Just because some software costs money doesn't mean it is any better than its free1 software equivalents. Whether you're frustrated with your current software and looking for a replacement, or just need to keep your software budget in check, this article provides a list of no-cost alternatives to non-free software that will help you maintain, optimize, or otherwise work with your computer. We currently use or have used all of this software, and can recommend each program over others in the same category.

Internet Security

Microsoft Security Essentials

An alternative to: McAfee, Norton

Guards against viruses, spyware, and malware. Offers real-time and on-demand protection, and scans downloads and e-mail messages. Provides a good level of Internet security, and is less intrusive and less taxing on your computer than other Internet security suites. Does not require a subscription of any sort, and offers updates frequently.


Web Browser

Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome

An alternative to: Internet Explorer

Optimized for extensibility or speed, these browsers can replace your current browser with no loss in functionality, and can even import your existing favorites and other browser information and settings.

https://getfirefox.com/ or https://www.google.com/chrome/index.html

Instant Messaging/Chat


An alternative to: MSN Messenger, Trillian, running multiple chat clients

Supports MSN, Yahoo!, ICQ, AIM, Google Talk, and other services. A simple instant messaging client without all the bells and whistles and memory requirements.


Office Productivity Software


An alternative to: Microsoft Office

Includes presentation, spreadsheet, word processing, graphics, and database software. Opens, edits, and saves most recent file formats such as .xlsx or .docx. Requires Java, which is probably already on your computer, or Java can be downloaded as part of the OpenOffice.org installer, and is also free.


Operating System


An alternative to: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7

Looking for an alternative to your current operating system? The most user-friendly option is probably Ubuntu Linux. It is similar enough to your current operating system that getting used to it shouldn't take too long. It includes many programs you already use: web browser, word processing and spreadsheet tools, CD burning, music and video playback, and even chat and IM. You can try it out without harming the operating system you currently use just by starting up from the CD. If you don't like it, remove the CD and restart, and you're back to your old configuration.


Digital Camera/Photo and Video Management


An alternative to: Windows Media Player

Picasa makes it easy to download photos from your digital camera, and then to organize, retouch, and tag your photos with face recognition. You can also add location information, order prints, upload pictures to Google's Web Albums, post to your blog, and much, much more. It makes organizing and sharing your photos and home videos simple. There are even plug-ins for posting your pictures to Facebook or Flickr.


Music/Video Player

VLC Media Player

An alternative to: Windows Media Player, iTunes

If you need a lightweight music and video player that can handle almost any media format you throw at it, including DVDs and MP3 files, VLC Media Player might be just the solution you're looking for. While it doesn't offer much for the organization of your digital media files, its ability to allow you to enjoy all your existing media makes up for it.


Disk Clean Up


An alternative to: Windows Disk Cleanup

Removes temporary files, Internet browser cache files, cookies, and other extra data that wastes your disk space. Run this program before defragmenting your hard drive to decrease the amount of time needed to defragment your data by getting rid of data that is unused. The installer includes the Yahoo! browser toolbar by default during installation, so be sure to uncheck this option during installation if you do not want the toolbar installed.


Disk Defragmenter


An alternative to: Windows Disk Defragmenter

Optimizes your data by defragmenting, or reorganizing, the files on your computer. Over time, creating and editing files can cause them to be split apart and scattered throughout your hard drive. It then takes longer for your computer to locate all of these pieces when you need to work with the file next time. Defragmenting a hard drive can provide a slight speed boost when working with files by moving all of the pieces of a file into one place. Offers a variety of options for defragmenting, from a quick defragment to a more thorough (but longer) monthly defragment. It is recommended to run a disk clean up tool first to remove unneeded data and decrease the time it takes to defragment your hard drive. Also note that SSD (solid state drives) don't need this type of maintenance.


Secure File Eraser


In addition to: standard delete functionality

Did you know that when you empty the recycle bin on your computer the file's contents are not always immediately erased, but just hidden from view? With the right tools, most files can be recovered even after they've been "deleted". Eraser makes sure that when you delete a sensitive document such as your downloaded banking information or other sensitive documents, almost nothing would be able to recover it. You can choose how aggressively to erase a file, or use Eraser to thoroughly clean up existing "empty" space on your hard drive.


Hard Drive Repair and Data Recovery

TestDisk and PhotoRec

An alternative to: paid data recovery

These tools are very powerful, and require a more technical user for good results. TestDisk can recover deleted partitions, and make non-bootable disks bootable once more, while PhotoRec can recover seemingly lost photos, videos, documents, or other files from hard drives, CDs, or even digital camera media like SD cards.



1 "Free" in computing terms can have two meanings: "free as in beer", where the software literally has no monetary cost associated with it, and "free as in speech" where the software's source code is readily available for anyone to view and change. All of the software in this article is "free as in beer", and some of it may additionally be "free as in speech". Read more about "free software" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software