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 computing system, and to get the most out of that, you need software.
Software can be expensive, but free programs have been a mainstay of the desktop experience for decades, and today’s offerings are pretty powerful. 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 Rid a New PC of Crapware.
A pro tip: 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.
- The software must be available directly from the developer/creator/original publisher.
- The software should (typically) have a Windows-based download—no browser extensions here, because we’re not all on the same browser. However, we’ve included web-based apps that are as good, or better, than most downloadable programs.
- If the software is on a tiered sales model, the free version cannot be trial-ware. It has to have at least a free-for-life option.
- Preferably the program had an update in the last year or two.
- The program should have little or no advertising to support it.
- Software for productivity is what this list is about; there are plenty of other places to find free PC games.
For more free software, check out The 100 Best iPhone Apps and The 100 Best Android Apps.
Did we miss any free programs you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments.