Freeware downloads can be some of the Internet’s greatest hits without charging your PayPal account, which is itself a freeware pioneer and Hall of Famer.
As always, however, the experts caution that often you get exactly what you pay for. Beware pretty packages and offers that seem too good to be true, because they often contain some of the web’s most virulent byte-eating infections.
Ten years ago, Tom Mainelli and his fellow writers at the cutting edge of technology considered it headline news: “You use it and you probably love it. Without shareware and freeware, PCs would be considerably less useful, not to mention more expensive to operate. And most of these programs are every bit as solid and reliable as their store-bought, shrink-wrapped counterparts.”
In that innocent age, few people really understood that, like all things digital the top ten freebies have a limited life expectancy.
As the new millennium dawned, Netscape topped the list of freeware downloads favorites and Star Wars screen savers ran a very close second. Now, most downloaders recognize the differences among scamware, beta trials, and some genuinely awe-inspiring stuff.
Google Chrome, for example, still costs absolutely nothing as it’s a freeware download and includes access to “hangouts,” Google’s uber cool video chat add-on.
Trust the Experts
Not all “freeware downloads” are really is free; the applications may cost you nothing, but you may pay for the privilege of clicking the download host’s big green button.
Super skeptics follow Dennis O’Reilly’s advice: “One way to determine whether a program is really free is its use of the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License (GPL). The GNU GPL stipulates that the software can be used, copied, and distributed verbatim without limitation, though it cannot be changed.
While you can usually get the source code of programs that adhere to the GNU GPL, the license differs somewhat from open-source software.”
Follow experts recommendations and read the fine print before you point and click. When in doubt, run your security software before you install.
In 2012, PC Magaizne’s 273-item list of the safest, most popular freeware downloads included…
AVG Anti-Virus Free 2012/2013
Neil Rubenking, PC Magazine’s official “security expert,” rated this freeware download higher than its commercial competitors and counterparts, writing, “It’s great at both blocking and removing malware” with emphasis on the “great.”
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware also scored high marks, inspiring the PC Magazine writers to say, “The freeware download version of Malwarebytes is the software that tech support people at other anti-malware companies tell customers to install when a virus becomes entrenched.”
Among the several advantages in both programs, they automatically update according to the schedule you set.
Freeware Download: 7-Zip
7-Zip leads the list of “archivers.” It stands out as the most reliable tool for packing and unpacking compressed archives.
For packing, 7-Zip runs 7z, TAR, ZIP, and several other widely used formats; for unpacking, it runs approximately 20 high-powered decompression tools.
The technorati also suggest that, if you add encryption, it functions exceptionally well as a security tool.
Mozilla’s mega-hit lags just slightly behind Google Chrome in market share, but the PC Magazine pros insist it “holds its own against any competition and should be a must-have in any browsing arsenal.”
According an honorable mention to the much-vaunted Google product, Michael Muchmore wrote, “The race is tightening up, but Google Chrome remains the Windows Web browser to beat, in terms of speed, features, and support for new standards.”
Windows Live Writer and RedNotebook
Windows Live Writer gives you all the tools you need for a high-powered blog in one of the web’s last stand-alone blogger programs. Naturally, it works well with programs from the MS Office suite, but it is compatible with all kinds of graphics, photography, and video software too.
When you are ready to post your new entries, one click takes your material either to a site on Windows Live or to your own domain. For old-fashioned writers who understand how a journal is public and a diary is private, RedNotebook provides the full array of digital tools but assures that only you have access to your notes, thoughts, speculations, and other private material.
RedNotebook also stores your diary in compressed files to save space on your hard drive or external storage.
GIMP and AndreaMosaic
If you do not work with images often enough to justify a big investment in Photoshop, but you want access to high-quality imaging software when you do have pictures for web posting, a gimp download is the far-and-away favorite.
It does almost everything the high-priced programs do, and it features extremely user-friendly interfaces and toolkits. Likewise, AndreaMosaic makes the list for pure intrigue: if you have seen big images composed from hundreds or thousands of smaller images, you have seen AndreaMosaic in action.
Only hardcore technophiles really can explain exactly how it works, but the results are genuinely amazing.
Free Advice with Your Free Downloads
Whether or not you choose to download any or all the 273 programs on the PC Magazine list, you will find it impossible to resist a little experimentation with each.
Therefore, set aside lots of time for testing, playing, and generally messing with these mind-blowing, capacity-building tools. Ten years from now, many of them may be only vague memories.
Amy Nielson is a freelance blogger. You can follow her on Twitter: