Christmas is two days from the day this is being written and the holiday tradition is to give, give, and then give some more. So, being a traditionalist, let me jump in with both feet and join in the giving. And, as a cheapskate extraordinaire, let me offer each and every reader a heaping pile fine, free software. It didn’t cost me anything and it won’t cost you anything. It’s the best kind of giving.
It’s not hard to find free software. Unfortunately, some of the older and more familiar sites have gone into adware supported software in a big way. Even some of the programs you will find on the sites listed below will try to load junkware on your system. Unless you choose the custom install option and carefully read each page, many will succeed.
Two free programs are good at removing the nuisance-ware that sneaks in.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free is a pit bull at detecting the worst of what may filter through. A manual scan after installing a new program will probably uncover any droppings that have been hidden in a corner. Revo Uninstaller will remove bits and pieces that the the default uninstaller may ignore. Both companies offer free and paid for versions. The free versions work pretty well.
In no particular order, unleash the free stuff ….
FileHippo.com lists new titles daily and sometimes you’ll see one a day before it’s available at the publisher’s site. It includes free software, shareware, and commercial trials. I have no idea how they decided on the website name. The selection is limited compared to other sites but the quality factor is high. This is not to say they include all of the best, but if this is the only free software site you look at, you’ll be doing OK.
Yes, I said free and this look like a site that requires folding money. If you register and give them your email address, they will send you emails daily informing you of the software Giveaway of the Day. You generally have about 24 hours, more or less, to take advantage of the giveaway for that day, but another one will arrive in your email tomorrow for something different. Alongside the giveaway, they usually offer a version that costs something but includes a huge discount. A lot of the software must be downloaded, installed, and registered within the giveaway period, but some can be downloaded and set aside for later. All of the screen prints at Advanced Home Server came from Ashampoo Snap V6, which was acquired for free from this site.
I only recently discovered fileforum.betanews.com and found it impressive. The freeware titles it presents are recognizable and in common use. The review pages allow you to select freeware, shareware, and more from a dropdown list and it filters quickly.
Sourceforge is the granddaddy of free software sites. It includes some of the best software on Earth. All open source and all free. It also includes a lot of titles you never heard of. Some programs considered to be top shelf in their categories. Some are just projects that the author felt good enough to make available to the world. The download count is a good clue about popularity, which may be a good proxy for quality if you’re just looking around.
[Update August 10, 2015: Reconsider Sourceforge for now. I’m still including it in the list because it was once a great place. Today, that opinion is questionable, based on the writings of others. InfoWorld has taken an about-face. Ars Technica provides another cautionary tale. The How-To Geek is blunt in his opinion to stay away. Even uBlock Origin, my browser ad blocker, warns me about continuing to the site. What a disappointment. In fairness, I have recently been routed to Sourceforge as a download site for a specific program or two. I had no problems of any kind.]
They classify it, describe their thought process and testing procedures, rank it, review it, and offer download links. Some less common titles appear here along with common favorites. SharewareOnSale.com links to this site; that’s how I found it. The main page is also an interesting blog site.
If you’re a college student then, according to Microsoft, “Every student, educator, and lab in your entire institution can take advantage of DreamSpark Standard software for developers and designers, with a single subscription.” Titles include Visual Studio Professional 2013, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2, SQL Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 and more. The software is for educational purposes only and the licenses don’t expire. All free. You have to register with Microsoft and provide proof of eligibility, such as a valid school email address. Some of the downloads can be multi-gigabyte in size.
This is the big enchilada if you’re enrolled in technology coursework at college.
The screen print above is from one school that currently offers Microsoft DreamSpark Premium. The link provides a listing on Google for Dreamspark Premium. Some schools that offer it are included, including this one. Each appears to provide the same software titles. Each school must sign up for DreamSpark Premium and only students enrolled in selected coursework may be given access. All software is free and the licenses don’t expire. It’s intended for educational purposes only. Your school may have to sign you up individually after you fill out an application for access. Downloaded file sizes are commonly mult-gigabyte.
This blog site is a direct result of having access to DreamSpark Premium (and a copy of free Oracle VirtualBox). I wouldn’t have attempted it with trial versions of server software since the 6 month expiration is just too short of a time period, and running sysprep frequently to reset it is a nuisance. For study purposes, trial versions are excellent, however, since I guaranty you will load and reload Windows Server 2012 several times on the way to figuring it out.
If you’re a software entrepreneur, but lacking the resources to invest in the development tools needed to get you where you want to go, Microsoft offers BizSpark. I’m not a member since, at this time, my software development days are behind me, but take a look for yourself. It’s free. You have to apply and describe your business and plans. If accepted, you get three years of free access to a mountain of programming. Microsoft states it’s equivalent to an MSDN Ultimate subscription. Take a look to see if you match their profile.