Free Windows Software
and where to get it
The Internet is bulging with (purportedly) free stuff.
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.
Some 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.
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.
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
Where to find the (good) free stuff
See what the Pros recommend
The absolute best and most secure place (website) to download good freeware is from The Vendor's Official Website. (Nearly all the App/program links below go directly to the vendors website.)
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.
Also try CNET's Download.com.
Free Tools that come with Windows
There are a number of free tools that come built into Windows 10 & 11 and my page CONTROL, CUSTOMIZE, OR GET INFO lists and explains how to access them. Perhaps you simply need to adjust the size of text on your display because it's too small - there's a tool for that in Settings, and much more!
Internet Browser Alternatives
and helper programs
Since Internet Explorer is a security risk and is no longer recommended for use, especially with Windows 10, Microsoft recommends Edge, the new browser that came with Windows 10 and now with Windows 11.
Note: Microsoft's previous browser, the elderly Internet Explorer app, will not be included with the new Windows 11 Operating System.
But if you don't care for Microsoft Edge you can download and try other good, feature-rich, third-party internet browsers. Be sure to make your choice the default app for Web Browser software, replacing Edge. Go to PC Settings, Apps, then Default Apps, if you need to do this manually.
Note: Windows PC Settings is accessed by clicking the gear icon in the Windows Start Menu or by using the Windows key+I keyboard shortcut (hotkey)...(press and hold the Windows key then press the I key).
Microsoft Edge - Ships with and is default for both Windows 10 and 11. Before completely discounting Microsoft's browser see what PC World Magazine has to say about it.
Mozilla Firefox - Fast and highly customizable open-source Internet Browser from Mozilla. Firefox is freely available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Google Chrome - Fast and Free Internet Browser from Google. Chrome is freely available for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux.
Opera a fast and feature-rich browser, browse the way you want. Opera is freely available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Opera's parent company has recently agreed to be acquired by a Chinese consortium.
(All of these alternatives can be installed using Ninite.) Google Chrome is the most popular browser but many people, including many experts, are realizing that Chrome may not be the most secure browser since a recent CNET article relates how Google collects tons of browsing data from its users. You can only speculate how they are using it (targeted advertising?), since they are not saying. Some are discovering that Chrome is also a battery and memory hog, especially on portable devices.
See - Warning: Don't Let Google Manage Your Passwords from PC Magazine
Also see - Dumping Google Chrome? Here's the best browser to replace it. From ZDNet
In addition to Firefox, Chrome, and Opera some other good alternative internet browsers exist including:
Brave for those concerned about speed and security. Brave is available for Windows, Mac, Android, and Linux.
Tor Browser for those who are security conscious. Tor is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Vivaldi Browser for those who are crazy about customization. Version 5.3 (and later) of Vivaldi now includes a free full-featured email client. Vivaldi is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
You can install or check for updates of these three common runtime/utility programs:
Oracle Java (Runtime utility which enables extra features and is required by some specialty programs)
The three programs above require occassional updates to ensure that security holes are closed and support for newer technologies is enabled.
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
With the addition of OnlyOffice you now have five choices to get a full featured and free Office suite. All include at least a word processing (document) module, a spreadsheet module, and a presentation module.
Microsoft Office Home and Student 2021 costs $150.
Microsoft Office Home and Business 2021 is $250.
Microsoft Office Professional 2021 will set you back a whopping $400.
Additionally, Microsoft Office 365 will run you a cool $100 per year (multiuser) or $70 per year (single user). Microsoft Office 365 also gives you 1TB (per user) of cloud storage with Microsoft Onedrive.
The free program suites listed above will normally satisfy those who don't have highly 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 completely free! No nags for payment.
LibreOffice is the recommended choice because it has been updated regularly while the others have not been updated quite as often. It is also a user favorite. Finally, Libre Office is the default office software included with most Linux distributions.
Still like MS Office better? But can't afford it? Or prefer not to pay for it? Try converting LibreOffice to look more like Microsoft Office.
Free Online Apps
In addition to the above choices Google Docs is a free alternative to Microsoft Office 365 for personal users. It comes with 15GB free cloud storage.
For business users there is Google Workspace, formerly called G-Suite. it comes with a suite of office tools and 30GB of cloud storage to start for $6 per month.
The free version of Microsoft Onedrive comes with Microsoft's online office tools as well as 5GB free cloud storage.
The free version of IDrive also offers 5GB of free cloud storage but without any office tools.
For an online project management tool try Asana.
For personal finance services give Mint a try. Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009. With Mint, you can keep track of your income and spending, create budget plans, set notification alerts for when your account balance is low, and more—all from the web!
Free Graphics Programs
There are two good 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.
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.)
The only desktop E-mail programs that are fully recommended for Windows operating systems are Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outlook, which is not free but is a module of the Microsoft Office Suite and is available with Microsoft Office Home & Business and higher versions.
Free Backup Software
Choose from one of these great free backup applications.
After choosing your favorite, install it, learn it, then create your first backup. Then, if your PC's hard drive crashes or becomes infected with a nasty Computer virus or even Ransomware, you will be so glad you did!
1). EaseUS Todo Backup Free 10.5
2). AOMEI Backupper Standard 4.0.4
3). Macrium Reflect v6
Note: An external USB hard drive or extra-large flash drive (128GB or more) is normally necessary to store your backup. Be sure to create your Boot Disk and learn the procedure to restore your PC! You will then be ready in case of disaster after you create your first backup is complete. Back up your irreplaceable personal files on a regular basis!
Play media files
Want to play DVD movies and videos on your 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 easily installed using Ninite).
Note: Don't bother with the light-featured Windows 10 app from the Windows store. And don't bother to waste $15 on the Microsoft DVD Player also available from the Windows Store.
Another alternative video player is called Media Player Classic Home Cinema or MPC-HC. MPC-HC is lightweight which makes it quick to run and load.
Small, fast PDF Readers
There are good alternatives for the unsecure Adobe Reader program which has become a target for hackers and requires constant updates as well as additions to startup items.
Even with its downside, the Adobe Reader DC software is still a business standard because of its advanced features. (If you need to use Adobe Reader don't forget to uncheck the box for the extra software before download or update.)
If you want an alternative choose from:
PDF Candy - has an online editor or a Windows version you can download.
PDF Reader from the Windows Store
Finally, keep in mind that the Microsoft Edge browser already installed on all Windows 10 PCs also reads and displays PDF files, albeit with no extra features. Simply right-click your PDF and choose Open With - Microsoft Edge. If you have no other PDF readers installed, Microsoft Edge will be default. (This is true for all 3rd Party browsers as well.)
For more information about PDF readers and PDFs see this helpful PC World article - Best PDF editors
Playing and Streaming Music
Try MediaMonkey - if you are tired of Apple's iTunes bloatware desktop program. All of the features with less hassle, free version is easily installed with Ninite. Syncs with iOS 11 and Android 8.0. Note: Get the free version or the paid version called MediaMonkey Gold. The reviews on Mediamonkey are split, about half thumbs up and half thumbs down. The ones who like it, rave about it!
Note: If you have a Windows PC and an iPhone you will probably want to continue using iTunes - just be sure you are using the latest version by using Check for Updates in the iTunes Help Menu occasionally.
Spotify - Spotify's desktop music player streams music from the internet. You can sign up for a free ad-supported account or choose a premium (paid) version that has added features and no ads.
Spotify music player can also be safely and easily installed with Ninite (signup required for service). iOS and Android software also available. Spotify currently has over 70 million tracks to choose from with over 2.6 million of these tracks being podcasts. Neat!
Want to stop using iTunes and start using Spotify, you don’t even have to lose the playlists you’ve created—you can transfer them.
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 and Apps
Note: The terms anti-malware and antivirus are normally interchangeable.
If you surf the internet without an active anti-malware (security) program installed you're just asking for trouble.
Active Anti-malware vs Scan-Only (or On-demand) anti-malware Scanner
For an Active anti-malware program: (Suite)
These free anti-malware programs are licensed only for home (non-commercial) use.
Otherwise, if you don't mind opening your wallet for a good program then get Norton 360. You probably don't really need the entire Norton suite. Other than Norton, the best antivirus suites are: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus. See below for link to more recommendations.
If you get a new PC with a subscription based (Paid) pre-installed antivirus program and you decide you'd rather get a free one instead it's a excellent idea to first, download the free antivirus installer program, but uninstall the paid antivirus program first before running the installer for the free antivirus App. It's not a good idea to have two active antivirus programs (suites) installed at the same time.
Where else to look for a new security program
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.
Some 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 sometimes 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. Enjoy the $0.00 cost. Take the free stuff and run!
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 should always look to see if the software you wish to install has a 64-bit version available (unfortunately many don't).
*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.
Automate install and update for selected programs:
A free automated installer 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 some 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.
Ninite is extremely handy when setting up a new PC since you can install multiple programs using a single installer, Saves lots of time! Simply make a list of the free software you wish to get before going to the Ninite site, then after you get there you will only need to make your selections then download an installer which will install them all at once for you!
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 delete the Ninite app (drag it to the recycle bin). (You'll get another one from Ninite 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.
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!
Software no PC should be without!
Due to the insidious nature of malware on the internet I recommend that you have both an active and an on-demand antivirus program installed on your computer.
Two excellent choices that are light on your PC's resources are Panda Free Antivirus (Only from Panda site) and Kaspersky Free Cloud 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.
Scan-only (on-demand) antivirus:
If your PC runs Windows 8 or 8.1 (Also runs quite well with Windows 10)
You need a Start Menu Program!
Where to get many of these programs
Ninite - Ninite is not a program you install. It is an automated 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, Shotcut, UnChecky, and Kaspersky, & Panda 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.
Get Another Opinion
If you want more options or another opinion about free software (besides mine) simply enter software for a new PC into an internet search box and you will have more opinions than you ever thought you could want, without stomach upset.