Free Software 74127BC812B84BE787C94538C9022167

Free Software

Why are you paying for software that you could be getting for free. Here is a list of some of bigBrains favorite free software.     UPDATED BY POPULAR DEMAND!!

 

Category

url

Platform

Description

Anti-Malware

Ad-Aware Free

Windows

The latest version (8.2) of this venerable tool includes new tech that looks for malware patterns to ID threats, and an ultra-simple mode to automatically handle problems before you need to worry. It’s free for home use; naturally, the Plus and Pro versions throw in extras, but they’ll cost you ($26.95 and $39.95, respectively).

Anti-Malware

avast! Free Antivirus

Windows

With a new interface that makes it easier to master, as well as a new heuristic engine for finding trouble on your PC (on top of the usual definitions), this perennial freebie continues to improve. Of course, you can pay to get even more protection via avast! Internet Security.

Anti-Malware

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

Windows

This app is better for keeping an already clean system clean rather than rooting out problems (according to our tests), but it excels at that, even when you’re running a Windows system in Safe Mode.

Anti-Malware

Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware

Windows

Even other security companies, such as like Norton, use Malwarebytes’ software, probably because it’s fast fast fast at scanning a system for problems. Thankfully, it also does a good job of cleaning up what it finds. Pay for the Pro version to get real-time protection.

Anti-Malware

Microsoft Security Essentials

Windows

Microsoft realized the dirty truth: Windows is susceptible to viruses! And rather than try to make a buck off this fact, it’s doing the right thing by putting out its own anti-malware for free to the masses. It’s not great protection, but it’s better than nothing. It works great with Windows, of course, in 74 countries and 25 languages.

Anti-Malware

Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition

Windows

This is our PCMag Editors’ Choice among free anti-malware software and for good reason. Half the detection action happens in the cloud (AKA, over the Internet) so you’re not downloading over-sized definition files anymore. There’s no update button. It’s also great at finding malware. Security expert Neil J. Rubenking called it “the best free antivirus software available.”

Anti-Malware

ThreatFire

Windows

It’s no longer our Editors’ Choice, but we still like the fact that this heuristics-only anti-malware fighter can work side-by-side with traditional definitions-based virus killers to provide supplemental protection. It’s fast and even removes rootkits.

Anti-Malware

Trend Micro HouseCall

Windows

Like Panda, Trend is now using a cloud-based database of malware definitions to find problems, and requires no actual installation on your system. It doesn’t run in the background (so no real-time protection), but that also means it’s a great ‘second opinion’ to run along with other anti-malware programs.

App Launchers

Alfred

Mac

Yes, we’re showing Macs some love. Quicksilver was once the beloved app launcher (and more) for the Mac OS, but the developer hasn’t done much with it. Now, there’s a new option, Alfred. It does much of what QuickSilver did, from launching programs to searching the Web and contacts. And there are more features on the way.

App Launchers

Launchy

Windows | Mac | Linux

By adding the Mac OS to its lineup, Launchy now can be the ultimate application launcher no matter what your operating system. It helps to know a little bit about what’s under the hood of your OS, but if you do, this nifty and skinnable open-source keystroke launcher can speed up your computing in a big way.

App Launchers

ObjectDock

Windows

A favorite that mimics the Mac OS dock within Windows, ObjectDock can take the place of the Taskbar, providing an animated way to interact with program icons.

App Launchers

PortableAppscom Suite & Platform

Windows | Portable

It’s kind of a cheat to include this as a program, because PortableApps.com is a platform in and of itself; its purpose is to put all of your favorite open-source programs (many of which are in this story) on a USB flash drive, so you can use them at any PC. Think of it as putting your whole computer in your pocket, with PortableApps.com providing the backbone for launching them from a pop-up menu.

Audio

Audacity

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

This open-source tool sets the bar for what you can do with audio for free. It can record anything you play on your computer and edit it in ways you can’t conceive of until you start playing around. Limitations, such as no native MP3 export, are overcome by free plug-ins. If you want to podcast or mix music on the cheap, Audicity is what you need.

Audio

Foobar

Windows

Want to play just about any kind of audio file you can imagine in Windows? Foobar2000 1.0.1 has you covered. Its extensive set of additional components ensures a smooth process for working with compressed files, burning CDs, and even adding Dolby 5.1 surround sound support when you listen through headphones.

Audio

MP Skype Recorder

Windows

You might be shocked to learn that this software records Skype calls to MP3 format. Yeah, that’s it, but MP3 Skype Recorder does it incredibly well. It even saves the call as mono or stereo tracks, with an adjustable bit rate. There are no time limits or file size limitations. It even records SkypeOut calls to regular phones or conference calls with multiple people.

Backup Synch Storage

CloudDrive

Windows

You get 5GB of free online storage with Adobe Acrobat Online Storage Service. Uploading and downloading from such a service isn’t always easy though, especially if you want to grab a whole folder of data. CloudDrive, a free client for Adobe Acrobat Online Storage Service, lets you do exactly that via drag and drop.

Backup Synch Storage

DriveImage XML V

Windows

Free for private use, this utility makes full “hot images” of your drives or partitions that are stored as XML files, so you can still access data on them. It works for Windows versions XP to 7, and it has a number of command-line parameters for power users.

Backup Synch Storage

DriverMax

Windows

Drivers are the magic software sauce that keeps your computer hardware humming. But when you switch from PC to PC and take peripherals with you, or you just need to make sure you’ve got the latest drivers, what do you do? Turn to DriverMax. It will do a back-up and restore of drivers you need, or just download the latest for your (new) operating system on the same PC. Use it for Windows XP through Win7, whether it’s 32- or 64-bit version.

Backup Synch Storage

Dropbox

Windows | Mac | Linux | Web | Mobile

Our Editors’ Choice for cloud-based automatic file sync, Dropbox is the epitome of a set-it-up and let-it-go service. Install it on any desktop or laptop computer and all the files in your Dropbox folder appear on all systems (or on a friend’s if you share a folder). It’s free for up to 2GB of data synched, and that’s data you can access on your iPhone or via the Web, too.

Backup Synch Storage

Gladinet Cloud Desktop Starter Edition

Windows | Web

There’s lots of cloud-based storage out there that’s going to waste, even if you have accounts that provide access. Gladinet’s software attempts to rectify this by giving you direct desktop access to cloud storage solutions, such as Amazon S3, SkyDrive, Box.net, and Google Docs, acting as if it’s a network drive. It also has “cloud-to-cloud” backup, so your Google Docs files get backed up to some other service’s online storage.

Backup Synch Storage

MozBackup

Windows

If you love your Mozilla products (i.e. Firefox, Thunderbird, Flock, Songbird, among others), then you probably use them on multiple computers. Just make sure they’re set up the same, or, at the very least, that all of the data inside, such as e-mail, is stored safely. MozBackup takes care of backup and restoration.

Backup Synch Storage

MozyHome Online Backup

Windows | Mac

You’ve got lots of files that need protection, including big media files. They can take hours and hours to upload to the cloud. Let MozyHome handle it in the background. You get up to 2GB free. (More than that and you’ll pay a subscription fee.)

Backup Synch Storage

SpiderOak

Windows | Mac | Linux

SpiderOak provides 2GB of free online storage that backs up in the background. It also offers Linux support and promises “100 percent zero-knowledge privacy.”

Backup Synch Storage

Syncplicity

Windows | Mobile | Web

Synchronize up to 10,000 files or 2GB—whichever comes first—on up to two computers free (you pay for more). Sign up friends and you can add another 1GB per new user recruited. What’s more, Syncplicity goes out of its way to work with other cloud-based services, such as Google Docs.

Backup Synch Storage

SyncToy

Windows

What Microsoft once called a “powertoy” is now a great folder-to-folder synchronization tool. It’s great for backing up data from local to network storage once in a while, either manually or scheduled.

Backup Synch Storage

Windows Live SkyDrive

Windows

Let’s get serious about free storage space. 2GB is fine for documents, but it’s not enough for everything you’ve got. Maybe you can’t get enough free space in the cloud for everything, but Microsoft comes close. Its SkyDrive online storage delivers 25GB—free. The only limit: You must keep to no more than 50MB per file.

Blogging

 Posterous

Web

This might be the easiest way for anyone—newbie or experienced—to get started with a new blog, podcast or sharing site. Posterous hosts a Web page for you where you can post just about anything, from your deepest thoughts to most types of digital media (stills, video, or audio). Here’s the kicker: You (or others in your group) can autopost directly from e-mail, so any one can become an instant Web publisher.

Blogging

Ustreamtv

Web

If you’ve got a Webcam or some compatible screen-casting software and a good Internet connection, you can stream video live with Ustream.tv, a PCMag Editors’ Choice for live video broadcasting. It’s not exactly TV quality, but being able to build up a fanbase this way is priceless.

Blogging

Windows Live Writer

Windows

Want a word processor that’s specifically for blogging and can automate posting to top blogging platforms, such as Movable Type, WordPress, Live Journal, TypePad, and others? The new version of Writer offers enhancements for sharing images and even cropping and tilting pictures on the fly, or creating albums. You can even auto-publish video to sites like YouTube. Plug-ins will integrate Writer with sites like Digg, Flickr, and Twitter.

Blogging

WordPresscom

Web

This is where you go to setup a new blog, which WordPress will host and you control. You only pay if you need extra space or even more control (such as CSS modification).

Blogging

Zoundry Raven

Windows| Portable

Send your missives to multiple blogging platforms with this WYSIWYG editor. Zoundry Raven gives Windows Live Writer a run for its money (or it would if either cost a dime). The open-source app can run portably from a USB flash drive and be used with any Windows PC.

Browsers

Firefox

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile | Portable

What more can we say about Mozilla’s flagship product? There’s always a new and more innovative version on the way. It’s the primo example of a perfected extensible architecture (that is to say, plug in), and it remains our Editors’ Choice in desktop browsing.

Browsers

Flock

Windows | Mac OS | Linux

The self-described “social Web browser” is built on the same underpinnings as Firefox, but it gets its social on by integrating with sites and services—most recently, Twitter and Facebook.

Browsers

Google Chrome

Windows | Mac | Linux

Firefox once reigned supreme—as a browser with extensions—but Chrome is coming to usurp the throne. It doesn’t offer a big library of extensions, comparatively, but couple what it has with incredible speed and you’ve got a winner.

Browsers

Maxthon

Windows

Back on this list by popular demand is Maxthon, a browser that introduced many to the idea of tabs. It now supports Windows 7 features, such as multitouch. It sports a built-in RSS reader and ad blocker, as well as support for plug-ins and skins.

Browsers

Opera

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile

Opera claims to be “the fastest browser on earth,” thanks to a new JavaScript engine, Carakan, and a new graphics library, Vega.

Browsers

OperaTor

Windows

Combine the portable version of Opera with the anonymizing service Tor (The Onion Router) and you get OperaTor, a bundle (including Polipo as a proxy) that keeps your surfing secret.

Browsers

Prism

Windows

There are a lot of Web-based programs out there, and a lot of them are on this list. There are times, though, when you want your apps to run on your desktop alone, so if the browser crashes, your Web app doesn’t go with it. That’s what Prism does. It’s a site-specific browser. You specify the site, then an app like Gmail, Meebo, Mint.com, etc. can run on your desktop as if it’s installed software.

Browsers

Safari

Windows | Mac | Mobile

A fine performer on the desktop and the cornerstone of browsing on the iPhone, Safari is Apple’s entry into the browser wars. It also continues to innovate with cool visuals (Cover Flow for your history), better speeds, and overall compatibility.

Calendar/PIM

 Boxes

Web

This Web calendar actually looks 100-percent like the calendars of yore. You won’t get confused using 30 Boxes, even on the months with 31 or 28 boxes.

Calendar/PIM

Chandler

Windows | Mac | Linux

Though it looks like Outlook, Chandler is all about keeping track of the notes, to-do lists, and meetings in your future.

Calendar/PIM

Google Calendar

Web

One of the best of the many Google online apps, Calendar displays your schedule any way you want. It’s imminently searchable, of course, and has its own Labs section, with experimental ideas from Google that you can implement, if you want.

Calendar/PIM

Google Contacts

Web

Google’s answer to keeping track of your friends and family might be a bit anemic—okay, it’s more than a bit anemic—but it’s a must have when your life is intertwined with Google Voice and Gmail.

Calendar/PIM

Lightning

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

Another project of Mozilla Labs, Lightning is technically an extension for the Thunderbird e-mail software. And what an add-on it is, providing full calendaring support with a task list. You can even synch it with your Google Calendar.

Calendar/PIM

Remember The Milk

Web | Mobile

You don’t want to forget the milk, or anything else, and this superior cloud-based task manager will make sure your to-do lists are easily managed and accessible via a variety of smartphones (iPhone, Android, Blackberry) and even through other Web services, such as Gmail.

Calendar/PIM

Yahoo Calendar

Web

Not much has changed with Yahoo’s online calendar or contacts in the last few years, but maybe it doesn’t need to. This kind of simplicity is hard to come by. If you don’t want all the extra bells and whistles of other apps, this might be the right PIM for you.

Conferencing/VoIP

Adobe ConnectNow

Web

Part of Adobe’s Acrobat.com suite of tools, ConnectNow provides you with a meeting room where you can invite up to two users to do some collaborative work. Attendees can share screens, take part in text chats, whiteboard, and video conference via webcam. The free version lets you create up to five PDF files and there is a cap on the size of files. If you’d like to invite additional attendees and get more robust conferencing features, you can upgrade to a monthly or annual plan.

Conferencing/VoIP

Dabbleboard

Web

Dabbleboard, an online collaboration app, brings drawing and some real-time collaboration and whiteboarding to your virtual meeting. The free version lets an unlimited number of collaborators draw on the board while chatting; you can pay for a subscription to do more, such as get control over who can view and edit drawings, as well as encrypted access.

Conferencing/VoIP

Dimdim

Web

If you want to hold an online conference with people in far-flung places, and you’re looking to do it for free, check out Dimdim. Dimdim lets you schedule online meetings for up to 20 people—no software installation needed.

Conferencing/VoIP

Doodle

Web

Continuing in the tradition of Web conferencing apps with silly names, Doodle is like the eVite of online meetings. It’s easy to schedule events like conference calls and family gatherings, and you can import them into your Outlook, Lotus Notes, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook calendars.

Conferencing/VoIP

ooVoo

Windows | Mac

If all you want to do is have a straight-up two-way video chat with someone else via Webcam, then try ooVoo. The free version even lets you send and receive 1-minute video messages to fellow users. You can also use it for chatting (with up to 6 people) and to send files.

Conferencing/VoIP

Skype

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile | Portable

Practically synonymous with VoIP and now with one-on-one free video conferencing, Skype offers its core function—PC-to-PC communication—totally free. That goes for talking to Skype users on smartphones as well. Skype has gotten so big, entire phone systems have been built to use its backbone. You only pay if you want extras, such as the ability to call landline phones or built-in voice mail, but even those are super-cheap compared to what’s offered by traditional providers.

Conferencing/VoIP

Springnote

Web | Mobile

Use an OpenID, such as your Google sign-in, to access Springnote and you can use this wiki-based site for creating a personal notebook (which you can share) or a group notebook for projects. RSS feeds make it easy for members to keep up, and they can comment on pages when not fully editing the content on them. iPhone users can also access pages via a free app.

Conferencing/VoIP

TokBox

Web

You can video chat with up to 20 people simultaneously via webcams using TokBox. This video-based phone service also ties into your existing IM accounts to find other users (it won’t call regular phones). If you’d rather not use the Web, an installable application is also available. You can check out the equally free TokBox AIR.

Displays

DisplayFusion v

Windows

If you’re lucky enough to have multiple monitors, and you’re looking to get more from the experience, try DisplayFusion. It gives each its own unique wallpaper (with integrated search on Flickr), the ability to display more with the Titlebars at the top of each window, hot keys to move windows from system to system, and more

Displays

VirtuaWin v

Windows

Need more than one monitor but don’t have the cash to spend? A virtual desktop might be the answer. You can have as many as nine with VirtuaWin, each found by tapping an icon in the system tray.

Email

Affixa

Windows

Once there were programs called gAttach and yAttach, which integrated Gmail and Yahoo Mail with your desktop. They’ve both been replaced by Affixa, which does the same for both. It even handles those “mail to” links that crop up online, as if it were the native e-mail app. To support multiple accounts, you need the $3 Pro version.

Email

eM Client

Windows

Want to get rid of Outlook and get something users can master quickly? eM Client software offers all of the same features, such as e-mail and calendar. It even throws in instant messaging. It works with just about any existing e-mail server software. It’s only free for use at home, but a corporate license might be worth it.

Email

Gmail

Web

Google’s version of online e-mail is a standard now. Because it lives in the cloud, it continues to innovate via the Gmail Labs experiments, some of which become standard features. In the last year alone, Google made sure every Gmail session is secure (notice the https in the address), and maybe most remarkably, it is no longer in beta. If that label was holding you back, you’ve got no excuse now.

Email

Inbox

Windows

You’ve got a lot of inboxes outside of your e-mail, including your social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. This app combines them all, so you can send one message to all services and read them all in one interface.

Email

Thunderbird

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile | Portable

It’s been the best desktop alternative to Outlook for a long time. Version 3 of Mozilla’s e-mail and RSS news reader adds a new feature to the interface: tabs (just like in Firefox). And, of course, it’s always supported cool extensions. It’s not for businesses, but for everyone else eschewing Web-based email, it’s the best choice.

Email

VoxOx

Windows | Mac

You want a tool that does it all? This could be the one. VoxOx 2 integrates with a wide variety of services and software: It does voice and video calls, SMS text messaging, instant messaging, file sharing, e-mail, and even faxing. It helps that the parent company is a telco. You might have to pay for some calls, but the charge is minor. It even includes a new digital “personal assistant” and on-the-fly translation of text.

Email

Zimbra Desktop

Windows | Mac | Linux

If you want to handle all your Web mail on your desktop along with a POP/IMAP account or two, Zimbra gives you an Outlook-esque interface from which to do so. Set up all of your accounts and it will handle messages, plus contacts, calendars, and more

File Transfer/Sharing

µTorrent

Windows | Mac | Portable

Our favorite BitTorrent client (it’s our Editors’ Choice) is also yours, since half the protocol’s users prefer it. No wonder: It’s super small, super fast, and gives you all the controls you need to manage the bandwidth it uses.

File Transfer/Sharing

BitTorrent

Windows | Mac | Linux

The client software for the BitTorrent protocol, which makes sharing a breeze, is not as good as its competition, but it still sports fast performance across all OSes.

File Transfer/Sharing

FileZilla

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

We once mistakenly called this a Mozilla project because of its name. It’s not. This free FTP client software started as a computer science project in 2001 and blossomed into an open-source staple.

File Transfer/Sharing

LimeWire

Windows | Mac

In the days of Napster, instant file sharing was all the rage. The closest you can come to that today—and still be legal—is LimeWire. The client can access the Gnutella sharing network, as well as BitTorrent downloads and uploads. If you’re willing to pay for a subscription, you get extras like anti-virus protection.

File Transfer/Sharing

netftp

Web

You may not want to start up an FTP client just to transfer one file. In fact, why use a client at all? Net2ftp is a Web app that can handle the transfer. All you have to do is give it the server, username, and password.

File Transfer/Sharing

RightLoad

Windows

This tiny FTP client does one thing: It sends files directly to pre-configured servers, with a simple right-click. It even lets you quickly throw images onto Facebook and Flickr.

File Transfer/Sharing

Vuze

Windows | Mac

This BitTorrent client does more than BitTorrent. It’s also a media player that works not just on your computer, but it serves video on a variety of other devices, including all three major game consoles, TiVo Series 3, Apple TV, iPods, and the iPhone. Yet, it remains an open platform

File Viewers/Converters

Adobe Reader

Windows | Mac | Linux

The primary reader for Adobe Acrobat files, Reader used to be bloated and slow. Newer versions, however, are almost as fast as Acrobat-reading competitors. If you still think it’s slow, use PDF Speedup (Windows only) to, well, speed it up, by deactivating unneeded extra features.

File Viewers/Converters

FoxIt Reader

Windows | Portable

You don’t need Adobe to read Acrobat files. FoxIt Reader is a long-time popular PDF reader that is famed for having no bloat. It allows you to annotate a file, or convert all of a PDF’s text directly to a TXT file.

File Viewers/Converters

FreeCommander

Windows| Portable

Tabs or dual panes are a staple of any replacement for Windows Explorer; FreeCommander sports both, plus a built-in file viewer, archive handler, multi-file renaming, file splitting/rejoining, and FTP support. And, it’s portable, so you can run it from a USB flash drive.

File Viewers/Converters

IrfanView

Windows

A true classic, IrfanView (pronounced ear-fan-view) is all about viewing and converting graphics files, covering just about any graphic format you can conceive of. It even has some editing and annotation capabilities, all in a tiny 1.3MB download.

File Viewers/Converters

IZArc

Windows | Portable

Open or create just about any compressed file you can think of with IZArc. Zip, RAR, and the like are a given, but it also tackles CD/DVD image files, such as ISOs or BINs (and it can convert them, too). Just drag a file onto IZArc to get started. The portable IZArc2Go runs from your USB flash drive.

File Viewers/Converters

muCommander v

Windows | Mac | Linux

If you use multiple operating systems, you’ve likely wished you could access files on them all in the same manner. Try muCommander. Written in Java, it looks the same on all OSes: a simple dual-pane explorer-type app that handles file compression and comes in 23 languages.

File Viewers/Converters

Nuance PDF Reader

Windows

While PDF-Xchange crams a lot of power into a convoluted, multi-button interface, Nuance attempts similar features in a better-looking package. It loads extremely fast (at 18MB vs. Adobe Reader’s 200MB, that’s almost a given). Nuance will also play back embedded media in a PDF file and convert files to Word, RFT, or Excel formats.

File Viewers/Converters

PDF-XChange Viewer

Windows

PDF-XChange Viewer looks like it provides as much control over PDFs as you can get—short of buying Acrobat for a few hundred bucks. It’s got a toolbar stuffed with features, from advanced navigation to markup/comments (including “rubber” stamps) to search to import/export to working with AcroForms (interactive forms). It will even password encrypt/decrypt files.

File Viewers/Converters

PeaZip

Windows | Linux | Portable

Install PeaZip, right click on files uncompressed (to pick archives you can create) or compressed (to pick how best to extract the contents) via the context menu that pops up. Windows 7 users will get a cascading submenu of choices. Go into PeaZip’s own interface to create settings that help you out.

File Viewers/Converters

PrimoPDF

Windows

Nitro Software’s PrimoPDF makes PDF files. It’s that simple. Thing is, it does it fast via drag and drop of popular formats, including Microsoft Office (over 300 file types total).

File Viewers/Converters

XnView /

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile | Portable

We love IrfanView, but XnView goes a little farther by supporting more operating systems. It, arguably, has a prettier interface for converting the 400+ graphic file formats it supports.

File Viewers/Converters

xplorerLite

Windows

So, you’ve heard that dual panes and tabs are the way to go if you’re looking to replace Windows Explorer? So did xplorer2, which also adds folder comparison/synchronization, previews of certain file types (like TXT and RTF), and a text editor of its own.

File Viewers/Converters

ZamZar

Web

Don’t install a thing the next time you have a file that needs converting. Zamzar lets you upload files up to 100MB. Just pick a format to convert them too, and you’ll get an e-mail with a link to download it. This works for documents, images, audio, and video. You can even compress a file. If you want to upload larger files, you can subscribe for $7 a month to start.

Finance

Billeo

Windows | Mac | Web

Billeo is a combination electronic-wallet, form filler, password manager, and more. It helps make it easier to conduct financial transactions online, whether paying a bill or making a purchase. Grab the browser plug in for Firefox to get started.

Finance

Buxfer

Web | Mobile

You don’t have to store your bank data in this online money management app; Buxfer will simply synch with your downloaded bank data, if you prefer. Either way, you get an easy-to-grasp look at your financial health, with reports on what you’ve spent and made, as well as budgeting suggestions. Take it on the road with you via your iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile devices, too.

Finance

DayLater

Web | Mobile

Everyone from freelancers to small businesses needs to keep careful records. This could come down to the number of minutes spent on a project, or miles traveled, and, of course, expenses. 1DayLater is all about tracking time, distance, and cash for all your projects and clients, providing a visual report of what’s what.

Finance

Mintcom

Web | Mobile

PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for online financial Web services is a big name now: Intuit, the makers of Quicken, bought the company, realizing this was the future of online finance. Mint gathers your banking information and spending data from all of your bank accounts, credit cards, and loans, and gives you a constant, up-to-date report on how your finances fare, with advice on how to improve things, if needed.

Finance

Outright

Web

Having a hard time imagining keeping your small business’ finances online? Outright makes online biz bookkeeping easy, by tracking income and expenses, creating reports on that data, and then providing an overview of what you need to pay in taxes. It imports data from your financial institutions (like Mint does for your individual accounts) and partner sites, all for free.

Fun/Home

calibre

Windows | Mac | Linux

As ebooks get more popular, you need a way to keep track of them all. Calibre is gaining thousands of users each month doing just that. It sorts ebooks by title, author, rating, and more, plus you can tag them as you like. It will convert ebook formats (so you can make EPUB or PDF files from MOBI and TXT, or vice versa). It will even sync with some ebook readers if you don’t use the built-in viewer to read on your computer screen.

Fun/Home

Celestia

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

Travel the galaxy with this planetarium software, which uses an “exponential zoom feature” to make traveling through the stars seamless no matter the scale. If the package doesn’t include the stars and celestial objects you desire, there’s every chance an add-on in The Celesita Motherlode will.

Fun/Home

FreeMind

Windows | Mac | Linux

A mind map is like a flowchart/illustration/diagram of all the words, ideas, and pictures you can imagine as you brainstorm new ideas. Mind mapping software, such as FreeMind, helps get those ideas down before they slip away. It’s written in Java, so it runs on all OSes, providing an interface similar to an outline on steroids to track whatever you insert as you think think think.

Fun/Home

Geni

Web

Get ready to decorate the family tree. Geni lets you build out your genealogy and find ways to connect them with others when ancestors overlap (to do some of that connecting requires upgrading to the Pro version). You can log in with your Facebook account to share updates to the family tree with everyone you know.

Fun/Home

Ibis Reader

Web | Mobile

This started out as a simple work-around for iPhone users and has blossomed into a great-looking cloud-based ebook reader that you can use on a laptop or phone, including the Droid, Nexus One, and iPhone. It uses HTML5 to store books locally (though this requires 50MB of space, even on your phone). Add ePub docs of your own to your My Books shelf: You’ll want them until Ibis builds out a better catalog of books.

Fun/Home

Kindle

Windows | Mac | Mobile

You don’t have to own a Kindle to buy Kindle-based ebooks. Amazon, smartly, created software that makes them readable on all operating systems and mobile phones with decent screens—all the better to sell more ebooks, obviously. What’s nice is, with the WhisperSync tech, you can start reading on your desktop or laptop and continue where you left off on your iPhone or BlackBerry (or the actual Kindle hardware).

Fun/Home

Penzu

Web

Dear diary, I had no idea that I could write online and be able to keep my thoughts and feelings private and secure until I found Penzu. I can even insert pictures from Flickr, share entries if I want to, and search past entries. I can get even more cool features (like customized backgrounds and AES encryption) if I want to pay $19 a year for the Pro version.

Fun/Home

ReadPal

Windows

If you’re the type of reader that hates the screen and loves the print out, maybe ReadPal will help you save some trees. It takes your documents and formats them into easily-readable, auto-scrolling text. Or you can read in “Banner Reader” mode: A rapid sequence of words appears in the same place on the screen (it’s supposed to be brain friendly). It even takes out extraneous words, so you can skim things faster. It claims it will help you read 42 percent faster. That might be a safe bet, though we can’t speak to your level of comprehension.

Fun/Home

Showoffcom the Visualizer

Web

Gardeners rejoice and get ready to show off your green thumb. This Web app lets you upload a picture of your abode and then wrap greenery around it, without needing to build a 3D model. Imagine, ahead of time, what all that forsythia will look like around the driveway. You can even use interior shots of your house to play with furniture placement.

Fun/Home

Sweet Home D

Windows | Mac | Linux | Web

This interior design app lets you build a 2D view of your home’s floor plan, with 2D representations of furniture. Then, Sweet Home 3D gives you a 3D preview of what the room will look like. It’s better than making a friend (and by friend, I mean me) help you move a couch around to find the perfect spot.

Fun/Home

Timetoast

Web

Occasionally, we all need a timeline for a presentation. Timetoast lets you build extremely beautiful and interactive timelines, which can then be shared on Web pages.

Graphics

Artweaver

Windows

This starter tool lets you digitally paint to your heart’s content, without making a mess or paying through the nose.

Graphics

Aviarycom

Web

Aviary isn’t just a single graphics tool, it’s a whole flock of tools for creating and editing images in the cloud. If you install a Firefox extension, Aviary can even do screen captures of Web pages, which you can then quickly edit. Brand new to the site: a full-blown audio editor.

Graphics

Blender

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

Open-source tools for making animated movies that rival anything out of Hollywood server farms? Yes, it’s possible with Blender—and a metric-ton of hard work and talent. If you lack the latter, you can still play with Blender’s serious modeling, shading, animating, and rendering tools—even if it’s just a 3D stick figure.

Graphics

FastStone Image Viewer

Windows

View, manage, and edit images in all the major formats with this intuitive freebie. It supports a photo import from the hardware of a number of digital camera manufacturers, has a great red-eye removal effect, and includes a number of extras.

Graphics

GIMP

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

The GNU Image Manipulation Program is the ultimate open-source alternative to Photoshop; in fact it can handle just about any professional image editing and creation tasks asked of it, at a price anyone can afford. There’s a separate download site if you want GIMP 2.6 for Mac OS X.

Graphics

Google SketchUp

Windows | Mac

Want to build a 3D model but don’t have the expertise of a Pixar artist nor the money to spend on high-end tools? Google’s been providing SketchUp for people just like you for years. Check out the many video tutorials and then dive into the app, creating models of your home, office, or city—even a whole new world, if you’ve got time.

Graphics

Inkscape

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

There are lots of free bitmap editors and even 3D programs, but what about vector graphics? If you’re looking for Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw on the cheap, check out the open-source equivalent Inkscape, which uses the open Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format for files. Check out some of the possibilities you can create with Inkscape in the Open Clip Art Library.

Graphics

Jing

Windows | Mac

You can do more than take a picture of your screen and annotate it with Jing. The utility will also record video of what happens on screen, and it integrates ways to share your captures via IM, e-mail, or blog. Everyone who downloads Jing gets a free account for instant sharing at sister-site Screencast.com with 2GB storage. Pay $15 a year to go pro, and you can record video as MPEG-4 and record from your webcam, too.

Graphics

PaintNET

Windows

What used to be a student project is now perhaps the best available free Photoshop-esque tool . Paint.NET is fast, too, something Photoshop can seldom claim. Paint.NET, which requires the .NET framework in Windows, can also take plug-ins of its own, including one that lets it read Photoshop’s own native PSD files.

Graphics

Photoshopcom

Web | Mobile

You’re not exactly going to get the full power of Photoshop in your browser window, but you get a nice subset of tools to put to work on an online library of photos at this URL. The online version offers standard editing and uploading to sharing sites. Mobile versions, like that for iPhone, give you limited cropping, rotation, and exposure modification for pics on the handheld.

Graphics

Picasa

Windows | Web

Google’s Picasa doubles as an image editor and master manager of images and video that is extremely simple to use, even though it looks like nothing else you’ve seen. It works directly with digital cameras to download images to the master image collection; it even supports images in RAW format. Picasa’s Web Albums give you an online repository for sharing your favorite pics with the world. Picasa is our PCMag Editors’ Choice for consumer image organization and editing.

Graphics

Picnik

Web

This cloud-based image editor is so good, even Google took notice of it…and then bought it. For now, Picnik remains a standalone app for touching up images, which you can gather from (or save to) sites like Flickr, Facebook, Yahoo, Webshots, or Picasa. We’re looking forward to seeing it integrated with Google’s other online tools in the future.

Graphics

PosteRazor

Windows |Mac | Linux

Small open-source app PosteRazor takes images from a variety of file types, rasterizes them to enlarge them without pixelation, and formats them for printing out in large formats, so that you can physically stitch them together as a poster. This could be the secret to printing a billboard of that embarrassing picture of your sister.

Graphics

SketchPad

Web

Visit this URL and you don’t sign in: you’re instantly confronted with an empty palette awaiting your artwork. It’s instant painting without giving away a shred of private data. Hit the save icon (a floppy disk, for those of the current generation who don’t remember them) and your masterpiece shows up on a new tab in PNG format, ready to be saved with a right-click.

Graphics

Splashup

Web

Instantly launch Splashup in a new window and you’ll be image editing with a full suite of controls in no time. When you’re done, you can save images directly to Picasa, Flickr, and Facebook.

Graphics

Sumo Paint

Web

Amazingly, Sumo Paint is still around: amazing because the interface is so close to Photoshop’s I thought Adobe would have bought it or killed it by now. Sumo Paint has a lot to offer for a Web-based image editor, and you don’t even need to register to use it for image editing. There’s a downloadable Adobe Air version of the program you can run on Mac, Windows, or Linux, but that’ll cost you $19 per year.

Instant Messaging

AIM  

Windows | Mac | Web | Mobile

AOL Instant Messenger, as AIM was once known, still has the biggest IM network and the easiest to access from multiple places and services—a network used by most of the other tools in this section. Using the actual AIM software, however, can get you a few extras, like easy ability to send IM as SMS texts, but mostly it’s all about staying in touch with friends and family, no matter what computer or handheld (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile) you use. The new LifeStream feature makes sure the desktop software captures your social networking, as well.

Instant Messaging

Digsby

Windows | Mac | Linux

This multi-protocol IM client is one we once loved, and still like (see the review for particulars) It’s especially noteworthy because it was among the first to deeply integrate social networking with IMs by including access to updates from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace. It even includes e-mail, such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail, as well as POP3 and IMAP accounts. It’s nicely customizable in appearance, too.

Instant Messaging

KoolIM

Web

Like Meebo, this is a fast way to access individual instant message accounts without installing software. The interface is not as polished as some of the competition, and I’m not familiar with some of the providers KoolIM supports (Gadu-Gadu?). But for fast access to AIM and others, it does the trick.

Instant Messaging

Meebo

Web | Mobile

Tops in the Web-based IM trade, Meebo gives you one account that lets you instantly sign into your individual instant-messaging clients with AIM, Yahoo, Google, Windows Live, and Facebook and use them all in a single interface. It keeps a transcript of conversations for future reference. Being Web-based keeps it light, and new features appear automatically, too. Mostly, however, it’s just a fast way to instant message with friends on the most popular networks without installing a bunch of unneeded programs. And the iPhone app? It’s priceless, despite being free.

Instant Messaging

Miranda

Windows | Portable

Miranda is all about speed. This app has a tiny (1.6MB) install, loads fast, and supports instant messaging via AIM, Yahoo, MSN, and others (including old favorite Gadu-Gadu)—some by way of plug-ins. In fact, Miranda has over 350 plug-ins for everything from securing connections to saving instant messaging history.

Instant Messaging

Pidgin

Windows | Linux | Portable

Open-source Pidgin gives you single interface access to multiple IM protocols both well known (AIM, ICQ, Google Talk, MSN, Yahoo) and not-so-well-known (hello, Gadu-Gadu!). Pidgin has plug-ins for some others services (Facebook) and features, like advanced security and interface tweaks. Being open source, it’s also probably available in more languages than any other multi-instant messaging tool.

Instant Messaging

Trillian Astra

Windows | Mac | Web | Mobile

PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for multiservice IMs is an old favorite reborn with an improved interface and support for social networking status updates. It’s got a Web-based interface you can access for free (thereby taking on Meebo), and an iPhone app (though that, strangely, isn’t free).

Maps

Google Earth

Windows | Mac | Linux

This is so much more than just Google Maps in a desktop app. Earth is a virtual exploration app that lets you explore not just the surface of the planet, but also the ocean floor and the sky. Google Earth can even take you on a quick trip to Mars, or back in time via historical satellite images.

Maps

Google Maps

Web | Mobile

There isn’t much left you can’t mash-up with a Google Map, or that Google hasn’t mashed up itself (the latest: Google Maps Biking Directions). It’s available as a free app on most smartphones, too—naturally, it’s big on Android phones where it powers the GPS navigation and offers real-time traffic reports.

Maps

Nokia Ovi Maps

Web | Mobile

When accessed on Nokia phones, this GPS app and map site offers very accurate navigation with voice-enabled, turn-by-turn instructions.

Media Manager

Apple iTunes

Windows | Mac

The best known music and video collection organizer, iTunes is also masterful at syncing with Apple’s media products and the shopping experience of the iTunes Store (where most of America gets its music). iTunes is still PCMag’s Editors’ Choice in this category.

Media Manager

CopyTrans

Windows

Getting music on the iPod or iPhone is easy with iTunes, and even a few other programs; getting music off it is another matter. In fact, it can be a nightmare. We used to recommend EphPod but that’s no longer in development; the former developer suggests CopyTrans and we agree. It copies not just the files, but also the ratings and artwork, all in the right categories. The also-free CopyTrans Manager does all that and also takes over for iTunes as your media manger.

Media Manager

Data Crow

Windows | Mac | Linux

It calls itself the “ultimate cataloger” of media; behind the claim is the fact that Data Crow handles a wide variety digital data, tracking music, books, images, video, and even software titles and your contact list. Data Crow runs on any system that supports Java.

Media Manager

doubleTwist

Windows | Mac

Another iTunes-like interface for music that does what iTunes doesn’t want to: doubleTwist synchronizes with smartphones, including those running the BlackBerry, Palm, and Android OSes. For an iTunes alternative buying option, doubleTwist offers music shopping via links into the Amazon MP3 store.

Media Manager

Songbird

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

Wishing you had iTunes for your non-Apple smartphone? Organizing audio for these devices is just one of Songbird’s better features. It will play just about any music format, and even will play music embedded on a Web page; Songbird will even handle DRM files from iTunes by hooking into QuickTime. And it organizes everything in an iTunes-esque interface that’s easy to understand.

Media Manager

WinAmp

Windows

Once the gold standard in MP3 playing on a PC, WinAmp has come a long way recently to make itself into an all around media player for audio and video. For instance, it now can sync with your iPod and other portable music players. The interface is all new, but still skinnable, one of the original WinAmp’s claims to fame. Naturally, you get more with the paid version, but the free one is still a four-star product worth downloading.

Media Manager

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows

Windows Live apps are frequently items that used to come with Windows, but for various reasons they don’t ship in Windows Vista and 7. Photo Gallery is such a product: a capable photo (and video) organizer that can upload images to sites across the Web. Plus, it will do some minor image editing and automatically tag people in photos for you using facial recognition.

Networking

Axence NetTools  Pro

Windows

Take a gander at everything going on with your network with this suite of free diagnostics. You can monitor hosts, check stats on inbound and outbound traffic, get tables of local configuration info, scan for every node on your network (even rogues), and measure network bandwidth. And that’s just for starters.

Networking

LogMeIn Hamachi

Windows

Hamachi has always been a “zero-configuration” virtual private network (VPN) connection, and the free version can instantly connect up to 16 clients at once. You don’t need special software. Hamachi creates a secure tunnel between the computers for fast, safe file transfers.

Networking

Meraki WiFi Stumbler

Web

Is there a browser-based tool for trouble-shooting your wireless network that works? Meraki thinks so. Its WiFi Stumbler doesn’t install any software; it just discovers the access points/routers on your network and gives you all the information you need to make it work better.

Networking

NetSetMan

Windows

Windows itself might getting better, but its networking setup seems to get ever more convoluted. NetSetMan is a one-stop interface for changing all your network settings, so you can easily switch from home, work, or travel settings, and even take better advantage of multiple network connection types.

Networking

Wireshark

Windows | Mac | Portable

You don’t know you need a protocol analyzer and packet sniffer for your network. But you do, if you want to squeeze the most out of it. Wireshark can tell you plenty; as much as some of its for-fee competition. Throw Wireshark on a USB flash drive and you can take it from network to network.

Office

Acrobatcom

Web

Adobe’s taking on Google Docs head-to-head with Acrobat.com, a blanket site for online productivity apps (Buzzword word processor, Tables spreadsheet, and Presentations), not to mention ConnectNow meetings (see Conferencing). All are good looking because they’re built in Flash and look, well, flashy, with their flying menus and pretty fonts.

Office

Backpack

Web

37Signals has been making Web apps for over a decade, and the company knows what it’s doing. It even gives away Backpack to prove just what this collaborative project management space can do. Inside your sharable Backpack is a board to show who’s doing what, pages where you can keep notes and lists and even images, a calendar, reminders, even a collaborative writing space that saves new versions each time anyone changes the text. This is not your old elementary-school backpack. The free version is limited to one project, but it can have unlimited users.

Office

Dia

Windows | Linux | Portable

Want to diagram something, but don’t want to pay for Visio? That’s where Dia gets its inspiration, providing all the flowcharting goodness you can stand. Grab the portable version at PortableApps.com to keep it on your USB drive.

Office

Evernote

Windows | Mac | Web | Mobile

The ultimate note-taking app? It may be. Evernote lets you save anything you see online, your private notes, public notes—just about everything. You can synchronize your Evernotes on the desktop app, the online version, and Evernote for mobile phones (iPhone, Android, and Blackberry). You get a little more for subscribing (like more upload space), but you can get plenty out of Evernote for nothing.

Office

Google Docs

Web | Mobile

Finally out of beta, Google’s cloud-based answer to Microsoft Office continues to innovate. Google Apps’ word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, and online forms, were already fast and easy to master (since they don’t have all the extras you’d find in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), and now Google lets you upload any file you want to store in your Docs account. As Google buys more products like Picnik, who knows what might find its way into the Docs suite.

Office

Jarte

Windows | Portable

WordPad isn’t just a low-end word processor included with Windows. It’s also a complete word-processing engine built into the OS. Jarte (pronounced jar-TAY) uses that engine with a unique interface, including tabs. It can also be run from a USB flash drive and fully supports MS Word formats, even DOCX.

Office

Notepad++

Windows | Portable

A classic update to the anemic Notepad that has come with Windows since the beginning, this editor is about much more than text, it’s about code, with color-coded syntax highlighting for programmers in languages from HTML to C and tabs for opening multiple documents at once.

Office

OpenOfficeorg

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

The open-source office software suite that includes all the tools you find in expensive off-the-shelf products like those from Microsoft, OO.o (as it’s known in shorthand) does Microsoft one better by supporting all operating systems (Mac users should check out NeoOffice for a more Mac-centric interface). Furthermore, OpenOffice does just about everything you can imagine in an office suite (including extras like math and drawing applications), it works with MS Office files, and it has one amazing über-feature: It’s free for everyone, all the time, for any purpose. Period.

Office

OrangeNote

Windows

OrangeNote uses the Windows Presentation Foundation (or WPF) graphical subsystem that’s part of .NET. This is a techie way of saying it looks cool displaying clips of text notes saved in its database, which you access via an icon in the system tray. Hotkeys you create make it easy to clip items and access them later; in fact, OrangeNote can keep track of everything you copy to the clipboard. Copy whole documents to the clipboard and OrangeNote stores them away, like an emergency backup.

Office

PaperRater

Web

This online spelling and grammar checker goes a little farther with the documents you upload, by checking for potentially plagiarized text that might get noticed by a wary professor.

Office

SlideRocket

Web

A complete platform for creating presentations found entirely online, SlideRocket lets you upload PowerPoint files so you can access them anywhere, or just create your own online, in collaboration with your colleagues. The free version is limited to 250MB of storage; pay monthly or yearly to upgrade to more space and features.

Office

Springpad

Web | Mobile

Recently relaunched, Springpad (like Evernote) is all about saving snippets of the Internet (plus your own documents, pictures, and more) into a personal notebook for future reference. What it does different is bolster that saved info with extras it pulls from the Web. Springpad’s iPhone app lets you take it on the road.

Office

TypeWithme

Web

Google bought the code for the site EtherPad, which once offered shareable text documents that didn’t even require a sign-up account. Then Google made it open-source. The result is TypeWith.me, an instant collaboration spot with all of EtherPad’s old functions.

Office

Zoho

Web

Zoho’s massive suite of productivity and collaboration apps is unique in how it takes on the leader in online apps (Google) while still being fully in favor of working with Google’s tech and even as a partner. Most of the Zoho apps have a free component that you’ll get more from by subscribing.

Operating Systems

Jolicloud

Linux

While based on the Ubuntu Netbook Remix mentioned above, Jolicloud isn’t just a reskin. It’s optimized to help you get the most out of your netbook and to be easy to install. There’s even a Windows installer. There are hundreds of apps for it, of course, easily installed (or easily removed) with a click from the Jolicloud App Manager. Many are just links to Web apps, like those from Google, each running in its own browser window.

Operating Systems

Ubuntu

Linux

The latest version of the frequently updated Ubuntu Linux distro is 9.10 (“Karmic Koala”), and it’s got some great features, including a “netbook remix” version specifically for laptops with small screens and a server that runs in the cloud (via Amazon EC2). April will bring 10.04 (“Lucid Lynx”), which will likely not only support Mac products better, but will also get a brand new look (think less brown, more purple, plus a new logo). Those are minor tweaks to a major OS that’s great for older and new systems, with full support for open-source products like many found within this list. That you can get all this for free should make Microsoft and Apple quake.

Printing

GreenPrint World

Windows

Stop printing out wasted “ghost pages” with useless info and page flotsam. GreenPrint World offers a free utility that ties in with the Windows print dialog to stop the excess, saving you money in paper and ink (thus saving the world to boot). You can avoid advertising by paying $29, but the free version works just fine.

Printing

PrinterShare

Windows | Mac | Mobile

Install PrinterShare on a PC with attached printer. Have all your friends and family do the same. Then you can print to any of them, anytime (if the PC is connect to the Internet), and everyone you know can print to your personal printer as well. All you or they need is the PrinterShare ID of the printer in question to send the job. Even iPhones and Android-based phones can print this way.

Printing

Xerox Mobile Express Driver

Windows

Don’t download multiple drivers for every printer you encounter in your travels. Xerox offer this freebie to let you print to any PostScript device you find on any network, not just those from Xerox. It even lets you know what devices are online.

Process Monitors

Autoruns

Windows

No program knows more about what is autorunning (get it?) at Windows startup. Its 17 tabs show everything you can prevent from starting, even items you might not want to touch. That’s why using MSCONFIG might be better for the uninitiated. But if you’re brave and have the tech know-how, this is the ultimate start-up adjustment maker.

Process Monitors

Process Explorer

Windows

Window’s Task Manager can only do so much. Process Explorer does all that and more; it even IDs running DLLs and will tell you what process opened specific files. Make this your Ctrl-Alt-Del tool of choice.

Process Monitors

Process Monitor

Windows

Process Monitor (free, courtesy of Microsoft’s Windows Sysinternals group) logs everything happening in the underbelly of your PC. Patience as you wade through that data later can pay off with surprising revelations and powerful help with Windows troubleshooting. Some expertise doesn’t hurt, of course.

Process Monitors

ProcessQuickLink

Windows

Uniblue’s replacement for the Task Manager in Windows checks what’s running against its processlibrary.com database to tell you exactly what’s going on with your PC.

Remote Access

TeamViewer

Windows | Mac | Mobile | Portable

Super-simple remote access for support, access, or just a meeting is the hallmark of TeamViewer. The full version can connect with others, or wait for incoming connects. There’s also a version that doesn’t require admin rights. It can even run on a USB flash drive without installation. New features, such as VoIP, mean hosts can converse with clients over the remote connection. The latest addition is a free iPhone app that still displays a remote PC’s full desktop quite well.

Remote Access

TightVNC

Windows | Linux | Portable

The company’s description says it all: “you can see the desktop of a remote machine and control it.” That makes it great for people who are constantly asked to help friends and family (even the occasional IT person) with tech woes. If you want to use TightVNC with Windows Vista/7, best to try the Beta 1 of version 2.0

RSS Readers

FeedDemon

Windows

A desktop app for reading RSS feeds fast, FeedDemon also knows you need to track your feeds wherever you are and thus it syncs with the view-anywhere Google Reader. Feed Demon makes it easy to tag posts for future searches, and it watches for your favorite keywords to pop up so you don’t miss a thing

RSS Readers

Google Reader

Web | Mobile

The premiere RSS reader these days, Google Reader makes subscribing to feeds a breeze, displays them in an easy to view format, and makes posts in your favorite blogs and sites even easier to share via e-mail or the built-in Share feature.

Search

Copernic Desktop Search Home

Windows | Mobile

Now updated to work with Windows 7, Copernic specializes in looking inside files, e-mails, and even message attachments so you can find whatever data you really need in seconds. Mobile apps for iPhone, Blackberry, and other phones extend the search, as do add-ons for the major Web browsers.

Search

Everything

Windows

Small doesn’t even cover it: Everything contains, uh, everything in a 334KB installation file. Once installed, it indexes your PC and gives you a no-frills, lightning-speed search of the contents

Search

Google Desktop

Windows | Mac | Linux

Why can’t searches of your local hard drives be as effective as Googling the Web? With Google Desktop, they can be, as the software indexes your data files to find things fast. It then incorporates the results into search results from the Web.

Security/Encryption

KeePass Password Safe

Windows | Portable

You have a lot of passwords. They’re not all the same. And your memory is like a sieve with particularly large holes in it. KeePass is your software vault. It uses AES and Twofish algorithms to encrypt all the passwords (and everything else) it holds for you. And it’s portable, so you can put it on a USB flash drive and take it with you anywhere, storing nothing locally. If you suck at making passwords, it’ll generate strong ones you can use. It doesn’t integrate much with the browser, but if you use Firefox, the KeeFox plug-in takes care of that.

Security/Encryption

LastPass

Windows | Mac | Linux

We don’t hand out 5-star ratings to many products, but LastPass got one last year and became our Editors’ Choice for password managers. Security expert Neil J. Rubenking says it has almost every feature of the competition (like auto-filling in browser forms), as well as a few unique tricks of its own. Your info is stored securely online, so you can share it across operating systems (and, if you’re willing to pay a $1 a month, with your mobile smartphone) and integrate with multiple Web browsers (IE, Firefox, and Chrome at the moment, plus Safari on the Mac).

Security/Encryption

TrueCrypt

Windows | Mac | Linux

Open-source TrueCrypt creates a virtual disk for your most important data which it then encrypts, or you can just encrypt an entire drive or partition, even the one on which Windows is installed. The strength is AES-256 and it’s automatic, happening in real-time when files are saved.

Social Networking

Fishbowl

Windows

To show off Silverlight in Windows 7, the Microsofties created Fishbowl as a desktop client for accessing Facebook in a whole new way. It integrates the social network with your computer desktop and provides unique views of pictures, status from friends, and more. It also works with XP and Vista.

Social Networking

Flexamail

Web

This is more a service for your software. Log on at the Flexamail site, give it permission to check your networks on Facebook or Twitter, and you now can control all communication with the social networks via e-mail.

Social Networking

Microsoft Silverlight  Client for Facebook

Windows | Mac

Another Silverlight-based client for Facebook access? Yep, but this one gives the social network a more serious, somber tone with dark backgrounds, while still feeding you all your events, photos, and status feeds.

Social Networking

Seesmic Look

Windows

Seesmic makes a lot of clients for accessing Twitter, but none change the feeling of the service as much as Look, a tool optimized for Windows 7. Instead of just a list of tweets, you get floating boxes, dynamically moving about as you surf the tweets.

Social Networking

Sobees

Windows | Web | Mobile

Sobees connects to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even MySpace, giving you side-by-side lists of status updates. There’s a version for your Windows desktop or you can access it on the Sobees.com page. In the future, you’ll be able to use it on some smartphones.

Social Networking

TweetDeck

Windows | Mac | Linux | Mobile

Since it uses Adobe Air, TweetDeck runs on all the major desktop OSes, using the same popular, multi-column interface to show off Twitter (plus Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace) updates. You can even access multiple Twitter accounts and keep track of hot trending topics and manage your Twitter lists. Your TweetDeck column setup can be synced across multiple PCs and even to the iPhone app for backup.

System Utilities

Advanced SystemCare Free v

Windows

Formerly WindowsCare Personal, with this app you’re just one-click away from making your computer work better and faster.

System Utilities

Auslogics Disk Defrag

Windows

Even today, it’s a good idea to occasionally defragment the files on your hard disk to keep performance up. This utility does it with intelligence for all types of file systems on Windows XP up to Win 7; it even merges bits of free space, doing its work automatically when the computer is idle. A separate tool runs the defrag as a screen saver when you walk away, so you can track the progress.

System Utilities

CCleaner

Windows

Don’t be upset that Windows occasionally needs a sweeping out. CCleaner will take care of that, and it can optimize your PC at the same time. It looks individually at Web browsers and other third-party apps, plus the Windows registry, seeking out the crap (that’s what the first “C” is for) slowing down your OS.

System Utilities

Disk Space Fan

Windows

Just what your hard drive holds doesn’t have to be a mystery, nor does it have to be ugly. Disk Space Fan displays the usage in a fancy, fan-like graph after a speedy scan. Click a fan and you’ll drill into the nitty-gritty of what those sectors hold.

System Utilities

Eraser

Windows

Eraser 6 does what the delete key and emptying the Recycle bin can’t. It ensures every little bit of information on your hard drive is obliterated—without destroying the drive physically—before you give it, or the entire computer, away.

System Utilities

EULAlyzer

Windows

Do end user license agreements (EULAs) make you nervous? You’re not alone. Luckily, we’ve got EULAlyzer to take a look at these “contracts” to tell you about the hidden pitfalls that might be installed, restrictions on what you can do with it, even what the privacy policies are at Web sites you sign up for. What you do with the advice it gives is up to you.

System Utilities

Glary Utilities

Windows | Portable

This “all-in-one” utility does pack in a lot, from cleaners for disk, registry, shortcuts, and old programs; to optimizers for memory and the registry; to privacy tools like a file shredder and undeleter. It’s even got some system tools, such as a process manager. Run it on any system from a USB flash drive.

System Utilities

Kiwi

Windows

Do you need help tracking your apps? Kiwi can help. This monitor will alert you when Windows apps do preset things like go over their memory use, or even just stop or start in the background. You can tell Kiwi to close or open a program when certain events take place, or to launch another app when one starts or stops. The possibilities are almost endless.

System Utilities

PC Decrapifier

Windows

Brand-new PCs are pristine examples of perfect operating system performance, right? Ha! Buy a name-brand computer and you’ll likely find it filled with shovel-ware and other crap that the manufacturer is paid to include. Before you try to do any serious computing, run PC Decrapifier and it will delete a lot of the pre-installed junk you’ll never, ever need.

System Utilities

Revo Uninstaller

Windows

An uninstalled program in Windows is seldom completely gone. Revo Uninstaller goes the extra mile to make sure it’s all gone. A lot of the best bits are now part of the Pro version ($39.25), but there’s still more cleaning with the free Revo than you’ll get with any program’s built-in uninstall routine.

System Utilities

Speccy

Windows

If there’s something you don’t know about your PC but want to—like how much RAM you have and who made it, the type of CPU on the motherboard, etc.—Speccy will tell you, in far more detail than you can easily find via Windows.

System Utilities

UltraDefrag  RC

Windows

If you prefer the open-source side of the freebie aisle, UltraDefrag is the one to get when you want to improve drive performance by defragmenting files strewn across the platter. It even handles Windows boot time files and can shut down Windows after a defrag runs (because that can take a while), yet it is optimized to do the job as quickly as possible.

System Utilities

VirtualBox

Windows | Mac | Linux

You can get more features with a full commercial virtualization program like VMware or Parallels, but try to beat the price of VirtualBox, which lets you run just about any other operating system you can imagine within any other OS. They all have to support x86 chips. Shared folders mean you can access the same files on the host OS or the virtual OS; the same goes for USB devices.

Video

CamStudio

Windows

Ever thought what you do on a computer screen was worthy of being made into a movie? CamStudio will make it so, recording all your on-screen actions—even audio to accompany it—and it can turn the whole thing into an AVI or SWF for streaming via Flash.

Video

Handbrake

Windows | Mac | Linux

Got a DVD you want to back up to your hard drive (which you’ll only do if you own it so it’s legal, right)? The open-source and cross-platform Handbrake will do this for you on any OS. What’s more, it can convert video from the DVD, or any other digital video on your hard drive, into other formats more useful for playback.

Video

Miro

Windows | Mac | Linux

Version 2.5 of Miro stresses that it’s an open-source HD video player and podcast collector; it gathers new episodes of shows instantly. Miro pulls HD versions when available, even from sites like YouTube, and a BitTorrent client and RSS reader is built in. Since it can download the videos it manages and plays, with Miro you can take your shows on the road when you don’t have Internet access.

Video

Pencil b

Windows | Mac | Linux

The flip-book animation of the modern age is on the computer. Open-source Pencil makes it simple for any hand-drawing 2D animator, beginner or experienced, to get going on some future Oscar winners.

Video

TeleKast  alpha

Windows | Linux

If you’re ready to start reading on camera, or even just for audio, you can get some help from a teleprompter. That’s expensive, but TeleKast isn’t. You create the script, feed it to TeleKast, and the app displays your lines in an easy-to-read scroll so you won’t stumble once.

Video

VLC media player

Windows | Mac | Linux | Portable

No frills video and audio playback on any OS that works with just about any media format you can imagine (including DVD but not Blu-ray)? That’s what VLC media player is all about. It can even stream media, both live from a mic or Webcam, or using pre-recorded files. VideoLAN’s Wiki will take you through this programs powerful feature set.

Video

Windows Live Movie Maker

Windows

It used to come with Windows XP; now Movie Maker is part of Windows Live Essentials, so you download it separately for Vista or Windows 7. This is a completely new program and ties in tightly to other Live components like the Live Photo Gallery. Another sign of Movie Maker’s relative modernity: it uses the “ribbon” interface introduced with Microsoft Office 2007. For easy Windows video editing videos, it’s hard to beat

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