I work in IT and one thing I notice is that a *lot* of people are using Norton security (antivirus/firewall) products. Now there's nothing wrong with that -- most of the time, a trial version came pre-installed on their PC or they purchased Norton from Wal-Mart or Staples because the brand is easily recognized or that's what the salesperson recommended.
I usually make it a point to mention that there are some very good free alternatives to Norton and the other "name brand" products out there, and usually the person is surprised and wants to know more. After all, this would save them $40-$60/yr. on a single piece of software. With the economy being what it is, many people like finding ways to save money here and there.
I thought I would compile a list of free and/or portable software that I frequently use. Portable software usually confines itself to one folder, thus minimizing extraneous files and registry entries that don't always get removed during an uninstall. Portable software can be run from a hard drive, but the main draw is that you can run it from a flash drive as well. You could install FireFox portable on your flash drive and take your settings with you wherever you go (i.e. plug it into your grandmother's computer which only has Internet Explorer, and run YOUR customized FireFox installation with your bookmarks, passwords, cookies, etc.) Portable software can also come in handy when you don't want to (or can't) install software on another computer.
I could go on, but for the sake of brevity let's get to it. Note that there are typically several choices in each category. I've used a fair number of them, and the ones I'll list below are my favorites.
Includes protection against viruses, worms, trojans and dialers. The new version includes basic anti-spyware as well. Good scanning speed and in my experience its detection is better than AVG free. I like this one because its detection rates are good and unlike Norton or F-Secure it does not imbed itself into your system, nor does it take up a lot of system resources. It does have a nag screen that promotes the paid version and pops up about once per day, but this can be disabled.
An alternative to Anti-Vir. Includes protection against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and more. Has individual Shields (IM, P2P, email, etc.) that can be enabled or disabled depending on what you need.
Also check out: AVG, ClamWin (ClamWin is open source, but does not include real-time scanning)
The firewalls built into Windows XP and Vista offer some degree of protection, but many of the 3rd party firewalls do a much better job. Check out this page
for a comprehensive list of firewall products and the results of leak tests.
Comodo Firewall + AntiVirus
Comodo's free firewall achieves even better performance than most commercial firewalls! This bundle includes AntiVirus protections as well, but you can opt to only select the firewall if you feel more comfortable with another antivirus solution.
Outpost Firewall FREE 2009
Spyware removal software:
Tons to pick from in this category; these are only a few:
The classic MP3/audio player in a portable format.
Quintessential Media Player
A great alternative to Winamp that uses minimal system resources. Supports CD ripping and format conversion. I linked to version 4.51 because Quinnware's site only offers version 5.0 which uses more resources. I don't want my music player to be a system hog, which is why I don't use iTunes. I just wanted an audio player, so 4.51 was the best for me. Only uses a few MB even when playing! Overall, I prefer Winamp because it has been my mainstay for the past 10 years or so and I prefer its interface. But QMP is a good choice as well.
Arguably the best free multi-format media player in a portable package. If you have an audio or video file that won't play in Windows Media Player, it'll probably play in VLC and you won't have to bother downloading/updating codecs.
Also check out: Foobar2000, Songbird, Media Monkey, MPlayer
CD/DVD burning software:
Nero used to be *the* choice, but it's usually not free and has gotten VERY bloated since version 6 or so. Let's see if we can find some alternatives.
First and foremost, this software is not just for XP. The latest version supports Windows 2000 all the way through Windows 7! This software handles audio discs, data discs, ISO files, and even Blu-Ray. A lot lighter on resources than Nero, and again it doesn't embed itself into your system like the newer Nero versions do.
Ashampoo Burning Studio Free
Another multi-featured package that also supports CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray discs. Feature set is like that of CDBXP in that it burns audio, data, as well as the creation and burning of ISO files. Officially supports Windows 2000/XP/Vista; I haven't tried this one on Win7.
A very solid program that can be used to work with (and burn) ISO files. It can also burn other types of discs, but as it is primarily designed to work with ISOs, it's a bit more cumbersome to use as an all-in-one solution. It does support CD-Text, which is rare in a freeware app, so if you do choose to burn audio discs with this you will see the song information rather than "Track 01". If your CD player doesn't support CD-Text, it won't matter. For working with ISO files I haven't found anything better, but if audio and CD-Text only matter to you, I present:
Burns CDs with CD-Text. Simple, straightforward program that does a good job burning audio CDs. I use this one to quickly make audio CDs for my car, since if I use CDBurnerXP it only displays "Track 01, Track 02," etc.
Also check out: DeepBurner, InfraRecorder, BurnAware, ISORecorder
File sync software:
There are few things more frustrating than having a virus or hard drive failure cause you to lose all of your work. Weekly (and even daily) backups are recommended to minimize the damage done if you experience a crash, but most people do not back up often enough. There are free backup programs that will accomplish that task as an alternative to manually making a copy on another hard drive or a CD/USB flash drive.
Rather than backup software, what I will focus on here is file synchronization software. This makes it extremely easy to backup files and folders to another hard drive, or to compare two folders and pick up on any discrepancies. For example, if all of your important documents were stored in the "My Documents" folder, you could quickly synchronize that folder with another folder of your choosing on a second hard drive, flash drive, external hard drive, etc. and have an identical copy of your files there. This saves you time from manually copying the files/folder over while only copying the files that have changed.
I find programs like this really handy for keeping my music collection in sync; I have a main repository of MP3s that I add to regularly, and a backup of my music on another drive. When I add music to the main collection I can easily sync what's changed to the other location without having to remember what I added and copy it over manually.
Also check out: Allway Sync, SyncBack, Vise Versa Free
, however, is different. It makes a "clone" of your entire hard drive, including the operating system and all of your files. Assuming the cloned data is stored elsewhere, it can be used to restore your computer in the event that it crashes. However, this process is not typically something most people do on a daily or weekly basis. Disk imaging typically takes longer than a backup because it is all-inclusive rather than backing up only select files, but it can be used to go back to an earlier state. This is similar to the System Restore feature in XP & Vista, except System Restore can't help you if your hard drive physically fails -- it is typically used if a software install or wrong device driver botches your system. One great use of disk imaging is to create an image of your system's hard drive after a fresh installation of the operating system. After installing all of your needed drivers and updates, you can image the disk knowing there isn't a bunch of junk and bloatware on there. If you ever have to restore that image, you'll save so much time not having to manually install the OS, drivers, patches, updates, customize your settings, etc. Imaging is a lifesaver for me at work, but it can definitely have a place in the home as well.
Paragon Drive Backup 9.0
Also check out: Paragon Drive Copy, Easeus Disk Copy
File compression utilities:
Why put up with Winzip/WinRar nag screens? Use these if you need more than what the Windows default unzip utility offers.
Fast, open source, and handles just about any archive format including .zip, .7z, .rar, .gzip, .bzip2, .tar, .cab, .iso, etc.!
Also check out: IZArc, ExtractNow, ZipGenius
File recovery software:
There are few feelings worse than knowing you just accidentally deleted your only copy of a valuable file. These utilities can be used to recover a file you've scrapped from the Recycle Bin, but be careful how you use them! You should avoid writing to your hard drive immediately after you discover you've deleted something that you need to get back, and it's important to try to run the recovery software on a drive OTHER than the one with the deleted file(s) -- otherwise you risk overwriting the old info with new! I like NTFS Undelete as it can be run from a flash drive, thus increasing your chances of recovery and it presents the recovered files in a human-readable format (some utilities can't display the file name which can make locating the desired file(s) difficult).
Image manipulation software:
Think MS Paint on steriods. Paint's capabilities are limited, especially if you need batch resizing, layers, etc. Thankfully there is plenty to pick from in this area!
A powerful, yet easy-to-use image manipulation program that features layers but without the intimidating interface of PhotoShop.
If you are used to PhotoShop or require very powerful/advanced features, GIMP is probably the best free choice. I personally use MSPaint as it's powerful enough for me and I find the GIMP interface a bit intimidating, but then again I have never really used PhotoShop.
Also check out: IrfanView (portable), Picasa
Dock programs/start bar replacements:
Add some eye candy to your computer for launching commonly-used apps.
Sounds like something I left in the toilet after eating at Taco Bell, but it looks much better.
Designed for keyboard fanatics, these programs let you launch programs by typing keywords. For example, launch Internet Explorer by typing "ie" or Outlook by typing "mail" etc. Instantly open your My Documents or Pictures folders by typing "docs" and "pics". Any file, folder, or application can be configured to launch using the keyword of your choice! They aren't as pretty as the docks above, but they can be a lot more powerful when properly configured.
My favorite so far is keybreeze
. In addition to what I described above, keybreeze lets me instantly bring up the weather forecast, play a song, search for files, and much more! There is a rather exhaustive list of features here
Find and Run Robot
Adobe is notoriously slow and bloated. Version 9 seems a bit better, but these programs read all of the same PDF files while consuming much less disk space and memory. I haven't found a single time I've needed Adobe since using one of these!
I used IE to search for some URLs for this guide, and realized once again how slow it is compared to other browsers. Not to mention insecure. Ugh! Do yourself a favor and at LEAST try Firefox if you've only used IE before.
Personally, Chrome has replaced Firefox for me as my primary browser. Firefox is still slighly more compatible, but Chrome is faster and lighter on resources. I am a speed demon so I'll deal without the plethora of add-ons available for FF. They only slow it down anyway. STILL leagues ahead of IE, though!
If you're looking for the best FREE alternative to the pricey Microsoft Office, you've just found it. Contains replacements for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and more.
Open source Word replacement
Awesome Notepad replacement with tons of features; you can have several .txt files open as tabs, a la FireFox or IE7. Has syntax highlighting, drag-n-drop support, macro capabilities, zoom, etc. Once you use this you realize how limited Notepad really is.
Remote access software:
Want to control another PC remotely without pricey products like PC Anywhere? Look no further.
TightVNC (portable available)
Excellent free tool for controlling another PC on your LAN. You can be in bed with your laptop and control your desktop PC downstairs, or vice versa.
Need to control your home PC from work? LogMeIn punches through firewalls to provide remote access to any computer from anywhere. Also very useful if your grandmother calls you for computer help from the other side of the country, assuming you can walk her through the install.
Frees up hard disk space by finding and deleting unneeded files such as temporary files, log files, etc. If you have a lot of programs installed, you may be surprised at how much space you can free up by cleaning out all the junk!
Open source software that allows you to run VMs (Virtual Machines) inside of your host OS. If you are running Windows Vista and have software that only runs on XP, you can create an XP Virtual Machine that runs inside of Vista. Run your software from within the VM and don't worry about keeping an older computer around with XP. I also like to use this software as a sandbox of sorts, as I can install programs inside of the VM without worrying that they will muck up my primary operating system. If an application crashes inside of the VM or contains spyware, it is isolated and the rest of your system is unaffected! Can also be used for testing new software as well as running Linux without dual-booting.
It took a few hours to gather this up for you guys, but I hope it can prove to be helpful for some of you. If you're looking for free software in another category, let me know and I'll see what I can find!