Best Freeware: Top Tech for Tech Pros

We polled our tech pros for the best freeware around. Here are our picks. What are yours? It’s aNewDomain.net!

Our favorite four letter word?

Free.

I took a poll among our techpros at aNewDomain.net — here is what they submitted as the best freeware around. Enjoy!

1: Start8

Hours after Microsoft announced its much-anticipated Windows 8 Consumer Preview in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress (MWC 2012), utility maker Stardock announced it would create a tool to easily return the now-missing Start button and menu. A week later, Stardock announced and made its little utility fix, Start8, available for free. Just today, Stardock rolled out its most recent version.

2: Ninite

And then there’s Ninite . If you need to reformat a disk, do a clean install, or start a new system, this free utility is a must-have.

It’s a tiny installer that will automatically manage and download other freeware packages.

“Ninite doesn’t support adware or other ad-supported junk either,” says Jeremy Lesniak, our managing editor and founder of VAR consultancy Vermont Computing in Randolph, VT.

Available for Windows and, more recently, Ubuntu 8 and higher, it checks for and installs free utilities like DropBox and 7-Zip to recently reformatted or new systems.

3: Oracle VM VirtualBox

This free virtual machine manager, originally from Sun, is now enhanced and available from Oracle. “Managing virtual machines on your desktop or someone else’s is often a hassle. And it gets expensive,” says Peter Baer Galvin, aNewDomain.net’s contributor and a Boston University lecturer, author and CTO for systems integrator Corporate Technologies.

A new version of the software came out in December, offering more features and broad support for a variety of systems and platforms, including Linux (2.4 and 2.6), Windows NT, 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, and Windows 7, plus Solaris and OpenBSD. It even supports OS/2. It’s an x86 virtualization software package and it works as advertised.

“It’s as useful for enterprise managers and IT pros as it is for geeks who just want better control over virtualization,” Galvin says. Who doesn’t? VirtualBox is now in version 4.1.8.

4: Everything

I love voidtool’s Everything. It’s a lightweight utility that indexes and queries your entire drive for super-efficient searching. And is it ever fast!

Just type in some text and bang, it’ll find whatever file or directory you’re looking for in a jiff.

It might also minimize calls to the desktop. It’s so comprehensive and easy to use, you won’t have users calling to ask where some random, misplaced file went. If you check out just one freeware package on this list, I’d suggest that you choose this one.

5: Fing

Fing, now in version 1.4, is a powerful network discovery tool. For Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Android, it’s ideal for locating what’s on your network.  “Think of it as a quick security scan,” says Michael Doornbos, Washington DC-based security specialist and podcaster. “It will let you know all the machines on your network, what operating system they run and the system names, too. It’s a tremendously useful tool for administrators.”

Fing is fine for Linux, Debian 5.0, Ubuntu 8 and up, CentOS 5.0, Fedora 10, Slackware, and 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Gentoo.

6: LastPass Password Manager

LastPass is a master password system. According to Washington DC-based security expert and aNewDomain.net’s Todd Moore, “It’s a tremendous security tool for web shopping and surfing.”

Compatible with all major Windows, Mac, and Linux Web browsers, LastPass lets you set up one master password, eliminating the need to remember multiple website logins. It will store your passwords — that’s cool in itself — but it will also let you password protect other sensitive information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, mailing addresses, and anything else you always type into your browser because you’re afraid to save it.

“Once you set it up,” warns Moore, “be careful not to lose it or forget the master password you create. You’ll need to type it in whenever you launch your browser.” Forget the password and you’re out of luck. Avoid this software if you’re the password-losing type. Otherwise it is the utility you’ve been looking for to simplify online purchases and forms.

7: Foxit PDF Reader

This utility — one of my personal favorites — stands in for Adobe Reader as freeware that makes viewing, printing, and saving your PDF files quick and easy. You’ll never go back to Adobe PDF Reader and Acrobat.

Not only is Foxit speedier, but it includes cool features that let you add annotations to your PDFs or fill out PDF forms. Foxit comes in versions for Windows, Mac, and some flavors of Linux.

8: Wappwolf for iOS

Wappwolf is a mobile app that runs on your iOS-based iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. If you share a lot of photos and documents, this is a must-have, says Contributor Julie Blaustein, a photojournalist and business development consultant in San Francisco. “It’s like having your own toolbox for file editing and sharing.”

 

Wappwolf partnered with Dropbox early this year, so it now includes Dropbox Automator. It triggers the options you need depending on the file type you’re trying to share and edit — and in what Dropbox folder you’re storing it.

9: Combofix

Combofix is freeware that does one thing and does it well — it detects and deletes spyware on Windows PCs.

Jeremy Lesniak has a quick tip about Combofix: “Whatever you do, don’t rename the file after you download it. If you rename it, combofix.exe will automatically self-destruct.” Make sure you save it where it’s easily accessible — like, say, the desktop. Just download it, run it as an administrator, and take care.

10: Stellarium

You probably know a lot of fun games and apps available for free. But it’s hard to beat the magic of reality. Check out the open source product Stellarium.

“It’s a 3D planetarium,” says editor Eric Finkenbiner, an IT pro for the Department of Justice.  Stellarium lets you “view the sky from any point in the world and, at the same time, overlay it with planets, constellations and galaxies.”

What’s your favorite freeware? Drop us a line … and a screenshot. Comment below with your utility of choice, why you like it and a pointer to where we can get it … for free!

Disclosure: A longer, original version of this piece appeared first in Tech Republic, where this writer is a contributing columnist.

About the author

Gina Smith

Gina Smith is a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning journalist. A former correspondent for ABC News, Gina is the co-founder and editorial director of aNewDomain Media. Email Gina at gina@anewdomain.net and find her on Twitter @ginasmith888

7 Comments

  • Two that I would add are Audacity and Paint.net.

    Audacity is an excellent audio editor that originated at Carnegie Mellon University. I am not an audio professional, but I record, edit and clean up a lot of lectures and it does everything I need and more. They released version 2.0 this week.

    Paint.net is an image editor that originated at the University of Washington and is now maintained by its creator who works at Microsoft. I am not a professional graphic artist, but I do a lot of illustrations for presentations and article and it does everything I need and more. (I have Photoshop, but find that I never use it — Paint.net is faster and simpler.

    • love me some Audacity! been using it a lot to help with the Kopoint Political Explainer podcast. Good stuff.

  • While I am at it, let me add Filezilla a very nice FTP client — I use it all the time — mainly for updating my Web site, but also for backup. It is fast and does the trick.

    • I agree with Filezilla.
      Also, I agree with audacity. I haven’t played with it in a year or so, but I used to enjoy making ringtones with it.

      -RAP, II

  • So the story I featured with you guys on techrepublic is getting some criticism. Anyone care to go over there — if you were in that story — and defend yourselves? Seems our Tech Pros have a beef with the readers there, or the other way around. Would love to see what you think.

    I would love to do a version of this OPEN to readers like the snapshot guide. ANT you seem to be the master of coordinating such things. You should take that on if you wish.
    gs

  • I tried to download ComboFix, and Symantec Endpoint Protection flagged it as having a virus / trojan. Has anyone else encountered anything similar while trying to download ComboFix?