Frugal Tech: Five Free Software Downloads (that are actually useful)

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By Ed

The internet does not lack free software.  You could easily use up all your free time and bandwidth downloading programs to do just about anything, from downloading YouTube videos to play on your iPod to software that will convert feet to metres. 

I have a pile of software, freeware, open source and nerd stuff on my computer, but most of it is analogous to owning a lemon zester for the kitchen: nice to have when you need it, but rarely used and not terribly practical for day-to-day stuff.

My quest has been to find the best (legally) free programs you could put on your computer and actually use.  Here are my Top-5 Free Software Downloads.  They are easy to use and powerful enough to replace "pay-for" versions.

1.0 My first pick has to be an antivirus program.  This software is mandatory for computing in the modern age, but you don't need to spend money to get it.   

Avast! offers a free version for home use that will keep you covered and protected.  It is lightweight.  It takes little processing power to run in the background and if you turn on the "Silent Mode" you will never notice it is there... until it keeps something nasty away from your hard drive.

2.0  The very next thing I install when setting up a new computer is OpenOffice. 

Created as a free alternative to Microsoft Office by a community of programers working pro bono, it looks and works very much like the Office mainstays (Word, Excel, PowerPoint).  You can save, open and edit Office format files (.doc, .xls, .ppt) and many of the features work in a more intuitive way.  If you have kids who need to do homework, get this for free and put the money you would have spent on MS Office into their RESPs.

3.0 CutePDF is fantastic. 

You want to e-mail a file to someone; you want to be sure they can open it and you want it to look just how you intended it to?  Convert any file to .PDF format and it will look professional and basically everyone has Adobe Reader to open it with.  CutePDF installs like a printer, so if you can see something on your screen, CutePDF can turn it into a PDF file for you.  People will think you paid hundreds of dollars for the Adobe Writer version.  In fact, CutePDF works better than several "Pay For" PDF writer versions I have seen.

4.0  I love almost everything that Google does.  We write our Blog in Blogger and use Google Docs, Gmail, Calendar and Sites for various parts of our lives.  Despite how great all those products are, Picasa, Google's photo software, is still a standout in its own right:
  • Organize your images, 
  • Edit: tweak and remove blemishes and red eyes  
  • Upload to free, online photo albums with tonnes of space to share with family and friends.  
  • Create posters, collages, print and email.  
  • It can even do 'Face Searches' and create albums based on people.  

5.0 Paint.net does all the other things that Picasa doesn't (if that blurb above left you wanting more).  

If you are the shutterbug that likes to tweak everything in your pictures or Photoshop people in or out of things, this is your program.  It does all the stuff that Photoshop or Aperture (Apple's version) can do without the hefty price tag that those programs have.  I'm still learning to use all the tools it has; my favourite so far is unlimited "Undo"s - learn by trial and error without the fear that you will ruin something forever.

So that is my list.  Many programs are "going Cloud" now, meaning they are based online, with a common web-based interface and storage, but in a country where we like cottages and summer places without internet access, there will always be a home for programs that live on our computers.  There is also always a place for great software that is free.

Click here for my post on "Five Free Software Downloads (to goof around with)"

Do you have any free or nearly-free favourite programs?   Leave a comment with your tips.


  1. Thanks for the info! I am intrigued by the open office program. I will have to show the hubby. Have you heard of AVG for antivirus? We use it and it seems to be pretty good.


  2. Thanks for commenting about AVG, Tamaira. If I had written this last year, AVG likely would have been tops on the list. Our computers are all 4+ years old and recent AVG updates were getting a little "heavy" - bogging them down with scans - so I jumped ship to Avast. I used to run both AVG and Avast at the same time to be extra careful. It is definitely a worthwhile free program too.


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