The “Free” PC

Completely functional and secure basic PC software at no cost – Joe

SUMMARY: Completely functional and secure basic PC software at no cost.

Consumer Reports recently did some testing of anti-virus and anti-spyware software and reported very good results for two free programs – Spybot and Alwil Avast AntiVirus. Interestingly, these free programs are as good as some for which you would pay.

This got me to thinking about Freeware and the cost of software to do the most common tasks – office apps, internet browsing and email. When setting up a PC, if these programs are not included you could spend a fair amount of money to get to the basics. Fortunately, there are alternatives to the usual “bloatware” that can get you up and running at no expense, are probably more secure and usually run faster.

What follows is a selection of freeware that can populate a PC with software robust enough to do common tasks just fine (I’m assuming that the PC is running some form of Windows – Linux is, of course, a freeware OS); one thing you’ll notice is that the GUI looks very familiar:

Office Programs

One of the more popular freeware programs is Open Office (download). This suite of programs offers analogues to all the popular word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing and database programs – the following screenshots (courtesy of Open Office) give you an idea of what’s included:


An alternative to the above, if word processing is your only concern, is Abiword. This is a relatively small program that some feel is more than sufficient for things like term papers, theses, etc.


Web Browser

One popular option to Microsoft’s free Internet Explorer is Firefox 1.5. In addition to offering things like tabbed browsing which IE is just beginning to implement, many feel that these alternates are much safer from virus attacks than IE:


Another popular alternative is Opera (download):



There are a number of freeware programs around, but one that caught my eye is Thunderbird 1.5 – a Thunderbird Overview is quite comprehensive and worth looking through to better understand the feature set. Alternatives tend to be more secure than Microsoft’s widely used Outlook and Outlook Express.


PC Protection

The following free programs provides a very good layer of protection against malware:

A favorite, is easy to use and works well with other antivirus software.

Ranked about mid-pack of the programs tested by Consumer Reports – pretty good for free software. I thought reading Alwil’s “Why Free” statement interesting.

Zone Alarm

Very popular – according to Zonelabs: “Guards against inbound/outbound threats and prevents spyware and other malicious programs from sending your personal information across the internet – makes your computer invisible to anyone on the Internet.”



If you’re on a tight budget, the programs listed above can give your PC all the functionality you’ll need for the basics. There are a multitude of freeware programs that span from office suites and OS’s to dandy little utilities worth checking out.

I received some very nice emails on this topic and wanted to share those with more links to interesting freeware:


Dave was nice enough to send a link to Overclockers Australia Wiki: “A Wiki is a database of documents that can be maintained and edited by a large number of people. In this case, anyone with an OCAU Forums account can log in and edit the pages in our Wiki. The more people who contribute, the more we can all get out of it!”

OCAU Wiki – Freeware & Open Source


“I find it hard to believe that you did an article on free utilities and left out what is, IMO, probably one of the best virus scanners out there at any cost – AVG Free. I’ve pointed many friends to it, and everyone agrees that it is their favorite virus scanner. It’s small and unobtrusive, yet robust enough for all but the most hardcore.

IMO, a virus scanner should scan for viruses, scan incoming email, scan downloaded files, update itself automatically, system scan automatically, and very little else…AVG free fits that bill perfectly.”

Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus

Free vs Pay Comparison – Check out the free version’s limitations


“A few things I wanted to add to your article on high-grade freeware for Windows

  • Free for freeware versions of a:

    • VERY complete and powerful DTP program
    • capable layer-based Photo Editor (think Photoshop 6SE)
    • decent vector-based draw program
    • WYSIWYG drag-and-drop web design app
    • WYSIWYG full-gui 3D modelling app

    • Massive compilation of freeware apps and utils sorted by category.
      Everything from great apps to so-so utils, all rated by the site and
      all 100% free, no pop-ups, no trials, no shareware, just free.
      No Nags!

    • Must have utility for graphics users. Opens and translates virtually every
      image format known to man or beast, with awesome batch-process abilities.
      Absolutely indispensable for scanner and digital camera users.

    Between the stuff you already mentioned and these sites, a Windows user can kit
    out their rig to match any retail PC software bundle I’ve ever seen.”

    Even if you don’t wind up using freeware, I think you owe it to yourself to see what is available and what you get for your money vs free – before you buy, check out a freeware program as a baseline.

    Email Joe

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