Essential Free Software

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After a recent format to make some space, I decided to replace ageing software with Free / Open Source Solutions, so I have put together this list of some of the Best Free Software. This is a general list useful for most Windows users (XP targeted), and best installed directly after formatting or on a new PC!

After going through this list you will be able to browse the web securely, download/upload easily, view just about any media format, edit them, burn and rip CDs & DVDs, chat, play games, and maybe even get some work done.

Disclaimer: This list is made up entirely from my own opinion in what I’ve found in searching for the best. There are a few shareware options at the bottom which are recommendations only. I cannot offer any help or be responsible for any problems you may encounter during installation of any of this software. Links will take you to the download page of the program, not a direct download link.
Enjoy! :)

Web Browsing / Email / Downloading
Security and Privacy
Images and Media
Work & Efficiency
Compress/Archive/Convert/Burn/Drive and Disc Imaging


First things first, don’t forget to backup!! As well as your data, copy your Bookmarks, Email, Desktop files, Fonts, and settings for things like Programs and Wifi. And if you don’t know passwords to your various internet accounts find out first!

I can’t find any free software that will do what Acronis TrueImage can. It creates a backup of your whole hard drive which can then be restored either from within Windows, or the TI Bootable CD you can create. On a new PC, after a couple of tweeks (like settings and deleting crap software that came with it) this is the FIRST thing to do. You might think why, because there is nothing to back up yet. Making a Clean Image of a brand New install means that at any time you can very easily go back to how it was when you purchased it. Before you put anything on it. And you will NEVER have to re-install windows again. Next time you want to format, just reboot from the CD and restore the Backup Image back over the partition or onto a new HD. Within minutes you are back to a fresh system, no 1hr installs!

As for all your documents etc, don’t keep them on your desktop! Try to make another partition, or even use a separate HD all together. Then on top of this, use backup software to manage your files. There are free programs for file backups like this. Windows XP Backup will do the job, External HD’s now come with easy Backup solutions too, and there is even Online backup storage if you just want key files and aren’t concerned who’s holding them! And you can always just email things to yourself on an internet or IMAP account.

Finally, files you need to keep but no longer edit should be Archived. The easiest way is to burn them to a DVD and cycle them up to next round of disposable media in 5 years! As long as you protect your discs they will be fine for 7-12 years at least, where as Hard Drives can (and do) fail at any time. USB / Flash media is also increasing storage size dramatically and prices are coming down. On the more expensive and large capacity end are Tape Drives.

Web Browsing / Email / Downloading

Firefox 3& Thunderbird (5.7mb & 6.4mb)
Simply the best Web browser and Desktop Mail combo there is. Fast, secure, loads of features and plugins, customizable.

Internet Explorer 7 (15mb)
OK I know I just said Firefox is the best, but even so its worth updating IE for those sticking by it or the odd occasion you might use it (like for some Microsoft sites that require it, or checking if your website works). However in my short experience, IE7 seems very unstable.

Maxthon Browser 2 (2.9mb)
An interesting Browser born of out China, and actually uses the backend of Internet Explorer, but is a whole new interface and offers a mountain of extra features, like gesture-controls, full page screen capture, undo Tab close etc. I’m not sure on it’s security factor or if it has the plugin range that Firefox does, and I love firefox. But 131 MILLION downloads says something.

uTorrent (0.2mb) Azureus (7mb)
uTorrent is becoming the most popular Torrent program around. Its light and simple. I much prefer this to Azureus (Vuze) but was having router issues, where as the new Azureus got straight through. But new features make it heavier and not as simple to use. If you don’t know about Torrents, read here.

BitComet (5mb)
After again having issues recently with uTorrent, I tried BitComet. A little heavier at 5mb but still runs fairly light and has a load of extra features, offering as a download manager, scans for software updates, helps save video files like YouTube etc. Also has a small box semi-transparent box that sits atop other software and shows downoload/upload speeds and a quick navigation menu.

Google Earth
Not exactly World Wide Web browsing, but certainly World Wide browsing! Requires internet access. If you still haven’t seen Google Earth you must check it out. Satellite images let you view the world from as far as space to people on the beach in some Hi-res cities. Gives you a little more control than google maps.

Fire FTP – Firefox addon
A great little Addon to Firefox allowing simple FTP access within the browser itself. Can manage multiple connections, locking directory navigation etc. Connects 1 site within the window, but can be opened in multiple tabs of Firefox for simultaneous connections.

Addblock Plus – Firefox Addon
Easy way to stop annoying Adds that can link to dodgy sites, chew up your bandwidth and cover the page . Allows many options so you can lose what you don’t want to see and keep what you do.

Tor Button – Firefox Addon
Adds an on/off button to enable or disable the use of TOR (see below) when browsing, only required if you wish to use TOR.

Video Download Helper – Firefox Addon
Easy way to download movies from sites like YouTube. Adds a little button to Firefox which activates when it finds something it can save.

Gspace – Firefox Addon
If you use Gmail, or even if you don’t, Gspace allows you to make use of your Gmail account for storing files. You can set it up like a local hard drive or upload like FTP. File size is limited to 20mb as all files become email attachments within Gmail.

FileZilla (standalone FTP) (3mb)
If you need a more powerful, stand alone FTP Program, try this one.

Flash player plugin
Required to play Flash movies within Firefox (youTube, games, animations etc all use Flash).

Required for some Site’s applications (ie: facebook picture upload, bank logins, games etc).

Firefox Themes
And if you want to change the look of Firefox or (Thunderbird) you can download themes here.

Security & Privacy

Comodo Free Firewall (32mb)
One of the best Firewalls around, and totally free. Offers intrusion protection from hackers, spy ware, ID theft and more.

AVG Free Anti Virus (31mb)
Good free protection from Viruses, worms and Trojans, constant updates, email scanner, scheduled and select file and system scanning.

PeerGuardian2 (0.8mb)
An IP blocker to help protect your privacy and security on P2P networks (emule, limewire, Torrent etc). Uses multiple lists of IPs to block which are updated on loading.

Originally from Naval Security research, it protects your anonymity on the web by using “onion routers” to allow anonymous hidden services. It requires a bit of work to make it secure on your machine, and will often slow down your connection big time as many people are using the some routers. This is where the TOR Addon for Firefox (above) comes in handy. People in China for example are blocked by the Great Firewall of China and cannot access some news sites etc. If configured correctly, TOR may allow them to do so.

Tight VNC / Ultra VNC
Two Free versions of VNC, used for connecting, viewing and controling one PC from another. You can setup a server on one side and a client on the other, allows remote connection and more.


Everyone knows Skype now, the most popular VOIP program around. Allows you to make Video calls and chat to other Skype users for free, or call any Land Line or Mobile number around the world for a very low rate! (ie, I can call back to AUS for 3c/min!).

Trillian (8mb)
All-messenger-in-one application (ICQ, AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, and IRC). No adds and keeps things tidy. There is also a PRO version at cost which works with Skype, Video etc. Also useful for AIM if you know someone on a mac (cause they only bloody use iChat) OR get them to work googletalk / gmail chat into their iChat.

Images & Media

Irfanview Free Image viewer (1.1mb) & Irfanview All Plugins (6.2mb)
Simple, Fast, Light, Image viewing application. I prefer this to ACDsee and Xnview. With the plugins installed you can view any Image file (including C RAW and Photoshop Files) and many video formats. Has simple image editing capabilities, effects, text insert, Batch processing and more.

The KM Player (12.6mb)
The most powerful free video player around. Install includes decoders and filters. Can also play DVD’s with full menu controls. Install QT and Real alternative (below) and you can play almost any media file there is!

Quicktime Alternative Lite & Real Alternative
Its a fact that Quicktime (and iTunes) on Windows are Bloatware. These light codecs allow playing Quicktime and Real files without installing the full software that will clog up your system. Real is rarely used these days as far as I’m concerned, and past its used-by-date, but just to be safe.

Picasa 3 (6mb)
I finally conceded my folder management and gave Picasa a go. Very easy to sort, view, organize and share photos. Can also copy from your camera and it has an intelligent backup system. Also part of the Google Pack.

Windows Media Player 11 (22mb) + Psychedelia Viz Pack
You must upgrade to WMP11. While it does work with all media, I only use it for playing Music, which is what it does best. The Psych Viz Plugin is simply a cool Visualizer that kicks ass over the standard ones and looks great if you make it full screen and leave your music going.

I have no problems with WMP11, but if you really don’t want to use it, try the venerable Winamp or if your game, the open-source still-in-beta Songbird.

GIMP (14.8mb)
An enhanced Photo Imaging Editor, a bit like an open source version of Photoshop. I haven’t actually used GIMP because I always use Photoshop at work, but I hear it’s the next best thing, and best of the free options!

Inkscape (21mb)
Like the Gimp of Illustrator, this is an open source project to give you a 2D vector program like that of Adobe’s Illustrator.

WDPV [converts to Camera format] (0.6mb)
A simple program that converts JPEG files to CAMERA JPEG format. For example, the photo printing kiosks (in Japan) will print directly from your memory card, or new Digital Photo frames can display from your card, but if you edit or create new images, even when saving in JPEG, the format is different and won’t be recognized. This converts them to the correct JPEG format. To use, create a shortcut and add commands to the end of the target, ie

    …/Desktop/wdpv.exe” -p -geom 2400×3000

Then simply drag-and-drop.

Work, Documents & Efficiency

Foxit [Acrobat] Reader (2.3mb)
Everyone needs to read a PDF at some point. This is 10% the size of Adobe’s Acrobat reader, much faster, and allows Printing to PDF files and filling out forms.

PDF Creator (15mb)
Like adding a Virtual Printer to your PC, allows you to print to PDF from any program that allows printing. However, many applications you would normally do this from, like Open Office (below) already allow saving to PDF format, and the install is 15mb, so only install if your using a program that won’t save to PDF.

Open Office(108mb)
An open source replacement for Microsoft’s Office Suite. Handles the common file extensions and works in much the same way as the MS offering (Writer = Word, Calc = Excel etc.) Should do the job for most.

Abi Word(5.2mb)
Lean Open source Word-like application that power users seem to prefer over Open Office’s Writer application. Its light, fast, and also useful if you don’t need the rest of the Office suite, just install this alone. They are also working to allow MS Word 2007’s ‘.docx’ files.

Nvu [WYSIWYG Web Page Creator]
Light and easy Web Page creator that lets you work in WYSIWYG mode or CODE view. Similar to Dreamweaver, but free!

Notepad++ (2mb)
Replacement for the standard notepad, recognizes language codes (once saved to the format), tabbed documents, remembers open docs, line count etc.

Clipx (0.1mb)
Ever copied some text, then copied and image or file and lost the text? I have! Clipx enhances your Clipboard and gives you easy access to more than one clipping. Works with text, print screen images, copied images, files etc. Very handy. Don’t worry, there is no reject character like clippy.

Compress/Archive/Convert/Burn/Drive and Disc Imaging

7-Zip (0.8mb)
Great Open Source file archive / compression software, works with the usual (zip, cab, rar, tar etc) as well as its own “.7z” format.

CDBurnerXP (2.3mb)
Seems to be the most popular Free burning software. It may take a little while to get used to at first, but it is quite powerful. Also converts BIN/NRG files to ISO and has multiple languages for the interface.

Remember, Windows XP will burn data, WMP11 will burn audio, and most computers/drives come with their own software so it’s not usually an issue.

Neat Open Source CD/DVD burning app. Does all the stuff you ned, and the best thing is, it actually burns when writing to the disc :)

DVD Region Killer
Enables DVD drives that are locked to a certain region to play DVD’s from any region without having to switch or being locked down.

Handbrake (3.4mb)
Popular DVD to MPEG-4 converter (MP4, MKV, AVI or OGM). Allows various options for size, quality, subtitles, batch etc. Handbrake does NOT contain a decrypter, if you wish to backup copy-protected DVD’s for personal use, please read about DVDfab below. NOTE: You may need to install .net (22mb) first!

DVD Shrink
Will rip and compress a full sized 9GB DVD to DVD-Video Files that can later be burnt via other burning software to a standard 4GB DVD. DVD Shrink also does not contain a decrypter and may NOT work directly from copy protected discs.

DVDfab HD Decrypter
Will backup and Entire DVD at 100% to your Hard Drive, with options to remove region settings, and all of the latest copy protection formats (CSS, RC, RCE, APS, UOPs and Sony ARccOS). If you wish to backup legitimate copies of Copy Protected DVD’s for personal use, use this program to copy them to your Hard Drive at full quality. You may then use one of the 2 programs above to compress the files if you like.

Daemon Tools (Drive emulation)
Virtual drive software. Allows you to make virtual drives and load Disc Image files like ISO as if they were physical dics. Saves burning them and lets you keep them at hand. Latest “Lite” version is great.

SUPER | MediaCoder
Both are front end GUI’s making use of various Open Source coders/decoders to provide true all-in-one Audio & Video Converters! Personally I prefer MediaCoder. |
These are two of various online converters. You can enter a URL of a YouTube page, other online video file, or a local file, and it will convert the file and give it back to you. Note that there are size limits because the files have to be uploaded before converting and then downloaded again. This also slows things down considerably.

Riva FLV Encoder
Free light converter from various formats to the popular FLV format (Flash video files like those saved from YouTube).

FLV Extractor
Will extract FLV to an AVI and the audio to MP3. Simply drag and drop the FLV and it will extract without re-compressing. Virtually Instant.


F.E.A.R. Combat (1.6Gig)
Very popular Multiplayer First Person Shooter with online play.

True Combat Elite, TCE Update | Wolf (280mb + 450mb)
Based on the free version of Wolfenstein, this mod turns Wolfenstein into an entirely new game. You need both to run.

Goldeneye Source
Still under production, these guys are working on a Half Life 2 mod that will allow us to relive what is arguably the Greatest Multiplayer Game ever made, Goldeneye 007 on Nintendo 64. I still keep my 64 for this very reason. Keep it up guys!

Download Sites


Here are a few reasonably priced Shareware (limited free trials of retail software) options that do that little bit more, and you may prefer over a couple of the free options above. Links are for trials of the software.

Without a doubt the best software for removing protection and restrictions on DVDs. It sits in the background and scans any disc loaded, making it available to all programs without Regions, DVD menu restrictions etc. Also allows Handbrake and Shrink DVD to work directly from the DVD, without having to copy it to the HD first.

I like this over DVD Shrink personally, it also lets you go directly to an ISO file rather than VOB files.

Ulead Burn.Now and Nero Burning ROM
My drive had an OEM version of Nero and I used it for quite a while. Its very powerful and can do just about any burning task you want, and then some. But Burn.Now is incredibly simple and easy to use. If you want ease of use with most features, try Ulead Burn.Now. If you want big and powerful try Nero.

Power ISO
Daemon Tools is great but there are some Disc Image formats which it doesn’t (yet) cover. Power ISO offers a bigger range of formats in a tiny install package, and goes further with Disc Image burning, creation, extraction and editing.

If you are unfortunate enough to have to deal with the occasional mac formatted drive, you’ll need this. I haven’t seen anything else that works the same, free or otherwise. Also works for those using Bootcamp to read their OSX partitions from within Windows.

Am I missing something? Broken Link? Got a better option? Let me know in the comments!


  1. You said that you couldn’t find a free replacement for Acronis. Well there is a Linux tool called Partimage that does the same thing. Obviously you need linux to use it, but if you don’t want to install linux or download a full distro you can download Partimage, which is a 30mb liveCD/USB based partitioning tool that comes with partimage (and it can repartition your drives, including resizing current partitions). You boot into the partimage CD or off your USB and then you can make an image of your windows drive, or restore a previously backed up image. It can even split the image into separate volumes to fit on optical media.

    Another suggestion is windizupdate. It’s not software, but a website that lets you update windows without IE. So you can finally slay the IE beast.

    PDF reader: sumatra reader. Very small, simple and lightweight _and_ open source:

    CD burning: CDRFE is a GPL CD burner, and so is infrarecorder. I don’t know if you’re interested in whether things are open source or not, but I’d always prefer FOSS software to proprietary software, even if both are free.

    Oh and if you’re after free plugins for final cut pro check out my website

  2. Why put a shareware program as free? Winrar is NOT free. There’s a heap of shareware out there that’s useful, but you haven’t put that up as “essential free software..”

  3. Will look to add Parted Image, PDF Printer, 7-zip

    I like Foxit for PDF read and sticking with it.

    KMPlayer pwns :) I’m not a fan of VLC

    RUFF: I mentioned in the disclaimer at top there are some pay-software options. But I did forget to add a good open source version (7-zip) at the top first. Will do so as well.

  4. Will look to add Parted Image, PDF Printer, 7-zip

    I like Foxit for PDF read and sticking with it.

    KMPlayer pwns :) I’m not a fan of VLC

    RUFF: I mentioned in the disclaimer at top there are some pay-software options. But I did forget to add a good open source version (7-zip) at the top first. Will do so as well.

    Testing the reply to comments on Essential Free Software

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