10 All Time Best Freeware

freewareI’ve been writing about freeware now for more than a decade, starting out working freelance when the likes of Clif Sipe and Ian “Gizmo” Richards ruled the roost, until around 7 years ago when I hooked up full time with Dave here at DCT.

Back in the day, with new products constantly hitting the market place, there was always plenty to discuss and writing about freeware was a real buzz. These days, however, it seems every freeware category has been well and truly catered for and innovation has all but slowed to a crawl. It’s rare to come across a new freeware today which offers anything substantially different or over and above already established titles.

In my younger years, I thought oldies reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ was pretty boring, but now I have reached oldie status myself, I find I am doing the exact same thing… funny how that works.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the best freeware over the past decade or so and compile a list of my all time top 10 titles… so, here goes:

Criteria includes: Longevity (or withstanding the test of time), popularity, overall impact, and continuing support/development.

#1 All Time Best Freeware – Sandboxie

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I was first introduced to this outstanding freeware not long after its initial release back in 2004 by the inimitable “Gizmo” Richards who continued to discuss and promote Sandboxie in his regular freeware newsletters. In those days, terms such as “sandboxing” and “virtual environment” were practically unheard of. I openly admit, it took some time before I fully comprehended Sandboxie’s true value myself.

Since then, Sandboxie has held a permanent place on every machine I’ve owned, and I’ve written about and recommended Sandboxie many times. If you don’t know what Sandboxie does, check this article out: Sandboxie: Why everyone should be using it. I firmly believe that if everyone utilized Sandboxie, we’d pretty much put computer repair shops out of business – certainly as far as cleaning up malware infected machines is concerned anyway.

#2 All Time Best Freeware – Avast & Avira

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I honestly find it difficult to pick between these two stalwart antivirus solutions which have both been providing free protection for so many years – Avira since 1999 and Avast since 2001. I have been a long time Avast user myself and it has never let me down. However, the latest couple of releases have left me less than enamored and I’m currently using and recommending Avira.

Avira has always excelled in terms of detection rates and now the company has finally abolished the Ask Toolbar and incessant nag screen, it’s a pretty easy recommendation. Either way, these two are top of the free antivirus pops in my book.

*I’ve deliberately omitted AVG here, even though it was once the most popular free antivirus solution. Back in the day, every single client’s machine I worked on had AVG Free installed, as if it was mandatory or something… do you remember?

However, about 4 or 5 years ago, AVG went down a destructive path, with the free antivirus becoming overly bloated and impacting heavily on system resources. This caused AVG Free to quickly lose favor with users and the once ubiquitous freeware slipped into near oblivion. AVG has made somewhat of a comeback since but has yet to regain its reputation or position. Frankly, I am still reluctant to recommend it.

#3 All Time Best Freeware – CCleaner

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Ask anyone to name their favorite top 10 freeware and I guarantee CCleaner will be in there somewhere, such is the popularity of this venerable and trusted maintenance tool. Personally, I no longer use CCleaner as, in my opinion, it has been usurped by the superb PrivaZer. However, just on longevity and popularity alone, I find it impossible to leave CCleaner out of this list.

There’s not much more I can say about CCleaner really, one of the most popular and widely utilized freeware titles of all time. However, I do recommend you check out this article here: CCleaner vs PrivaZer – Which is more effective? and maybe give PrivaZer a look see.

#4 All Time Best Freeware – VLC Media Player

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Would you believe VLC has been round even longer than CCleaner? According to Wikipedia, VLC was first released in 2001 with CCleaner hitting the shelves 2 years later, in 2003. It certainly surprised me.

Even though the built-in Windows Media Payer would do the job it has always been sadly lacking in terms of codec support and practically devoid of advanced functions/controls. This has led to a slew of free 3rd party media players, of which VLC has always been very popular and remains so to this day.

With terrific codec support plus a plethora of advanced controls/functions, VLC has led the pack for a long time.

#5 All Time Best Freeware – IrfanView

irfanview_logo

Believe it or not, IrfanView is even older again, first seeing the light of day way back in 1996. According to IrfanView’s official website, since 2003, IrfanView has been downloaded over 1 million times per month.

IrfanView excels in terms of both features and quality, including support for a bevy of image formats, some of which I’ve never even heard of, and its impressive feature-set is loaded with useful tools. Just 2 of the reasons IrfanView continues to be one of the most popular image viewers of all time.

I am also a fan of FastStone Image viewer, however, strictly following the criteria for this list, IrfanView is matchless.

#6 All Time Best Freeware – Skype

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First released in 2003, Skype’s influence on the communications landscape has been nothing short of immense and it will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most game-changing pieces of software of all time. I still marvel at the ability to video chat with friends across the other side of world, in real time and for free.

Skype has changed hands a number of times over the years, for substantial sums of money I might add, but the basic functionality has always remained intact and free. Now under Microsoft’s umbrella, and with the proliferation of mobile devices entering the equation, I doubt there would be a more ubiquitous freeware.

#7 All Time Best Freeware – Macrium Reflect Free

macrium reflect - logo

No such list would be complete without mentioning an all important backup software, and even though Macrium Reflect is a comparative youngster, it was the first modern and intuitive disk imaging and disaster recovery software made available for free. Up until that time, users relied heavily on the commercial Acronis True Image for creating and restoring full system image backups.

Paramount software in the UK took this basic system imaging functionality and released it as freeware in 2006. I still recall writing my first ever review of Macrium Reflect Free, including… “Macrium Reflect Free is so good, it’s difficult to believe it’s free“. Or words to that effect.

Since then, other developers have entered the fray of course, but Macrium Reflect Free set both the trend and the standard.

*I’m not 100% sure of the actual timeline here, but I’m pretty certain Macrium Reflect Free was the first of its kind. At least, I recall the fuss it created among the freeware community when it was first released, which tends to suggest that it must have been the original. However, I am open to correction.

#8 All Time Best Freeware – Firefox

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What use is a PC without a browser to connect to the web? Okay, so there would still be some uses but you have to admit, overall usefulness would be substantially diminished without the good old browser.

Firefox first entered the browser fray in 2004 and, although not exactly an immediate hit with users, slowly but inexorably gained popularity. Internet Explorer was pretty much the only browser in those days with very little in the way of meaningful competition. Firefox was the first 3rd party browser to even look like making a dent in Internet Explorer’s dominance.

Firefox’s massive library of useful extensions (or add-ons) has contributed hugely to its ongoing popularity, and even though that popularity has been waning alarmingly of late, I believe it still deserves it’s place in the annals of history and, ultimately, in this list.

#9 All Time Best Freeware – The NirSoft Collection

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Nir Sofer began listing his software online in 2001 and has now developed more than 100 applications under the “NirSoft” banner. Nir Sofer specializes in developing small portable tools and utilities for Windows and is one of very few who has continued in the true spirit of freeware.

From password tools to system tools through to programmer tools and forensics tools, all Nir Sofer’s applications are free, small, portable, clean, and effective. Admittedly, this is very much a personal selection and NirSoft is probably not a household name among average users but, it’s amazing how many times a user will post about a particular issue on the DCT forum and one of Nir Sofer’s tools will either provide a solution or, at the very least, assist with finding a solution.

  • NirSoft’s extensive range of portable tools and utilities can be downloaded individually or altogether in a single package known as NirLAuncher, here: http://launcher.nirsoft.net/

#10 All Time Best Freeware –

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You know what, I couldn’t come up with a number 10, and I didn’t want to change the title to “9” – not a good number, just ask Microsoft. 🙂

Anyway, if you can help out and come up with a suitable number 10, that would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks… Jim

P.S. The numbering/order holds no particular significance, I just added the titles in as they came to mind.

 

46 thoughts on “10 All Time Best Freeware”

  1. Not that it is a bad piece of software, it’s actually pretty great but why do you list Sandboxie? it’s not freeware but shareware.

    1. What makes you say that Ed? I’ve been using the freeware version of Sandboxie for years and as far as I am aware it’s still available. In fact, I recently updated my free version to the latest v4.16.

      The free version comes with a 5 second delay and a couple of missing features but overall basic functionality is not affected.

      http://www.sandboxie.com/index.php?DownloadSandboxie

      Both FileHippo and MajorGeeks are still listing it as “freeware”:

      http://filehippo.com/download_sandboxie
      http://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/sandboxie.html

      This extract from Sandboxie v4.16 startup screen:

      Personal use of Sandboxie is permitted free of charge for as long as you wish.

      1. Download Crew lists it as shareware. I don’t download from Filehippo or MajorGeeks anymore because of their bundled crapware with their downloads.

        I will download the freeware version you speak of and check it out.

  2. I have been using several of those programs for years now. I have been having so many issues with IE here lately that I have switched to Firefox as my default browser.

    1. I agree Janik, Geek Uninstaller is a terrific little program. However, it’s only been around for 2 or 3 years so doesn’t really meet the criteria.

      Great suggestion though, thanks.

  3. Good day Jim. Your list brings back memories. Prefer the Gom player over VLC, and you forgot several others. Spider player for music, the TweakNow PowerPack, SpywareBlaster, Puran Utilities, PDF Viewer, and uTorrent to round out the pack, Mindblower!

  4. Thank you Jim for this article. Sure glad there are guys like you who take the time to check out all this stuff, and then report back to us, less than savy, users. I shall use many of your picks. As for your #10, how about Revo Uninstaller? I have used this for years and love how it cleans up everything left behind during an uninstall.

  5. Ralph Cosh on Facebook

    Julie CJ Burek check this out for anti-virus for new computer, Jim was asking me about

  6. How about Google Chrome browser for #10? I would be ok with Revo uninstaller as well, but Chrome deserves a place somewhere on the list.

    1. Guys – The free version of Revo Uninstaller does not support the removal of 64-bit programs. That function is only available in the Pro version.

      Revo is a great uninstaller but, in my opinion, this serious limitation disqualifies it from the list.

      Google Chrome has only been around sine 2008 and, although it is a very good browser, didn’t really bring anything new or innovative to the table.

      Thanks for the suggestions!

    1. Good suggestion!

      Password managers didn’t even enter my head because, although they have now become a near essential part of overall security, they are a relatively new product. I believe LastPass was first released early 2009.

      Definitely worthy of consideration though.

  7. I sure appreciate the DCT articles and especially your contributions. I’m still using AOL for my family’s internet surfing & email. Is there a simple way to configure the Sandboxie program to work with AOL. From what I read, it is over my “old” head.

    1. The biggest problem with AOL is that it initiates so many different processes scattered around different locations. This makes it impossible for Sandboxie to isolate all these processes automatically and an extremely complex task to manually configure Sandboxie to do so.

      I’ll bet you’ve heard this before Larry and probably don’t want to hear it again but you’d really be better off getting rid of AOL and moving on.

    1. Hmmm. Notepad++ certainly is a good and popular little freeware which, to the best of my knowledge, has been around since 2006.

      The problem I have with Notepad++ is that is doesn’t really bring anything earth shattering, unique, or particularly innovative to the table.

  8. I recently purchased a small laptop with 32GB of storage running Window 8.1, so it is basically just for browsing. I would add “Evernote” (evernote.com) as the tenth because I need it on all my computers and can view / take notes / update notes on all of them.

    The only two important applications I installed on it were
    * Firefox with all of my bookmarklets, very limited extensions (Adblock Plus, Multiple Tab Handler,and Stylish),
    * Evernote

    I did install Team Viewer 10 as well, not important here for usage, but I want to be able to demonstrate use of my Android tablet and Team Viewer allows me to connect and control Android through laptop and to project Android screen.

  9. I like your list. I use CCleaner once in a while. FireFox somewhat regularly. VLC is used ALL the time, it’s my default for just about everything video other than DVD’s. For DVD’s I only use CyberLinks Power DVD which I would highly recomend for the #10 spot. I’m just not sure of it being freeware or not. But it comes on just about every new computer. A couple other programs would be Apple’s QuickTime and Real Player Cloud, though I absolutely refuse to use the “cloud” part. Don’t trust cloud anything, but that’s just me. I also like Secunia PSI and Malwarebytes both very excellent programs.

  10. I like your list but am wondering how Macrium Reflect would compare to Backupper, which I’ve read wonderful reviews about over the years.

  11. Jim — I would add Revo Uninstaller, a #9.5. It’s been around since 2009 and boy, has it made my life, so much easier!!! I used the FREE version, for years and just within the past 18 months, did I purchase, the Pro version. My heavens, Revo Uninstaller is a VAST improvement, over MS’s Add & Remove cr*p.

    Since, I do have the PRO, there isn’t a lot of difference, between the two. One difference, my version updates are done automatically, where the FREE version doesn’t.

    1. As I said in a response to earlier comments:

      The free version of Revo Uninstaller does not support the removal of 64-bit programs. That function is only available in the Pro version.

      Revo is a great uninstaller but, in my opinion, this serious limitation in its core functionality disqualifies it from the list.

      1. Oh poo … I wasn’t even thinking about the 64-Bit programs or OS. Heavens, I am running Window 7 Pro 64-Bit and didn’t think. I just got the Revo Uninstaller Pro, because I wanted to auto update and to have some of the other parts of Revo, to work completely. I guess, without even thinking … 64-Bit programs was part of that thinking. LOL

  12. Glen Ingalsbe on Facebook

    Possible #10 might be Privazer, its a great cleaner program, deep cleans better than Ccleaner.

  13. Greetings Jim,

    My offering would be the family of software from Sysinternals (which Microsoft admired so much that they bought the company in 2006 and hired its co-founders, Bryce Cogswell and Mark Russinovich).

    In particular are Process Explorer and Autoruns (also Process Monitor, though it is still relatively new) — https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb795533 .

    (Note: those not familiar with Autoruns should acquaint themselves with its proper use, then proceed very carefully… .)

    Cheers,

    AJ

    1. Hi AJ – While I agree 100% that the Sysinternals freeware products are indeed excellent, I don’t believe they are representative of the type of software that would be popular among the vast majority of average users.

      Perhaps a little too advanced for many. Good suggestion though.

      1. Hi Jim,

        Thanks for the clarification.

        While Process Monitor — and most certainly Autoruns — are clearly for more advanced Windows users, might Process Explorer be the subject of a future article for DCT readers? After all, the vast majority are already familiar with, or at least aware of, the Task Manager, and “procexp” should not be that great a leap (not a quibble; merely a thought…).

        One other nomination for The List would be WinPatrol (for which even the free version offers a worthwhile layer of low-resource added
        protection, as well as several other useful features).

        Cheers,

        AJ

        1. Hi AJ – Sure, we can put something together regarding Process Explorer. Your wish is our command, I’ll add it to the list.

          WinPatrol would indeed be a very worthy contender. I did actually consider it, but with three security related titles included in the list already, decided that was probably enough.

          How about we make it number 11? 🙂

        2. Hi Jim,

          Why not; just like a “baker’s dozen” (or, “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who know binary and those who don’t.”).

          Let me add that Nir Sofer’s apps are truly outstanding (I use his VideoCahcheView almost every day).

          Also, as Skype is on the list, did you happen to see Woody Leonhard’s article, http://www.infoworld.com/article/2901898/microsoft-windows/tuesdays-optional-windows-patch-kb-2876229-can-hijack-your-browser.html from 25 March (or Susan Bradley’s discussion of KB2876229 in her 26 March Patch Watch column for Windows Secrets)?

          Keep up your truly invaluable efforts!

          All the best,

          AJ

  14. Hi Jim,
    “nvir TaskManager free” or “Sumo” maybe.
    I have also much use of “small” freeware as “Don’t Sleep” and “Wise Reminder”.

  15. I think Number 10 should be LastPass password vault! Because it’s best to have different passwords for all your logins and who can accurately remember more than 20 different passwords, let alone nearly a hundred as I have? It’s totally free and has a password generation facility that allows you to choose alpha numeric, pronounceable and how many characters to use:-) And even if you are using someone else’s computer, you can log in to it via their website! I would not be without it.

    1. You are the second to suggest LastPass Sheri and I must say, I am tending to agree.

      In an age where strong passwords are of critical importance, LastPass has set the trend and is one of the best and most popular of the modern breed of password managers.

      I’m going to wait a few more days to see what other comments come in, but at this stage I’m thinking of updating the article to include LastPass at number 10.

      Thanks for the suggestion, appreciated.

  16. yes, a very good list. i personally use a lot of them. sandboxie is a must for me. my candidate for bringing something different to the table is WizMouse. it makes moving around and using windows just so much easier. i have tried many others but always come back to WizMouse.

  17. I had to use geek uninstaller and a program called Unlocker to remove an old Norton virus program that was giving a friends pc fits. Two very useful utilties for the weekend tech, just have to be careful with the Unlocker program.

  18. I have to agree that Last Pass is an excellent FREE program!!! Again, I have the paid version, but, in all honesty, the FREE version does most of the same things. Robo Form, I think, is a bit older and was widely used. However, I tried Robo Form and had trouble understanding how it worked. LastPass seemed to be easier, for me.

    Both Robo Form and LastPass take some time, to set the passwords up. But, once you do … You are good, to go!!! As far as the paid versions, in both programs … LastPass beats Robo Form, hands down. I don’t mind, spending $1 a month or $12 dollars a year, for the safety of my passwords and the ease, in getting to them!!!

  19. @AJ – No, I hadn’t seen the articles but I was aware of the content.

    Skype is also pushing similar changes through its auto update feature. Users who are installing updates through Skype should make sure to uncheck the options to make MSN the home page and Bing the default search engine.

  20. Jim, I am retired network admin from CSUF and as such I have been using Eudora since 1994. When is was turned over to Mozilla I went with Eudora OSE and that is still my E-mail program except when I travel, the lap top uses Thunderbird. As you may know Thunderbird is the base for Eudora OSE. So that is my nomination for #10. BTW: No one hacks Eudora.

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