Software can cost you a fortune but there are also hundreds of applications that are essential to have on your desktop and are free. We look at ten of the best free applications.
The free and open source browser not only has a compelling price, free, but it also has literally thousands of add-ons that turn a simple core browser into just about anything you want it to be. A news reader, a web design tool and debugger, a web application platform, just about anything you can imagine. Last month Firefox finally reached the 25% market share point, making it the second most popular browser in the world behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Which is not a bad position to be in considering that means that 25% of the world’s Internet users have voluntarily switched from the default browser on their system to Firefox.
Dropbox is cloud storage for the masses. Running on almost all desktop operating systems Dropbox appears as a simple folder on the desktop which synchronises with an online storage repository. So no matter where you are your important documents are with you. Even if you don’t regularly switch between computers Dropbox keeps your documents safe in case of a system failure.
OpenOffice.org (OOo) gives you top notch productivity suite features without the hefty price tag. The latest version of OOo, version 3.1.1, includes full support for Microsoft Office 2007 formats, including .docx files, as well as a full spreadsheet, presentation and word processing tool. OpenOffice.org runs on all major platforms including Linux, Windows and Mac OS X, and is designed to integrate neatly into these desktops. If you’re on Linux you don’t have the option of using Microsoft Office but even if you are on Windows, OpenOffice.org is a worth a second look.
Google Chrome http://www.google.com/chrome
Firefox may be the second most popular web browser but Google’s Chrome is looking to take a bit of that market share. Now available for all major platforms Chrome is fast, slim and configurable. Not everyone is keen on handing more control over to Google but if you don’t mind, and you use a lot of Google’s applications, then Chrome is a fine piece of free software.
Another fine tool with a price tag to make you smile: free. The Gimp is an image editing tool that looks and works like Photoshop but doesn’t cost a cent. You may not use this if you’re a professional graphic artist but for the rest of us Gimp does more than enough to meet our daily image editing needs. Which is not to say it is underpowered, it’s not. If you take the time to learn all of Gimp you could be producing professional-quality graphics in no time.
If it’s sound editing that gets you going then Audacity is the tool you’ll want to get hold of. Audacity is one of the most versatile audio tools and can do just about anything from recording live audio, editing audio files, splicing sounds together to changing the speed and pitch of a recording. Regularly chosen as the best audio tool in annual readers choice awards.
Mention illustration programs and most people immediately think of Adobe Illustrator. But, if you want to produce good quality vector illustrations without the price tag there is Inkscape, a simple but highly effective illustration package. Inkscape has all the basics in place so that vector drawings can be produced relatively quickly as well as being able to open other vector formats, convert images to paths and the like. It’s not Illustrator, but it is still remarkably versatile.
Mozilla Thunderbird http://www.mozillamessaging.com/thunderbird/
Gmail, Outlook, and now Thunderbird. If you want a top-quality email client then Thunderbird is worth taking a second look at. Particularly as version 3 of Thunderbird has just been released. Thunderbird’s mail filters, junk mail filters and configurable interface made version 2.x popular. Version 3 ups the ante with tabbed email browsing and fantastic search features.
There are good media players, there are great media players, and then there is VLC. This free multimedia player is not just good because it plays just about any format file you throw at it but because it also rips DVDs and converts files between formats. If you don’t use VLC then you’re probably using a truckload of applications to replace the full range of VLC features.
If you’re a geek then you need to run more than one operating system. Maybe you just want to test something, or you’re developing a cross-platform application or you’re just having fun. Forget dual-booting, VirtualBox is the best virtualisation tool for running multiple operating systems alongside each other. Its powerful integration features mean that running a virtual operating system feels exactly the same as running your live one. A must have for any serious geek.