This is a list of free software programs that I actually use on a regular basis. I’ve included a link and a short explanation of each. The ratings are based on how essential I find the program, ease of use, and a variety of other factors.
If you have an opinion or a suggestion for a program I should be using instead, feel free to leave a comment below.
NOTE: Be forewarned, these are external links. Exercise caution when downloading and installing programs to your computer.
Gmail Notifier alerts you via the status bar when you receive a new email. Unlike Google Talk, which is typically blocked under the umbrella of chat clients, this one can be ran at the office.
Data Management & Backup
A.F.5 is a powerful tool that lets you rename your files individually or in large batches.
Cobian Backup allows you to schedule backups of your data.
Duplicate Cleaner allows you to find and delete multiple copies of files on your computer.
Filezilla Client is a straightforward ftp client.
ImgBurn is a solid burning app if you don’t already have Nero or Roxio installed to your machine.
IZArc is a great free ZIP utility (I also really like WinRAR, but they want $30 for their software now, and I don’t use it that much.)
PDF Split and Merge allows you to break PDF files into multiple PDF files or combine multiple PDF files into one.
TeraCopy gives you greater control when copying or transferring files.
Virtual Clone Drive allows you to mount an ISO file as a drive on your computer.
Graphics & Design
AMP Font Viewer makes browsing the hundreds or even thousands of fonts stored on your computer a breeze.
ScreenHunter is a handy screen capture tool.
Maintenance & Security
Avast is a great free alternative to high priced antivirus programs. I’ve had very few problems with viruses over the years, and I always run free antivirus software. (Note: I used to use AVG Free, but I had a conflict with my router software.)
Glary Utilities (free version) is a powerful all-in-one tool to help keep you clean-up or repair your computer. It includes a disk cleaner, a shortcuts fixer, a registry cleaner, duplicate finder and much more. It also includes a convenient link to system tools like CheckDisk and Disk Defragmenter.
Spybot Search & Destroy searches your computer for malicious software commonly missed by anti-virus programs.
Spyware Blaster restricts the actions of potentially unwanted or dangerous web sites.
TrueCrypt allows you to encrypt files on your machine with a password. Great for financial information or any info the KGB may be trying to track down.
WinPatrol puts Scotty the Windows Watchdog on duty, alerting you anytime a program tries to change filetype associations, introduce an item to the startup list, etc. It also includes a startup manager and a few other features.
Audacity is an audio editor for recording, slicing, and mixing audio.
CDex rips CDs to mp3s. If I purchase an album or an audiobook, this piece of software is my first stop.
MediaCoder, the self-proclaimed “Swiss army knife for media transcoding,” converts between most popular audio and video formats. Great for working with large batches of media files.
MP3Gain analyzes and adjusts mp3 files so that they have the same volume. Also, no quality is lost in the process because the program adjusts the mp3 file directly, without decoding and re-encoding.
MP3 Tag allows you to edit metadata in mp3s and other common audio formats. Includes batch editing and the capability of importing tags from file names or from online databases.
Songbird is a music management tool. You can create playlists, edit tags, and play your music all in one location. However, it loads a bit slowly initially and it crashes occasionally for me, but it has a lot of great features, including the smart playlist.
VLC Media Player plays most multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols. You can also use the “fine” controls to speed up your playback slightly to get through audiobooks and pod casts a bit quicker.
Winamp is a customizable media player. Be forewarned that the version I downloaded comes preloaded with an mp3 file featuring profanity. That’s the only thing keeping this player from getting five stars.
Productivity & Customization
AutoHotKey lets you automate almost any process on your machine by recording keyboard strokes and mouse clicks and playing them back on command.
Launchy is a must-have for pre-Windows 7 machines. Forget about digging through the Start Menu looking for a program or navigating multiple layers of folders to access often-used files. This keystroke launcher will change the way you use your computer.
I use Google Docs (no download necessary) and Open Office to supplement for Microsoft Office. The Microsoft Office Suite is probably worth the investment, though, especially if you can get it with a student discount, but these will get you by in a pinch. And Google Docs makes sharing and collaboration much more convenient.
Texter from Lifehacker.com is a simple-to-use text substitution tool. Use this to type out a long email address or a commonly used phrase in an instant.
Tweak UI allows more advanced users to make tweaks to the Windows interface.
Unlocker is an answer to one of life’s great annoyances. When you have a file that claims you can’t rename, delete, or move it because it is being used by another program, Unlocker allows you to kill the process.