My Favorite Free Software

I don't think I'm alone when I say that one of a frugal person's worst nightmares is the thought of forking over $150 for a piece of software. Fortunately, I've found that there are free, legal alternatives to many of the most popular programs out there. While downloading software from the internet is never 100% foolproof, I always download my programs from CNET's download.com to minimize the risk of getting a virus (so far, so good). Here are some of my favorite free programs that I think most people can benefit from.

Open Office: After using this program, I sincerely have no idea why anyone actually pays for the Microsoft equivalent, except that it's the industry standard and in some cases, you are forced to use it because your clients use it. OO's free programs incredibly similar to MS's, and you can even save your Open Office files in Microsoft format if you need to send them to someone else. If you haven't given Open Office a shot yet, try it--I think you'll be amazed and thrilled. Two caveats: Open Office's word processing program doesn't seem to have a comment/track changes system, and OO program is only available to PC users.

Essential PIM: If you don't have Microsoft Office, this program is just like Outlook. It's also easy to install in foreign languages, so if you're trying to learn another language, you can get some easy, everyday experience with the language by using a program you're probably already more or less familiar with.

A-PDF Extractor: This program allows you to convert PDF files to word processing files. I'm quite impressed with its ability to retain formatting and not insert nonsense characters into the converted text.

BYKI: This is a free language software program that I didn't install at first because it seemed too good to be true. I've used it for months now, though, and it's perfectly legit. The program comes with about 25 vocabulary lists. Each list, or set of flashcards, has several different stages to help you learn the words, like "review it," where you just look at the words and hear them pronounced, and "own it," where you see the word in English and have to type it in the foreign language, accents and all. You can download the software for practically any language you're interested in learning, from Czech to Tagalog. It's a great way to pick up some quick vocabulary before going on a trip, the the free version can be used for as long as you want. For more in-depth use, you can buy the paid version, which is only $40 (per language). My favorite feature of the paid version, in addition to the many extra vocab lists, is the ability to make my own flashcards.

AVG: This is a free anti-virus program that runs much more smoothly and is much less of a system hog than Norton Antivirus, which I used previously. I no longer get annoying pop-up messages asking for my permission to access a web page, and I never have trouble running newly installed programs (nor do already-installed programs suddenly quit working one day after the antivirus software updates). Not only is this the most smoothly running antivirus program I have ever used, it is also completely free. The program has been completely effective in keeping viruses away from my computer; of course, I am also pretty savvy about not doing things that might cause me to get a virus in the first place. I'm not sure if this is a good program for people who download things from the internet willy-nilly.

CCleaner: This is a top-notch program for erasing almost all of your tracks and for keeping your computer running smoothly. The average user will probably find it most helpful for its ability to erase the following with the click of one button (list that follows is from CNET): Internet Explorer (Temporary files, URL history, cookies, Autocomplete form history, index.dat); Firefox (Temporary files, URL history, cookies, download history); Windows (Recycle Bin, Recent Documents, Temporary files, and Log files).

Photo by Looking Glass

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