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30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Windows


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Nov 7, 2010
30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Windows

What follows is a list of thirty pieces of software that are the cream of the crop of

open source software for Windows. Not only is every piece of it free, almost all of

them directly replace expensive software packages.

Firefox logo1. Firefox
Replaces Internet Explorer
If you haven’t switched to Firefox for your web browsing needs, do it now. It stops

annoying popups and it has tons of amazing plugins that can make surfing the web even

better. I could evangelize all day about Firefox, but one thing’s for sure: the first

thing I do on any new Windows machine is run Internet Explorer just long enough to

download Firefox.

2. Thunderbird
Replaces Microsoft Outlook or Eudora
Thunderbird is an email client that has five big things going for it: it’s free, it’s

full featured, it’s lightweight and runs quick, it has an unparalleled spam filter,

and it protects you from those ridiculous phishing attacks by clearly indicating which

emails send you to a bogus website. If you’re not already using a web-based email

solution, Thunderbird should be your client.

3. Sunbird
Replaces Microsoft Outlook’s calendaring functions
Might as well get the Mozilla trifecta out of the way by mentioning Sunbird, which is

the Mozilla Foundation’s calendaring program. It’s extremely easy to use (I figured

out everything I needed in a minute or two) and easy to share your calendar with

others. I consider a calendaring tool to be essential if you’re using a laptop, and

this is no different.

4. Abiword
Replaces Microsoft Word
Want a good word processor but find Microsoft Word too expensive? AbiWord is my

favorite replacement for Word. It’s lightweight (meaning it runs quickly) and includes

pretty much every feature that I use regularly in a word processor, plus it can save

files in formats that you can exchange with Word and WordPerfect users, plus open any

of their files, too.

OpenOffice logo5. OpenOffice
Replaces Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint
If you want to replace the rest of the Office suite, your best bet is OpenOffice. It

includes very nice replacements for Excel and PowerPoint (and workable replacements

for Access and other Office elements). In fact, I actually prefer their Excel and

PowerPoint replacements to the real thing.

6. ClamWin
Replaces Norton AntiVirus or McAfee
ClamWin is a slick anti-virus software that’s quite easy to manage and is unobtrusive

while keep your system free of viruses. That’s pretty much all I want from a package,

so why pay money for McAfee to keep bugging me all the time?

Gaim logo7. Gaim
Replaces AIM, Windows Messenger, etc.
This is a very clean instant messaging program that allows you to be on AOL Instant

Messenger, Windows (MSN) Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger simultaneously with one

program. There are other free packages that do this, but Gaim is stable and clean and


8. BitTorrent
Original but essential
From their website, “BitTorrent is a peer-assisted, digital content delivery platform

that provides the fastest, most efficient means of distributing, discovering, and

consuming large, high-quality files on the Web. Our mission is simple: to deliver the

content that entertains and informs the digital world.” In other words, BitTorrent

allows you to download large media files and also use your bandwidth to help others

download these files. Search for media files you want and download ‘em.

9. GIMPShop
Replaces Adobe Photoshop
This is a version of the GNU Image Manipulation Program that does a pretty solid job

of imitating Adobe Photoshop – a regular user of Photoshop (like me) can adapt to it

quite quickly. It’s very richly featured and runs quite well – in fact, I see no

reason to ever go back, even if Photoshop were free.

10. Gnucleus
Replaces LimeWire, BearShare, etc.
Sure, LimeWire and BearShare are free, but why not just get the same basic software

without all of the spyware? Gnucleus is pretty much identical to those software

packages – but without all that extra junk that slows down your computer.

11. VLC Media Player
Replaces Windows Media Player, Quicktime, RealPlayer, etc.
If you get tired of having tons of media players on your computer, get this package

that runs pretty much every media type you’ll run across without breaking a sweat.

Juice logo12. Juice
Unique but essential
Juice lets you effortlessly subscribe to podcasts, organize them, and listen to them

at your convenience. In conjunction with PodNova, I find it easier to use Juice to

organize podcasts than using iTunes itself.

13. Audacity
Unique but essential (for some)
If you’re interested in recording your own podcast (or just want to make your own

voice recordings for whatever reason), Audacity and a microphone are pretty much all

you need to get the job done. I’m not much for podcasting (let’s just say I don’t have

a radio voice), but I use Audacity for other voice recording purposes.

RSSOwl logo14. RSSOwl
Unique but essential
RSSOwl is one of many open source RSS readers. In other words, it enables you to use

one program to keep track of the content of a lot of different blogs; if you read a

lot of blogs, it’s the only way to keep tabs on all of them without devoting hours

jumping from site to site. If you have a laptop, it’s preferable to using sites like

Bloglines, but if you’re on a desktop, a web-based feed manager might be better.

15. Filezilla
Replaces WinFTP
Many people occasionally have a need to FTP files to other computers; if you ever have

the need to transfer files in such a fashion, FileZilla will do the job slickly and


16. Keynote
Unique but essential
Keynote is basically designed specifically for the task of taking notes on a laptop.

If you ever find yourself in a meeting or a presentation with your laptop open and

want to jot down notes and organize them just a bit, Keynote is unquestionably the

program for you. It’s not good at quality word processing, but that’s not the point.

In my professional work, I find myself using Keynote almost as often as any other


17. MusikCube
Replaces iTunes
If you’re not already committed to downloaded music from the iTunes Music Store, then

MusikCube is the best choice available for a music organizer and player. It organizes

your mp3s, makes it really easy and really fast to find them, and allows you to make

some incredibly clever smart playlists.

18. Handbrake
Unique but essential
Handbrake enables you to stick a DVD in your DVD drive and have the contents of that

film stored to your hard drive in a form that can be read by pretty much any media

player. I often use it to put a few movies on my laptop for travel purposes, so I

don’t have to worry about keeping track of DVDs while on the road.

19. X-Chat 2
Replaces mIRC
X-Chat is a free IRC client. For those unfamiliar with IRC, it’s a place for technical

people (and, as my wife loves to point out, nerds) to meet and discuss topics in an

open environment. I often find it very useful when piecing through difficult technical


KeePass logo20. KeePass
Unique but essential
KeePass is a program that securely stores and manages the abundance of passwords we

all use on a daily basis. I have literally hundreds of usernames and passwords spread

out all over the place; KeePass keeps them all for me and keeps them safe.

21. TrueCrypt
Unique but essential
TrueCrypt enables you to convert a memory stick into a strongly encrypted data storage

device, meaning that you can store personal data on it without worrying about losing

it and having personal information get out and about. I use it to keep some of my most

personal data off of my laptop and strongly secured, just in case.

22. PDFCreator
Replaces Adobe Acrobat
PDFCreator creates a virtual printer on your computer that, if you print a document to

it from any program, creates a PDF of that document that can be read on any computer

with Acrobat Reader on it. After installing PDFCreator, all you have to do is print

like normal and out comes a PDF!

23. Freemind
Unique but Essential
Freemind is a “mind mapping” software program. In essence, it enables you to

brainstorm and link together ideas quickly, creating “maps” of concepts similar to

what you might do on a whiteboard. I find it incredibly useful when putting together

ideas for new posts or planning small projects or assembling the backbone of a writing


24. NASA Worldwind
Replaces Google Earth
WorldWind is very similar to Google Earth in that it allows you to browse the globe.

While it isn’t strong for creating maps (but why not just use Google Maps for that?),

it is utterly incredible for viewing three-dimensional landscapes of any place on


25. Notepad2
Replaces Notepad
Notepad2 is a replacement for the traditional Windows Notepad that just adds a few

sweet little features: multiple documents; line, word, and character counts; and some

highlighting of tags. In fact, I’m using Notepad2 as I draft this post (after using

Freemind to organize it).

26. HealthMonitor
Unique but useful
HealthMonitor enables you to keep an eye on the health of your computer. It identifies

slowdowns and other system issues quickly and lets you know (for example, it gives a

popup if your system memory gets to a certain percentage of fullness, or if your hard

drive has only 10 GB free). This can keep you out of trouble and also give you clues

to problems your machine might be having.

27. Workrave
Unique but useful
Sometimes late into a writing session, my wrists get sore from too much repetitive

movement. Workrave basically jumps in before this happens and locks down the computer

for a while, preventing me from working too much and causing repetitive stress injury.

Since I’ve started using it, it hasn’t significantly hurt my productivity at all and

my wrists are thanking me!

28. GanttPV
Replaces Microsoft Project
If you do any project management (or have a need to dip your toes in the water),

GanttPV does a brilliant job of managing the task quickly, easily, and freely. If you

need to move to MS Project later, you can export from GanttPV to Project, but once you

start digging into GanttPV, you’ll likely have no reason to use Project.

29. GnuCash
Replaces Microsoft Money or Quicken
GnuCash is a slimmed-down version of the bloated Microsoft Money and Quicken packages,

but it contains all of the features I want for managing my money. The interfaces are

incredibly simple – it functions much like a checkbook ledger on your computer – but

there’s a lot of meat hidden throughout the software.

30. True Combat: Elite
Replaces Quake IV, Halo, etc.
After all this downloading, you’re going to need to blow off a little steam, and I’ve

yet to find a more enjoyable free game than this one. It’s basically a third person

combat game, but the graphics are spectacular and the game is quite engrossing.

If you’ve downloaded and installed all of these, you’ve got access to all the

productivity software you’ll likely need, clean and open and best of all free.[/color]
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>Nice list!<br/>
Here's some of my favorites:<br/>
Irfan View (view any image type)<br/>
Libre Office<br/>
Sumatra PDF (PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader)<br/>
Renamer (rename virtually hundreds of files)<br/>
Pidgin (universal chat program)<br/>
QT Tab Bar (adds tabs to folders and some additional functions)</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>thanks for sharing your list. <E>:)</E></r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>I use to use bitcomet it worked great for me, but I was told by a friend about utorrent and have been using for 2years now, I recommend utorrent , if u need help about utorrent and I can tell u what settings u need to configure if you like. do u know what teamviewer is it is a remote assistance service, that allows me to controll your pc like a video tutorial on your pc without u touching it. or I can talk to you on skype, instant chat. <URL url="http://www.teamviewer.com">www.teamviewer.com</URL> free download, works great. and skype <URL url="http://www.filehippo.com/download_skype/">http://www.filehippo.com/download_skype/</URL> if u do use skyp my username is shaggydoo6193050, if u need help. <E>:)</E> thanks</r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>I agreee utorrent is lighter and you can use ipfilter update for blacklist, and ip blocker. Bitcomet 1,9,1 is a good program but resource hog from my experience.</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>thanks, your welcome. <E>:)</E></r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r><E>:cool:</E> great list<br/>
cant get ahold of 26. HealthMonitor <E>:danca:</E></r>
Another Good One

<r>Thanks for this list! Here's one of my favorites since everyone is talking about torrent clients.. <br/>
<URL url="http://www.tixati.com/">http://www.tixati.com/</URL><br/>
I found this a few months ago and I haven't touched another client since =] It's very stable and lightweight, and the Auto Limit works wonders if you want your torrents up while browsing.<br/>
Perfect if you want a torrent client without frilly stuff!</r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>1. Firefox... You can literally spend days happily customizing the interface and never even bother to get on the web.<br/>
2. IBM Lotus Symphony... it replaces Word, Excel, and PowerPoint and is perfect for small business sync.. It has an intuitive interface and plays well among multiple platforms. At work, I run a MacBook Pro...the service counter runs an old WinVista dud, the owner has an iPhone and an Asus, and Symphony runs exactly the same on all of them. It even has it's own browser and memory cloud. <br/>
3. 7zip...for obvious reasons...etc.<br/>
Gonna have to get Form Factory and Bitcomet</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>hey thanks for your comment.</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>notepad ++ = FTW</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>thanks for comment. <E>:)</E></r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>very informative..keep it up..lets go for freeware apps..</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>Great selection, thanks.<br/>
Can I suggest Paint.net and Irfanview too ? (Both I cannot do without, Irfanview is the first thing I download !</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>Welcome and yes both are great software, thanks</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>your welcome. <E>;)</E></r>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<t>Wow, i'm new here.. This forum is great.. Thank you peolpez...........</t>
Re: 30 Essential Pieces Of Free (and Open) Software for Wind

<r>your welcome, if u need any help you can ask me , by PM Which means private message and I can get back to you ok, have fun and glad to have you hear. <E>;)</E></r>