The following is a list of 30 freeware programs that I cannot live without. I wanted this to be the one page a reader can turn to get all the essential free programs they need to install on a new computer. This list doesn’t cover the best free program in every conceivable category, but for those categories that are represented the programs showcased here in most cases, I would argue, are best-in-class.
This list last updated July 17th 2010:
1- Everything: desktop file search that will transform the way you use your PC
2- Launchy: my favorite launcher
3- LastPass: centralized, cloud-based password manager
4. Dexpot: the world’s most advanced free virtual desktop app
5- Imgburn: simple yet powerful CD/DVD burning software
6- Avast: solid, effective free antivirus
7- ThreatFire: powerful, memory-resident AntiSpyware protection
8- Mikogo: easy screen sharing and remote access application
9- Sizer: right click “minimize” to snap windows to pre-defined sizes
10- PeaZip: powerful archiving tool to manage ZIP, RAR, and more than 120 compression formats
11- VUE: a visual environment for ideas, notes, thoughts, and everything else.
12- SuperCopier: accelerate, pause, and resume file copying and moving operations
13- FastStone Image Viewer: a versatile, practical image viewer
14- uTorrent: powerful, lightweight Torrent client
15- Q-Dir: small yet versatile multiple-pane file management app
16- PDF-XChange Viewer: the best free PDF document viewer
17- The KMPlayer: the only media player you will ever need
18- Partition Wizard: partition manager and hard drive maintenance tool
19- Send to Toys: add any folder to Windows’ send-to context menu
20- OpenOffice.org: excellent free MS Office alternative
21- FileMenu Tools: enhance your right-click context menu with a wide range of tools
22- Handbrake: converts DVD’s to media files for your PC, iPhone, or portable media
23- Revo Uninstaller: removes all traces of an uninstalled program
24- Mp3Tag: powerful audio tag management tool
25- DVDFlick: convert video files to DVD
26- WinSCP: powerful FTP client
27- CCleaner: reliable hard drive and registry cleaner
28- FeedDemon: excellent RSS reader with Google Reader support
29- PDFCreator: convert any document to PDF or image formats
30- FreeFileSync: powerful folder comparison and synchronization tool
Some notes before proceeding:
- Download links: for each program are provided at the end of each mini-review.
- Installing software: a lot of software tends to bundle other software, typically Yahoo, Bing, and Ask toolbars, in their installers; the good news is that you can always uncheck these options during the installation and disallow this, so pay attention when you install and uncheck anything you don’t want.
- The sorting order: don’t put too much meaning into it, as comparing most of these programs to each other is very much an exercise in comparing oranges and apples.
- Windows 7 64 bit: all programs listed here are guaranteed to be 64bit Win7 friendly (as well as 32bit XP, Vista, or Win7). In the case that they may exhibits some quirks or incompatibility it is indicated in the text below.
Sounds hyperbolic, perhaps, but I stand by it 100%. “Everything” is a super fast desktop file-search that integrates in the right click context menu. It is fast for the simple reason that it does not scan the hard drive to build its database, but rather uses the raw Master File Table for NTFS drives, which logs all changes made on the partition.
This means that you as the user do not have to worry about whether the database you are searching is up to date, about doing manual re-indexing operations, or about areas on your hard drive that are not included in the database; you just use it and it works. The down side is that “Everything” will not work on non-NTFS formatted drives (take my advice and convert your FAT32 drives to NTFS anyway). It also will not search network drives (although it will search extrenal NTFS formatted drives).
Right clicking “search everything” on folders will soon become your method of choice when seeking, well, anything. And I am happy to report that the context menu entry works on both 32 and 64 bit systems.
“Everything” is relatively low on resource consumption (11 megs on my PC). It works on Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7, 32 and 64 bit.
A close second choice: Locate32; in contrast to “Everything”, Locate32 scans your drive to index, but is super powerful desktop search all the same.
If you hear “launcher” and the image that comes to mind is stacks of organized shortcuts, this program will be a revelation. Launchy looks like a floating search box on your desktop (which is exactly what it is, see screenshot).
To use, simply invoke Launchy (by default, using the Alt+Space hotkey combination) and type in the name of the app you seek in the search box. For example to run a program you would type in the first few letters and Launchy will interactively display matches for programs found on your computer. You are unlikely to need more than a few keystrokes before it narrows down the list of results to the program you seek.
Launchy will index the start menu and quick launch folders for shortcuts (i.e. files with .lnk extensions). You can add places as well as file extensions you want it to further index (e.g. look in “program files” for .exe extensions or a folder where you place portable apps). You could tell it to index any type of extension; for example indexing “my music” for .MP3 files will turn Launchy into an instant local music lookup and launch tool. It can also be used to launch Google searches and do a number of useful tasks. Once I got used to this one I began to wonder how I ever managed without it.
This program will store all of your passwords in encrypted form in the cloud (i.e. on a remote server supplied by the developers), and then let you retrieve them securely when you need them via its Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome extensions. Which is to say it will lock away all your passwords for all your online accounts in a centralized place, and allow you to access them via a single password that unlocks them all.
The reason LastPass is secure is that the data stored remotely is encrypted, which means that it is worthless to anybody who might access it (e.g. the LastPass developers, hackers, etc). The encryption/decryption is done locally on your computer. I am very comfortable recommending this after almost two years of using this and after seeing the kind of critical acclaim it has received (among which is a PC Magazine Editor’s choice award and other accolades). If you need to know more about how secure LastPass is I suggest Googling it, as this discussion has taken place in many a forum and this is not the place for it.
LastPass supports multiple profile for a single page (e.g. multiple Gmail accounts), and will interactively detect any passwords manually entered and ask if you would like to store them in LastPass. It can also optionally detect and fill in forms for you. The last word on LastPass is that at this point I cannot live without it and I install it on all my computers.
> Go here to download. Supports major browsers, including IE, Firefox, and Chrome; alas no Opera support as of this writing.
How would you like a ’tabbed desktop’ where each ’tab’ displays its own programs, files, and icons or even its own wallpaper and display resolution. That’s pretty much the idea behind virtual desktops, and Dexpot is the best freeware virtual desktop program around.
And while most virtual desktop apps will let you relegate specific windows and programs to specific virtual desktops, what I like about Dexpot is that it lets me relegate icons across my different desktops as well, something which no other free virtual desktop app will. This means that I can keep all of my work icons on my first desktop and shift all of my personal icons to the second desktop (as an example). This is managed via hotkeys; e.g. select files and folders and click shift+alt+3, and they will be instantly be teleported out of sight to your third virtual desktop.
Dexpot has a breadth of functionality and is expandable via a plugin architecture. A favorite plugin of mine is SevenDex, which places my virtual desktops as thumbnails on the Windows 7 launchbar (and is simply awesome, see screenshot to the right). For more on SevenDex check out my article entitled “Seven Apps that work really well in the Windows 7 taskbar“.
Imgburn gets the job done, and offers unmatched simplicity in interface. It may not be the most full-featured so-called “Nero replacement” out there, but it will cover all of your CD and DVD burning needs, including burning to CD, DVD, RW, Dual layer, even HD DVD and Blu Ray disks. Imgburn can create and burn disk images in most formats (BIN, CUE, ISO and several others), can make bootable disks, can burn music CDs from audio files (via CUE images, see here), can burn DVD’s from VIDEO_TS folders, allows overburn, just to name several of its features.
Imgburn is also lightweight and offers a portable version. The only drawback it has is that it may require users to be somewhat technically savvy at times in its reliance on building images to perform some operations. It also cannot build multi-session discs (i.e. add data to a disc that already has some data burned onto it), although it can add tracks to image files.
Related: If you want a more user friendly and a more “typical” experience then by all means check out my other favorite CD/DVD burning software: CDBurnerXP.
I had previously written a freeware antivirus comparison article, and two programs stood out, Avira Antivir and Avast. To be sure, this antivirus program comes in at a close second to Antivir for most metrics; however, the differences in performance between the two are so slight as to (probaby) not be statistically significant. Avast presents an advantage in that you do not have to think about the (non)issue of email scanning that comes up with Antivir or worry about any type of nag screen. I feel it easier and more reliable to recommend Avast as my free antivirus of choice because the recommendation comes with less caveats and qualifications, and the program is world-class.
With Avast you can be sure that you very well protected. You will need to register the free version of Avast by obtaining a (free) registration code using a valid email, and the registration process has to be repeated annually. The last thing to mention about Avast is its rather unique interface, which some users find quirky and unintuitive, but which for me is a non-issue.
> Go here to download.
ThreatFire is a memory-resident antispyware protection software that protects in real-time and is low on system resources. This program is geared towards behavior-based protection, which means that it kicks in whenever it senses something suspicious is taking place. Thus is it is (a) less dependent on constant system and hard drive scans and (b) provides good protection against unknown, brand new and (so-called) zero day threats. It is also very effective and provides excellent protection.
The bottom line: use ThreatFire and one of the two antivirus programs mentioned above and you will have all the protection you need, guaranteed, whether or not you also use a firewall program. I will say however that adding a firewall would be a good idea; see below for a free Firewall recommendation.
Note: ThreatFire now works on both 64 bit and 32 bit machines.
Mikogo is the kind of software that will leave your colleagues, friends, customers, and collaborators extremely impressed. I say this because it has been both my experience as well as that of friends whom I recommended it to.
What it is is a free program that will let you share your screen remotely with one or many remote collaborators. It also provides remote access to their computer, whereby you can take the driver’s seat remotely if they give you permission. You can also switch roles at a click of a button such that you are broadcasting your screen or your computer is being accessed, if that is what you need. It also offers the option to video record your session for later playback, send files to participants, and even share a virtual whiteboard for shared scribbles and illustrations.
The main reason I like this software is that you can perform the screen sharing or remote access functions without requiring that your collaborators install software on their machine or register for an account. All they need to do is visit a URL which you send them and enter an access code, which the program will generate for your session. And although your remote collaborators will have to allow a small executable to run on their machine, the entire platform is otherwise browser based .
The other reason I like Mikogo even when such free screen sharing tools have been proliferating is the sense that this software is constantly being improved (while some others seem to have burst into the scene and kind of languished).
Also worth noting is that Mikogo is multiplatform, and is available for PC, Mac, or Linux, so you can share your screen with anyone regardless of the OS that they are using. You will need to create an account using a valid email address.
Related: a close second choice: TeamViewer; highly acclaimed, versatile, powerful.
Sizer lets you right-click on the “minimize” button of a window to select a number of pre-defined window sizes that you can choose from, then instantly resizes the window for you. It is useful for all sorts of everyday, ad-hoc use, but also especially useful if you are a web designer who, say, would like a quick and handy way to resize the browser window to pre-defined sizes.
This may seem a a bit of an odd choice in a “favorite freeware” list, but the reason it is here is because after almost two years since I originally reviewed it, it is still one of the first things I install on my computer (I now firmly believe that this function should have been built into Windows).
Sizer offers a portable version, although it may be that the installer version offers better compatibility with Windows 7 64bit (I’m not quite sure).
I am often surprised as to how frequently I am asked about a good free archiving software, just because there are so many excellent ones (some of my favorites are TUGzip, JZip, and 7Zip). Yes there are still people out there paying for Winzip (I work with some of them), but for the rest of us I would recommend PeaZip, completely free and open source, looks good, integrates well in the Windows context menu,and is quite powerful.
The reason PeaZip is featured on my “best of” page rather than any of the others is that it offers excellent compatibility with both 32bit Windows as well native 64bit Windows 7, whereas some of the others are stuck in a 32bit world and are yet to offer 64bit context menu support (note: 7Zip also offers 64bit support; in fact . And aside from its support for a vast range of compression formats, it is also a full featured archive management program offering archive splitting, joining, conversion, encryption, self-extraction (in 7Zip and Arc formats), and even command line support.
An interesting and easily overlooked feature of PeaZip is the fact that it is a fairly sophisticated file browser, offering advanced filtering, bookmarking, and the ability to “flatten” subfolder views, to name a few features. PeaZip is multi platform (Windows/Linux), and offers a portable version as well.
> Go here to download [portable version also available].
VUE is one of the most interesting free programs I’ve seen in a long time. Although you properly classify VUE as a mind mapping program, it is more accurately a visual environment for working with many different types of information. It also encompasses a Powerpoint-like presentation engine that can create presentations out of mindmaps on-the-fly.
I’ve never really quite understood mind mapping programs, no’r have I ever had any inclination to use them; however, this program has become indispensable to me as a platform for organizing notes and thoughts visually.
It is by no means a perfect program is, and in fact could and should become much better; however, it is innovative in many ways and the more I use it the more I like it, and the more I see the potential that it has to offer. Try it out; chances are you will like it and, like me, come to depend on it.
Note: you will need to register with a valid email to download.
SuperCopier can significantly speed up the process of copying or moving files across drives. This tiny utility (less than 2 megs in memory) runs in the background and kicks in automatically whenever file copying or moving operations are initiated in Windows explorer. Aside from speeding up these operations it will let you pause a copy or move operation and resume it later on, when its convenient.
Once you start using this it is hard to go back. This is especially the case if, like me, you use external hard drive and/or high capacity USB drives to backup your data; in which case SuperCopier can be particularly valuable.
I have previously mentioned a couple of other similar programs in this blog (Copyhandler, TeraCopy), but SuperCopier is the one I would recommend in hindsight. I actually did a little test, transferring about 5 gigs and hundreds of files to an external hard drive using TeraCopy and timing it, then immediately deleting and repeating with SuperCopier; the latter was approx 15% faster.
SuperCopier works well on Windows7 64bit, although I did encounter one minor glitch in that if the files you are copying or moving require administrative privileges the program will likely fail your operation rather than simply ask for a user confirmation.
> Go here to download [portable version also available].
Related: for another similar software that is excellent check out the aforementioned TeraCopy.
First off, if you’re wondering why I am featuring this program rather than Google’s Picasa, the reason is that although I am quite fond of the latter program I personally prefer a straight image viewer minus Picasa’s image library management/web album functionality.
I’ve reviewed quite a few image viewers on Freewaregenius, including many with stylish interfaces and 3D effects (eg. here, here, and here); however if you want a reliable, “workhorse” rather than “showhorse” type image viewer then FastStone Viewer is the program I would recommend.
One of the reasons this makes my top list is that, when viewing images, FastStone employs a simple yet brilliant device in it’s user interface: it displays images using 100% of your screen area, but move your mouse to any of the 4 sides of the screen and various controls appear, only when you need them. Extremely simple but very practical and effective.
FastStone Image Viewer also offers an excellent set of image editing tools and filters, including drawing and annotation tools (the options available for annotation of images are especially useful). It also supports a wide range of image formats.
> Go here to download.
Related: although I prefer FastStone, for other excellent free image viewers (which incidentally are amongst the most powerful you could find), check out IrfanView and Xnview. For other interesting image viewers, check out Viewer2 (with intuitive tagging functions), Vjpeg, and the lightweight First Impression.
uTorrent is a powerful and feature-rich BitTorrent client that nonetheless manages to be very light on resources (less than 11 megs in memory). It has also been recognized for its stability as well as possibly being the fastest out there in terms of downloading performance
I’ve reviewed a handful of Torrent clients on this blog and flirted with a number of other clients; however, this is without a doubt the best torrent client available (free or paid).
Aside from its simple user interface, its stability and reliability, one of its strengths is that it is constantly being developed, and that it has emerged as the de-facto, multi-platform Torrent client that developers of, say, mobile apps and remote-control client use when developing apps that interface with a desktop-based Torrent client.
> Go here to download.
Related: you might want to use PeerBlock, in conjunction to uTorrent. It is designed to make it less likely that your downloads might be tracked back to you if this is something you might be worried about.
Q-Dir is a free file manager /Windows Explorer replacement that provides dual and multiple pane file management and a nice set of features. This program’s strong suite is the very nice user experience it provides (I particularly like the way you can quickly shift across different window pane setups using tiny buttons on the program toolbar). Some of the features it provides include folder and file filtering via search box, saving favorite folders, saving entire “views” (i.e. folder and pane combinations), and browsing compressed archives as folders. Q-Dir can integrate within Windows’ right-click context menu and can be used as a direct Windows Explorer replacement. And although Q-Dir is not as full featured as some other file management programs (such as UltraExplorer for example), I actually used it as my default Windows Explorer replacement on XP because I like its interface and because it is relatively light on resources. Q-Dir can also be run portably from USB.
Related: for another recommend file management program, check out the above-mentioned UltraExplorer.
Every PC needs a PDF viewer, and PDF-XChange Viewer without a doubt has emerged as the best free alternative to Adobe Acrobat Reader. Skip Adobe’s free reader altogether and use this one. Aside from integrating with internet browsers, and meeting all your PDF document reading and form-filling needs, this program provides a good array of PDF annotation tools forms), such as a typewriter tool, text boxes, sticky notes, shapes and lines and even a “stamp” tool to name a few. These tools work with any PDF document, even PDF’s that are not designed to be interactive, and will invariably prove extremely useful.
Note that the free version of PDF-XChange Viewer includes inactive entries in its menus and interface for some of the paid version’s offerings, as some sort of teaser. These can be somewhat annoying and I recommend you go to the settings to remove them (the program will look and feel much better). Go to the “Edit” menu, then preferences then registration, and check the box that reads “Hide restricted ’PRO’ functions in the free version”.
Related: for an alternate excellent free PDF reader, check out Nuance PDF Reader, which includes a PDF to DOC conversion option via uploading to an online conversion engine. Also check out my article on free PDF to DOC/Word conversion options if that’s something you need.
The KMPlayer is a feature-rich, free media and DVD player that will handle any media format that you throw at it.
What’s interesting about The KMPlayer is that it comes with self-contained, internal filters, commonly known as codecs, that it uses to decode and play media files without having to install these system-wide on your machine (which is something that most media players do and which results in these filters taking up resources on your system, sometimes unnecessarily). On the flip side, The KMPlayer can take advantage of any codecs which may be independently installed on your system, if need be.
Related: VLC Media Player is another super awesome media player that will play and stream most everything, and is multiplatform.
This is simply a must-have hard drive partitioning tool. It offers compatibility with both 32 bit and 64 bit systems as well as a bootable rescue version on CD on USB. It is easy to user, has a nice interface, and can perform all the usual hard drive partitioning related tasks, such as creating, resizing, moving, deleting, merging, hiding, and deleting of partitions.
But Partition Wizard also performs a slew of other hard drive maintenance tasks that I appreciate, such as changing drive letters, converting file systems (such as FAT32 to NTFS, etc.), checking file systems, and performing hard drive surface tests, to name a few.
Once I accumulate too many items on my desktop or in my download folder I typically go on a cleanup spree, moving all of these items into appropriate folders on my hard drive. “Send to Any” allows you to add any number of folders to Windows’ right-click send-to menu, allowing you to quickly move or copy items to your favorite folders no matter where you are or what files or folders you are working with, and making the “send to” menu infinitely more useful as a consequence. Also, the “send to” menu seems to be exactly where these folders ought to be.
Why am I including this program in my list of must-have freeware? Because I have been using it for a number of years now and it still is one of the first things that I seek when I install software on a new machine. It also works well on both 64 bit as well as 32 bit OS’s.
Let’s face it: everyone needs either MS Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, or all of them. Except MS Office is not free, and while web-based solutions such as Google Docs or Zoho may or may not be the wave of the future, we live in the present and most of us need a good, desktop-based office suite.
Enter OpenOffice, an excellent Office Suite developed by Sun Microsystems that delivers elegant, powerful alternatives to all of the MS Office programs and, moreover, offers full compatibility with MS Office, being able to both read and write MS Office document formats (including the newer Office 2007 formats).
If you’re familiar with MS Office programs you will be able to be up and running with OpenOffice in no time at all, as most operations will be intuitive and the learning curve minimal.
Related: another good free Office suite: Lotus Symphony, developed by IBM.
Is there anything better than having the tools you need in the right-click context menu right at the moment that you need them? The answer: probably, but not too many things.
Not only does FileMenu tools give you a wide range of tools that you can install in your right-click context menu, but it will let you pick and choose precisely the ones you want. The list of available tools and functions keeps growing, with new and innovative tools and functions being added on a regular basis; moreoever, if you have a command line function you can use that in conjuction with FileMenu Tools to add your own custom command in the context menu.
I personally like to have the “Advanced renaming”, “File Search and Replace”, “Attributes Changer”, “Shred files”, “Show folder sizes”, “Change Folder Icons” and various path-copy tools in my context menu. Other available tools: split and join files, register and unregister DLLs, move/copy files to favorite folders, and a handful of others.
Last but not least, FileMenu Tools will also let you manage the other entries in your context menu generally that are unrelated to it, very handy when uninstalled programs leave behind entries in the context menu that you do not want.
Related: also check out an excellent alternative to FileMenu Tools with menu of the same functions, Lammer Context Menu.
This is another program that has withstood the test of time. Handbrake is the real deal and is easy to install and use. Handbrake’s interface is very user friendly while not shirking in terms of features and power under the hood. But best of all it simply works (and is optimized for dual core PC’s).
Two things to note: one, is that Handbrake converts to MP4 and MKV media formats only, and the latest version has dropped support for AVI files which it had offered at one time, because of the relative superiority of the other two formats which it supports in comparison. The second thing is that Handbrake will not remove the encryption from commercial DVDs when you convert them, which is an important step that has to be done via another program. Good free DVD decrypters are DVDFab HD Decrypter (the free edition is all you need), and RipIt4Me (which is no longer in development but works well). Another excellent DVD decryption option is DVD43, which only works on 32bit PCs and provides on the fly decryption, letting you plop a DVD in and convert is with Handbrake instantly while decrypting in real time as if the encryption did not exist in the first place (and without having to rip the DVD to your hard drive)
For a how-to guide on how to use Handbrake with DVD43 to convert DVDs to media files check out my “How to Convert DVDs to iPhone” article. Note that the article was written before support for AVIs was dropped from Handbrake as mentioned above.
Related: also see VidCoder, an excellent program based on the Handbrake engine but which tries to further streamline it’s interface.
Revo is a replacement for Windows Add/Remove programs utility that filter your installed programs via a searchbox or sort them by column to see what the latest installed programs were. But what really makes it useful is its ability to scan the hard drive and Windows registry for things that the uninstalled program has left behind and remove them.
Revo Uninstaller offers three levels of intervention: safe, moderate, and advanced, which determine how comprehensive or conservative it is going to be when going after items that an uninstalled program might have left behind. (“Moderate” scan has always worked for me, and I pretty much trust it blindly; however, you always have the option to look into what it is going to delete before approving it).
Revo also does a great job removing apps that have a corrupt uninstaller or simply do not offer one to begin with. I have used this probably more than the average user would and it has always delivered (note: you can perform these uninstalls via the so called “Hunter Mode” or “Drag and Drop” mode).
Related: also see my article entitled How to uninstall anything: free apps that get the job done
In the age of digital music everyone needs a audio tag management app, and as far as free (or non-free) programs go Mp3Tag is one of the best, if not THE best.
Mp3Tag combines a simplicity of interface with powerful functions. It supports every audio format under the sun and will perform all the usual mass renaming and tag manipulation operations. It will also look up track information from several online sources; freedb, Amazon, Discogs, and even the community-based MusicBrainz database (alas it does not perform digital fingerprinting via MusicBrainz, like a program such as Picard does, which is a strange omission). It also downloads cover art and can save it n the ID3Tag itself.
One feature of Mp3Tag which I am personally quite fond of is the Windows explorer context menu integration (available on both 32 bit and 64 bit OS’s). This simple option lets you right click on a folder or folders or even a selection of audio files to open the audio files in Mp3Tag. After using this program for a few years, I’ve found this option to be invaluable.
While there are a number of free apps that can author video files to DVD, DVDFlick provides one of the nicest, most user-friendly experiences. What’s more, it is able to process a very wide range of audio and video formats (45+ file formats, 60+ video codecs, and 40+ audio codecs), which is to say it will transfer any media file to DVD, and is nothing short of fantastic.
DVDFlick will also easily add menus and subtitles (if any) and will burn to DVD or ISO at the end of the conversion process. The bottom line: it’s simply brilliant.
If you’re looking for a powerful free FTP client this is the one I would recommend. WinSCP is feature rich, has a built-in text editor for on-the-fly edits of file right on the remote server, offers a portable version, and (for the non-portable version) integrates into the Windows’ send-to context menu.
WinSCP supports FTP as well as SFTP and SCP protocols over SSH-1 and SSH-2. It offers a two-pane file-management view, supports drag and drop from Windows explorer, is open source, and supports a number of advanced functions such as directory synchronization, batch file scripting, and a command line interface.
> Go here to download [portable version available].
Related: my second choice for free FTP client: FileZilla
CCleaner is simply a must on any PC. Not only does it provide excellent hard drive cleanup of all kinds of junk that invariably accumulated in and clogs up the system, but it’s one of only two or three program whose “registry cleaning” functionality I would use without reservations (I personally think “registry cleaning” should be a very rare occurrence in the course of using a PC, but that’s another story for another post.
CCleaner is also excellent for cleaning up your internet tracks, history, and all the junk files that get downloaded during the course of surfing the internet.
One thing that annoys me about CCleaner is the strange frequency of its program updates; if I had a dollar every time this program got updated I would be buried in a little mountain of cash. Also, when installing, make sure to be mindful of what is checked by default and to uncheck the Yahoo toolbar option (ironic that a hard drive cleaning program would foist a toolbar on unsuspecting users, but even free software developers have to make a living).
In this age of information everyone needs an RSS reader, right? If you are looking for a desktop-based RSS reader I would recommend either FeedDemon or RSSOwl. The reason FeedDemon makes this list and RSSOwl does not is that FeedDemon can function as an excellent desktop client for Google Reader, which I use and recommend.
Some pros and cons. PROS: Google reader integration; the ability to quickly post to Instapaper, Facebook, Twitter, Digg, and delicious; newspaper style layout; system-tray notifications of new articles; content filters (e.g. give me all articles with the word “freeware” in the title or body); saved searches (called “watches”); the ability to categorize post via user-defined tags; quick switching between full, summary, and headline based listings.
Cons: does not function as a podcast receiver. Also, technically FeedDemon is adware. However, the small square ads placed in the bottom left of the screen are unobtrusive and low-key, and really do not affect the user experience (note that no ads are displayed in the screenshot above).
> Go here to download.
Related: check out my article entitled “Nine ways to check RSS feeds (including some unusual ones)”
This software can convert most any document to a PDF document or, alternately, to image(s) of various formats. It installs a so-called virtual printer driver on your machine whereby a new printer appears in your PC’s printers list. To convert any document to PDF or image format simply print it using this virtual printer.
While there are many good PDF virtual printers are there, PDFCreator is my top pick because (a) it can create image documents as well as PDFs; (b) it does not require the seperate installation of Ghostscript, and (c) it is open source (in contrast to many of the others which have gone adware over the years).
This open source folder comparison and synchronization tool will compare files by scanning their contents or by file size and date; it can synchronize files and subfolders, process multiple pairs of folders at once, load/save folder comparison sessions, create batch jobs that can be run from the command line, and can handle cloned files (i.e. symbolic links or junctures). It also allows for custom syncing rules and command line option.
But the reason I like it is the excellent, intuitive user experience it provides. The two-pane “visual comparison” simply makes sense. I use FreeFileSync as a backup tool and it has become one of the first programs that I install on a new computer. (It also offers a portable version, a very handy addition to your USB stick)