“You get what you pay for is an old adage that implies that if something is “free” it likely isn’t “good”. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to applications for your windows computer!
Firewalls, yep windows has one built and it is much better then it use to be, but if you want to really add some protection, a third party firewall is the next best thing to having a hardware firewall like big companies.
My top pick for free firewall protection application:
Zone Alarm Free Firewall
Want to check to see how well your firewall is working? Check out Gibson Research Corporation’s ShieldsUP to test. They also have lots of other great test applications as well.
Got kids? Want to stop them from getting on to sites on the more seedy side of the net? Well known applications like NetNanny work great but can be seen as a bit pricy, however there are free alternatives.
My top pick is K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat. (The real bonus is they have Smartphone applications too!)
Want to clean and optimize your PC? Get rid of all the “Crap” files on your computer?
My top free application pick is CCleaner.
While we are talking about cleaning, Windows has a built in disk defragmenter and there are a number of paid defragmenter programs like Diskkeeper, but like everything else in this list, there are free alternatives.
My best free defragmenter applications is Defraggler.
OPPS! You deleted a file and emptied the recycle bin and only .0005 seconds after you clicked ok you realized, I really DID need that file. File recovery software has many options out there for you, one of my favorites is GetDataBack, but there are good free tools as well.
The best free applications to recover data is Recuva, the caevet is that you should already have it installed BEFORE you deleted the file since installing risks overwriting the file you want to recover.
Ever have to re-install a program and cannot find the activation/product key for it? Did you know you have an application that can come to the rescue? Belarc Advisor can scan your computer and create a file that has all of that in it, pulled directly from the application!
With a combination of the above tools as well as doing all the software patches and hotfixes from Microsoft and your various applications, your system should stay malware/virus free and running smoothly for the life of the hardware.
Now let us talk about adding function beyond just surfing the net.
The first thing (after getting on the internet of course) people want to be able to do is word processing. The flagship application for this is Microsoft Word, but Microsoft Office unless you’re a student or work for a company that has the Home Use Program, can be a bit pricy. Fear not! There are free alternatives!
Want to be able to create/edit/convert your own audio media files? Audacity is the application for you, it is free and extremely powerful.
Want to be able to use and ISO image as a DVD/CD without having to burn it to a disk first? There is a free app for that! Virtual CloneDrive allows you to mount and run ISO’s as if they were in the ROM drive of your PC. This is great if you burn ISO images of your software install disks to keep backup copies in case the originals get lost or busted. Now you do not even have to burn a disk to re-install, just mount it and go!
Now you’re thinking, how am I suppose to create these ISO backups your mentioned earlier, easy! Use the applications ImgBurn! It is free and supports a wide range of images.
Like to watch video but get tired of Windows Media Player saying you do not have the codec for it or QuickTime showing the video funny? VLC is the answer; it is a small, lightweight, easy to use movie player that is free to boot!
Photo editing, everyone like to do it, even if it is just to crop a photo or make a background transparent. The “big name” tool is Adobe Photoshop, but you can do many of the same things free using a nifty application called GIMP.
Yet another common task people want to do is be able print documents as a .PDF document. This is normally done either via a plugin in your word processor or using Adobe Acrobat Professional, but you can get the same print as .PDF capability by using the free CutePDF application.
While this articles in no way covers every free software, these are the ones that I have used time and time again over my career as a “IT Guy” that not only get the job done (and many times better then the paid version) but gets it done for free. With these software applications, you can turn a $300 netbook in to a secure and really functional laptop without adding a single cent to the price tag.