Our 10 best free downloads for your PC
What “Free Stuff” Week would be complete without high-quality software you can download and use freely on your computer?
There are hundreds of Windows programs you can use at no cost, ranging from productivity software and powerful web browsers to photo editing tools and media management suites.
My picks are subject to debate, of course – such as those who might prefer AVG Free Anti-Virus instead of Avast – so be sure to share your favourite Windows freebies in the Comments section below. Keep in mind we’ll revisit this topic for Macs in the near future.
In case you missed it, be sure to read out Top 10 free smartphone apps feature.
While it’s not quite as comprehensive as Microsoft Office, you’d be surprised what you can get for free with Oracle’s OpenOffice.org 3, a suite of productivity programs that includes a word processor, presentation maker and spreadsheet creator. You can import your existing .doc, .xls and .ppt files, too, plus it’s available in multiple languages and works with a number of operating systems. This software suite can be downloaded and used without license fees and can be installed on as many computers as you like.
Before you run out to buy an external hard drive, Microsoft’s Windows Live SkyDrive lets you back up 25 Gigabytes (GB) of password-protected files “to the cloud” for free. All you need is a Windows Live ID (or a Hotmail email address) to get going. This way, if something happens to your PC or external hard drive – such as fire, theft, virus or nasty power surge – all your photos, documents and other files are protected. Plus, you can access these files from virtually any online computer in the world.
There are many free anti-virus programs available – four out of the Top 10 programs at Download.com are anti-virus tools, in fact – but the one I’ve found that runs quietly and unobtrusively in the background is Avast Free Antivirus 6, which enjoys an average user rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 (based on more than 17,000 votes). This download can help protect your PC from the ills of the Internet, including viruses, spyware and adware, and other nasty attempts at damaging your computer or wallet.
Free calling with video
Not only is Skype a free way to talk with friends and family, anywhere in the world, but because it works with your computer webcam, they can see you and you can see them. This is a lot more conducive to meeting a new baby for the first time on mom’s lap, home renovations in another province or country, or making long business trips away from the family a little more palatable. You can also use the free Skype app on many smartphones and even some newer televisions.
Amaze yourself and your family with Google Earth, a free virtual rendering of the entire planet — including the ability to zoom in down to street level using satellite imagery and 3D photos. You can also look at historical data, find directions between two places and import “geotagged” photos and videos to see where they were taken. Take a look outside of the Earth’s atmosphere or zoom deep into the oceans. This free Google offering is stunning, powerful and versatile.
organize & share photos
You likely have hundreds of digital photos and videos stored on your hard drive and Windows Live Photo Gallery can help you organize, edit, view and share these memories. “Tag” a photo with someone’s name (such as “Maya”) and the program will scan the rest of your photos and look for her face; do this for all your friends and family and you can quickly find who you’re looking for by typing in the person’s name. You can also edit and add special effects or use the Photo Fuse feature that lets you replace one part of a photo with a better one – such as a picture of your spouse smiling nicely instead of looking down in that family portrait.
Try iTunes software
Even if you’re not an iPod, iPad or iPhone user, there’s a ton of functionality built into Apple’s free iTunes software. From media organization and playback to ripping and burning CDs to streaming radio stations and podcast subscriptions, the free iTunes features a clean and intuitive interface (with Cover Flow support for album cover scrolling) and serves as a gateway to Apple’s awesome online store.
iTunes can handle a lot of media files, yes, but it’s still pale in comparison to VideoLAN’s free VLC Media Player, a piece of software that supports many dozens of audio and video codecs – including ones you might not have heard of (like .MKV and .VOB videos). This lean and mean media player is a must-download for those with huge digital music or video collections. Take a gander at all the audio and video files it supports here.
The new and greatly improved Internet Explorer 9 delivers a fast, pretty and safe web browser. It’s one of the first to offer hardware acceleration, therefore using the computer’s graphics card to bump up speeds. Full support for HTML5 means smooth multimedia performance, such as video, without requiring a plug-in (like Flash). A unified “One Box” fuses the address bar and search window together into one place. And you can “pin” your favourite sites to your PC’s taskbar for quick access.
You’ve probably used free photo editing and sharing tools like Flickr or Picasa, but those who need something more robust might opt for the free GIMP (“GNU Image Manipulation Program”), available for multiple operating systems. With its customizable interface and powerful editing options, GIMP is ideal for both simple editing tasks – such as retouching, cropping, resizing and conversion – or more sophisticated tasks including heavy image manipulation and effects.
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