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Top 10 essential freeware replacements for windows apps

Updated on March 20, 2013

Back in the 1990's, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) spent a great deal of time prosecuting Microsoft for having (or trying to create) a monopoly on desktop computing.

The times have changed.

Microsoft's browser monopoly has been all but eliminated, not by the DOJ, but by such open source browsers as Opera and Firefox. But this is just one aspect of the private sector's open source revolution.

Did you know you have a choice that isn't Microsoft for most desktop applications today? Many are open source and some are freeware, but most are comparable if not superior to the Microsoft offering. Some are replacements for software by other companies, but still cost hundreds of dollars. All of these applications are FREE for personal use!

Even better, every application in this list is portable; meaning you can "install" (copy) it on a thumb drive and take it with you where ever you roam.

A truly portable PC!

USB drives and potable applications make it easy to take your PC with you from home to work to wherever!
USB drives and potable applications make it easy to take your PC with you from home to work to wherever!

1) OpenOffice.

As the name implies, OpenOffice is an open source alternative to Microsoft Office. This suite of applications can entirely replace MS Office because it provides most of the functionality that the average user requires AND it is capable of reading and saving in the Microsoft Office format.

So, what's included in this software suite?

There is a Word processor, called "Writer", which is practically a Word replacement. "Calc" is a great spreadsheet meant to replace Excel. There is a presentation maker to rival PowerPoint, called "Impress." For those who use Access, the OpenOffice version is called simply "Base." I haven't used Base, so I'm not sure how easy it is to convert an Access database to be used in Base.

But it doesn't stop there. The complete install also includes these bonus applications: "Draw" for creating simple diagrams and dynamic 3D illustrations, and "Math" which seems to be a MathCAD like app for creating and graphing mathematical equations.

2) Firefox.

Firefox is quite possibly the single most popular browser to ever hit the web (other than Internet Explorer). It owes much of its popularity to its extensibility. Anyone with the appropriate knowledge can create an Add-On to perform a number of tasks within the browser. There are Add-Ons to track the weather, play mp3s, block online advertising, synchronize bookmarks between multiple machines, and so much more.

It's also popular because it's fast and provides built-in popup and ad-ware blocking along with more control over security settings like cookies.

Obviously, Internet Explorer is already free so Firefox makes the list for the portability factor. You just can't take a copy of IE with you for use on various versions of windows.

3) GIMP.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is freely distributed under the GNU open source license. It is an incredibly powerful graphic editing application. This is virtually a Photoshop replacement. I haven't used Photoshop for a couple of years, so I'm not sure if it can handle Photoshop file formats. I can tell you it handles just about every other image file type out there.

It supports layers, filters and a host of other effects, brushes and textures. Got a serious graphic editing job? Bring out the GIMP!

4) GAIM, Miranda, Pidgin.

Each of these is a free Instant Messaging client capable of communicating over AIM, YAHOO, IRC and MSN Messaging networks. That means you don't need to install each client to connect with friends on different networks, you can manage all your connections in just one of these handy IM clients. My personal favorite is Miranda, because it's simple and has a very small memory footprint.

5) Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is an email client from Mozilla, the makers of Firefox. It's a definite candidate for replacing Outlook Express. It has excellent built-in spam filtering and, like Firefox, provides the ability to install different visual themes and functional Add-Ons.

Mozilla also makes a calendar application that may provide functionality to replace the MS Office version of Outlook when combined with Thunderbird.

Thunderbird makes the list for its portability. I use it on my thumb drive, and it's downright liberating to be able to keep in contact with personal email while at work without having to use a web browser.

6) Greatnews.

Greatnews is my RSS feed reader of choice. There are others out there that may have one or two features that Greatnews lacks, but Greatnews is the best portable feed reader I've found. It quite simply is a great newsreader.

I use it on my thumb drive and I don't have to worry about synchronizing what I've read between work and home.

7) 7-zip.

7-zip is a truly freeware windows zip utility that completely replaces stalwarts like WinZip. It handles numerous compression file formats: arj, cab, gz, iso, lzh, rar, tar and zip to name a few of the more prominent formats. It also has its own proprietary format, 7z, which can squeeze a little extra out of a file when set to the "ultra" setting. And there's no annoying nag-ware screen to click past.

8) Notepad++.

Notepad++ is a great basic text editor that replaces Windows Notepad, and also has syntax highlighting for various programming languages and file types. The only feature this app lacks is a spell checker. But it is entirely portable, supports many file formats and has a multi-tab document interface.

9) Audacity.

A few jobs back, I used to use an audio editor called Cool Edit Pro and it was very impressive. Its major downside though was a price tag of several hundred dollars.

Audacity is a free replacement for many full-blown audio editors like Cool Edit Pro. Audacity supports editing of wav files mp3s, and Ogg Vorbis formats. It provides functionality to edit and record audio tracks. It supports multi-tracking, sound effects and filters.

10) FileZilla.

FileZilla comes in two flavors - full-featured FTP client, and FTP server. Both support FTP over open connections, SSL/TLS (FTPS) and SSH FTP. It's easy to use, supports drag-and drop and resume and transfer of large files > 4GB.


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    • profile image

      Amie Warren 

      8 years ago

      Great collection. I don't use all of these, but am bookmarking anyway, just in case.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I found the article that I mentioned previously that states that some free firewalls are better than many of the commercial ones and recommends Comodo. The article can be found here:

      Comodo web site again is:

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You may also like these FREEBIES:

      Image Stitcher: Hugin. Stitch photos together to form large panoramics. It is quite sophisticated (complex) because it can compensate for camera angles, lens distortions etc. Once mastered the results are fantastic. I use Hugin to stitch scanned maps together for use with GPS software (OziExplorer - excellent but not free).

      File Transfer: WS_FTP. If you manage a home web page this utility is great to syncronise the files on your web page with the files on your PC.

      Finite Elements Analysis: VisualFEA. This simple to use program is great for structural engineers to model stress and bending moments in structures. I have only used the demo version for modelling simple beams and haven't had the need to upgrade to the pro version or to model anything more complex. It is great for engineers and student who need to verify their own sums. If you are modelling beam structures you may like to visit for info on mechanics and material properties.

    • M. Beck profile imageAUTHOR

      M. Beck 

      10 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thank you all for such great comments.

      Especially you Mike. There are thousands of software programs out there for free... I just looked at my thumb drive and have 72! I had to seriously pare down my initial list of great apps... I should probably get around to doing a second list some day...


    • Kenny Wordsmith profile image

      Ashok Rajagopalan 

      10 years ago from Chennai

      Bookmarkable hub. You do a kind and generous service by putting these all together here for our benefit. Thank you, M!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      This is a very useful list and discussion thread, by all means!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Other cool FREEWARE that you may find useful

      Firewall: Comodo. According to a magazine article it out-performs the commercial firewalls.

      Antivirus: Avast. It automatically downloads daily updates. Disk Wipe: Eraser. If you want to securely erase some disk content so that no-one can recover your passwords or personal info Eraser will write random numbers over erased files or unused portions of your disk drive. IZARC. It can zip and unzip in many zip formats including winzip and rar. This program will convert most units from one form into another. LTSPICE. If you need to model electronic circuits to see what it should be doing LTSpice is great as you can graph any current or voltage at any point in the circuit that you model. If you need components that are not listed there are many user groups online where you can download the spice model. Google Earth. Fly over a virtual earth to view arial photos and bookmark interesting places.

    • M. Beck profile imageAUTHOR

      M. Beck 

      10 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thanks Ink.

      I've been using these and other apps on my thumb drive for over a year now and I'm still geeking out about it so much I had to share it. I'm glad you've found it as handy as I have.


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I can't believe no one has left a comment on such a handy list. Although I know most of them, there are a couple that are new to me. Thanks for the handy reference!

      Incidentally, there's a Mac version of OpenOffice called NeoOffice. Now Developed separately and Mac native, it's virtually identical but offers a few extras.


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