6 Most Innovative Freeware Of All Time

This list is not necessarily naming the best freeware of all time but rather the freeware that has been most influential. Although, in some cases, both apply.


Skype logo

First released in 2003 and eventually acquired by Microsoft in 2011, Skype has provided a communication platform that had previously only been conjectured by science fiction. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but the ability to video chat with anyone anywhere in the world (and for free) still seems surreal to me.

Perhaps because my teenage years were through the 60s when Star Trek was one of the most popular shows on TV and we teenagers marveled at the technology – little did we know.


Sandboxie logo

I remember way back in 2004 when Sandboxie was first released and the then freeware guru, Ian (Gizmo) Richards, introduced this new and innovative freeware via his weekly newsletter. In those days, terms such as “sandboxing” and “isolation techniques” were unheard of.

Sandboxing (or the isolation technique) has now become well known as one of the most secure mechanisms to protect users and their systems, and Sandboxie provided the groundwork. Sandboxie remains one of my favorite free security programs to this very day and is a part of all my systems.


IrfanView logo

Even though my preference in image viewers is for FastStone, IrfanView deserves its spot on the list for being the very first of its kind. IrfanView was the first of this type of software to expand beyond a mere image viewer by incorporating multiple functions/features to cover the full gamut of image viewing, editing, converting, organizing, etc.

Remarkably, IrfanView’s initial release was way back in 1996, followed by FastStone Image Viewer in 2004 and, to this day, neither has been surpassed.

Spybot – Search & Destroy

Spybot logo

Some of you may not have heard of Spybot – Search & Destroy, but this on-demand spyware and adware removal tool was the first of its kind and the only such software available during the early 2000s. First released in 2000, and as the only software of this type available at the time, Spybot – Search & Destroy was once pretty much ubiquitous throughout users’ systems.

Much of Spybot’s protection was centered around Internet Explorer which, at the time, was the dominant browser. However, with the decline of Internet Explorer, Spybot suffered exponentially and fell out of favor. It has since been updated to meet modern expectations and regained some degree of popularity. Regardless, Spybot was the ground-breaker for the malware removal tools we know and use today.

Revo Uninstaller

Revo Uninstaller logo

Most would be aware of just how inadequately Windows natively deals with uninstalling software. First released in 2007, Revo Uninstaller changed the entire uninstaller paradigm, and its immediate popularity led to today’s plethora of third-party tools that, thankfully, do a much better job of uninstalling software than Windows has ever been capable of.

Revo’s free edition initially only recognized and worked with 32-bit applications but, following the rise in popularity of alternative free uninstallers, Revo eventually added support for 64-bit applications. Personally, I am a fan of the much more recent Hibit Uninstaller, but Revo remains an excellent choice and deserves its spot in this list as the forerunner in the genre.

NOTE: I am not 100% certain that Revo was the first uninstaller of its kind but working from memory only, I am pretty sure it was.


CCleaner Logo

We all know that Windows (and some installed software) have a tendency to accumulate junk files at a somewhat alarming rate. The original “Crap Cleaner”, first released in 2003, was gratefully received by millions of users as a free alternative to the Windows native cleanup tool which has always been inadequate.

Today, CCleaner has well and truly been surpassed by more effective free alternatives, including PrivaZer and Wise Disk Cleaner. However, Piriform (the original developer) has to be recognized for its foresight in being the first to identify the need and provide a free alternative solution.


As I mentioned in the intro, this list does not necessarily represent a “best of”. In fact, there are a couple of applications that I would definitely not recommend because they have now been well and truly surpassed by superior alternatives. However, all have been pioneers in their respective genres, the first of their kind, and that is the primary consideration.

This was all off the top of my head and I’m sure I could have missed something. Let us know your picks in the comments.

20 thoughts on “6 Most Innovative Freeware Of All Time”

  1. As an early Computer Boomer like me Jim I’ll bet you remember “ZoneAlarm” as being one of the first decent firewall programs as viruses and malware became anything to worry about long before PC firewall’s were even considered “a thing” by Microsoft.

    I’ll also bet you also recall Steve Gibson ( and his Spinrite hard disk program, his Universal Plug and Play warnings and freeware software written in the tightest and shortest code possible because that is the era he worked in when 640k of memory was all we’d ever need -well so the great prophet Bill Gates “allegedly” told us although he denies it now !

    1. You’d win that bet Reg. 🙂

      The problem with those third-party firewalls was with the initial configuration. They asked so many questions which many users were not qualified to answer.

      As far as I am concerned, Steve Gibson is an absolute legend. His software has always been mega lightweight yet so very effective.

      Great mentions mate.

  2. Hi Jim,
    My pick for most influential freeware goes to NCSA Mosaic and later Netscape Navigator. I’m pretty sure they were free for non-commercial users. They popularized the whole World Wide Web and browser world that we use today by integrating text and graphics on the internet.

    1. In all honesty, I forgot about Netscape and all the hoo-hah with Internet Explorer. Mosaic ended up morphing into Internet Explorer, of course.

      Definitely worthy candidates.

  3. Jim. Love the trip back. FYI, I found this clip. Totally new to me as well, Mindblower!

    Who is the father of uninstall?
    Uninstall was invented by Jack Bicer. While he was working on Norton Desktop for Windows at Symantec, Bicer came up with the Uninstall concept and developed the first Uninstall program in 1991.

    1. Hey MB,

      Yes, “Uninstall” was a simple program with a simple title. Uninstall was first, but it was Revo which first added in the extras that constitute a modern uninstaller.

  4. I’ve been using Revo Pro for years and have been very happy with it, but if it’s now moved to a subscription model, as mentioned elsewhere, I’ll definitely be giving HiBit a go… thanks for the heads-up!

  5. Hi Jim;
    I tried to download HiBit with two different browsers and was told that the website cannot be reached. Are you aware of any issues with them?

    1. Which part didn’t work, accessing the MG website or downloading the file?

      I just tested again and all worked perfectly for me. Can you access other sites okay? You might need to check your internet connection or try with a different browser.

  6. I used two different browsers that were working perfectly on other sites. It looks like the MG link goes straight to the HiBit website which isn’t working, so there was no download here. I’ll try again, but my internet connection is fine.

  7. OK, the MG site has download links to the HiBit website and their own servers. The MG download worked. Sorry for the bother!

  8. What do you think of Privazer? I find that it’s very good for cleaning up the computer and restoring hard drive space.

    Great article as always.

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