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The Greatest Freeware Out There

Technology is an incredible thing. We're still learning how comprehensive its impact on life can be, and we're unsure of how long the commercial purveyors of technology can continue to survive in a climate where freedom of information reigns supreme. I believe that most non-specialized technology will ultimately be dominated by the open-source communities. It's already true that for many tools and utilities, the open-source option is the best available. If this isn't the case, than one can at least get by with the open-source option, and never need to spend anything on a commercial license. I am not advocating a 'free or die' mentality, however, because I think it's important that we donate to open-source communities when we benefit from their hard work. If more people were to start giving back, then this would only strengthen and quicken the transition to a world of open and available technology.

Software CategoryRecommended Product (Clickable)Developer/License/VersionNotes
Operating System
Ubuntu Linux
Various Freeware Licenses
Version 11.04 [2011, latest]
I predominantly use Microsoft Windows, but this is more for convenience than because I believe it's the best OS. In fact, I regularly use Unix and Linux in my work, and am amazed at the quality progression of Linux in particular over the years. Ubuntu has done an incredible job of making Linux accessible to the 'everyman' although I still believe it takes a bit of computer-savvy to be practical to use. I am sure that in the not-so-distant future this will be entirely alleviated, and it may be that only business and commercial entities requiring the heavy-duty support that Windows offers will continue to use Microsoft. I think the turning point will be when computers start shipping with Linux, but I have a feeling that deals between Intel/AMD and Microsoft might make that more distant than it otherwise would be.
Office Suite
Open Office
Oracle & Communiy
LGPL (GNU Lesser)
Version 3.3 [2011, latest]
The Open Office project is remarkable. To attempt to duplicate the quality of one of the most dominating products on the market (Microsoft Office) and offer the product for free is quite a noble task. Amazingly, the latest editions of Open Office have achieved this. In my opinion, the quality of Open Office is only superceded by MSOffice in extensibility, that is, where 3rd party applications integrate. Also, Open Office does not offer an email client to compete with Microsoft Outlook. Other than this, though, it is a more than capable substitute, and a few hundred dollars less.
Google Chrome
v12.0.742.91 [2011, latest]
When deciding on a browser for a PC, it's really between Firefox and Chrome. I'm a pretty big fan of both, but I like how lightweight and snappy Chrome is. I also find it easier to manage my tabs with chrome, and I appreciate the 'most commonly visited pages' launching page. It's really down to splitting hairs. I think the only criticism I have of Chrome is stability. It seems to crash slightly more often, but not enough to turn the tables in Firefox's favor.
Photo & Graphic Manipulation
GNU Project
GNU General Public
Version 2.6 [2011, latest]
This is a category that is clearly the domain of Adobe Photoshop. Many people who have never heard of GIMP will continue to use that tool, but those of us who are aware of this wonderful alternative will probably never go back. I'm not a graphical guru, but I'm pretty handy with these programs and I can say that there's nothing that I can do in Photoshop that I can't in GIMP. Getting used to the interface does take some time, but I actually found it really well designed once I made it over the learning curve. I've been using GIMP for about six or seven years now... Check it out!
Music Player
AIMP DevTeam
Freeware [None?]
v3.00 Build 861 Beta 1 [2011, latest]
My criteria for a good music player might be different than most people's. I was fed up with the memory footprint and CPU-hogging of iTunes. I was sick of WinAMP crashing or freezing on me. I can't stand when something as simple as a music player feels the need to install auto-update or system tray agents. I just want a well-organized, configurable, minimalistic, tiny footprint player that can handle a big library and lots of file types. Strangely enough, I was at a loss until I stumbled upon the Russian-born AIMP3. This program is legit, and with a tiny amount of tweaking it's become by far the best designed music player I've seen. It's most similar to winamp, but its playlist management and library display set it apart. I haven't explored its mp3-player integration capabilities, so I can't offer any promises there, but for a jukebox program on your PC, you can't beat it.
Video Player
VLC Player
GNU General Public
Version 1.1.10 [2011, latest]
Much like audio players, video players can be sort of a crap shoot. I had been using either MPlayer or GMPlayer for some time and enjoyed it, but it was a bit too minimalist for even my tastes. At some point I started searching for a replacement and learned about VLC Player. Nowadays it's pretty commonly used, and it certainly deserves it. It's so good that you can basically check this item off your list.
CD Burning
Christian Kindahl
GNU General Public
Version 0.52 [2011, latest]
Infrarecorder is a pretty bare-bones recording utility, but it is very configurable considering its austerity. I haven't found a situation that it couldn't handle.
File Transfer
Martin Prikryl
GNU General Public
Version 4.3.2 [2011]
WinSCP is the simplest, most reliable file transfer client I've seen. It can handle FTP, SFTP and SCP flawlessly and allows for multi-threaded transfers. Filezilla is probably the other major contender for this spot, but I think WinSCP is generally easier to use.
System Recovery
Ultimate Boot CD
Name Needed
Various Licenses
Version 5.0.3 [2011, latest]
The Ultimate Boot CD is the ultimate collection of freeware utilities for performing system diagnostics and restores. Hopefully, you'll never need it, but if you're ever in a bind with your bunk PC, this little guy is your best bet.
2011 Version
In the online geek communities there seems to be a lot of distrust for AVG. They used to be awesome, but apparently their recent surge in popularity has made them no longer cool. Does the product suck? Well, I think not, but it has had a few notable issues in the past few years, including a bug that prevented people's computers from booting. Nonetheless, I've been very pleased with AVG for at least half a decade, and until the quality deteriorates sufficiently (or they start requiring payment), I'll continue to use them..
Text Editing
Sourceforge Community
GNU General Public
Version 2.2.6 [latest]
This text editor is the shizzle. My favorite way to implement it is to get the standalone .EXE and put it into my 'SendTo' directory, so that I can always right-click a file and send it to SciTE. Additionally, I override the file associations for text files so that SciTE launches instead of NotePad. If anyone is aware of a superior text-editing program, please let me know.
Audio Editing
Sourceforge Community
GNU General Public
Version 1.2.6 [2011, latest]
Audacity is a very powerful audio-editing tool, but it's certainly not intended for creating your own music. However, if all you need to do is chop a sound-byte or convert from one format to another, this is a great tool for doing so. I've even created some laughably amatuer mixes using it in the past...
PDF Viewer
Foxit Reader
Foxit Software
v5.0.1.0523 [2011, latest]
There's not much to say about this program except that it's not Adobe and it does everything Adobe can do (as far as I'm aware)...
PDF Creator
Version 7.2 [2011, latest]
DoPDF is a great program for converting documents to PDF's or for printing to PDF (something that a lot of people commonly do). I really haven't had any issues with it.
File Compression
Sourceforge Community
GNU LGPL (Lesser)
Version 9.2 [2011, latest]
7-Zip is the only zip tool worth downloading these days.
Simon Tatham
MIT License [Open-Source]
Version .60b
Putty has a somewhat legendary status in IT circles. Its small size, high configurability, and iconic right-click-to-paste function all have propelled this perpetual beta program into labs and office buildings throughout the world. Perhaps the only criticisms are that its macro capabilities are weak and some of its features make mistakes more likely. This can be an issue in some high-risk shops like healthcare.
Disk Defragger
Jeroen Kessels
Version 4.3.1 [2011, latest]
This disk defragmentation tool is incredibly powerful and easy to use. If you would like to use a similar, but open-source version, check out jkdefrag here.
Drive Usage
Bernhard Seifert and Oliver Schneider
GNU General Public
Version 1.1.2 [2007, latest]
The program for figuring out where the storage has been allocated on your disks.
Instant Messenger
Pidgin Community
GNU General Public
Version 2.8.0 [2011, latest]
I haven't used many of the meta-IM tools that are out there these days, but I following GAIM when it changed into Pidgin and I've never felt the need to make any changes since...
Data Comparison
Sourceforge Community
GNU General Public
Version 2.12.4 [2009, latest]
Forget Diff or ExamDiff or WinDiff or whatever else. This tool reigns supreme when you need to compare two flat-files.

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