Below are over 40 of the best and most popular software applications for common everyday computing needs. If you have a favourite free computer application that isn’t included here, why not add it in the comments section.
1. Open Office
The Open Office software suite is an excellent alternative to the Microsoft Office Suite. The suite comes with word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and graphics software. It is easy to use and if you’re familiar with Microsoft Office 2003 format with drop down menus, then using Open Office will be a breeze. Includes most of the same features as Microsoft Office, and I’ve found when using it that it has a few extra features that Microsoft doesn’t have.
2. Google Docs
Google Docs includes word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. The good thing about using Google Docs is that you work online, so you can access your documents from any computer with internet access or file sharing. If you are using another software application, then you can upload your file to Google Docs for global access and you can modify who has access to your documents. Familiar interface makes it easy to use.
Scribus is a desktop publishing programme. Word processors are pretty powerful but for some desktop publishing needs, they just don’t cut the mustard. Not as easy to use as Microsoft Publisher, but a useful free alternative nevertheless.
6. PDF Creator
If you write blogs then Windows Live Writer is an invaluable tool. It makes writing and editing posts so unbelievably easy, that I don’t know how I managed without it. In fact, I’m using it now. It is compatible with all major blogging platforms, you get instant post previews, edit source code direct, edit pictures within Live Writer, and upload straight to your blog. My only reservation is that I find the programme a bit buggy, so make sure you save regularly.
9. Notepad ++
Notepad ++ is an upscaled version of the plain old notepad that comes with Windows. It recognises the syntax of many programming languages, so if you’re doing any programming or writing website code, Notepad ++ is a must.
Calendars, Organisers and Note Taking
12. Sunbird Calendar
A Mozilla product, Sunbird is a calendar that manages tasks and scheduled meetings. Create multiple calendars, schedule recurring meetings and tasks, sort tasks by custom categories and get reminders.
A popular application for managing your tasks and scheduling your time. Remember the Milk’s strength is that you can receive reminders via email, SMS and many popular instant messaging services, and it can be used on web enabled mobile devices. Add and update tasks from you email or mobile phone.
Get organised with EssentialPIM. One of the best free desktop organisers around. Includes calendars, scheduler, to do lists, contacts and ‘tree style’ note taker all in one. Integrates with desktop email programmes. To access the more advanced functions like creating custom categories and sorting task by category then you have to pay for the upgrade.
One of the best free note taking software programmes available, Evernote allows you to “type a text note, clip a web page, snap a photo, and grab a screenshot.” Notes can then be organised and searched. I have to say that Microsoft’s OneNote is still my favourite, but it’s not free.
As with Keynote, this programme organises notes in a tree-style structure. Each ‘article’ relates to a node on the tree, which in turn related to parent nodes and sibling nodes, so that you can impose your own structure on your writing or note taking. It is useful for planning large writing projects. You have to pay for the bells and whistles programme.
FreeMind is a mind mapping programme. If you’re not into lists or tree-style organisation but like to think more organically, then mind mapping is a good alternative. Make your mind maps dynamic by editing the colour of nodes, move them around and create freely.
19. Gantt Projects
Graphics and Photo and Video
Another free Google desktop application, Picasa is a pretty awesome photo editing software programme. Organise and view all your digital photos, edit photos by fixing red eye, cropping, adjusting contrast, adding text adding special effects and create photo collages, wallpapers, slideshows etc.
GIMP is a free graphics programme that rivals Photoshop. Very similar to Photoshop in format and functionality, all Photoshop brushes are now compatible with GIMP, and GIMP even has some features that Photoshop doesn’t have.
Inkscape is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Use Inkscape to create vector graphics which are suitable for design compositions, logos, images with text, technical illustrations, etc.
Technically not free, but comes with a free trial and is an awesome little screen capture programme. A screen capture programme is invaluable for blog writing, but you can use it to capture receipts, website text and images that you can’t copy and paste, record and file screenshots of video presentations rather than take notes, and a whole lot more.
Firefox is one of the best Web Browsers available. It is a web designer’s dream because it is compatible with coding standards, unlike IE. What makes Firefox really awesome is all the hundreds of add-ons available to enhance your web browsing experience. My two favourites at the moment is Read It Later, used for temporary bookmarks, and Wired Marker, with which you can highlight text on a web page and come back later on and that text is still highlighted – good for research.
28. Google Chrome
29. Tweet Deck
30. Google Reader
With so many blogs and news services, it’s hard to keep up. Feed readers bring all of this information together and organise it to make it easy to keep up. Google reader is one of the more popular feed readers and it’s online so you can access your favourite feeds wherever you go.
My favourite feed reader, FeedDemon is a desktop application that now syncs with Google reader so that you can also keep up with your feeds on the go. Favourite feature of FeedDemon is the Panic Button, that marks feeds as read if there are too many to handle.
Juice is the feed reader for podcasts. Manage podcast subscriptions so that you can download podcasts and listen to them on an audio player or iPod whenever it suits you. Set it to scan for new podcasts automatically so that you never have to go searching for your favourite podcast again.
Email and Communication
Another product by Mozilla, Thunderbird is a desktop email application alternative to Outlook Express. Easily manage your inbox by organising messages and folders, and using the search function to find messages.
Another alternative to Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail now also comes with a calendar. This is the mail application that I use, it is easy to set up and use, and I can read all my email accounts through the one application.
Security and Anti-Virus
KeePass is a way of managing all those login names and passwords to the thousands of things we sign onto everyday, like our windows login and online websites. As it is more secure to have different passwords for everything, so all you have to remember is one password – the password to access KeePass. KeePass uses advanced encryption algorithms used by banks to ensure your passwords remain safe, even so, I don’t keep my banking passwords here.
Music and Videos
Songbird is an alternative to Apple iTunes. It is a music player and organiser with an mp3 store integrated just as with iTunes, to purchase and download new music. Another Mozilla programme, it still has a few bugs that need ironing out.
Ok, so a few more than 40 software applications. There were a couple extra that I just couldn’t leave out!
Audacity is a programme for recording and editing sounds. Record live audio, edit, add effects and output into a variety of common file types. Create your own podcasts, edit audio to go with your screencasts or convert old tapes and records into CDs and improve their sound quality,
42. Cam Studio
While Windows Movie Maker is one of the best video editing tools, it’s not exactly free. A free alternative is Jahshaka. Edit video, animate, create a variety of effects, paint, create audio and share files all with Jahshaka.
There are thousands more alternatives that aren’t listed here. Got a free software programme that you can’t live without? Why not share it in the comments section below.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.