completely free and extremely stable Start Menu program that will make both Windows 8 and Windows 10 look and run more like Windows 7 again.
    Download and install the free Classic Shell Start Menu then configure it to your heart's content.

Internet Browser Alternatives
and helper programs

Mozilla Firefox - Fast and customizable open-source Internet Browser from Mozilla. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
Google Chrome - Fast and Free Internet Browser from Google. (Can also be installed using Ninite) If your PC is running 64bit Windows it is recommended that you use the 64bit version of Chrome.

    You can install or check for updates of these three popular runtime/utility programs:

    Adobe Flash Player (Shockwave Video Player) Before clicking Download Now you can uncheck the box to avoid an unwanted software install. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
        Note: There is no good alternative program for Adobe Flash, but if you use Internet Explorer exclusively you do not need to install Adobe Flash Player since it is already included with IE.

    Adobe Reader (PDF Reader) Before clicking Download Now you should uncheck the box to avoid extra software installs.
        Note: There are some good alternatives to the bloated Adobe Reader program. See them further down on this page.

    Oracle Java (Runtime utility which enables extra features on some websites)
    After downloading the Java installer it will, by default, place a PUP on your PC if you do not uncheck the boxes. I strongly recommend that you uncheck the boxes within the installer to avoid this extra software. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
        I agree with many PC experts who advise not installing or removing Oracle Java from your PC since it is both vulnerable to malware attacks and is usually unnecessary.

        The three programs above require occassional updates to ensure that security holes are closed and support for newer technologies is enabled.
        The software firms have decided to make extra money by offering additional third-party software along with their own essential software.
        However the extra software offered in the Java installer by default is considered a Potientially Unwanted Program and therefore should not be installed along with the Java software. In addition, many PC experts agree that Java is no longer necessary anyway. That is, unless you have a favorite piece of software or a game, such as the popular Minecraft, which still requires Java to be installed.

    Please note!
        Before installing or updating the Adobe software and/or Java I recommend that you view the section about the Ninite installer further down on this page. You can also read my file about Unhelpful helper programs for even more information about why you may wish to avoid some of this software.

Free Business programs

    You have three choices to get a full featured free Office suite
For comparison:
    Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 costs $139.
    Microsoft Office Home and Business 2013 is $219.
    Microsoft Office Professional 2013 will set you back a whopping $399.
    Additionally, Microsoft Office 365 will run you a cool $99 per year.

    The free program suites listed above will satisfy those who don't have demanding needs.
    None of the free replacements may have all the features and power of Microsoft Office, but with them you can read and edit most MS Office files - and they are free!
    LibreOffice is the recommended choice because it has been updated regularly while the other two have not.

Free Office Online
    If you have a (free, school, or work) Microsoft Account and don't mind working with your documents online, the free Office Online will allow you to use online MS Office tools to create or edit MS Office documents in your OneDrive folder after signing in.

Google Docs
    Last, but not least, is Google's impressive array of online tools which are all freely accessable when you get a free Google Account, with or without, Gmail (Google's email).

What's the catch?
    Note: When you are freely accessing all of these free online tools, both Microsoft and Google are accessing your personal information and trends so that they may better target you with advertising. Which may not be a bad thing when it's all said and done.

However, all of this must be evaluated; especially if you have concerns about your online privacy.

Need an accounting program? Try TurboCash Accounting.

Free Graphics Programs

    There are easy-to-use graphics programs that will allow you to manipulate photos (get the red out) as well as create your own pictures and sketches. There is also one other that may, in some instances, replace even Adobe Photoshop.
  • Paint.Net is a good program that will please for those who are not graphics artists. Requires Microsoft .Net Framework. Download .Net Framework or update it at this Microsoft site. It's easier to install Paint.Net using Ninite.
  • Irfanview is another highly recommended free graphics program. (Good alternative that does not require any supporting software installs.) (Can also be installed using Ninite)
  • PIXLR from AutoDesk is available as a free application or as a paid subscription version which offers more features. You can either sign in or skip the signin to download the Pixlr installer program.
  • The Gimp is a more complicated graphics manipulation program for those who need more tools but don't want to invest a small fortune into Adobe products. (Can also be installed using Ninite)

Free Email Program

Mozilla Thunderbird - Thunderbird is a free open-source email desktop application that's relatively easy to set up and customize. From the same people who created Firefox browser. Click the Features link on their page to learn more. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
(Note - Use the Mail Account Setup Wizard to connect to your email account or your ISP Support can help you with initial setup.)

However, if you would perfer webmail in your browser you can either use the free webmail usually offered by your ISP or signup for free webmail account from Google (GMail) or Microsoft (Outlook.com)

Play media files

    Want to play DVD movies and videos on your new Windows 8 or 10 PC (or nearly any PC) with no extra Codec packs required? Get the free
VLC media player directly from Videolan's site (Can also be installed using Ninite).
Note: Be sure to download the full desktop program rather than use the light-featured Windows 10 app. And don't bother to waste $15 on the Microsoft DVD Player also available from the Windows Store.

Small, fast PDF Readers
Good alternatives for the unsecure Adobe Reader program which requires constant updates as well as additions to startup items.
    Choose from:
SumatraPDF Reader from the Sumatra blog page. Note: Sumatra can be installed easily by using Ninite.

Foxit Reader - Is an another more feature-rich alternative, but install it using Ninite to avoid extra software installs. Reason: Foxit Reader 5 installer will install a toolbar (you don't want it) and change your default search engine to Ask (which you certainly don't want!) if you don't disable these options.

Music
Spotify - Spotify's desktop music player streams music from the internet. You can sign up for a free account or choose a premium (paid) version that has added features. Spotify music player can also be safely and easily installed with Ninite (signup required for service). iOS and Android software also available.

Other music playing services such as Rdio, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Google Play Music require no software downloads for the PC. These services also offer premium accounts for unlimited access. iOS and Android software available.

Other highly recommended programs
  • Ccleaner is nearly indispensable when it comes to getting the temporary trash out of your PC. It also has other tools you will find handy.
    Note: Ccleaner installer will offer to install Google Chrome and Google Toolbar (or perhaps other software) if you don't uncheck these options within the installer.
  • PC Decrapifier is a program that removes bloatware software from your PC - Great for getting the garbage programs out of a new PC!
  • LastPass - Great free password manager. Control all of your passwords from one place. Improve your online security using this top rated program.
  • Skype is a very popular IM (Instant Messenger) client. Communicate face to face online with Skype. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
  • Evernote (the free version) is great if you need to do some research. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
  • Calibre is a great program to use if you like to read books on your computer, tablet, or iPad. Among other things, Calibre can convert e-books to many different native file formats for easy viewing on any device.
  • Recuva If you accidentally deleted a file or lost a file when your PC crashed. Recuva recovers files deleted from your Windows computer, Recycle Bin, digital camera card, or MP3 player. (From the creators of Ccleaner.)
  • 7-Zip If you've ever downloaded a compressed file and can't open it there is an excellent free solution. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
  • Audacity - If you need a good audio editor this is the one you want. Works with nearly all audio files. As an example, use it to remove applause from downloaded audio files. (Can also be installed using Ninite)
        Note: Requires installation of the freely available LAME encoder to work with MP3 files. Lame is offered as a compressed file. A utility such as 7-zip is needed to extract it.

Security software

    If you surf the internet without an active antivirus program installed and always running in the background you're just asking for trouble.

Active Antivirus vs Scan-Only antivirus (on-demand scanner)
    An active antivirus program always runs in the background on your PC to protect against any intrusion by malware, virus files and potentially dangerous software the Antivirus software vendors have labeled PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs).

    A scan-only (on-demand) antivirus program such as the excellent free version of Malwarebytes runs only when you start the program manually and as such does not interfere with the operation of your active antivirus program.
    Since it never hurts to get a second opinion about the security of your PC it is a good idea to run this program on a regular basis - perhaps weekly or at least monthly.

    You can read about the free version of
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware on their homepage. But I suggest that you install it using Ninite to avoid accidently installing a Trial Version by mistake that they will want you to pay for eventually.
    Note: Malwarebytes installer from their homepage will enable a trial of the Premium version (which you don't need or want) unless you uncheck the option within the installer.
    Malwarebytes is excellent at finding malware that occassionally may slip past your active antivirus since, unfortunately, none of them, not even the best paid security suites, are 100% effective.

For an Active Antivirus (AV) program:
    You can either get the completely free Microsoft Security Essentials MSE (for Windows XP, Vista, & 7) (Can also be installed using Ninite) or activate Windows Defender which is already on your Windows 8 or 10 PC.
    Much better than nothing, especially if your PC has limited resources.
    Note: The good thing about MSE or Windows Defender is that you will never be bugged to update to a paid version since both are completely free.
    The downside is that these free Microsoft offerings do not compare well in tests with other commercial free AV offerings.


    For a higher level of protection download and install a free version of a commercial antivirus program using Ninite or the links below.
    Note: Both Avast and BitDefender require that you create a free account or the software will quit working after 30 days. BitDefender allows you to login using Facebook if you prefer. Avast requires a re-signup every year with your email address.

    For a free program I recommend: (in alphabetical order)
Avast Free Antivirus or install using Ninite
AVG 32 Bit - AVG 64-Bit or install using Ninite
BitDefender Free Antivirus (from BitDefender site)
Panda Free Antivirus
These free antivirus programs are licensed only for home (non-commercial) use.

    For a paid program. Otherwise, if you don't mind (or you would perfer), opening your wallet for a good security program then get Norton Security. You really don't need the entire Norton suite.

    Other excellent choices for a paid antivirus are
Kaspersky Antivirus.
BitDefender Antivirus Plus and
Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus
As with Norton, you really don't need to pay extra for their higher end editions unless one of them provides a feature you just can't live without.

Installation tip
    If you get a new PC with a subscription based (Paid) pre-installed antivirus program but you decide you'd rather get a free one instead, it's a excellent idea to download the free antivirus (or Ninite) installer program first, but then uninstall the paid program before running the free AV installer. Running two active antivirus programs at the same time is not a good idea.

    Always restart your PC after uninstalling the unwanted security software - Before installing your new, free antivirus program.

Where else to look for a new security program
    For a comprehensive listing of all major security software vendor's sites (and some, not so major) see my Security Programs PDF. This file has links to the vendor's sites as well as my recommendations for the best programs - both Free and Subscription based.
    Also see the Antivirus Software page to find on-demand malware scanners.

What to watch for and other options:

    When installing (or updating) some free software, especially antivirus programs, be sure to always choose the FREE option rather than the (premium, special, super-duper, exclusive trial, created-just-for-you) PAID version of the software.

    The vendor would, of course, rather make a sale rather than give his (or her) product away so they'll tempt you with bells and whistles you probably don't need and may never use anyway.

    Free antivirus software is especially riddled with offers to upgrade to premium versions or premium features for which you must pay. Ocassional popups from your taskbar will tout these offers. Just dismiss these popups with the understanding that's the price you must pay for good free software.

    Unless you are certain you need a feature only available in a paid version - Don't pay! You are certainly NOT obligated, no matter how long you have used the free software. Enjoy the $0.00 cost. Take the free stuff and keep running!

32Bit or 64Bit programs

    When installing new programs on your PC it is desirable to get ones that will run optimally for the version of your operating system. Nearly all 32-bit programs will run on both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows OS (operating system). With the possible exception of old, outdated software.
    However if you have the 64-bit version of Windows you can always look to see if the software you wish to install has a 64-bit version available.

    *If you're unsure which version of Windows your PC is running just click the Start Button then right-click Computer (or This PC) and choose Properties from the context menu.
    *In Windows 8 or 10 hit the Windows+X keys.
    *Choose System from the Quick Link Menu.
    Somewhere in the window that appears (System) you will find reference to System type (either 32-bit or 64-bit) - if your PC is running Windows Vista, 7, 8, or 10. If you see no System type indication for Windows XP then you have a 32-Bit OS.
You won't be able to install or run 64-Bit programs on a PC with a 32-Bit OS in any case.

Automate install and update for selected programs:

    A free program from the
Ninite site can either install or update selected software on your PC. And will do it without installing PUPs (potentially unwanted programs) or bloatware that comes with many of them. Ninite requires no installation of extra software.
    If you have grown weary of the need for constant vigilance when installing or updating your free programs for fear of getting potentially dangerous PUPs along with them or installing a trial PAID version by mistake then this will solve your problem.

    When you run Ninite it updates your chosen programs to their latest version. It will do so without the bloatware or any trial versions and it will get the proper version for your operating system (32-bit or 64-bit, if available).
    The selection of program choices is limited to less than 100 programs now, but these are some of the most popular and useful free programs available.

    The free version of Ninite requires no installation on your PC. To use it go to https://www.ninite.com and choose your programs then click the Get Installer button.
    When you're finished installing or updating with Ninite just throw the Ninite app into the Recycle Bin. (You'll get another one the next time you want to update or install a program.)

Free suppport from your PC manufacturer:

    If you want free stuff from the people who made your PC - such as - driver software, manuals, or warranty information from your computer manufacturer simply enter their name into to the search field of your browser followed by the word "support" (without the quotes).
    Try it.
Dell support, HP support, Acer support, Lenovo support, etc. If you want specific information you'll probably need your PC's exact model number and possibly the service code or tag for these support sites. They are both on a sticker on the case of your PC or sometimes under the battery on a laptop.
    Some support sites can install a software applet which will auto-detect your PC and provide very specific information about your PC.
    Be sure the site is the official service site for that particular product. There are some copycat sites out there. Look at the internet address to be sure. Especially when looking for hardware driver software or firmware!

Recommended Programs
Software no PC should be without!

Security Software
Due to the insidious nature of malware on the internet I recommend that you have both an active and a scan-only (on demand) antivirus program installed on your computer.

Active antivirus:
  • AVG Free Antivirus - AVG is an great program and will do an excellent job of protecting your PC from nasty threats on the internet. It would be worth every penny you paid for it even if you had to buy it! Both 32 and 64 bit versions available.
  • Avast Free Antivirus - Avast is another highly-rated antivirus program. As good as, or better than, most commercial (paid) software in its class.
  • Two other excellent choices that are light on your PC's resources are BitDefender Free Antivirus and Panda Free Antivirus.
  •     Note: As I have mentioned above, when updating or registering this free software always choose the free (or standard) option rather than selecting the enhanched or premium version.
        Also, be aware that ocassional popups will offer to activate features that you will need to pay for in the future. Decline these and Keep It Free!
Scan-only or On-demand antivirus scanner:
  • Malwarebytes - Malwarebytes is in a class by itself when it comes to eliminating malware and PC virus files from your PC. Sometimes it hard to believe they're giving it away!
    You can easily decline the premium or trial version when installing or updating!
Internet Browser
  • Mozilla Firefox - Firefox is a fast, free, and continuously updated browser that is highly stable and very customizable. Everyone needs an alternative to the old Internet Explorer or the new Windows 10 Edge browser that now comes with Windows.
PDF Reader
  • SumatraPDF Reader - Sumatra is a small, fast, and reliable replacement for Adobe Reader. Sumatra does not require any additions to startup items or Windows Services. It is also not a primary target for hackers, as is Adobe Reader.
Clean-up utilities
  • Ccleaner - Ccleaner is an indispensable tool that rids your PC of temporary junk files that can eventually clog-up your computer and cause it to run slower if they are left to accumulate. Always choose the free version when installing or updating. Run it at least once a month to keep your system clean. Ccleaner has other features that you will find to be very helpful.
  • PC Decrapifier - PC Decrapifier will rid your new PC of bloatware. Run it on a new computer to remove the crapware most PC manufacturers install on new PCs.
Play video & view and manipulate image files
  • VLC Media Player - VLC eliminates the need for downloading separate codecs for video types since it already plays everything, as well as DVD videos. (Sorry not Blueray) This desktop program is strong on features.
  • Paint.Net or Irfanview - Both are very good free image viewing and manipulation programs. If you have your photos on your PC you need one of these programs.
If your new PC runs Windows 8
You need a Start Menu Program!
  • Classic Shell - Classic Shell is absolutely necessary if you want your new PC to run the same as the one it replaced. Classic Shell is free, stable and highly customizable. What more can you ask for? See a description here.
Where to get these programs
Ninite - Ninite is not a program you install. It is a program installer as well as an updater. Click here for more detailed information about Ninite.

Note: All of the above software programs in this section except for Ccleaner, PC Decrapifier & Panda, and Bitdefender free antivirus can be installed (all at once) or updated using Ninite.

Of course, there are other excellent freeware programs that you will probably want on your computer (as well as paid software), depending upon how you use it.

Happy Computing!