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The Best Free Software of 2019…

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Desktop operating systems like Windows and macOS don’t get all the attention anymore. It’s a mobile world, but we have not fully abandoned the desktop. The real work (and a lot of the play) of computing requires a full personal computer system. To get the most out of that, you need software.

Software can be expensive if you’re not smart about it. Free programs have been a mainstay of the desktop experience for decades, and the offerings only get more powerful and fascinating. As PCs compete with smartphones, it gets even better. Software developers can adopt an ad-based model, donation-ware to keep things afloat, or a shareware/freemium model that charges for extra features.

Something to always watch for: crapware installers. To make ends meet, many creators of otherwise great free software, or the services that offer the programs for download, bundle in things you don’t want. Worse, the installation routine obfuscates the steps, so you provide the unwanted program tacit permission to be installed. For more about how to spot and avoid this problem, see How to Clean Crapware From a New PC, and check out the Uninstaller section of this very free software collection.

One tip that helps prevent the extra crapware onslaught: only download desktop software from the maker of the software directly. It’s not foolproof—after all, developers want to eat, too—but it helps. That’s why one of the criteria for inclusion here is that the program is available directly from its maker.

Other criteria:

  • The software must typically have a Windows-based download; we mark it if it has a version for other platforms, even mobile or cloud-based (see the Legend below). In some cases, we’ve included web-based versions that are as good, or better, than some downloadable programs.
  • If it’s on a tiered sales model, the free version cannot be trial-ware. It has to have at least a free-for-life option.
  • The program should have little or no advertising to support it. Some freemium software depends on showing ads to exist, however. We’ll include some if they don’t suck.
  • Software for productivity is what this list is about; there’s plenty of other places to find free games.

So take a look at this massive list. Tell us in the comments if we missed your absolute favorite piece of free software.

For more free software, check out The 100 Best iPhone Apps and The 100 Best Android Apps.

LEGEND for compatibility:
—Windows
—macOS
—Linux
—iOS
—Android
—Amazon FireOS
—ChromeOS
—Firefox
—Portable (runs on USB flash drives you can take with you)
—web-based app (runs in a web browser)


Contents

Anti-Malware ][ Audio
Back-up & Sync ][ Browsers
Clean-up & Maintenance ][ Conferencing
Ebooks & Digital Comics ][ Email
File Recovery & Deletion ][ File Transfer
File Viewers & Converters ][ Graphics & Imaging
Maps ][ Media Players/Centers
Messaging ][ Networking ][ Notes
Office Suites & Presentations ][ Operating Systems
PDF Tools ][ Remote Access & Screen Sharing
Security/Privacy ][ Screen Capture/Recording
Software Updaters ][ Uninstallers & Installers
Video ][ Virtual Machines
Windows Enhancers ][ Writing


Anti-Malware

Avast Free Antivirus Main Window

Avast Free Antivirus
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
The free Avast scores very well in testing and it scours more than just your PC. It’ll go out on the network and check your router for security holes. Its built-in phishing protection is better than ever; there’s even a basic password manager.
Read our review of Avast Free Antivirus.

Kaspersky Free
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Kaspersky Free has perfect scores from independent antivirus labs and our phishing tests. The only thing it lacks is direct tech support. (And yes, we know there are allegations about ties to the Russian government, but haven’t seen any proof yet.)
Read our review of Kapersky Free.

Want more options? Read The Best Free Antivirus Protection.


Audio/Podcasts

Audacity

Audacity

Open-source Audacity can record and edit audio files on more tracks than you can imagine. It then outputs exactly what you need, even to MP3 if you use a plug-in. It is perfect for noobs and pros alike, on any desktop OS.

ocenaudio

Easier to master than Audacity, because it doesn’t have quite as many extras, ocenaudio still features real-time previews of audio, works across all the desktop OSes, supports plug-ins for new effects, and more.


Back-Up & Synchronization

Dropbox Basic

Simply put files in your Dropbox folder on the desktop, and they are uploaded to the cloud and synchronized with any other PC on the account. Files are also accessible via apps or the web. If you delete a file by accident, you can use the website to get it back. Dropbox offers 2GB of free online storage.
Read our review of Dropbox.

OneDrive Web Interface

Microsoft OneDrive
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box) Xbox
Consider OneDrive the most flexible and all-encompassing sync and back-up tool going. It’s the official cloud storage for users of Microsoft Office and Windows 10 (it’s built right into the OS). OneDrive includes 5GB of free online storage. If you subscribe to Office 365 Home, that storage jumps up to 1TB per user.
Read our review of Microsoft OneDrive.

IDrive
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box) NAS devices
You get 5GB free from IDrive to back up files from all your devices. If that’s enough, you’ll find this service more than up to your needs. It’ll even back up your photos and videos from Facebook.
Read our review of IDrive.

(Wondering about Google Drive? It’s on the list, but down under Office Suites.)


Browsers

Mozilla Firefox
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
The venerable browser Firefox remains our Editors’ Choice. That’s because it’s highly customizable, strong on security and privacy and performance, and supports a slew of new standards.
Read our review of Firefox, plus our Top Firefox Tips.

Google Chrome

It’s been a leading browser since its debut in 2008, especially when it comes to speed and minimalism. Chrome still ranks high as a browser to keep in your arsenal. Especially if you’re a devotee to Google products—and it’s built right into the ChromeOS on Chromebooks so much that it practically is the OS. However, it’s probably not the browser you want if you’re a privacy advocate.
Read our review of Google Chrome, plus our Top Chrome Tips.


Clean-Up / Maintenance Utilities

CCleaner Free

CCleaner Free

The first C is for Crap! CCleaner is practically essential for keeping a system going, especially Windows. What CCleaner does is simple: it cleans up extraneous files that gunk up the OS and browsers. Get it and run it, regularly. It’ll even delete some apps you didn’t think you could get rid of—like those provided in Windows 10, whether you wanted them or not.
Read our preview of CCleaner Professional Plus.

Defraggler

Defragmenting a hard disk has become a little passé in the age of terabyte drives, but it’s still a smart thing to do to eke out a little more data-access speed. Defraggler’s interface makes it brain-dead simple to do. It even works with solid-state drives (SSDs).

SlimCleaner

Tuning up a PC is a lonely process. SlimCleaner introduces community-based problem solving to the mix; it makes improvements based on data collected from all users. Previous versions have earned our Editors’ Choice award for free tune-up utilities.


Conferencing

Skype Translator

Skype
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Skype is synonymous with video conferencing. There’s a reason our Editors’ Choice review says Skype, now run by Microsoft, is “a highly polished, hugely functional service that runs on every platform you can think of (including the browser) and offers more communication options than any of its competitors.” For free, you can make unlimited video calls between Skype users, even with groups of users. Plus, its real-time translation ability is straight out of science fiction.
Read our review of Skype for Windows.

GoToMeeting Free

Up to three people on PCs can use this service to video chat and even share screens, all without fees or any setup other than sharing a URL or organizer code. Sign up for an account or sign in with your Google or Facebook accounts, and claim a regular-to-use meeting “room” online. Because it’s web-based, it works for Linux, Mac, or Windows, even on a Chromebook.
Read our review of the full GoToMeeting.

Zoom

Want to host an online conference for you and 100 of your closest friends? Zoom can let them all view what you’re showing for up to 40 minutes from any device, even a smartphone. It will also allow direct one-on-one HD video meetings. Plus you can chat all you want.


Ebooks and Digital Comics

Comixology Comics
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Amazon-owned Comixology is well known as the store for purchasing digital comics from just about all the major funny-book publishers; its free apps are how you read them. The app is a wonder, making page-by-page or panel-by-panel reading a delight, especially on a comic-book-page-sized tablet. The synced view means you stop on one device and pick up at the next one in the same spot. Pair it with Comixology’s unlimited reading subscription option or buy new comics the same day they appear in stores. For comic book nerds, it’s a must. (Windows users will have to stick with the Web interface.)
Read our review of Comixology, plus Everything You Need to Know about Digital Comics.

Kindle

Practically the de facto reader for ebooks these days, the Kindle brand is more than just hardware—it extends to these apps and programs for reading ebooks (which you have to buy from Amazon, of course). Start the book on any device, continue it elsewhere—the Kindle WhisperSync feature knows where you stopped reading. X-Ray gives you insight into the book; GoodReads integration gives you a social aspect. PageFlip lets you keep your page while scouring the rest of the book.

Libby

Libby

Rakuten OverDrive is a service to make it easier to get library books on your devices for reading, while still following library rules. Libby is the app built for that feature, and it works with ebooks, graphic novels, audiobooks (which you can stream to save space), and even magazines. You need a library card and the rest is easy. It’ll even send books to your Kindle if you prefer to read there.

Calibre

If you’ve got a lot of ebook files, Calibre is the open-source tool you need to organize them. It converts files into different formats, so you can use ebooks on many different devices, with which it will also sync. It’s constantly updated with new features and support for non-Amazon ebook reader hardware, like the devices from Kobo.


Email

Microsoft Outlook.com
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
If you’ve got a Microsoft account, you have access to Outlook.com, the successor to Hotmail and Live mail and our Editors’ Choice for web-based email. There’s still the Outlook program itself for Windows and Mac—it comes with Microsoft Office—but this free option is a perfect, minimalist, consumer-based webmail, complete with OneDrive integration. Interesting features include Sweeps, so you can, for example, delete all messages from one sender at once, and built-in chat—including Skype video chat. The version for iOS is particularly great.
Read our review of Outlook.com and Outlook for iPhone.

Gmail
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
The ultra-popular option for individuals and businesses alike, Gmail sports a clean interface and works with a lot, if not all, third-party email apps you can imagine. Plus, it probably has the best spam filter you’ll ever use. Last year, it got an overhaul with several new features, just ahead of its 15th birthday.
Read our Top Tips for Gmail.

Thunderbird

Mozilla’s email client extraordinaire still has all the features that made it great even years ago: account setup wizards, multiple languages, hundreds of add-ons, a tabbed interface, great search, junk mail and phishing tools, and the option for a personalized email address with your own choice of a domain name. Migration from previous versions is a breeze and worth it if you’re on the desktop.

eM Client

The free home version of this client software works with only two email accounts and lacks VIP support; otherwise, it’s feature-laden software that works with any kind of email, including services like Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, Exchange, and Outlook.com, complete with contact imports, calendar, task lists, and chat.

SPAMfighter

If you use a desktop email client like Outlook, Thunderbird, or even Windows Mail, you’re probably not getting as much spam-fighting power—especially with POP3 email accounts. Stick SPAMfigher on the system—it works directly with Microsoft to make it as tough against spam as possible. The Windows version is totally free for home use.


File Recovery and Deletion

Recuva

Recuva

Recuva (say it out loud) is a must on the tool belt of any techie, as it’ll be key to helping some wayward soul get back a lost file. It’s easy to understand, though should really be installed before you lose a file for utmost effectiveness. It’s portable, so you have the option to run it from a USB thumb drive (thus not overwriting that lost file on your drive by installing Recuva at the last minute.)
Read our review of Recuva.

TestDisk

TestDisk does a lot more than just find some lost files. It can recover an entire lost hard drive partition, and makes what was once a non-bootable disk drive bootable again. It’s open source so it might not have as fancy a user interface as you’re used to—but it’s powerful. Companion tool PhotoRec specializes in recovering lost images. For more, read How to Recover Deleted Files.

Eraser

The opposite of file recovery is utter destruction—the kind of thing you do to keep a file out of someone else’s hands. Eraser does just that, writing over the spot on your drive where the file(s) lived until it’s scrubbed clean, with no chance of it coming back to haunt you. Use it to schedule a wipe of the free space on the disk, or just to purge your recycle bin. During setup you get the option to install an extension for Windows Explorer so you can wipe files or free space instantly.


File Transfer

Filezilla

The former computer-science project is now one of the best standalone file transfer protocol (FTP) clients around. It’s a must-have for website owner who transfer a lot of files to a server, fast. It comes in a client and Windows-only server option.

TeraCopy

Teracopy

Windows copies files between folders and drives just fine. TeraCopy takes over that job and makes it sing—it’s faster, better looking, provides more information/feedback, and can recover from transfer errors.

µTorrent

Still one of the biggest clients for downloading and uploading torrent files, you can use it on its own or pair it with web or mobile accounts to start downloads remotely. It’s ad-supported, but you can kill the commercials for $5/year. It’s also had some security problems in the past, so caveat emptor.

qBittorrent

Volunteers use their free time to perfect this open-source torrent product that has all the features you need and probably want (sans unnecessary extras), including a media player and ability to search for new torrents across sites. Available in 70 languages, it’s got a very µTorrent-esque interface.


File Management

multicommander

Multi Commander

There are many, many attempts out there to replace Windows Explorer (a file manager marinating in weak sauce). Multi Commander stands out, providing multiple tabs, a file viewer, and dual panels to efficiently show you everything. Maybe too much! It’s got more features than can be covered here.

FreeCommander

Another file manager with the rank of Commander, this time with “free” right in the name: FreeCommander (which is actually donation-ware) also throws up dual panels and tabs with an optional tree view to get the most out of viewing files within Windows.

7-Zip

Eventually in this life, you’re going to run into an archive file—a single file with multiple files stored (and compressed) inside it. They have different extensions, from RAR to ZIP to 7z and many more, and sometimes the program to open them costs you. Not 7-Zip. It opens all of those and more, and allows creation of new archives. It’ll even encrypt the contents for safety. It’s entirely open source.

ImgBurn

Burning a few (or a lot of) CDs or DVDs from image files? Grab the free ImgBurn tool. It makes it a breeze to not only read an image file but also create an image or write the image to a disc or drive.

CDBurnerXP

Don’t let the XP in the name fool you, this is a frequently updated tool for burning ISO images and much more to CDs and DVDs. It comes in multiple languages and lists all the drives with which it’s compatible. It works on all versions of Windows.


File Viewers and Converters

IrFanView

IrfanView

IrfanView (pronounced ear-fan-view) has been the leader in file viewing for over two decades. Not only does it view multiple file types, it can convert them, batch process changes, even play media. Plug-ins and add-ons give it even more power.

XnView MP

With an enhanced version that works across platforms, XnView MP actually has multiple uses, like batch file conversion and support for 500 image formats (it can export 70 of them). It’s only free for private or educational use.

FastStone Image Viewer

View, manage, and compare your images with this fast and intuitive freebie. It supports a slew of image formats, plus a ton of RAW image formats from specific digital camera manufacturers. It has companion apps for screenshots and photo resizing.


Graphics and Imaging

Paint.NET

Paint.net

Is Paint.net a perfect replacement for Photoshop? Nothing is as powerful, but at this price—utterly free—it is pretty close. For any minor (and some major) picture manipulation, it’s fast, comprehensive, and easy to use.

GIMP
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) remains our Editors’ Choice for free image editing for good reason. It has all the high-end tools you could want for playing with graphics and, naturally, costs a lot less than Photoshop; 100 percent less, in fact.

Inkscape

Vector graphics illustration tools typically cost a lot but not Inkscape. You’ll be designing, drawing, and shaping gorgeous SVG formatted files in no time with this tool. Check the online gallery for excellent examples of its capabilities.

Icecream Image Resizer

Icecream Apps has a lot of nice programs, but the most useful for designers with a batch of graphics that need a quick resize is the aptly named Image Resizer. Drag images to it, pick a size and a destination folder, and they’ll be converted in an eye-blink.

Pixlr X

Snapped up by the owners of the 123rf stock photo agency, Pixlr’s gone through a change. The Pixlr Editor is still available to give you Photoshop-like tools in the web browser—but it requires Adobe Flash, and no one wants to turn that back on. Instead, the new Pixlr X is here, a “next generation” online photo editor for making quick adjustments and retouches to a photo when more advanced tools aren’t available. Every change is automatically saved and it also works directly with Dropbox.

Adobe Photoshop Express

Adobe Photoshop Express

When you don’t need the full strength of Photoshop, but still want Adobe in your arsenal, the low-end, consumer-oriented Express is there to help you with basics of image editing. It’ll auto-fix a lot in your images, plus has photo filters and, of course, in-app purchases to extend functions. For Windows, you’ll find it in the Microsoft Store.
Read our review of Photoshop Express for Windows and iPhone.


Maps

Google Earth pro

Google Earth Pro

As if high-end software that lets you fly across the globe isn’t cool enough (especially with all the same online features of its sibling, Google Maps), Google Earth Pro—with its advanced features, like high-res printing, distance measuring, and global guided tours—is totally free. It also comes in a web-only version now.

Bing Maps/Windows Maps
Xbox
Microsoft provides the only real desktop competition for Google. On the web, it comes complete with search, integrated ratings from Yelp and TripAdvisor, and more. Windows Maps in the Microsoft Store is the desktop program equivalent; if you have Windows 10, it’s probably already installed.


Media Players/Centers

Spotify

Spotify
Xbox, PlayStation, Smart TV, Smart Speaker
If all you need in life is a constant shuffle play of your music (with the occasional advertisement), then Spotify is for you. It offers 50+ million song possibilities no matter where you are, on every possible device you can think of. The free version is ad-supported, which is why Spotify wants you to subscribe for $10 per month; but if you can get over those confines, you’re no worse off than when listening to FM radio, and arguably far ahead.
Read our review of Spotify and Top Spotify Tips.

MediaMonkey

Sick of iTunes? We all are (even Apple). MediaMonkey provides almost all the same media management, playlists, and tagging capabilities as Apple’s bloatware—and even syncs media with your iOS-based devices. The Android app version means other phones are also covered. It’ll even sync over Wi-Fi (Android only).

Foobar2000

Remember WinAmp? Foobar2000 remains the modern equivalent, a desktop audio player with a concentration on quality. It’s unique in a world of online-radio services in that way. It’s also worth it if you’re an audiophile with big sound files (or just use CDs).

VLC

VLC media player
Apple TV
After a big cross-platform upgrade, the much-loved VLC got even more awesome. Already a premier way to watch just about any video, ever, no matter what the weird codec, the latest has features like auto-rotating smartphone videos taken at the wrong orientation, and resuming playback from where you stopped. It even supports HDR10 and Google Chromecast streaming. Seriously, VLC plays back anything and guarantees it comes with no ads, tracking, or spyware.
For more, read How to Play DVDs in Windows 10.

Kodi
Raspberry Pi
Kodi has become the open-source serious media center. Run the software in one place and stream all your media (you bring the content) to other devices. It’s all about content, so it’s the best option in many ways for a home media center.
For more, read How to Install, Update, and Use Kodi.

Plex
PlayStation, Xbox, Nvidia Shield, Chromecast, TiVo, Apple TV, Sonos, Roku, Smart TVs, NAS Devices, Smart speakers
If you don’t know or care what a media server is—you just want to stream your videos and music collection around the house—Plex is probably for you. Install it on all your devices, point it at some media, and those audio and video files become available on everything. Even remotely over the internet.
Read our review of Plex.


Messaging

Discord

Over 250 million users and counting are using Discord for text and voice and video chatting—mainly while kicking each other’s asses in online games. It’s such a big deal with gamers, Discord even launched a game store to compete with Steam. (Maybe because Steam also has a chat option.)

Telegram
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
One of the new class of messaging services with an ecosystems of apps, Telegram delivers not only easy communications, but also encryption security end-to-end. It’s a standout on iPhone, and has native apps on just about every platform available. Send messages, files, photos, animated GIFs (the search is built in), and create channels of up to 5,000 people to broadcast to.
Read our review ofTelegram Messenger (for iPhone).

Signal
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Our favorite messaging service takes security seriously—it’s Snowden-approved!—using its own open-source protocol to do end-to-end encryption, even on voice calls. It’s not as much fun as some of the others, but supports sending photos and video, plus group messaging. On Android, Signal can completely replace the SMS texting app; on iPhone you need to get other users to download Signal or you can’t talk to them.
Read our review of Signal (for iPhone) and Top Signal Tips.

WhatsApp (for iPhone)

WhatsApp

It’s not super popular in the US and not even our favorite messaging app, but you can’t ignore the 800-pound messaging gorilla that is WhatsApp. It has over 1.5 billion users worldwide. It offers end-to-end encryption, has animated GIF support, group chat for up to 256 people, document sharing, voice and video calls, one-tap voice messages, and a web-based interface you access by scanning a QR code with the app on your mobile device.
Read our review of WhatApp Messenger (for iPhone) and Top WhatsApp Tips.

Franz

Described as a “messaging app / former Emperor of Austria,” you can tell from the web page that Franz is gonna be fun—and useful. The sheer number of services it supports is huge: Slack, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Gmail, Outlook.com, and HipChat to start. You can add a service multiple times if you have multiple accounts.


Networking

Axence NetTools

This set of 10 Windows tools will keep an eye on the network. It includes network/port scanner, traceroute, bandwidth test, and a lot more.

Wireshark

Network pros who need a protocol analyzer and packet sniffer should add Wireshark to their tool box. It captures data that can tell you plenty about your network.


Notes

Evernote

Evernote
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Evernote has one use: be your online repository for everything. Scan it, shoot it, type it, whatever, just put it in Evernote to find later. Most text, even in pictures, is OCRed (optical character recognition) so it’s searchable later. Organize the notes into Notebooks, then access it anywhere. Despite some severe ups and downs in its business model, it remains our Editors’ Choice for note-taking apps on multiple platforms—even if you can only use two devices (plus the Web interface) for free.

Microsoft OneNote

Once just a part of Microsoft Office, the sublime OneNote has become a free, standalone powerhouse download for note-taking across all the major OSes. Of course, it still works with Office, syncs data across all platforms, and has full online access via Office.com with storage via OneDrive.
Read our review of OneNote for Mac and Web.

Google Keep

The most basic of online note-taking tools, Google’s attempt is like advanced, customizable, high-end sticky notes you keep online. Here are a few reasons you might want to check it out.
Read our review of Google Keep.

Notepad++

Notepad++

This is the now-classic ultimate replacement for the anemic Notepad included in all versions of Windows. Its multiple tabs, color-coded nest text, macro support, and WYSIWYG printing make it a must for anyone who hand-codes text for programming, or just wants to write with a minimalist interface.

Simplenote

Notes created in this simple but powerful app are automatically stored online (you need a Simplenote account to use it). Multiple versions of notes are saved when changes are made, in case you need an old copy. It supports markdown for formatting text a little better, but best of all works with a lot of top-flight downloadable desktop note-taking tools like ResophNotes for Windows and Notational Velocity for the Mac.


Office Suites and Presentations

Google Drive
Editors' Choice (Award Winners box)
Google Drive has morphed over the years to become the official place where you store your cloud files for use with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides (Drive’s online and mobile equivalents to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). If you utilize the Back Up & Sync utility, it also doubles as a sync service on the desktop, a la Dropbox or OneDrive, storing any kind of file, with apps for access to those same files on mobile devices. Throw in the office suite aspects and the 15GB of free space online (shared with other Google services), and you’ve got a real winner. For Android users, we give it a full 5-stars.
Read our review of Google Drive (Web), plus Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

LibreOffice

The obvious choice of Office tools if you are a firm believer in open source, LibreOffice was a fork from the original OpenOffice years ago (itself an offshoot of StarOffice). Inside are word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations programs, a vector graphics editor, a math formula editor, and a database. It’s a little more awkward to use than the desktop version of Microsoft Office, but you can’t beat the price. Grab the LibreOffice Viewer app for Android to look at files.
Read our review of LibreOffice.

WPS Office

With names like Writer, Spreadsheets, and Presentations, you might decide that Kingsoft’s WPS Office has a lot of imagination. Who cares? They work great and are all part of one program, not three separate pieces of software. The free version seems to do it all, mimicking the look of Microsoft products, even with a ribbon interface. It also comes with 1GB of cloud storage and has mobile versions for phone- or tablet-based edits. You’ll have to view some ads to use it for free.

Scribus

Scribus is the open-source equivalent of Adobe InDesign for desktop publishing, or as close as you can get. It even has built-in color separation and management and a lot more.


Operating Systems

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