America might be the land of the free, but the Internet holds the crown as the land of the “FREE!”
Tens of thousands of sites offer free apps, free utilities, free wallpaper, and more. Unfortunately, a lot of that free stuff is worth exactly what you pay for it. However, if you look closely, you can find free programs that work as well or even better than those you have to pay for.
Here are 50 free downloads and services from A to Z that we think are worth a second look:
1. AlleycodeThis WYSIWYG html editor offers a whole host of features you might find in fee-based software, and is especially good at helping you set up cascading style sheets. The software is free, but the site does accept donations.
2. avast! anti-virus and virus cleanerThis robust anti-virus software has earned a number of awards. It's free for home and non-commercial users because the companies believes "It is possible to avoid global virus spreading by efficient prevention; however, many users are not able to or do not want to pay for antivirus software." Businesses and institutions pay a fee based on the number of users.
3. BloggerDying to share your opinions and the minutiae of your days with everyone in the world? Now owned by Google, Blogger helps you get started blogging very quickly with an easy-to-use interface and up to 300MB of photo upload space.
4. BossKeyThe boss key is an old idea—with a single keystroke you can hide whatever you are really doing on your computer and bring up a spreadsheet or something else that looks like work. This program takes the boss key to the next level by allowing you to create up to 10 virtual desktops at once. We're not sure why you would need that many, but it's a fun idea.
5. CDBurnerXP ProCDBurnerXP Pro will burn any format of CD or DVD, except double-layer DVD (something that's promised in the next version). It will also rip audio CDs to your hard drive and obtain track information from the Internet.
6. Celestia The opposite of Google Earth (see below), Celestia lets you view any point in space as seen from Earth, or from other planets or starts. The Celestia Motherlodelets you add even more real and fictional celestial objects to the astronomy program.
7. ComodoThis free firewall bills itself as "The only firewall that doesn't leak." And in tests, it often performs better than firewalls that cost money. Unfortunately, it's only available for Windows.
8. Copernic Desktop SearchTired of waiting on the Windows built-in search function? Copernic lets you search your entire hard drive in less than a second—and it's easier to use too.
9. CutePDFWriterThere are several free pdf writer utilities out there, but this one is just so—well, cute. It's requires just 1.6MB, and it can convert nearly any printable document to a pdf.
10. DeadlineLooking for help on a calculus or trigonometry problem? Deadline helps students and engineers graph most equations.
11. del.icio.usThe social bookmarking site not only stores all your favorites online so that you can access them from any computer, it also allows you to search other people's favorites. And it uses tags for organizing your bookmarked sites instead of folders, making everything easier to find.
12. ESBCalcTurn your computer into a scientific calculator. Most functions are free, but if you want to use scientific or hexadecimal notation, you'll need the paid version.
13. ESBUnitConvJust how many cubits are in a light year anyway? This unit converter knows, and it does the boring stuff like inches-to-centimeters and quarts-to-liters as well.
14. EvilLyricsNot exactly sure how the words to your favorite song go? EvilLyrics will search its library of 15,000,000 songs and tell you the words to whatever is playing on your computer. Or you can look up lyrics manually by entering the artist and title.
15. FeedReaderGet the news from all your favorite sites in one place with FeedReader. It's small (under 4MB), customizable, and ad-free.
16. Festoon BetaFestoon allows Skype, GoogleTalk, and IM users to talk to each other, even though they're on different networks. It also offers some fun video effects in the EyeCandy menu.
17. FirefoxThe tabbed Web browser from Mozilla gets kudos for its excellent security and ease of use. We also like the way it handless RSS feeds, not to mention all the add-ons.
18. FileZillaThis fast, reliable ftp client and server uses a simple two-pane layout. It's both secure and easy-to-use, and it offers enough features to satisfy most users.
19. FlickrUpload and share your own photos, or browse through everyone else's. Privacy levels allow you to protect sensitive shots, while the notes and tags make it easy to search the photo library.
20. Fox-It ReaderAt just 1.5 MB, Fox-It is much smaller and faster than the more commonly used Acrobat Reader (20MB for the latest version). Plus, the free version of Fox-It allows you to highlight text or save the file as text-only. As with Acrobat's product, you have to pay for the versions that allow you to edit or create pdfs.
21. FreeConferenceThe premium version with a toll-free number costs 10 cents a minute, but if you're willing to pay for the call (or use your cell phone) you can schedule a free conference call for up to 100 people that lasts up to 3 hours. Web scheduling and e-mail invites are also included in the free service.
22. FreeUndeleteEver delete a file you really needed? Before you pay lots of money to a company that specializes in recovering lost data, try this free utility. If your data hasn't yet been overwritten, FreeUndelete can probably get it back for you.
23. GIMPIf you could use the advanced photo-editing features of Photoshop, but don't want to spring for the $650, GIMP is for you. Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, GIMP runs on Windows, Mac, or Linux. It may take you a while to learn to use it, but probably no longer than any other photo manipulation software with a similar feature set.
24. GmailWith Gmail, you not only get Web-based e-mail with 2600MB of free storage, you also can use Google's famous search capabilities to search through your old messages. If you're the kind of person who doesn't like to delete old messages, this is the e-mail service for you. Plus, you can chat through Gmail and access Gmail on your mobile phone.
25. Google EarthPerhaps one of the greatest time-wasters ever invented, Google Earth lets you visit any place on the planet, as seen from space. And it has legitimate uses like helping you find driving directions or plan the new subdivision you're building too.
26. IrfanviewThis photo viewer (named for its creator) is probably better than the one that came with your digital camera. It supports a huge list of photo file types, doesn't take up a lot of room, and lets you do some basic photo editing.
27. iTunesEven if you don't have an iPod, iTunes sets the standard for an easy-to-use music player and CD ripper. Plus, you get access to Apple's huge selection of 99-cent songs. Rock on, dude.
28. LogMeIn FreeThis service allows you to access your home computer from any Internet-connected device. If you want to use it for work or access the advanced features, you'll need to upgrade to one of the paid LogMeIn products.
29. MailWasherOver 7 million people use this free spam blocker, and it's won a number of awards. The free version allows access to some help, but you have to pay if you want e-mail support or to use MailWasher on multiple e-mail accounts.
30. NvuPronounced N-View (short for New View), this complete Web authoring system aims to compete with FrontPage and Dreamweaver. For those who remember the old Netscape Composer, Nvu will seem very familiar. It allows you to switch easily between HTML and WYSIWYG views and runs on Linux, Windows, or Mac.
31. OmniformatNeed to convert a file from one format to another? Omniformat converts among 75 of the most popular document, image and other formats. The free version displays an ad each time you use it, or you can purchase an adware-free license key for $9.95.
32. Open OfficeAt least 50 million people use this open source office suite that runs on Windows, Linux, Mac, or Solaris. It's won more awards than we can count, and yes, it truly does have enough features to compete against the more expensive word processing and spreadsheet packages. It even works seamlessly with the Microsoft Office file formats.
33. PandoraStarted by the folks at the Music Genome Project, Pandora helps you find new music that suites your taste. You tell the site what music you like and uses finds similar songs to create a customized "radio station" just for you.
34. PBWikiAccording to the site, making a free wiki with this app is as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich. You get 5 GB of free space, hourly data backups, and secure access for collaborative documents. If you need more space or features, you can pay a fee to upgrade.
35. PicasaGoogle's photo organizer collects all the images on your computer and makes it easy to rename and move groups of pictures or single shots. You can also create albums, rate your photos, or add password protection.
36. Project GutenbergWith 20,000 e-books in its online catalog, Project Gutenberg is the place to download and read the classics for free. Of course, "classic" doesn't necessarily mean the kind of books you would read in a college literature class; on the day we visited, the top downloads for the past 30 days were the Kamasutra, Manual of Surgery, and Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases.
37. RSS PublisherCreate your own RSS feeds, podcasts, blogcasts, and more. It does not include ads, but it currently runs on Windows only.
38. SeaMonkeyIf you miss your old Netscape Communicator, this is the Internet package for you. Volunteers at Mozilla.org have updated the old browser, e-mail client, and HTML authoring tools with some of the best features from Firefox and Thunderbird. Like the radio stations say, it's the best of the 80s, 90s, and today.
39. 7-ZipIf you need to compress a large file, 7-Zip results in a smaller file than most other zip applications, including the popular WinZip. Plus, it unzips all of the common compression formats.
40. SkypeThe first company to apply P2P technology to phone communications, Skype lets you make free audio or video calls to anyone else on Skype. If you want to dial out to landlines and mobile phones, it will cost you $29.95 per year.
41. Spyware TerminatorFree to home users, Spyware Terminator removes spyware, adware, trojans, keyloggers, home page hijackers, and other malware threats. Thanks to its HIPS system, it also has strong protection against unknown threats.
42. StickyPadThis computer-based version of those yellow sticky notes can be a handy way to keep track of your to-do list. You can also set alarms to remind you of upcoming meetings or events.
43. SuperShredderNeed to make sure a file is completely removed from your system? SuperShredder makes sure your sensitive data cannot be recovered after you delete it.
44. SureCryptThis super-small (9k) encryption program can encrypt or decrypt files as fast as Windows Explorer can copy them. Because of its speed, SureCrypt is especially handy for encrypting very large files.
45. ThunderbirdThis e-mail app from Mozilla has more features than Outlook Express, but not quite as many as Outlook. It includes built-in RSS capabilities, junk mail filters, and anti-phishing protection.
46. Trillian BasicThis free chat client supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC. For $25 you can get video chat when you upgrade to the Pro version.
47. Ubuntu"Ubuntu" means "humanity to others," and the software markets itself as much as a religious experience as a technological one. The desktop version of this free Linux distribution comes complete with OpenOffice, Firefox, GIMP, email and calendar software, and a ton of other open source apps. The server version boasts that it can get a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server up and running in 15 minutes.
48. uTorrentuTorrent calls itself "a (very) tiny BitTorrent client," but offers most of the features of larger programs. It's just 170KB in size and usually requires only 6MB of memory while running.
49. Yahoo WidgetsKeep the information that interests you the most right on your desktop. The thousands of widgets at Yahoo include the usual weather, news, and sports scores, as well as games, puzzles, and talking caller ID.
50. ZohoCreate and store word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and even handle project management and CRM online. Most of these web-based office and productivity apps are free, but a few have fees depending on the number of users. It's compatible with both IE and Firefox, and it supports most of the common file formats.