The ten best free programs of 2011

44
651

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any other task management program that doesn’t support cloud storage, handheld devices and list sharing simply seem outdated and obsolete.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.