The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities-some

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities

There are a lot of great freeware products out there. Many are as good or even better than their commercial alternatives. This list features my personal pick of the "best of the best."

Best Free Firewall  Updated November 18, 2005
No other single product class seems to cause as much angst to average users in their installation and day-to-day use as Firewalls. That's why my choice for "best" goes to Kerio Personal Firewall [1], the product that seems to cause the fewest problems for users yet manages first rate protection as well. However it looks like Kerio will be discontinuing this product by the end of 2005 so hop in and get a copy while it is still available. The latest free version (V6) of the ZoneAlarm firewall [2] comes in a a good second choice though there have been considerable teething problems with the new version. Also the current free ZoneAlarm has become a true bare bones version of that company's class-leading commercial firewall. Such is life. More adventurous users and the technically inclined may however wish to consider Sygate [3]. It offers more control and more information but is not the easiest to setup and use. You had better grab it by the 30th of November as Symantec, the new owner of Sygate,  has announced the product will be discontinued by that date. Even more difficult to install than Sygate is the NetVeda Safety.Net firewall [4]. However its performance is quite outstanding and it offers application control and content filtering as well. This highly capable product deserves to be better known and experienced users should definitely put it on their short list. Note: The free and paid versions of Kerio and Sygate are the same. If you don't buy the product some advanced features are automatically turned off after 30 days.
[1] (7.3MB)
[2]  (9.0MB)
[3] (8.8MB)
[4] (6.3MB)

11  Best Free File Manager
Windows Explorer is fine for simple file management activities but when you have some serious work to do, you need a two pane file manager. I use Directory Opus which is without doubt the best product in this class but costs $59.  Recently I discovered xplorer².  It offers a good part of the functionality of Directory Opus and is totally free. As a bonus, its user interface is very similar to Windows Explorer, so most users will find this tool easy to learn and use.(575KB)

12 Best Free Email Client Updated October 20, 2005
Thunderbird is a free open source POP and IMAP email client developed by, the same folks who brought you Firefox. Feature-wise it sits somewhere between Outlook Express and Outlook which means that it offers an upgrade to Express users and a downgrade to those who use the more advanced PIM features of Outlook. All Outlook Express users should seriously consider switching. You’ll be rewarded with a more advanced product including built- in spam filtering, built-in RSS reader, better security, message color coding, fast email search and the ability to view your mail in conversational threads. On top of that, the product is more secure than OE and unlike the latter, is still being actively developed.  The transition is made easier by the fact that Thunderbird looks and works similar to OE.  Tools within Thunderbird also allow you to easily import OE account settings and stored email. Outlook users who aren’t reliant on calendaring, Microsoft Exchange or Outlook plug-ins should also consider switching. Thunderbird email files can be indexed by the Google, Yahoo!  and Copernic desktop search programs.

15  Best Free HTML Editor
This is one of my most requested items but up until now I've not been able to give any product my hearty endorsement. There have been any number of contenders: Amaya for example, impressed with its standards compliance but was incomplete while Selida looked slick but had too many bugs. Finally a worthy contender has arrived on the scene in the form of the Open Source Nvu. In reality Nvu is nothing new but rather a reworking of the old Netscape Composer. Composer was always a solid product and the revamp has lifted the product into another class. Here is an HTML editor and site manager that's easy enough for beginners to use but powerful enough to build large sites. It's closer in concept to Microsoft's FrontPage more than any other product but unlike FrontPage it, thankfully, produces standards compliant code. Its easy-to-use WYSIWYG editor will delight HTML newbies while HTML honchos can simply click a tab to switch to code view. Multiple tabs can be kept open to allow simultaneous editing and there is excellent support for forms, tables and templates. An internal spell-checker is included. CSS is handled through the CaScadeS editor from Mozilla Composer. Nvu also has the handy ability to call W3C's HTML validator from within the product. It's also extensible via XUL. Nvu can upload files to your site via FTP and has some basic site management features but this is not its strength. Overall it's an impressive product; no, it's not a replacement for DreamWeaver but those looking for a competent, free HTML editor that's easy to use need look no further. Free Open Source, Windows 98 and later plus Linux, 6.57MB

20 Best Free Digital Image Viewer Updated November 18, 2005
Three good choices here. First there's the classic IrfanView. Irfan [1] is a first class product but one for which I have mixed feelings. That's why it's been in and out of my "46 Best Freeware" list several times. It's an amazingly capable product but it just doesn't work the way I want it to. Other users though, just love it. A product I feel more comfortable with is XNView [2]. Like Irfan it is very versatile; it can read and display nearly 400 types of graphic files and convert any of these to over 50 formats. It displays pictures very quickly and these may be viewed full screen, as slideshows or thumbnails. It's quite capable at processing images, too; you can adjust brightness, color, apply filters or effects, crop photos, re-size, convert format and more. These operations can also be carried out from a batch file, which makes it ideal for converting large digital photos to smaller sizes for the web or emailing. It supports drop and drag, has many plug-ins, is available in 44 languages and has full cross-platform support including Mac. XNView has a lot of similarities with IrfanView, so many in fact,  that it comes perilously close to plagiarism. Put positively, one may say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery however the developer of IrfanView must feel more than a little miffed. XNView is free for non-commercial use, all Windows versions plus many other platforms. The standard version for Windows is 3.3MB but I suggest you download the complete version with all plug-ins which weighs in at 6.8MB. My third choice and personal favorite is FastStone Image Viewer [3]. This is a speed demon with a zippiness in displaying images that's reminiscent of the old ACDSee before it suffered feature bloat. It supports all major graphic formats and popular digital camera RAW formats as well. It's also got good basic image editing facilities, a great slide show and a very cute interface. Much to like here. Free for personal use, Windows 98 and later.
[1] (874KB)
[2] (3.3MB)
[3] (3.0MB)

21 Best Free Digital Image Editor  Updated October, 2005
I use to recommend The Gimp but after dozens of letters from newbies who couldn't manage to install it or work out the idiosyncratic user interface, I've decided to confine that recommendation to more experienced users. If that's you and you patient enough to learn the product's sometimes quaint ways then you have no need to consider anything else. If you are used to Photoshop you might like to look at GIMPShop, which changes the user interface of GIMP to something more familiar though frankly, I prefer the original.  For other less experienced users I have two recommendations: First there is, an amazingly sophisticated piece of work from computer science students at Washington State University. It's not quite as powerful as The Gimp but a lot easier to use and install. It's also getting better; the new V2.5 continues this product's impressive development record. It is however only for Windows 2000 and later and you'll need Microsoft's bulky .NET framework installed on your PC. My second choice is PhotoPlus 6.0 from a company called Serif. It's an impressive piece of work; again it installs easily and it's loaded with features including layer support. In fact, it looks and feels like a "lite" version of Adobe PhotoShop except that it is relatively easy to use. I say "relatively" because graphics editing is by its nature, not simple.  Both and PhotoPlus are outstanding free products. Which is the best?  Easy, the answer  is ...  your call ;>) (7.07MB)  (7.4MB) (1.1MB) (19.4MB)

22 Best Free Digital Photo Organizer
It’s rare for me to be utterly wowed by a product but this one certainly did it. When you first run Picasa it offers to scan your whole hard drive (or designated locations) for photos and videos. Scanning is surprisingly quick and when finished you’ll have all your shots neatly organized into folders on a time line basis. Now you can view you shots one at a time, in slideshow or traversing the time line. The editing features are limited compared to professional image editors yet they provide you with every function amateur photographers need including one click red eye reduction. Similarly adding labels to photos is a cinch while a simple but effective star rating system allows you to flag favorite snaps. Individual folders can also be password protected. Facilities are provided to import your images from your camera in multiple formats including RAW. You can send photos to your choice of web printing service, cut a CD, print to a local printer or share with others via your own blog or instant messaging. Simply sensational. Windows 98 or later, 300MHz Pentium with 128MB memory or better, 3.2MB.

24 The Best File Archiver/Zip Utility  Updated October 20, 2005
I checked out six utilities: QuickZip, ICEOWS, IZArc, TUGZip, ZipGenius and 7-Zip. The product that impressed me the most was the Open Source program 7-Zip. It was the only product in the group that could unpack a multi-part RAR volume embedded in a ZIP archive and the only product to give a meaningful error message when an attempt was made to unpack a 256bit encrypted WinZip archive. My only reservation is that it handles fewer archive types than some of the other products; it only supports 7z, ZIP, CAB, RAR, ARJ, GZIP, BZIP2, Z, TAR, CPIO, RPM and DEB . If that's really important to you than I'd recommend IZArc. It can read nearly 50 archive types including media formats like ISO, BIN and IMG and can write (and convert) to 12. You couldn't go wrong with either product. 7-Zip is a little more robust while IZArc is a little more flexible. If you already use WinZip you'll find either 7-Zip or IZArc make excellent companion products. They can can read just about all the major archive formats WinZip can't, including the widely used RAR. Windows 9x and later, 3.1MB Windows 9x and later, 1.05MB

27 Best Free BitTorrent Client  Updated November 18, 2005
It's amazing how quickly BitTorrent has become one of the major download formats. With good reason, too: it's fast, equitable and efficient. If you haven't yet installed a BitTorrent client on your PC, you should as there are some great free clients available. I recommend the Open Source program Azureus. It's beautifully implemented, well supported and, being Java based, is available for multiple platforms. It also features an embedded tracker so you can host your own torrents and DHT (Distributed Hash Table) which distributes indexing responsibility across multiple clients rather than relying on a single web-based tracker. With BitTorrent sites coming and going regularly DHT is definitely a plus.  One downside with Azureus is that the Java code will eat up your CPU cycles so you need a reasonably fast PC. Those with older machines should check out BitTornado. It's also cross platform and is fast and highly configurable as well. Both products are adware and spyware free. An interesting new contender is μTorrent which comes in at a tiny 105KB. It's fast, lean on resources, easy to use and requires no installation. It support trackerless downloads, , multiple simultaneous downloads and UPnP. An impressive achievement for such a tiny package. (6.4MB) (3.3MB) (105KB)

28 The Best Free FTP Client
I used WS_FTP Pro as my principal FTP client for years. What started out as simple and effective product gradually with each new version became more feature-bloated and less effective for routine tasks. With the release of Version 9 it was clear to me that the product had totally lost its way so I started looking for an alternative. After trying seven different FTP clients I decided that the best for me was the Open Source utility FileZilla. It uses a simple layout based on a two pane interface that looks a bit like the early versions of WS_FTP. But this simplicity is deceptive, it is actually a quite powerful product There's a full featured site manager, firewall and proxy support, SSL and Kerberos GSS security, restart, drop and drag and a lot more. The only significant feature that's missing is site-to-site transfer but that's of no importance to me. What is of importance is that FileZilla is fast, totally reliable, secure and and very easy to use. There's also a free FileZilla FTP server which I haven't used but I hear that it's just as good as the client. (4.5MB)

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