Can You Run A Computer Completely On Free Software?

My computer died last week.  It died a wheezing, clanking death.  It had been dying for a while, but I had hoped to keep it going.  Don’t ask me why — it was slow and prone to crashes.  It had picked up an annoying but not harmful ad-ware virus that I couldn’t get rid of.  I dreaded sitting down to work.

Still, I wasn’t ready for its sudden death.

There wasn’t time to order a computer online or buy on eBay, so I did what I didn’t want to do:  I went to Best Buy.

Too much money later, I had a fast machine, running the Windows Vista operating system.

I had spent so much money on the box, I wondered if I could fill this expensive computer with nothing but freeware software.  So far, the answer is yes.  And so that you might save a few bucks next time you need software, here’s what I have found:

Word Processing and Office Suite software:  OpenOffice. I use the word processor and spreadsheet parts of the typical office suite.  I don’t make PowerPoint-style presentations and don’t understand database software, but those pieces and others are part of OpenOffice, a freeware suite that is good enough to save you a ton of money on Microsoft’s suite.

Web Browser and E-mail: Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.  You don’t need Internet Explorer and Outlook.  Everything those programs do, Firefox and Thunderbird do.

Virus Protection: AVG.  Free. Constantly updated. There’s a paid version if you want more bells and whistles.  Get CCleaner to help optimize and clean your system.

Firewall: Zone Alarm. Works well.  I’ve had it for years.

PDF Document Reader: FoxIt Reader.  There’s so much bloat in Adobe’s free pdf reader that a document can take a long time to load.  Install FoxIt Reader and you’ll see what I mean.  PDFs snap open.

Disk Management Tools: Smart Defrag will reorganize the bits and bytes, free.  RegEditX will help if you ever have to edit the Windows Registry. (And God help you if you do.)

Video Player: Skip Windows Media Player, which wants to sell you stuff while you listen to music.  Get VLC Media Player.  Fast. Opens any video format.

Audio: For recording audio, Audacity is an excellent choice.  I’ve also used the freeware version of WavePad, which is quite good, too.  Audio players are everywhere.  I’ve used BSPlayer, and it’s fine.  Your mileage may vary.

Video Editing:  Windows actually makes a useful app here — Windows Movie Maker, which is free.  VideoSpin is also a solid product, built by Pinnacle, one of the huge names in expensive non-linear editing software.

Photo Tools:  FastStone Image Resizer is tremendous — one of my favorite tools.  You can resize batches of photos all at once, to save space on your hard drive or to make them easier to upload to a photo sharing service.  If you need to optimize one photo — meaning, to shrink its file size without changing the actual size of the photo, you need the wonderful RIOT.  FastStone also makes an image manager that’s free and that a lot of people like.  I use Google’s Picasa to manage my photos.  It will index them automatically and allow you to perform some basic editing on them, along with some advanced processes.  But….

…there are two areas where freeware fails.

1.  Photo Editing Software:  There is no freeware substitute for Photoshop yet.  I am giving GIMPshop a try.  It’s an attempt to make the freeware photo editor The GIMP function like Photoshop.  The learning curve is high and it’s not working for me in some critical areas.  Picasa, noted above, will handle some chores, but not all.  The best freeware photo editor, PhotoScape, just isn’t powerful enough.  The veteran PaintShop Pro is the low cost — $99 — answer.  But I expect that freeware will eventually catch up.  Just not yet.

2.  Desktop Publishing Software.  There’s nothing even close to a decent DTP program in freeware.  Adobe’s solution is $400.  I’ve never used it because I’ve never had the cash.  Serif’s Excellent PagePlus (now on version 14) can be had for $99 and is updated annually.  Excellent software. Note that there is a freeware version of PagePlus that is very limited and for $10, the full version 9 is available.  Buy that, and you’ll get offers — all the time; Serif is relentless — to upgrade to the newest version for $49.

All in all, this dive into freeware is a success.  I need to spend less than $200 on software for my computer and yet I get an entire business’s worth of function from it. In these tightwad days, that’s great news.

Now, if I can only get a freeware computer…..

What do you use? Drop your freeware and cheap shareware suggestions in the comments.


  1. Over the past few years I have been moving to all free software myself. I generally only keep Windows around for games and my wife. I started using Gimp many years ago and it was a difficult transition from Photoshop but after it clicked I wouldnt want to go back.

    OpenOffice has been a complete MS Office replacement with no major issues for me as well.

    The next step is to step away from Windows and install linux and yo will be free! :)

    –Sean Campbell

  2. Dave, Go to www and check out the little download. It will speed your computer and keep it clean.

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