My Advice on Free Software

Posted on April 6, 2010

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People often ask me for advice on fixing their computers and resolving IT problems, so I made this page to keep this information in a handy place. If you’re somebody who experiences problems with their PC, you might find something useful here too.

Too many people are still paying too much money for software when there are many freeware and open source packages available. Here is a list of FREE software that I recommend for private use. It’s often a lot better than the premium equivalent.

All of these programs do a great job at keeping your computer and its contents safe, keeping things running smoothly, and improving your productivity.

Web Browsing

Firefox – If you’re still using Internet Explorer now’s the time to stop. You’re putting your machine at risk and the limited user experience of IE doesn’t justify it. Mozilla Firefox is a free, customisable, innovative and secure web browser. Once you adapt it to your needs, you’ll never go back: it’s faster, more secure and it doesn’t try to take over your PC.

Useful FireFox add-ons – Adblock, Download Helper, Greasemonkey, Zotero

Thunderbird – Mozilla’s email client offers a welcome alternative to MS Outlook.

Anti-virus

There seems to be little point in paying for an expensive anti-virus program when regularly updated, secure and free alternatives abound. So cancel that subscription and save yourself a few beans.

Avira – I’ve never had any problems with this anti-virus program, which combines email protection, spyware and malware protection with a scanning system and firewall. The standard version is free, but business licences are reasonably priced. Once a day you get a desktop ad asking whether you want to upgrade to premium, but it’s a small price to pay for a free and reliable antivirus program. An alternative free anti-virus is AVG, which is a popular program. I used to use it, but after having problems integrating it into the outgoing email scanner in Outlook I don’t think it’s as user friendly as Avira.

Spyware/Malware

SpyBot – A highly regarded malware scanner, SpyBot can fix problems with system internals (Registry), Winsock LSPs, ActiveX objects, browser hijackers and BHOs, PUPS, cookie trackers, heavy duty, homepage hijackers, keyloggers, LSP, tracks, trojans, spybots, revision, and other kinds of malware. The Tea-Timer warning system lets you know whenever something fishy is happening.

Ad-Aware – Ad-Aware is a similar program to SpyBot, but it’s worth using both just in case the malware definitions from one are more up to date than the other. They will run nicely next to each other.

Utilities

VLC Player – If you’re tired of problems with Windows Media Player, consider switching to VLC as soon as possible. It handles any file type you throw at it and doesn’t try to scan your PC or bring you to a shop. A really nice bit of software that does what it says on the tin.

Irfanview – Replace the Windows picture viewer with this lightning fast non-commercial image viewer. Clean and functional.

CCleaner – Remove ununsed system and browser files and scan your registry for problems just by emptying the recycling bin.

Treesize – Provides a visual representation of space on your hard drive so you can see where it has all got to through an intuitive Windows Explorer interface.

CutePDF – No need for Adobe Acrobat when you can print to standard Portable Document Format (PDF) for free with this. Be sure to install Ghostscript too for it to work.

Help & Manual – Write your own interactive help files.

Office

Free alternatives to Microsoft Office have really come on as of late.

OpenOffice – OpenOffice is a free alternative to Microsoft Office. You can use it to produce documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases, all of which are files compatible with Microsoft standards. If you’ve used programs from the Office Suite, you’ll have no problems using these. You can sometimes use these programs to recover data from corrupted files that Microsoft programs can’t read.

LaTeX – LaTeX is a document preparation system for high-quality typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large technical or scientific documents but it can be used for almost any form of publishing. LaTeX works by defining styles rather than having you manually word process every grapheme: so no more tearing your hair trying to get that paragraph to align correctly. You might also want to try LEd.

Operating System

Most PCs come shipped with Microsoft Windows installed ‘for free’. Except it’s not really free, since the cost of the licence is figured into the cost of the machine. The place of Windows as the standard operating system is how Microsoft got so rich. Howver, truly free operating systems are becoming more widespread.

This is because the systems themselves are becoming viable competitors. Earlier version of Linux weren’t too appealing to the casual user because of their code-based command system. Later versions are much more user-friendly. My favourite of the recent builds is Ubuntu, an integrated operating system packed with features. Its small size will make you wonder what Windows is full of.

Although I like Ubuntu, I’m not ready to make the transition to Linux just yet. But if, like me, you have a spare PC lying around, consider installing a free operating system on it and learning how to use it: you could save yourself a lot of cash in the future.

This page is provided for information only. If you have any questions or would like to recommend some software, just get in touch!

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