Free computer tools are the bread and butter of my technological life. When I first got my own computer, out of necessity (lack of money) I educated myself about every free tool out there, and over the years, that knowledge has expanded, and I now pay for very little in the way of security and other computer tools.
For nearly every paid service out there on the web, there is a free or nearly free alternative. Here are seven free computer tools I have tried and liked:
Once upon a time Microsoft had a true monopoly (on Window machines) on word processors, spreadsheet creators, and presentation software. OpenOffice was the first to change that, and remains perhaps the most flexible of the competitors. Created by Apache and completely free (but gladly accepting donations), the program is usable on most Windows, Linux, and Mac machines. The suite includes Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentations), Draw (charts and drawings including 3d), Base (databases) and Math (graphical equation editor). I haven't had MS Office on any of my home machines in a decade, and don't miss it.
Here's the truth: I have no idea what most of my passwords are. Back in 2007, on my birthday of all days, I learned a hard lesson. A group of hackers had hacked a website I had once commented in, and because I used a generic throwaway password for most sites I frequented, they were able to hack my email, my LiveJournal account, and worst of all, my World of Warcraft account (nothing like logging in to play on your birthday and finding your favorite character stripped bare and standing in the middle of Stormwind).
After doing a little research, I downloaded LastPass and haven't looked back. My LastPass password is complex and memorable only to me, and I don't ever memorize any other password anywhere anymore. Most of my passwords are now twenty or more digits, with completely random letters, numbers and special characters. That doesn't mean I'm no longer hackable, but it is a lot tougher. The interface is easy to use and for an extra dollar per month, I upgraded to Premium and have it available on my cell phone and tablet as well. Peace of mind is well worth it.
3 and 4: AVG Antivirus and avast! Antivirus:
I listed these two antivirus programs together because they trade off the top slots for free antivirus pretty regularly (currently I'm using avast! but check ratings about once a year or so and switch accordingly). Both programs are robust enough in the free version to handle the basic anti-virus needs most end users have. For those who do a lot of downloading, especially from 'suspect sites' (you pirate, you), you might want to upgrade to the paid subscriptions for more complete protection. Here you can find AVG free and paid, and avast! free and paid versions.
Viruses aren't the only dangers to the speed and efficiency of your computer. Spyware (or malware) can slow your computer down and cause all kinds of problems, and is even more common than viruses. Spybot has been on every computer I own for over a decade, and every single time I run it, (about once a week) it finds junk and gets rid of it. Like most of the other companies that supply free tools, they have a paid option with expanded uses, if you prefer. Compare and choose at their website.
6. Smart Defrag 2 (Windows)
I can't wholeheartedly endorse the rest of IOBit's products, and their website is a bit spammy, so I have pointed you at CNET, which is a download site with an excellent reputation, to download this Windows defragger. Sure, Windows has one built in, but Smart Defrag is better. Every time I run it (about once or twice a week), my games play better, my boot is faster, and overall I just like working on my computer better.
WOT, is a browser add on available for most browsers that consolidates user feedback to rate a website on safety, reliability, appropriateness for children, and privacy issues. Until a website has been around for awhile and a few people have rated it, it will be gray, like mine is right now. (Please rate my site so I can get out of the gray zone) Over time, people rate the page and the color shifts from green through yellow and orange to red. Don't click on red sites. The only downside is that sometimes malicious people have been known to game the add on to attempt to ruin a site, but there is a review process available for this situation.
- Web Of Trust Invited Into Facebook's AV Marketplace (arcticstartup.com)
- Best free antivirus software (digitaltrends.com)
- How to make yourself unhackable (digitaltrends.com)
- Comparison: Free Antivirus suites 2012 (onsoftware.en.softonic.com)
- How Do You Know when a Download is Safe? (lockergnome.com)