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This is an ever-growing list of open-source and free software for the Windows platform. Those of you on BSD or Linux boxes are already using free software, but be aware that a lot of these are multiplatform programs. Note that I do not include anything with an “ad-supported” free version. It’s either functional and free, or open source.

In order to save on page loads (and because I recently added a bevy of graphics), I have split the Free Software page into a number of smaller pages.

Web BrowsersWeb Browsers
Web browsers are one of the most commonly-used tools on the desktop. They’re essential for any web-based activity, even though some burden has been lifted from them by standalone e-mail clients and RSS-readers. Under no circumstances should you use Internet Explorer, the default browser on the Windows desktop (v7, which just recently came out, is significantly better than v6, however). There are a number of alternative browsers for Windows.
Instant MessengersInstant Messaging Clients
In the beginning, there was AIM. Today, there are a variety of different IM networks, and each has a number of different programs that can connect to it. Some are cross-platform; some are only available for Windows, Linux, or OS X. If you don’t like the “official” client for a certain network, you always have other options.
E-Mail clientsE-mail Clients
Chances are, you view your mail in your web browser, using Hotmail or Yahoo or Gmail or some other service. If your e-mail provider offers you POP3 or IMAP access, you are able to download e-mail directly to your computer with an e-mail client. Windows users are probably familiar with Outlook, which is a poor-quality Microsoft program; there are, however, plenty of alternatives.
RSS ReadersRSS Readers
RSS (or Really Simple Syndication) is the wave of the future for some: it’s a way to publish content independent of the site layout, so that any RSS web service or desktop client can “subscribe” to the feed and view new content as it is added, eliminating the need to visit each different website in turn. Instead, all the content is aggregated in an easy-to-browser format.
Some people use only their PDAs or Blackberrys. Some use a web-based calendar for all their scheduling needs. If you want to keep track of your time with a local program, or if you want to be able to subscribe to a calendar on the web without having to view it in your browser, you have a variety of options for desktop calendar software.
(S)FTP/SCP Clients(S)FTP/SCP Clients
If you have a website or webspace, an (S)FTP or SCP client is a crucial tool. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from standard FTP interface add-ons for Firefox, to full-fledged desktop clients with all the bells and whistles. Some are better at simply file transfer, and some offer a number of tools that add extra functionality.
Download ManagersDownload Managers
Something of a relic from the days of dial-up, when users tried to squeeze every drop of performance out of their narrowband connections, download managers are programs which can use multiple connections to download a file in parts; they also support resuming paused or interrupted downloads. They can still make downloading large files much faster even today.
Bittorrent clientsBitTorrent Clients
Currently the most popular way to download just about anything, Bittorent is a distributed download system that forces downloaders to be uploaders as well. It started with the official client by Bram Cohen, but there are many, many others, and some of them are considerably better than the official client.
P2P clientsMiscellaneous P2P Clients
There are a number of other ways to download media and other data. DirectConnect is a popular one, with a great number of clients, but there are also miscellaneous services like eMule. This category tends to be in a constant state of flux due to legal issues.
Antivirus clientsAntivirus Clients
There’s no substitute for careful computer usage and a discerning attitude toward suspicious files, but no Windows user, no matter how experienced, should be without a decent antivirus program. You may have gotten a free year or somesuch of Symantec or McAfee when you bought your new Dell (shame on you), and now it’s time to either pony up the dough for another year or find a new solution. Maybe you’re the technologically-inclined friend or child who’s somehow become responsible for everyone’s computer and you need something cheap and effective to give them. Regardless, there are several good antivirus clients that are absolutely free for home/non-commercial use.
FirewallsSoftware Firewalls
The best firewall is the kind built into hardware routers: even if you don’t need to split your connection among several computers, I would suggest buying a Linksys and using it for protection. But if you’re cheap, or you want an added level of protection, there are several software firewalls that can control your computer’s ports, and keep an eye on applications that are trying to send information away from your computer.
Spyware Prevention and RemovalSpyware Prevention/Removal
Almost more perfidious now than viruses, spyware is nasty programs put on your computer in order to steal personal information, feed you advertising, or do some other sort of damage to your machine for the monetary benefit of a stranger. IT can be extremely difficult to remove once installed, so there is once again no substitute for very careful computer usage. However, there are programs that will not only try to remove it, but prevent it from ever being installed in the first place.
Security and Encryption SoftwareSecurity and Encryption Software
This is sort of a catch-all for anything having to do with cryptography. It includes a suite of SSH tools, as well as tools for encrypting files, drives, and even passwords on a local machine in order to keep data safe.
Office, Publishing, and Productivity softwareOffice/Publishing/Productivity Software
For some people, office suites begin and end with Microsoft Office, which is admittedly the de facto standard. However, there are at least a few other very good options, not just for word processors and spreadsheets, but also for publishing software and other such things.
Editors and IDEsEditors and IDEs
I had to lump general text editors together with full Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) because some programs are able to do both, and I didn’t want redundant information. Whether or not you just want a more powerful alternative to Notepad, or whether you’re looking for a one-stop development shop, you can accomplish it without paying a cent.
Version Control SystemsVersion Control Systems
Whether you’re looking for software for your server, a command-line client, or a snazzy frontend, you’ll find something here.
This isn’t something the average desktop user will need, but for developers or hobbyists, there are a number of free and open-source databases available for use. I’ve also included a number of graphical tools for administration and manipulation of databases.
Personal FinancePersonal Finance
Quicken is the standard for keeping books on a Windows machine. There aren’t very many free variants (a few for Linux only), but that may change in the future as open source continues to grow.
PDF Reading and WritingPDF Reading and Writing
The Portable Document Format is technically controlled by Adobe, but because the standard is well-documented, there are many different programs, especially for Linux, made to read and write the format. On Windows, if you don’t want the official reader, there is currently on one other option, but that too may change in the future. There are also other ways to write to a PDF file using open source libraries.
Video UtilitiesVideo
Video Utilities • Whether you need to edit it, convert it, or examine it, there are free programs that will let you do just about anything to video. Note that these aren’t video editors in the sense of Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere.
Video Players • For those of you who hate Windows Media Player, never fear, because there are a bunch of free video players for Windows. Cross-platform players with excellent format support, and more Windows-specific players that use system-wide codecs. There are also replacements for RealPlayer and Quicktime!
Audio UtilitiesAudio
Audio Utilities • Whether you need to edit it, convert it, or examine it, there are free programs that will let you do just about anything to audio.
Audio Players • For those of you who hate Windows Media Player, never fear, because there are a bunch of free audio players and jukeboxes for Windows, from the powerful and complicated to the simpler and more user-friendly.
Image UtilitiesImage Utilities
Sometimes, Windows Image and Fax Viewer isn’t enough to view your images. Sometimes, Paint isn’t enough for editing (gee, really?). Luckily, there are programs that will organize your images, programs that will edit them, programs that will act as extremely powerful viewers, and even program for original image creation (including SVGs!).
CD Burning programsCD Burning
Everybody and their mother makes CDs now. The most popular burning programs, like Roxio (crap) and Nero (crap as of v7) cost a pretty penny, but it doesn’t need to be that way: there is at least one good general-purpose burner available, and a number of different specialty burners available for Windows.
Virtual Disc utilitiesVirtual Disc utilities
Virtual Disc drives are “fake” CD/DVD-ROM drives which “mount” a copy of a disc that sits on your hard drive. This way, you can install software or play games without having to waste physical media. Great for people who use backups of their expensive games, and great for system testers as well.
Archivers and CompressorsArchivers and Compressors
The most well-known GUI archiver is WinZip, which is a crappy program. If you’re using it, stop. If you’re using Windows’ built-in unzipper, stop. There are plenty of excellent free programs that will pack to a variety of formats, and unpack a lot more.
Diagnostic toolsDiagnostics/OS tools
This category is a catch-all for various handy utilities, including diagnostics, benchmarks, cleanup, and tweaking. Some of them work in the Operating System, and some are boot disks avoid touching the OS altogether.
What happens to consoles when they die? Why, they get emulated, of course. There are plenty of free emulators, which are programs that can pretend to be a Nintendo or a Genesis or whatever else. All you need is an image of the disc, or a binary dump of the catridge, which is called a ROM (do a Google search) and you can play without issue.
§998 · By · February 25, 2006 ·

13 Comments to “Free Software”

  1. Venu says:

    Wow! Thanks, this is a pretty comprehensive list and for those of us *nixers who need to work on a Windows machine almost a must read!!!!!!!!

  2. Borgna Marco says:

    Cool list. Saved on my :D.

    ehm… I have written a opensource tool: … not cool as the ones in the list but….

    I hope you will look at it

  3. Ivan Shopov says:

    That’s a wonderful list of free programs. Thank s!

  4. Louis says:

    Just thought you might want to add Comodo’s free firewall and antivirus programs. I use them and they are great. Here are the links:

    • escher7 says:

      Sorry but I hate Comodo. After I had a problem with the firewall awhile back, I tried to uninstall it. A year later I was still finding bits and pieces, even including an executable or two. Just do not trust it.

  5. Ben says:

    Comodo’s firewall is already up there. I haven’t added their antivirus because I’ve seen significant concerns about its reliability.

    But it seems as though they’re approaching a 2.0 version, so I’ll take another look at it and go from there.

  6. Horizon says:

    If you don’t have access to a nice CMS, and you can’t afford something like Dreamweaver (which, even though I like writing my sites with code only, I will admit is a good program)

    Just a note – Dreamweaver has an excellent code-only view as well. I use it when I develop in PHP on Windows frequently, especially since it’s got a handy FTP/site-manager built into it.

  7. Nahuel says:

    I just dropped by to say THANKS for such an awesome collection of free software. Instantly went to my bookmarks! Keep up the great work!

    Greetings from Argentina!

  8. Trik says:


    I usually frequent but you just took that and web 2.0-ed it with the newest information.

    BTW nice icons!


  9. Joker says:

    I find it quite sad that I actually recognize the game pad as the icon for the last list. Tis a Gravis if I’m not mistaken.

    Great lists though.

    Also: IE7 is almost as bad as IE6
    It’s almost the same thing, but with tabs.

  10. narco says:

    Ben i was just wondering if there are any tweaking programs for W7 that you can recommend.
    I ask cause i would like to change various aspects of the os.
    And keep up the good work, all i have shown your site to have been impressed.

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