I’m a big fan of open source software because it’s free and usually has the same functionality as a commercial application! One downside to open source software is the lack of support, but that problem is usually made up with active forums and community threads started by avid followers.
There are tons of free software applications that you can download for office productivity, Internet, multimedia, drawing, Windows utilities, etc, but if you’re not familiar with open source software, you might not know which program is the best out of the myriad of choices. That’s the only other downside about freeware: some of it contains junkware like bundled apps or annoying toolbars.
In this article, I’m going to mention a couple of the websites that I visit quite often when looking for safe and clean freeware apps to download.
Gizmo’s Freeware Reviews
Gizmo’s Freeware Review site has got to be the best site on the net for finding great freeware apps. There are a bunch of sites that have huge lists of freeware programs with tiny little overviews of each program, but Gizmo’s site is insanely popular because they spend time writing detailed reviews and testing each program that they review to make sure it works as intended.
You can navigate directly to a category across the top of the page like Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, etc. Previously, they only used to cover Windows and Mac, but recently they have expanded to cover all the most popular operating systems.
You can also scroll down and click on the panels: Best Freeware Lists, Freeware Categories and Security Wizard. I would highly recommend going through the security wizard because it gives you a list of security software tailored to your operating system, your expertise level with computers and your exposure to risky online activities. The wizard will also tell you how to make sure your PC isn’t already infected and will give you suggestions for how to protect yourself in the future from malware, spyware and viruses.
In addition to all of that, the site has a blog with a huge number of articles on all kinds of useful technical topics. A lot of the articles they link to from their review pages and it gives you a very in-depth understanding of the topic.
Ninite is another very popular service that I use a lot with my friends and family when setting up new computers or when I have to reformat and reinstall the operating system on a computer. Basically, it’s a program that lets you download multiple freeware apps at once and install them without having to click Next, Next, Next!
Just select the apps that you want to install and click the Get Installer button.
Outside of just making is super easy to install freeware apps, it also has a couple of other major benefits. Firstly, all the software is super safe and clean. Even if an app has a toolbar included like Java, Ninite will prevent it from installing the toolbar. It also downloads the latest versions of the programs directly from the official websites and checks the hash values to ensure integrity.
Secondly, you should keep the installer somewhere on your computer instead of deleting it because running it again will automatically check all the freeware apps and download newer versions if available. If you already have the latest version installed, it will just skip that program. So using the installer is like having a free program that will update all your apps automatically too!
What I like best too is that it will install the 64-bit version of the software if I’m running the installer on a 64-bit operating system. This program is simply awesome and will save you a ton of time.
If you’ve read a decent number of my previous posts, you’ll know that I simply love the folks over at NirSoft. It’s basically a site with a bunch of tiny utilities designed for very specific tasks.
Want to copy video files that are stored in your browser cache? There’s a utility for that. Want to control the volume of your computer from the wheel of your mouse? There’s a utility for that. Want to see all the passwords stored in your browser? There’s a utility for that. You get the picture! There are over a hundred of these really useful utilities that work extremely well. They also contain no bundled crapware or anything else.
You got a USB stick right? So why not installed PortableApps on there! It’s all your freeware apps stored on a USB stick that you can use anywhere on any machine. They have up to 300 legal versions of apps that have been retrofitted to run portably on a USB stick.
The apps are updated often and there are no ads, no spyware, no adware, no time limits, etc. It’s just plain free and it can prove very handy if you happen to travel a lot. What’s really awesome is that you can throw the whole thing in a Dropbox folder and run everything straight from there! You don’t even have to worry about carrying a flash drive with you.
FileHippo has been around for a very long time and it’s still one of the better sites for finding good freeware programs. What I end up using FileHippo more for than anything else is downloading older versions of programs. It’s not often, but there are times when you don’t want the latest version of a program. Maybe because it can’t run on an older system or because it has a bug that is causing problems on your system, so the only option is to download a earlier version.
The only problem I’ve seen with the site lately is that some programs, but not all, now come with a FileHippo proprietary downloader rather than the direct download of the program. This bundling tries to install adware on your system, so you have to be careful to uncheck it when installing the program. I could only find this with a couple of programs, so the vast majority still link directly to the program files, but because of this new behavior and too many ads on the site, I can’t recommend it the site overwhelmingly.
Outside of these, there are a couple of other sites I visit, but they tend to contain the shorter overviews with no real reviews or anything else. Still you won’t find spyware or malware on these sites.
MajorGeeks – Looks like it was designed in the 90’s and probably has been around since then, but a great site for a lot of tech tools. Lots and lots of tech utilities that are hard to find anywhere else.
SnapFiles – A good clean site with minimal ads and clear cut categories for freeware, shareware, etc. I normally turn to the user ratings and comments to determine the worthiness of the freeware app.
FileForum BetaNews – You can normally find the latest freeware apps here first before they reach other download sites. Not sure how they do it, but you’ll find the newest software here.
Sites to Avoid
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned freeware sites like SourceForge and CNET? Well, that’s because I don’t recommend those sites anymore. They have gone the way of making money and don’t link to the actual official downloads, but instead make you download their own proprietary installer.
CNET is the worst because it makes you go through several screens trying to get you to install junkware before you can install the actual app you wanted to download. For me, it’s easy to avoid all of the junk, but a lot of people will end up with adware on their computer and have no idea why. Unfortunately, sites like Download.com, which is the same as CNET, show up high in the search results, which makes them harder to avoid. Most anything on CNET you’ll be able to find on one of the sites I mentioned above. Enjoy!