The ten best free programs of 2011

Many sites have “best of year” program lists that are really “best of all time”; so is this one of them? Well, yes and no.

This is a list of the best free software that has either been launched in 2011, or has been significantly improved upon and come into it’s own in 2011 (for a best freeware ever list, check out our Freeware Top 30).

How I chose these: I install a lot of programs, as you might imagine. I do this on my main machine and every several weeks I restore a clean image, so I take note of those programs that make their way back into my system as being a cut above the rest. This is a list of those, or at least 10 that are quite noteworthy.

I also made an attempt NOT to rehash the same old list of titles which everyone already knows.

Best of 2011

Here’s the list; note that the order is arbitrary:

  1. Wunderlist: task management on the PC and on your device
  2. Freemake Video Converter: powerful video conversion that is a delight to use
  3. Listary: real time file filtering of files and folders in Windows
  4. Comodo Programs Manager: monitors programs installs in real time to remove all traces on uninstall
  5. Paragon Backup & Recovery Free 2012: one of the best free disk imaging and backup software
  6. HaoZip: one of the best free zip/compression programs out there
  7. Otixo: ** removed. Click on the link for other options.
  8. TunnelBear: dead simple VPN (Virtual Private Networking)
  9. LibreOffice: advanced, free Office Suite
  10. Cyberduck: all in one FTP, WebDAV, Cloud Storage, Amazon S3 and Google Documents desktop client:

1. Wunderlist: task management on the PC and on your device

More than just a to-do list program, Wunderlist is a sleek, well designed task management app that stores your data in the cloud, giving you access to your lists from your computer or any iOS or Android device. It will also let you share lists; for example you and your spouse can see each other’s house errands or shopping lists, and move items back and forth. Or you can see every item that each of your team members has on their list right from your iPhone while waiting in line at Starbucks, and even have an ‘unassigned’ list for those things that no one is taking on, etc.

Wunderlist makes any other task management program that doesn’t support cloud storage, handheld devices and list sharing simply seem outdated and obsolete. ‘List sharing’ is going to be one of those terms, like ‘tweeting’ and ‘friending’ that everyone will understand in the near future.


2. Freemake Video Converter: powerful video conversion that is a delight to use

This one was released in 2010 but improved so much over the past 12 months to become one the world’s best video conversion programs, free or paid. Combining a tremendous user experience with awesome power under the hood, Freemake raises the bar extremely high. (I also like the fact that their developers were so responsive to every single wishlist item that appeared in my original review of this program).


3. Listary: real time file filtering of files and folders in Windows

A Windows tweak that lets you type a letter or two in Windows and instantly get a filtered list of file and folders matches (see screenshot). I have been using this software for months now, and has become a staple that I put on every machine. It is one of those interface enhancements that you think should have come built into Windows. You will like it.

The free version of this is so good that I often forget that there’s a souped up paid version.


4. Comodo Programs Manager: monitors programs installs in real time to remove all traces on uninstall

Comodo Programs Manager Screenshot2Comodo Programs Manager screenshot1
I know this one will be controversial, with some people reporting errors and problems with it (see the comments section of my original Comodo Programs Manager review); however, I have been using it without problems ever since reviewing it in October, and finding it an excellent tool that delivers what it promises, and does so beautifully. Comodo Programs Manager is what you need if you install and uninstall a lot of software, as I do.

This just may be the uninstall utility that is better than Revo (although I do use both on my machine). It installs itself as a service, and is always running in the background monitoring for program installations; it then records everything that they do on your computer; all file and registry changes, enabling you to uninstall all traces later on. But it also can optionally re-instate (re-install) a program if you want. You might think of it as ‘undo’ and ‘redo’ for program installs. Overall, a top notch program that has won a permanent spot on my machine.


5. Paragon Backup & Recovery Free 2012: one of the best free disk imaging and backup software

Paragon Backup and Recovery 2012 screenshot
Quick: what is the best free disk imaging and backup software? If Macrium Reflect or EaseUs Todo Backup came to mind then let me introduce you to Paragon Backup and Recovery, which I guarantee you will like.

But there’s a reason I say this: we recently did a head-to-head comparison of free disk imaging software (which will be published in the next few weeks), and Paragon’s ‘normal compression’ backup profile had one of the best combinations of backup time to disk size to restoration time of any imaging program. It is also possible the most feature-packed free imaging program, supporting differential backups, data exclusion, scheduling, and simple recovery media creation, to name a few.

Note that (a) you will have to register with a valid email to receive a registration key, (b) the screenshot above is taken from the program’s ‘advanced’ view, and (c) the program is freely available for personal use, but ou will need to purchase a license if you want to use this software in a commercial setting.


6. HaoZip: one of the best free zip/compression programs out there

If you ask a sample of tech-savvy readers to recommend a free zip/compression programs, my guess is that most will say 7-Zip or PeaZip, or one or two others which are in fact based on the 7-Zip engine. Which is fair enough; all of these have various strengths, but if you want a solid, well-rounded, and quite powerful compression software that performs well in terms of compression ratio and speed, extraction speed, support for 64 bit, as well as a solid performance on both high and low end systems, then give HaoZip a try.

I say this because, once again, we tested a host compression programs head to head, and found HaoZip to be a general high performer on most counts (we will publish this comparison on Freewaregenius in the next couple of weeks).

Also look for a little know feature where HaoZip can install an image resizing and conversion function in the right click context menu.

Overall, highly recommended.


7. Otixo: manage various cloud storage services and accounts from a single place

Update: unfortunately the developers have removed the free version of this tool. However, for other other ‘cloud aggregator’ type services that do offer a free version, go here.

It seems that more of our files and data is migrating off the hard drive and onto the cloud with every passing day. Which is why this free web service is so useful. Otixo connects to almost all popular online storage services, such as Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs and others, and lets you perform file operations across different services and accounts as if they were merely different folders in a single file system. I like that it will move files from one account to another without first downloading it to your machine and then re-uploading it. It also lets you share files extremely easily, in the same way irrespective of where they actually reside.

If If you’re just a single Dropbox account type of user this service may not be for you, but if you have multiple cloud accounts all over the place you will love it.


8. TunnelBear: dead simple VPN (Virtual Private Networking)

Ok, so this is a somewhat specialized service that you will only need if you (a) are restricted from accessing the internet at large or certain website by your internet service provider or employer and want a way around this, (b) live outside the US and want to access some web services that are US only (such as Hulu, Pandora, and others), or (c) you live outside the UK and want to access some UK only sites (e.g. BBC iPlayer film & TV, Livestation, etc.)

Tunnelbear is not the first VPN (virtual private networking) service with a free component, but the fact that it is so easy to use (literally two buttons), and that it works so well, and that it is available on iPhone and Android devices makes it a winner in my book. The only drawback is that you can get up to 1.5 gigs of free bandwidth per month, but sometimes you can use Tunnelbear to merely get your proverbial foot in the door, and don’t need to consume its provided free bandwidth (see for example my ‘How to use unlimited Spotify in countries where it is not supported’ post).


9. LibreOffice: advanced, free Office Suite

LibreOffice Screenshto

Aside from an OS and security applications, there are 2 pieces of software that every computer must have: a browser to surf the internet, and an Office suite to do actual work. No wonder Microsoft’s Office is the most profitable software franchise of all time.

LibreOffice, launched in 2011, is an offshoot of OpenOffice.org created by a group of starry eyed developers who wanted an Office suite that is compatible with MS Office and ODF as well as other document formats, and one that is independent of a corporate vendor. LibreOffice is truly open source and supported by a community of users. It also happens to be a fantastic program and one of the most complete and powerful office suites around.

Read the Freewaregenius review If you want to learn more about LibreOffice and how it is different from OpenOffice.


10. Cyberduck: all in one FTP, WebDAV, Cloud Storage, Amazon S3 and Google Documents desktop client

There are powerful free FTP clients out there, such as WinSCP and FileZilla, so it no small feat when a program comes out of nowhere and takes the place of these. Cyberduck is exactly that program.

The fact that is so simply and nicely designed, and that it connects with so many protocols and cloud services helps as well.


Are there other software titles released (or majorly updated) in 2011 that should have been on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.


 
 
 
Samer Kurdi

Samer Kurdi

Has been reviewing software since 2006 when he started Freewaregenius.com
flattr this!
  • Moose

    Great list – checking out Listary now… Just a quick note, your link for it currently points to Freemake.

    StExBar is worth checking out as an Explorer enhancement – using it already for filtering but it takes a different approach and filters within the Explorer window. Adds quite a few other bits that are handy too.

  • StevieG

    I use mediacoder for video conversions. It also supports CUDA acceleration. In addition, it supports Intel Quick Sync found in the newer Sandy Bridge CPUs. I will try freemake which looks easier to use.

  • Samer

    @ Moose: thanks for point that out. I fixed the link!

  • austin316gb

    Great list and an excellent addition to your Freeware Top 30.

    Overall (meaning both these lists) I think your missing Calibre which for me is an amazing piece of software (although I suppose not necessary if you don’t use ebooks).

    Also, and in my opinion more importantly, PotPlayer is missing. It’s been mentioned in comments previously but PotPlayer is now a much better media player than The KM Player, especially since the update to version 3 which I find has started on the slippery slope into bloatware. The new FLASH media browser thing is awful and it’s nowhere near as smooth as previous versions. PotPlayer is now streets ahead and will even play back bluray discs, something I don’t believe is offered in any of the other media players.

  • jim

    awesome post. love cyberduck!

  • Seba

    Great and unique idea for a list! Thanks. I’ll try Listary ASAP.

  • http://versatile1.wordpress.com Versatile

    I love 7-zip, but will definitely check out that unzipping program you mentioned above.

    I’m also in love with a VPN gaming program called Tunngle, similar to Hamachi or Gameranger, except the beauty of it is I can play any old LAN game over the internet with my friends or just other gamers. With the built in community forum, wiki, and video search feature, it is by far the most sophisticated and feature rich VPN gaming program out there.

    For anyone that loves old school (or new school) games that have LAN component, check out Tunngle.

    Also, ever try Evernote? That is a nice program that I use to keep track of misc knowledge, notes, and to do tasks all in one nice little program. xD Happy holidays and cheers!

  • Grateful

    Great list and this site continues to be my favorite of its kind on the net…thanks! CPM (so far) has worked like a charm and it has replaced my former favorite, Advanced Uninstaller Free.

    Haozip is the other surprise on your list. I tried it before when the interface was mostly in Chinese but went back to 7zip when a couple of major bugs showed themselves. THIS version seems to have fixed them and it, too, is now my favored choice.

    Thanks again for all your work!

  • Mauro

    You also try Asana for task/project management. Thanks for the Otixo one ;)

  • Pingback: TV AdZ Store | Best Computer Tools

  • freewarelover

    Thumbs down to commercial freeware that is no more than nagware to upgrade to paid software.

    • Samer

      @ freewarelover: thumbs down to comments that add no value and complain about a glass being not half, but three quarters full. I stand by all the selections above; been using them for months.

  • Dan

    I use HaoZip in my laptop, where I have an admin account, but use 7zip at the office where I have a standard (non-admin) account. HaoZip doesn’t seem to like standard accounts cause it kept complaining about not being able to access user profiles.

    Freemake is great, I use the video downloader and converter a lot.

    I use Softmaker Office 2010 (not yet freeware) but I do keep a copy of LibreOffice just in case (even though I haven’t needed it for a year now).

    The others in the list look promising, I’ll be sure to try some of them in the coming weeks.

  • http://tincanland.wordpress.com/ tincanman2010

    I think I’d give on computers entirely if my Everything stopped working.

    I also use quite a few others regularly, and would especially hate to be without CintaNotes, FreeFileSync, Thunderbird, Bulk Rename Ultility, MP3 Tag, etc (plus some listed above, of course)… but they all have reasonably credible alternatives. Without Everything to search for a song on my PC and externals, I’d forget why I wanted to hear it by the time the search finished.

  • Mike

    Tunnelbear do not support Android and the Iphone/ipad is only in Beat and only available for paying costumers.. Should be noted in the text, as I would say that stoped me from using it.

  • John

    Comodo Programs Manager: Good in theory, terrible in practice. I have never seen a blue screen in windows 7 until I used this program. A search in their forums reveals that I am not the only one.

  • http://None ER

    SAMER re your jumping down his throat (see below line) and not the first time your thin skin has shown through. His comments have value – too many crippled programs in sheep’s clothing out there these days. Way too many. Drop the God-like attitude and give others their opportunity to express themselves. Your put downs are sucky. Rise above your thin skin. Your use of the programs does not necessarily equal the GH seal of approval for everyone else. BTW run a spell check on your stuff — “Help me avoid comment SPAM; please asnwer the question below.” [asnwer = answer].
    ================================================
    @ freewarelover: thumbs down to comments that add no value and complain about a glass being not half, but three quarters full. I stand by all the selections above; been using them for months.

    • Samer

      @ ER: I encourage you to find another website whose author’s skin is the thickness you like.

      But perhaps I was hard on Freewarelover; my annoyance was at the lack of specificity; not criticizing program x, but throwing out a general posturing statement, which I do not like because it leaves no room for a thoughtful response.

      Overall I am very happy with this list and stand by it.

      @ John: I am aware that some people have had problems with CPM, but I did install it on several machines and it works great for me. When I put it on this list I was assuming that whatever bugs there are currently will be eventually ironed out.

      @ Dan: thanks for sharing that distinction between HaoZip and 7 Zip in terms of admin privileges.

      @ Mike: I don’t use TB on my iPhone so I was not aware that it is a paid app, and I thought they did support Android as well. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • http://None ER

    Samer – your “@ ER: I encourage you to find another website whose author’s skin is the thickness you like.

    But perhaps I was hard on Freewarelover; my annoyance was at the lack of specificity; not criticizing program x, but throwing out a general posturing statement, which I do not like because it leaves no room for a thoughtful response.”

    My response. You just proved my point – your skin is too thin by encouraging me to leave. An evaluator is supposed to be objective and accept the plus and minus from the public (within the realm of social good manners). If you put a comment section in accept them with grace – keep your irritation offline – go kick the mental dog and move on. Obviously, if the readers fill it with expletives or the like then block them for the sake of the kids.

    Again, please fix the typo “Help me avoid comment SPAM; please asnwer the question below:” It suggests that you are careless in your typing and if so you may be careless in your evaluations. I like this site, it provides a great service in these recession times.

    Curious – who started this site, are you the owner or a paid/volunteer evaluator?

  • chris

    Thank you! I am now using Haozip and Otixo, will try Paragon as well.
    Keep up the good work and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

    • Samer

      @ chris: you’re very welcome. Happy new year to you as well!

  • zzc

    I am surprised that no mention was made that Otixo is only offering users a “beta testing service”. According to their Service Agreement: “Otixo grants to Beta User use of the Services for a period of ninety (90) days after the Effective Date (the “Test Period”) for evaluation purposes only.” Doesn’t this disqualify it as freeware? IMHO, it does.

    • Samer

      @ zzc: hmm.. Indeed it does. I might need to remove it from the site, which is a shame. Where did you read this zzc? I am scouring their site for more info but haven’t found anything.

  • zzc

    The beta service agreement can be found under “Terms and Conditions” at the bottom of the Otixo main page, or by using the direct link: http://otixo.com/licence.html

  • bobsobol

    I was using CyberDuck in 2003 when it supported most of that. Not sure why it warrants being a 2011 special… but I was using the MacOS version, so maybe the Windows version is finally mature. IDK.

    From my point of view LibraOffice is simply a re-branding of OpenOffice.org after the old Sun license has fallen to Oracle, who aren’t so liberal. I would recommend KingSoft Office 2012 free, (not professional) which is free for any purpose, or the personal version of KSO 2011, which is also free for personal use, with a few more restrictions. Unlike Libra/Open KingSoft is free beer, not free speech.

    http://www.kingsoftstore.com/

    There is nothing new about it for 2011, but I still prefer PFMAP to any other Zip handler, because I can run programs inside Zips, Zipxs, ISOs and other archives and image files without mounting to a drive letter or extracting them to a folder first. It’s freeware, and partially open source.

    http://www.pismotechnic.com/pfm/ap/

    While you mentioned that a decent web browser is essential for any PC, you didn’t list one. Can I recommend Windows users consider PaleMoon, a specific (but still FOSS) Win32 / Win64 build of the Firefox browser with considerable attention given to optimising the areas of Windows which are not like most other OS that Firefox supports, which tend to follow POSIX standards. This has lead to considerable JavaScript and rendering speed increases. It has also been through many upgrades in 2011, just as Firefox it’s self has, but has also started to allow some classic Windows standards to be retained in it’s development line, while the root Firefox team are doing away with following Microsoft UI standards and making a single standard across systems… so Windows users can think of PaleMoon as Mac users think of Camino or Debian users consider IceWeasle.

    http://www.palemoon.org/

    ReactOS, the free, open source “Windows Compatible” OS has had some major love this Google Summer of Code. While it’s still “beta”, doesn’t support NTFS or multiple user accounts, it is becoming a solid OS for certain embedded applications, or older PCs that need a light alternative… provided you are knowledgeable enough and can accept it’s imperfections.

    http://www.reactos.org/en/index.html

    Freemake and Otixo look great, I’ve been using Handbreak, and various cloud mounters that I’m not completely happy with, so I’ll be checking those out. Thanks! :D

  • SCBright

    Thanks for this post! I tried Listary, a very useful app.
    Downloaded the free edition and translated it into my own language. As a gift for the translation I receive from Listary support a Pro key.

  • mlim285

    Tried a few of your best list items and they worked as expected. Thanks for posting. more power to you!

  • James J

    WOW! Thanks for taking the time to install all of these and offer your honest review. Otixo looks awesome, but I wonder if and what they will charge in the future.

  • Thomas Weybrew

    I have downloaded Paragon Backup and Restore 2012 and the website did not request my email, so when I tried to install, I did not have the product code or registration number. How can I try this program?

  • Thomas Weybrew

    I am trying the Comodo Programs Manager and want to read about the re-install feature but can’t find and mention of it in the program HELP section. Can you direct me?

  • Alienglow

    Thanks Sameer for taking the trouble to compile this list. Just discovered and got hooked to Listary.

    Izarc for compression http://www.izarc.org/
    Once I found this, I stopped looking for any other zip/compression program,

    regards,
    Alienglow

    • Samer

      @ Alienglow: glad you found the list useful. BTW we testted Izarc and it underperformed on many metrics, especially on 64 bit.

  • Dawne

    I just recently found http://www.freewaregenius.com and plan to make use of several of these 10 best free software of 2011 that you have compiled. However I am interested in restoring a clean image on my Dell Inspiron 9300 with windows xp. Can you tell me what steps you have taken to do this? much appreciated.

  • http://AuditLeverage.com Mike Awad

    Hey Samer, awesome list — thanks so much for taking the time to test all these programs. I checked out the feature list and screen shots at Listary.com, but I had trouble identifying a lot of features that aren’t already included in the file browsing features of Windows 7 Professional. For example:
    – In Windows Explorer, what’s the difference between Listary’s search box and the native search box (to the right of the address bar)? Both boxes narrow the file/folder listing as you type.
    – In the File/Open dialog box that comes with Windows 7, you can add commonly used folders to the default list on the right, in addition to the default locations that are shown, which are Desktop and My Documents, My Recent Documents, My Network Places.
    – Show/Hide File Extensions — Even though this setting can be easily accessed from the standard “Folder Options” dialog, maybe Listary offers a quick on/off toggle for it?
    – Change Directory by typing the full path, with auto-complete for folder names and filenames.

    But I definitely do see the value in several features of Listary that don’t come with Windows, such as:
    – the list of recently used folders
    – the list of current opened folders in all applications
    – exporting file/folder listing to a .csv

    Should I ask the vendor (for a less objective view), or can you or your other pro-Listary readers point out what I’m missing?

    • Samer

      @ Mike: just try Listary, its just super convenient, and more intuitive to use than Windows 7 built in features (all you have to do is start typing and your folder contents will be filtered in real time)

  • Julian Locke

    UltraSearch (JAM Software) is a super-fast NTFS-only search facility. It doesn’t search inside files, but it works hundreds of times faster than the Windows built-in search facility, simply by looking up files in the MFT. It can search numerous discs simultaneously, and supports basic wildcards. Yes, it could be more feature-rich, but its speed alone makes it a must-have utility.

    The latest version, 1.61, released in January 2012, seems faster than ever, as it begins to show results as soon as it finds them (whereas in previous versions it would find all solutions before listing them). A complete search takes seconds, rather than minutes or hours, and it is done without storing and accessing a permanent database (as the MFT is already a built-in database). [By the way, I have no hidden agenda; I'm just a happy user.]

  • Julian Locke

    UltraSearch (JAM Software) is a super-fast NTFS-only search facility. It doesn’t search inside files, but it works hundreds of times faster than the Windows built-in search facility, simply by looking up files in the MFT. It can search numerous discs simultaneously, and supports basic wildcards. Yes, it could be more feature-rich, but its speed alone makes it a must-have utility.

    The latest version, 1.61, released in January 2012, seems faster than ever, as it begins to show results as soon as it finds them (whereas in previous versions it would find all solutions before listing them). A complete search takes seconds, rather than minutes or hours, and it is done without storing and accessing a permanent database (as the MFT is already a built-in database). [By the way, I have no hidden agenda; I'm just a happy user.]

  • ????? ?????

    I’d like to take an exception with Freemake Video Converter. I tried many times, but on my Windows 7 sp1 machine this software is not working. First it takes an unsual long time to start, at some point there is no indication on the screen (which can confuse the user to think the program crashed and did not load) but eventually it does start. Problem is whenever trying to convert something it crashes more often than it completes. The few times it did the produced video was distorted or the audio was garbled or both. I can safely say that this program did not work for me, of course this is my experience on my system (which otherwise functions with no problems) – your mileage may vary.

  • http://na Sam

    I love and use Freemake, making software that works and looks good, which is what a lot of free software misses. I prefer 7zip to HaoZip. Rather than LibreOffice, please review Kingsoft Office: http://www.binarynow.com/products/kingsoft-office/. I am surprised that there aren’t more people using this software that are looking for a free office suite; I use it and love it. Kingsoft has a paid version but the free version is fantastic. It looks just like office 2003 (not kinda sorta like Libre office). Also, thanks for recommending Comodo, I will be trying it out.

  • Dan

    @Sam

    Kingsoft Office is decent, and it does feel like MSOffice 2003. Unfortunately it has crappy Office file support (e.g. DOC files lose its formatting), and much worse, the “free” version expires in one year.

  • Adam

    Thanks for the great review…
    Another good software is ST Proxy Switcher for download and manage proxies:

    http://st-proxyswitcher.com

    I’m sure that some of you will fine it very helpful

    Enjoy

  • Dark_Genius

    Great great site you have here !!! I love IT…and i love Gizmo’s too (even better)
    Anyway, WHERE the hell is the comparaison article you promised about the backup tools ?? Easeus vs Paragon and so on ?? you wrote that in december 2011 saying in a few weeks it will be online.
    I am sure MANY readers are looking forward to it !!!!

  • http://www.bramjcomputer.com/ Mahmoud@BramjComputer

    Great List !, i like this list so much, and my fav software is Freemake Video Converter :)
    Thank you so much for this great work and effort, your blog is such great and i will follow it .

  • kell

    Nice list, Samer. Thanks.

    @Sam I tried KIngsoft Office – the paid version – and thought it sucked. The word processor, imho, is limited junkware. I couldn’t work with it. If all you do is write letters, it might suffice. SoftMaker Office, which you can pick up for little more than pennies if you purchase an older version, is very nice. But Libre Office is a gem.