Windows Desktop Software - Editors Choice Selection - As a Single Page

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See also all Windows desktop freeware listing by category or by user likes below.

 

Windows Desktop Software - Editors Choice Selection Index

To read brief descriptions of the applications, select a Category Group or view all items in one massive list.

 

New and Updated Software

Check out what's new:

New Comodo Backup | New FreeCommander XE | New PrivateFirewall | New HWiNFO | New Locate32 | New Launchy | ToolWiz Care | SearchMyFiles | Axcrypt | Fairstars CD Ripper

 

About

Gizmo's Freeware Top PickThis is the Gizmo's Freeware editors' choice list where you'll find a collection of the very best desktop freeware for Windows from our site. The list now includes 103 applications in various categories.

It's really a "best of the best" list for free Windows desktop applications. Most of the products in this list have been awarded the coveted "Gizmo's Freeware Top Pick" award signifying they are the best free product in their class. We've also included some other outstanding products that have impressed our editors with their usefulness and professionalism.

We suggest you browse the whole list at your leisure as you may be surprised what freeware gems you will discover. The pathologically impatient can use the Category Index above.

Caution: Some of these recommendations involve advanced system tasks like cleaning the Windows registry so be sure to backup or image your system first.

 

This list covers Windows desktop or legacy programs. If you're looking for Windows apps or Metro apps, check out below.

 

Related Links

 

Editor

This software category is maintained by MidnightCowboy. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

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 Best Free Audio and Video for Windows
 

Best Free Audio Editing Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotAudacity -- Download | Review

"It does all the recording and editing I need, and is much simpler and faster to use than a lot of pay products. It easily applies noise profiles and saves in multiple compressed formats."

What's it for? - Excellent free products like Audacity give a professional touch to your recordings. For example, podcasting enthusiasts use them to record, edit, mix, and save sound on their PCs. They may even make entire downloadable shows that sound almost as good as a professional production.

 

Best Free Audio & Video Format Conversion for Windows

Product ScreenshotFreemake Video Converter -- Download | Review

"With Freemake, you can convert most any format of video or audio with this handy piece of freeware, along with DVD's, photos, and even web embedded media from sites like YouTube, Google, and Vimeo. There are lots of presets and quite a few options, giving the software best-in-class capabilities.

The visual cues are easy to follow, pretty much guiding you from start to finish on any conversion task and providing a more user-friendly experience than most other software."

What's it for? - Converters make many different audio and video formats compatible for use with common devices or programs. Most devices will only take a few specific formats; for example, a DVD movie will not play on an iPod without being converted into an MP4 file.

 

Best Free CD / DVD Burning Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotImgBurn -- Download | Review

"Most powerful burning application with advanced features, support for every modern optical disc from CD to Blu-Ray, more than 10 image formats, authoring rewritable discs, etc."

What's it for? - Whether backing up data, preparing an audio mix CD, or creating a bootable Linux disc, finding the right burning software is essential.

 

Best Free CD & DVD Emulation Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotGizmo Drive -- Download | Review

"Support up to 26 virtual drives, create ISO image, burn ISO files or folders to recordable disks, complete with Gizmo Manager and Image Wizard to perform tasks."

What's it for? - Emulation software allows users to run a CD/DVD image directly from a hard disk after mounting the image to a virtual disk drive. This works the same as or even better than the traditional way of running a CD/DVD from a disk drive.

 

Best Free CD Ripper for Windows

Fairstars CD Ripper -- Download | Review

"Fairstars CD Ripper is an excellent utility to rip audio from a music CD in a variety of formats including WMA, MP3, FLAC, OGG, APE, WAV and the not so common VQF"

 

Best Free DVD Ripper for Windows

HandBrake -- Download | Review

"Copy the audio and video content of a DVD to a file in MP4, MPEG, or other video formats. Edit, backup, share, or playback without the need to load a DVD."

 

Best Free Media Centre for Windows

XBMC -- Download | Review

"Highly intuitive and usable features for listening to music, viewing photo albums, or watching digital videos. Organizes your media files intelligently (handling some that Windows Media Center does not), and downloads online information about them. Specially designed for better image and sound quality on big screens or while 'sofa surfing'."

 

Best Free Media Player for Windows

Product ScreenshotPotPlayer -- Download | Review

"A refined version of the KMPlayer with faster startup, less resource consumption, more versatility and stability, and regular updates. It’s intuitive, easy to use, and provides awesome video and audio quality.

PotPlayer has a wide variety of configuration options and settings. Supports most every audio/video format, GPU acceleration, seamless media playback, and autoresume."

High Quality Media Player Alternatives:

  • VLC Media Player: "The Swiss Army knife of media playback software that marvels you with compatibilities and capabilities. Available on multiple platforms (including Mac and Linux)."

  • The KMPlayer: "Special mention -- feature wise it outwits every other media player."

What's it for? - Capable of playing most types of media files, including various digital audio and video formats, CDs, and DVDs.

 

Best Free MP3 Tag Editor for Windows

Product ScreenshotTagScanner -- Download | Review

"Supports basic and extended tags, complete with Music Renamer and Tag Processor. It allows you to preview tag information and cover art from online databases like freedb or Amazon.

Related: If you prefer a more normal user interface then Mp3tag is a good alternative."

What's it for? - Useful for when you need to playback audio files with their tag information shown correctly or to organize a large music collection based on tag information.

 

Best Free Music Creation Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotLMMS - Linux Multimedia Studio -- Download | Review

"Full featured, versatile, and well supported standalone music creator. It lets you choose from many built-in instruments and effects. And it has many forums, wiki style user guides, and tutorials to help you figure out the program features."

What's it for? - Make music with these composer and sequencer programs.

 

Best Free Music Player and Organizer for Windows

Product Screenshot Jaangle -- Download | Review

"Jaangle has an impressive auto continue (or "auto DJ") mode that chooses songs based on many tag categories (artist, genre, all music, etc.). It comes with excellent organizing and download capabilities that enhance the music experience (get artist and album photos, reviews, bios, etc.)

Music players like it achieve a good balance between lightness, resource efficiency, and feature support for music lovers.

If you need more music managing features all in one program, try MusicBee."

What's it for? - Music players like Jaangle and MusicBee serve as MP3 players and play most popular audio formats. As music centric programs, they may inspire you to rip or download music, organize your music collection, or learn more about your favorite artists or songs.

 

Best Free Online TV Viewer for Windows

JLC's Internet TV Viewer -- Download | Review

"A simple, but effective TV streams viewer without much overhead. User ratings help you choose good streams. Get Podcasts, video on demand, reruns of past shows, independent and international networks, and live video streams. Requires Windows Media Player, Real Player, or VLC."

 

Best Free Streaming Media Recorder for Windows

Product ScreenshotJing -- Download | Review

"Comes with an eye-catching interface, and outperforms the competition in the quality of its recorded stream. Allows you to manually select a recording area on your screen, capture images, play videos, save to vendor servers, and create links for public viewing."

What's it for? - If a free web service (such as ZamZar, SplanDoo and YouConvertIt) fails, you can use a recorder like Jing to record streaming media and add it to your media collection.

 

Best Free Video Editor for Windows

Product ScreenshotVirtualDub -- Download | Review

"In the world of video editing VirtualDub has always been there. It's a very reliable program that with the right amount of knowledge can accomplish just about any task. VirtualDub is licensed under the GNU General Public License , meaning you can use it for free. No risk involved, and the whole source code is available if you want it."

 

 
 
 
 
 Cleanup, Tune and System Utilities
 

Best Free Disk De-fragmenter for Windows

Product ScreenshotUltraDefrag -- Download | Review

"It is simple yet has a lot of customizable options through text files and scripts via two mouse-clicks. Not only is the defragmentation super fast, but also you are not going to notice it's working!

You can keep doing your things while UltraDefrag does what was born to do… defrag. It performs so well you gonna want to carry it in your wallet. A lot of varied boot defrag commands. If your goal is to optimize your system startup at maximum, this is what you need."

What's it for? - Defragmenting your hard drive on a regular basis is a sound housekeeping habit. It can greatly increase system performance and relieve stress on your hard drive.

 

Best Free Disk Space Analyzer for Windows

SpaceSniffer -- Download | Review

Analyze disk space; find space hogs.

 

Best Free Duplicate File Detector for Windows

SearchMyFiles -- Download | Review

Detect duplicate files.

 

Best Free File Cleaner for Windows

Product ScreenshotCCleaner -- Download | Review

"Quickly and effectively remove unused or temporary files, unwanted cookies, and other unneeded files from applications." Chosen for Gizmo's 9 great freeware.

Additionally, it can scan the registry for issues, erase, manage the startup, uninstall, and clean system restore points.

Related: Also runs automatically at startup or as a task.

What's it for? - Over time unnecessary files accumulate, which can be removed with a disk cleaner to maintain system performance.

 

Best Free Process Viewer for Windows

SystemExplorer -- Download | Review

Investigate your system: view active processes, end processes, view resource use of processes, and much more.

 

Best Free Program Uninstaller for Windows

Revo Uninstaller -- Download | Review

The Windows control panel has limited uninstalling capabilities, but freeware programs like Revo and ZSoft allow for better deletion of programs by removing many files and registry entries that are usually left behind.

 

Best Free Registry Cleaner for Windows

Product ScreenshotWise Registry Cleaner -- Download | Review

"To decrease the likelihood of causing problems, it allows you to backup the registry before you start and (by default) ignores areas where most registry tricks are played. I caution against changing the default settings unless you have a good understanding of the registry and how applications use it."

Related: If you use registry cleaners such as Wise, CCleaner, Glary, or Revo, be sure to backup and image first.

What's it for? - The effectiveness of registry cleaning is controversial and can lead to the need to completely re-install windows, but for computer savvy users it may help reduce potential conflicts from the leftovers of a few kinds of uninstalled software.

 

Best Free Secure Erase Utility for Windows

Product ScreenshotEraser -- Download | Review

"Highly effective at wiping the free space, leaving behind only unrecoverable nonsense file names on modern size hard drives. It erases the unused disk space (or "free space"), cluster tips (or "slack space"), individual files or folders, and data in the recycling bin."

What's it for? - Normal file deletion doesn't prevent a common file recovery program from recovering your files, so eraser utilities are helpful to permanently delete any personally identifiable or unwanted files to protect your privacy.

 

Best Free Startup Manager for Windows

Product ScreenshotAutoruns -- Download | Review

"This utility, which has the most comprehensive knowledge of auto-starting locations amongst all the startup managers, shows you what programs are configured to run during system bootup or login, and shows you the entries in the order Windows processes them. These programs include ones in your startup folder, Run, RunOnce, and other Registry keys.

You can configure Autoruns to show other locations, including Explorer shell extensions, toolbars, browser helper objects, Winlogon notifications, auto-start services, and much more."

What's it for? - If you have a system full of programs running in the background or a start menu full of near useless tray icons, then startup managers are especially helpful for increasing system performance. Run programs when you want, not when they decide.

 

Best Free System Information Utility for Windows

HWiNFO -- Download | Review

"an excellent system profiler that provides in-depth hardware information for Windows."

 

Best Free Tune-up Utility for Windows

Product ScreenshotToolWiz Care -- Download| Review

ToolWiz Care is an excellent freeware solution. The main tab called Checkup offers the one-click feature, system resource information, and some optional features. Since there is no paid version to upgrade to, all the features are functional.

What's it for? - Intended as an all-in-one PC performance optimizer and tweaker to simplify system tasks that typically require many separate specialty programs.

 

 
 
 
 File and Desktop Utilities
 

Best Free Backup Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotComodo Backup -- Download | Review

"Comodo does offer full backup, incremental and differential as well as Shadow Copy. There are options to choose the level of compression from none to maximum, and the backup format. Types of backup formats include CBU file, simple copy, ZIP file, ISO file, self-extracting CBU file and file sync. "

Related: See here or here for related online apps and services.

What's it for? - The intention of file based backup software is to backup important data you create. Use backup software to save document files, browser favorites, pictures, videos and other data, documents and media. Some may perform imaging or cloning, most will not create a system startup disk to restore from.

 

Best Free Data Recovery Utility for Windows

Mini Tool Power Data Recovery -- Download | Review

Recover data after accidentally deleting it.

 

Best Free Desktop Search Utility for Windows

Locate32 -- Review

"Locate32 uses databases to store information about directory structures and uses these databases in searches."

 

Best Free Drive Imaging Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotMacrium Reflect Free Edition -- Download | Review

"A very solid application that is great at what it does. It offers a convenient and easy way to schedule backups with the XML definitions files via the GUI. The program now has capability, the possibly unique of free imagers, of cloning your working, running system, very very handy. It's already made my life easier."

Related: For guidance on drive imaging, see Gizmo's three part article, encouragingly named "Never Re-install Windows Again" -- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

What's it for? - Disk Imaging has rapidly become a must have tool for most users because of its convenience, speed, and ease of use. It nearly eliminates any reason at all for going through the painful process of completely reinstalling, re-updating, and re-customizing Windows. A user can quickly recover from a system crash or a bad virus infection by simply restoring to a backup image.

 

Best Free File Archiver or Zip Utility for Windows

7-Zip -- Download | Review

Archive files/folders to better transfer, store, and organize your data. Chosen for Gizmo's 9 great freeware.

 

Best Free File Comparison Utility for Windows

WinMerge or KDiff3 -- Review

"Compare and merge the differences between two (or more) versions of the same text file, or detect variations between two different sets of data."

 

Best Free File Copy Utility for Windows

FastCopy -- Download | Review

"FastCopy is the Fastest Copy/Delete Software on Windows."

 

Best Free File Encryption Utility for Windows

Axcrypt -- Download | Review

AxCrypt provides secure AES-128 encryption of single files using passwords, and optionally key-files as well, which AxCrypt can generate for you. Usage is wonderfully simple. To encrypt a file or files in a folder, just right-click the file or folder and select "encrypt". Simply double-clicking an encrypted file lets you edit or view it with the program of your choice (you must supply the password). Closing an open file automatically re-encrypts the file. Self-decrypting files are also supported, removing the need to install AxCrypt to decrypt.

Related: Learn about other important steps/cautions beyond encryption here.

What's it for? - Encryption is normally used to protect highly sensitive documents, but it's a good way to stop people from looking at your personal stuff.

 

Best Free File Manager for Windows

FreeCommander XE -- Download | Review

"The Beta version of the new FreeCommander XE is the top pick for this year. FCXE has an elegant and user friendly UI. With a 2 pane interface and shortcuts available along the vertical and horizontal toolbars, there’s a lot to love here. The file manager provides one touch access to most of the system directories, desktop items, start menu and control panel items."

What's it for? - Replaces the simplistic Windows Explorer, allowing for better customization, tabbed browsing panes, and more features.

 

Best Free File Rename Utility for Windows

File Renamer Basic -- Download | Review

"Rename your files for organizational purposes, including your MP3 libraries and digital image collections."

 

Best Free Folder Synchronization Utility for Windows

Product ScreenshotFreeFileSync or Allway Sync -- Review

"FreeFileSync is a solid contender here. The thing I like the best with this utility is its very clear and informative interface. The preview is very easy to understand, and file collisions and deletions are more readily recognizable than many other sync programs.

Allway Sync is my second recommendation. It is a very well rounded product with loads of features. It has a very robust filter and rule set and definitely has the edge here over the other previously reviewed products. It also offers support for FTP, scheduling, and auto syncing."

What's it for? - Synchronization utilities are important in helping you keep identical versions of your files or folders, say, on both your home computer and office computer.

 

Best Free Onscreen Keyboard for Accessibility for Windows

Click-N-Type -- Download | Review

"An excellent free OSK that rivals many commercial OSKs in the accessibility space. It is highly functional and very customizable, but isn't terribly pretty and the breadth of options may be a little daunting for some users."

 

Best Free Onscreen Keyboard for Security for Windows

Neo's SafeKeys -- Download | Review

"A virtual keyboard for security. Security-focused OSKs offer protection against malicious software, but read the article for accessibility OSKs that offer more functionality as keyboard replacements (without the security features)."

 

Best Free Partition Manager for Windows

Product ScreenshotMiniTool Partition Wizard -- Download | Review

"With an easy to use interface and fast performance, it aims to be a one-stop application. Performs many basic tasks of resizing, creating, deleting, moving, formatting, copying (disks or partitions), etc.

Also includes extra features like wiping (disks or partitions) and recovering partitions (detects previously deleted partitions and restores them with all data intact)."

What's it for? - Some uses include (1) separating user files from system files, so you can image the operating system (reimaging or reinstalling when needed) and leave the user files intact. (2) Creating a multi-boot computer (that has an option, say, between Linux or Windows) with separate partitions for each operating system.

 

Best Free Virtual Desktop Manager for Windows

Dexpot -- Download | Review

Organize your applications over several virtual desktops or work spaces, and work more efficiently and comfortably.

 

Best Free Program Launcher for Windows

Launchy -- Review

"Provides a more efficient way of running programs than by using the Windows Start Menu or having your desktop littered with icons."

 

 
 
 
 Internet, Email and Networking
 

Best Free Bittorrent Client for Windows

Product ScreenshotTixati -- Download | Review

Tixati is the top pick this year as it runs fast, offers a lot of information and the most appealing interface in a very efficient package, RAM and CPU wise. Tixati always seems to be in active development and the developers are receptive to users input. The wide variety of layout options are indicative of their responsiveness to users. Tixati has all the features that an average user wants”.

Related: Optimizing Tixati for Speed and Optimizing Bittorrent Clients

Learn more about Bittorrent here.

What's it for? - Bittorrent quickly became an important download format for its speed, efficiency, and cheapness in distributing content over the Internet.

 

Best Free Download Manager for Windows

Product ScreenshotFree Download Manager -- Download | Review

"A popular download manager and a good choice for its stability, nice user interface and support for various browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari."

What's it for? - There comes a time when you are downloading a large file and the download stops part of the way through. Specialized download managers like Free Download Manager will allow you to resume a download, start several concurrent download sessions, and dramatically improve download speed.

 

Best Free Email Client for Windows

Product ScreenshotMozilla Thunderbird -- Download | Review

"Intuitive user interface and highly customizable and expandable through add-ons. More secure than Outlook Express and, unlike the latter, is still being actively developed."

What's it for? - In addition to sending and receiving email, email programs like Thunderbird can manage your contacts and calendar, read news groups and RSS newsfeeds, and even integrate with various web-based mail systems like GMail and Hotmail.

 

Best Free FTP Client for Windows

Fire FTP -- Download | Review

"With a robust feature set, ease of use, and browser integration, FireFTP should serve the needs of all but the heaviest power user. FTP clients enable fast bulk file transfers; essential for website management."

 

Best Free HTML Editor for Windows

KompoZer -- Review

"Includes WYSIWYG editors for non-technical users who want to create an attractive web site, but also discusses HTML text editors for programmers or for anyone comfortable with coding raw HTML."

 

Best Free Wi-Fi Network Finder Utility for Windows

Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector -- Download | Review

"A Wi-Fi network finder helps mobile users see the available wireless networks in an area. It also helps you identify the strongest wireless signals and the SSID of an access point. For example, it may help you solve slow and unstable connections that are due to overlapping signals."

 

Best Free Password Manager or Web Form Filler for Windows

LastPass -- Download | Review

"LastPass is a one of a kind product. Most password managers are either online or software only. It is the combination of web service and software. With the web service you can access your data anywhere."

 

Best Free Remote Access Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotTeamviewer -- Download | Review

"Teamviewer is very reliable, allows both attended and unattended control and has great features. There is a portable version of the viewer if you want to use an application or they also have a web-based control site that requires no installation to remotely control computers."

What's it for? - Remotely administer another computer for off-site troubleshooting or for accessing your home PC while traveling.

 

Best Free Telnet/SSH Terminal Emulator for Windows

Dave's Telnet -- Download | Review

"Provides a telnet or SSH connection to UNIX like servers with a fast no-frills connection."

 

Best Free Web Browser for Windows

Product ScreenshotGoogle Chrome -- Download | Review

"The latest figures at StatCounter show that we have a new king in the browser market worldwide in terms of popularity. And with good reason as it offers the best mix of features, with broad extension support, of any of the browsers. Based on the open source WebKit engine and Google's V8 Javascipt engine, Google Chrome has emerged as one of the fastest browsers available across multiple benchmarks. It's also highly competitive in features and has ground breaking technology support."

 

 
 
 
 Office and Productivity
 

Best Free Finance Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotGnuCash -- Download | Review

"Helps you keep tabs of your budget without complicated features commonly used in commercial personal finance applications. If you're looking for a quick education in double entry accounting, look no further than GnuCash.

The program has a reporting and graphing module that generates a full suite of standard and customizable reports. On the downside, it doesn't track stock price movements automatically and doesn't have built-in encryption."

Related: See here for related online apps and services.

What's it for? - Eases you into accounting equations (without having to create custom spreadsheets on your own).

 

Best Free Genealogy or Family Tree Software for Windows

Legacy Standard -- Download | Review

"Legacy standard is fairly easy to use, flexible, and has plenty of capabilities. The free version supports family, pedigree, and index views. You can easily navigate to younger or older generations simply by clicking on the individuals".

 

Best Free Office Suite for Windows

Product ScreenshotWPS -- Download | Review

"WPS Office Free is ideal for those familiar with Microsoft Office 2003 prior to the creation of the 'ribbon' featured in 2007. It will let you feel perfectly at home. To say that it is similar to Microsoft office would be the understatement; they are practically identical."

Related: If you want an online or "cloud" suite, try Zoho (includes helpful collaborative features, support for many document formats, and tabbed document editing)."

What's it for? - Free substitutes for MS Office like this go a long way to meeting the needs of home users, small businesses, and many others.

 

Best Free PDF Reader/Viewer for Windows

Product ScreenshotPDF-XChange Viewer -- Download | Review

"Loads reasonably fast, can print PDFs, allows basic annotation without watermarking, good text clarity, allows you to fill and save Adobe PDF forms, extract text and images, magnify text, and export PDF pages or documents to BMP, JPEG, TIFF, PNG formats."

What's it for? - Third party readers like PDF-XChange help you to replace the slow and bulky Adobe PDF Reader.

 

Best Free PDF Tools for Windows

Product ScreenshotPDFill PDF Tools -- Download | Review

"Nice and clean user interface covering most functions. Includes merge, split, reorder, rotate, header and footer with page number, watermark, encrypt and decrypt, convert PDF to images or vice versa, convert PostScript to PDF."

Related: See here for related online apps and services.

What's it for? - Some programs in this review are designed to combine merging, splitting and other capabilities in a single application (like PDFill), but some perform a more specific task (see the Specific Tools section in the review).

 

Best Free PDF Writer for Windows

Product ScreenshotBullzip PDF Printer -- Download | Review

"BullZip in its latest version is a very solid program that has, over time, proven to be a top performer". Requires GhostScript and .NET." Bullzip was chosen for Gizmo's 9 great freeware.

What's it for? - PDF writers act like a pseudo printer on your system. When you want to create a PDF document from pretty much any application you just choose to print it to the PDF printer and it creates a PDF document.

 

Best Free Personal Information Manager for Windows

Pimero Free Edition -- Download | Review

"It offers the full range of PIM functions -- appointments, events, reminders, tasks, contacts, email, and even webfeeds -- and an attractive, well-organized user interface."

 

Best Free Project Manager for Windows

Open Workbench -- Download | Review

"Like Microsoft Project, it's best suited to large scale projects that justify the time it takes to learn the product (users with simple needs might want to read the article for less feature-rich project managers). Key features include project planning, scheduling, resource management, project review, and more. "

 

Best Free Software Suite for Windows

LiberKey -- Download | Review

"Liberkey has 311 portable applications and three default suites. Choose a suite you like and then add apps to suit your taste. It automatically updates most of your favorite portable apps, making it a great way to keep them in one place."

 

Best Free Text Editor for Windows

EditPad Lite -- Download | Review

"General purpose text editors with more features than the Windows Notepad, such as tabbed interfaces, unlimited undo, and block functions." Chosen for Gizmo's 9 great freeware. Programming editors like Notepad++ are here.

 

Best Free Word Processor for Windows

Jarte -- Download | Review

"Jarte deserves the word courageous for its clean fresh looks. Task oriented is in and menus are out. It gives you tabs and a wealth of options in formatting; fonts, paragraphs, page, header and footer. There's an outline function, indenting and outdenting, and a format brush to easily transfer formatting."

 

Best Free World Clock for Windows

Wim's World Clock -- Download | Review

"A light world clock with a choice of virtually any number of time zones."

 

 
 
 
 Photos & Graphics
 

Best Free CAD Program for Windows

Google Sketchup -- Download | Review

"Affords the novice designer a veritable dream come true of innovative tools and pre-programmed add-ons. It allows you to create surfaces from lines, and extrude 3D solids from surfaces. If you are willing to learn insatiably complex software, CAD (or Computer Aided Drafting and Design) lets you see your imaginings materialize."

 

Best Free Digital Image Editor for Windows

Product ScreenshotPaint.net -- Review

Paint.net is a very good choice for mid-level photo retouching because of its excellent design and attractive interface. It also has options and tools comparable to commercial software, but it requires you to install Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 or newer."

Related: See here or here for related online apps and services.

What's it for? - Basic editors allow you to quickly make small adjustments to the overall lighting, colors, and tones of your images (along with other tools: cropping, sharpening, red eye correction). But editors like Paint.net offer more advanced tools (layers, captions, shapes, selective adjustments, artistic effects, etc.). Read the review for editors like GIMP that are comparable to professional programs.

 

Best Free Digital Image Viewer for Windows

Product ScreenshotZoner Photo Studio Free -- Download | Review

"With an intuitive and customizable interface, it's perfect for the needs of average users. It can seem a bit professional and daunting with many menus, tabs, and icons. But it comes with comprehensive help and numerous tooltips.

It has the ability to temporarily rotate pics and straighten them by drawing a horizontal line. It supports geotagging, reads many formats, generates thumbnails in a blink, stitches panoramas, makes 3D pictures, and much more."

High Quality Image Viewer Alternatives:

  • XnView: "It's probably the most versatile of all viewers because it can read nearly 400 types of graphic files and convert any of these to more than 50 formats."

  • IrfanView: "This is a first-class product, an amazingly capable application and quite fast at displaying images. It offers plenty of functions for editing, converting, batch processing, slideshow exporting, etc."

What's it for? - Apart from the basic viewing and browsing functions, digital image viewers offer loads of features like editing, filtering, batch processing, organizing, publishing, etc.

 

Best Free High Dynamic Range (HDR) Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotLuminance HDR -- Download | Review

"Luminance HDR is the best option if you want to experiment. Nine different tone-mapping algorithms, that means - if you want 'that' particular HDR look - there's a fair chance you'll achieve it with Luminance HDR. More realistic? Sure. A little like a drawing? Sure. Maybe surrealistic? It's all here."

What's it for? - HDR photography combines several photos of the same scene, taken at different exposure settings, into one photo. The result is a correctly exposed and more dimensional single photo.

 

Best Free Paint Program for Windows

Project DogWaffle -- Download | Review

"Any one of these in the review will definitely satisfy the inner artist in you. My requirements include graphic tablet support and the feel of natural paint on a digital canvas, but support for animation or booklet pages is a plus."

 

Best Free Photo Organizer for Windows

FastStone -- Download | Review

"Organize photos and videos, import photos from cameras, send photos to many devices, and make quick edits (sufficient for what amateur photographers need)."

 

Best Free Photo Slideshow Software for Windows

Photo Story -- Download | Review

"Both rich in features and easy enough for most average users to create a slideshow of photos. Turn multiple images into a standard video file and make your still photos come to life with animated transitions, colorful text, background music or voice narration."

 

Best Free Screen Capture Utility for Windows

Product ScreenshotScreenshot Captor -- Download | Review

"It supports multiple screens, full screen, window, rectangular area, and fixed area captures from either hot keys or from the programs menu. The cursor can be included or excluded. It's the only capture facility that can take a self-portrait. The software can acquire images from a scanner."

What's it for? - As an alternative to the utilities that come with windows, free screen capture products often cover many useful features and functions: capture full or selected areas, auto detect windows, snap scrolling windows, allow delayed captures, etc.

 

 
 
 
 Security and Privacy
 

Best Free Anonymous Surfing Service for Windows

Product ScreenshotCyberGhost VPN -- Download | Review

"A VPN (Virtual Private Network) based in Germany, providing a basic, attractive, and user-friendly design. It uses 128-bit AES encryption on all connections to ensure a high level of anonymity, and uses data compression to make connections faster.

The free service allows 1 GB a month, which is enough for normal surfing. You must register in order to use this service."

What's it for? - Anonymity services safely transmit information with little risk of local interception, making them ideal for surfing on open Wi-Fi networks or in hotels while traveling.

 

Best Free Antivirus Software for Windows

Product ScreenshotAvast! Free Antivirus -- Download | Review

"Avast has the most features of all free antivirus programs, including full real-time capabilities (web, e-mail, IM, P2P, network, script, and behavior shields), boot-time scanning, a site ratings plugin, and a light sandbox.

It has high detection rates of malware and is light on resources. But the automatic sandbox may confuse average users (by default a pop up asks you whether an application should be sandboxed or not)."

High Quality Alternatives:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials: "A great choice for average users because of minimal user interaction (automatically updates and removes threats). Detection rates are very good (particularly for rootkits). More impressively, MSE has few false positives and good removal of existing malware." Chosen for Gizmo's 9 great freeware.

  • Panda Cloud Antivirus: "Panda is also an excellent choice for average users with a simple interface and minimal user interaction (automatically updates and removes threats). Detection rates are very high (but detection of real-world threats is slightly lower than the competition). A behavioral blocker and web protection help increase your security."

Related: Antivirus programs aren't a magical incantation to banish evil spirits, so we recommend using safe practices (and taking a look at our security guides ).

What's it for? - Provides an essential layer of protection from a multitude of virus, trojan, worm, spyware, adware, and rootkit infections. Our top picks have reasonably good detection rates for all forms of malware. Use one (and only one) antivirus program for real-time protection.

 

Best Free Browser Protection Utility for Windows

Product ScreenshotSandboxie -- Download | Review

"Within the virtual sandbox provided by Sandboxie, your browsing (or other activities that you sandbox) are totally isolated from the vital portions of your PC. Any virus, trojan, worm, spyware or adware threats that 'infected' your PC while browsing will be eliminated.

It can cause problems on some PCs, so backup before installing.

Related: Alternatively, you can isolate your browser and other Internet facing applications with GeSWall. It provides excellent security and is a worthy alternative to Sandboxie."

What's it for? - Browser protection utilities like Sandboxie and GeSWall can greatly increase your defenses against drive-by downloads and other vulnerabilities. Instead of only reacting to malware, they proactively protect your computer.

 

Best Free Firewall for Windows

Product ScreenshotPrivateFirewall -- Download | Review

A former commercial product, Private Firewall is now unrestricted freeware. It is a proactive multi-layer security solution, offering behaviour blocking technology alongside standard firewall protection. Using Behavioral-based Monitoring, it features zero-hour virus, spyware, and malware protection, process and application security, and registry protection, just to name a few. It is definitely a feature-packed firewall/HIPS solution.

 

Best Free Intrusion Prevention and Detection Utility (HIPS) for Windows

Malware Defender -- Download | Review

"In addition to the usual file, registry and application modules, Malware Defender also provides network protection should you choose to enable it, including a connections monitor." If you use a simple firewall (such as the built-in windows firewall), then a HIPS program can be a potent second layer of defense. Read the article for additional lite HIPS options.

 

Best Free Parental Filter for Windows

Norton Safety Minder -- Download | Review

"It is a pleasure to use. For a start, it is the most comprehensive of the free programs. It has filtering and monitoring for web surfing, social networks, email, instant messaging, and contacts. It also handles multiple user accounts which is good for one PC with many users but does increase the work to set up."

 

Best Free Rootkit Scanner for Windows

Kaspersky TDSSKiller -- Download | Review

"Applications that specialize in the detection and removal of rootkits."

 

Best Free Site Link Adviser for Windows

WOT -- Download | Review

Quickly rates sites and links, uses an automatic warning or blocking screen to help you avoid accidentally interacting with potentially bad websites, and provides informative ratings and user comments without censoring the visibility of sites. Read the article for a plethora of ways to improve your online safety.

 

Best Free Software Update Monitor for Windows

Product Screenshot Secunia PSI or Software Update Monitor (SUMo) -- Review

"Secunia scans for insecure software and helps you quickly update risky products like browsers, PDF readers, Sun Java, office software, email software, media players, instant messengers, download managers, P2P clients, etc.

Faster than Secunia's PSI, SUMo is perhaps the best software update monitor for expert users. It adds portable software and isn't restricted to any one download site. However, it doesn't provide direct download links. Warning: download the "Lite" or ZIP/7z versions to avoid the controversial RK and OpenCandy."

Related: We also have tips to follow in our system updates snippet.

What's it for? - Lets you massively check for new software versions, so you can update old software to get the latest features or security fixes. Both of our top picks scan for portable apps too (either automatically or after you set them to scan a custom folder).

 

Best Free Spyware And Adware Remover for Windows

Product ScreenshotSpyBot-- Download | Review

"I tried to install sweetpacks toolbar and Spybot put up a warning.  Spybot's full scan will also check for rootkit malware."

Related: We also have steps to follow in our check for infections snippet.

What's it for? - As anti-virus programs don't detect 100% of threats, anti-malware scanning is still a must. On-demand scanners/removers provide a second opinion and can find unique threats.

 

Best Free Trojan Scanner/Trojan Remover for Windows

Emsisoft Anti Malware -- Download | Review

"Applications that specialize in the detection and removal of Trojans."

 

 
 
 
 
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