How To Obtain FREE SoftWare

Acquiring Software from Online Sources

This is another article in the Van's Money Saving Series written to help save your hard earned cash while hopefully expanding your knowledge. 

The genesis of this article is a report I had just completed.  I emailed the report as an attachment and learned they were unable to open my attachment on their Apple computer, mine being a Windows OS (Operating System).  No problem, I would send the report as a PDF file which is pretty much universally accessible.  Since I did not own Adobe Acrobat I needed an inexpensive program to create a PDF file.

Solution: PDF Creator which is a neat little program which you access as a printer driver once your file has been created.

Note there are other programs with the same/similar name.

Quoted from their site:

PDFCreator is a free tool to create PDF files from nearly any Windows application.

Key Features of this software:

  • Create PDFs from any program that is able to print.
  • Security: Encrypt PDFs and protect them from being opened, printed etc.
  • Send generated files via eMail.
  • Create more than just PDFs: PNG, JPG, TIFF, BMP, PCX, PS, EPS.
  • AutoSave files to folders and file names based on Tags like Username, Computername, Date, Time etc.
  • Merge multiple files into one PDF.
  • Easy Install: Just say what you want and everything is installed.
  • Terminal Server: PDFCreator also runs on Terminal Servers without problems.
  • And the best: PDF Creator is free, even for commercial use! It is Open Source and released under the Terms of the GNU General Public License.
Loading software from an unknown source can be a scary proposition.  You should always trust the download source before you install any program and insure you have the ability to delete the program and possible restore your computer to an earlier time if the need arises.

Step 1

Back up your files and create a point to restore your computer should you end up adding undesirable things. Write down the date and time so you know where to restore your computer.

Here's an excellent article on Restoring your Computer using Windows XP.

Step 2

SoftWare can be obtained from any number of online sources and is usually divided
into 3 categories. 

FREE or FreeWare which to me is the best. Open Source Applications are by definition Free. Further information on "Open Source" and a list of applications can be found on Wikipedia: Wikipedia lists over 117 categories and subcategories of software applications each having their own Wikipedia page with more applications provided on the respective pages.

Additional FREE software can be found on the links included in this article. Some FREE software will ask for your donation or contribution. In some cases, based upon how much I use the program, I make a donation to help insure the future success of the software and support from the developer.

2nd category is called shareware which you can download and use for FREE but usually only for a limited time or for a limited number of uses after which you will be required to register and pay for the software for its continued use. It is great for your evaluation period and lets you decide if the program is worth the cost.

3rd category is Demo software for purchase and provides a demonstration of the software which allows you to determine if the software application meets your need and is worth the price.

Where to Locate.

I first used TUCOWS in the late 90s and is usually my first place to start my search for a particular application. You can arrange the software into the categories and the software is rate with Cows (5 being the best), Popularity, and Date. Tucows maintains a download archive that includes more than 30,000 software titles in its worldwide network of partner sites. Early in 2008 their president announced that Tucows is de-emphasizing software libraries which includes software for all platforms to include Apple and Windows in its different versions.

Next Site which you should consider is cnet The site defaults to Windows but Mac, Mobile and Web Ware are choices provided to you at the top of the site. They state "All software on Download has been tested to ensure it's 100% free of spy-ware, viruses, and other malware." They offer you further search options: Most Popular, New Releases, Editor Picks, User Favorites, and Top FreeWare.

Third site which has an assemblage of software is ZDNet Download. "ZDNet's Software Directory is the Web's largest library of software downloads. Covering software for Windows, Mac, and Mobile systems, ZDNet's Software Directory is the best source for technical software." To access the software you will be required to obtain a free membership which will require your email address and permission for them to provide you additional offers and further permission to share your information. A FREE subscription to their online magazine has been most helpful.

Kim Komando "America's Digital Goddess" and radio celebrity has a daily/weekly newsletter and provides a number of downloads on applications you would not have thought you ever needed. She maintains a download page to access all the tested applications - i.e. Do you have dead pixels? Kim writes: "So if you’ve recently bought an LCD display, I recommend running Dead Pixel Buddy. This FREE program will help you spot problem pixels... You can exchange your new monitor if you find any." Who would have ever thought...

Lastly Google Search has some value but only if you KNOW your search criteria and TRUST the site which is providing the software for you to download. Not Recommended!

Step 3 Having your computer attached to the Internet provides any number of problems which you acquire over time especially if you surf the Web. Email attachments are harbingers of death and destruction with the latest being a friendly post card from a possible friend. As a rule, I never download an attachment unless I know the sender AND know the sender sent me the attachment. But just as living among people exposes you to the common cold, living on the Internet is going to eventually create a problem or two. So for the good health of my computer I use a small FREE program called daily.

Using this and Windows Live OneCare (see step 8 below) have served me well the past few years. "CCleaner is a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system - allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. But the best part is that it's fast (normally taking less than a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware!" It Cleans the following: Internet Explorer - Temporary files, URL history, cookies, Auto-complete form history, index.dat.; Firefox - Temporary files, URL history, cookies, download history; Opera - Temporary files, URL history, cookies; Windows - Recycle Bin, Recent Documents, Temporary files and Log files; Registry cleaner; Advanced features to remove unused and old entries, including File Extensions, ActiveX Controls, ClassIDs, ProfITs, Uninstallers, Shared DLLs, Fonts, Help Files, Application Paths, Icons, Invalid Shortcuts and more... also comes with a comprehensive backup feature; Third-party applications - Removes temp files and recent file lists (MRUs) from many apps including Media Player, eMule, Kazaa, Google Toolbar, Netscape, MS Office, Nero, Adobe Acrobat, WinRAR, WinAce, WinZip and many more..." (And yes it is FREE and continues to be supported.)

Step 4


1. "Disk fragmentation leads to system slowdowns, PC crashes, slow startups and shutdowns. Auslogics Disk Defrag is designed for fast optimization of modern hard disks. Disk Defrag is absolutely FREE." CNet Reviews: "We found the program fast, even on older XP systems. A handy HTML report is prepared after each defrag session. ... Fantastic utility far superior to Windows Disk Defragmenter." Auslogics Disk Defrag is my choice in performing hard drive defrag.

2. "Keeping the registry as compact as possible means better computer performance. Auslogics Registry Defrag is fast becoming a useful and essential tool in keeping your registry defragmenter. As a result, the Registry becomes compact and small, greatly improving your computer performance." CNet: "... This freeware really increase your PC performance. And it has a very clear and nice-looking interface like other products from Auslogics..." I use Auslogics Registry Defrag regularly. When I first used the program I saw noticeable results in the operation of my computer.

Both Auslogics programs, I use regularly, are winners and FREE downloads!

Step 5

Web Site Software.

If you are not a webmaster, or create your own Internet content you may wish to skip this step (step 5) has been a labor of love since it first appeared on the Internet March 16, 1998. Being the chief cook and bottle washer I take credit as the webmaster and author for what is right and what is wrong. The site has gone through numerous changes in its 10+ years of existence. For a local (no national application just Alabama and local communities) it enjoys a high ranking with most search engines and Google (currently PR4) for which I optimize.

NVU is a discontinued WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML editor which I have used the past few years to create and edit my web site. It was an outgrowth of Netscape back when Netscape had an HTML page editor which I used prior to NVU. Nvu has a few peculiarities which I have over time accepted especially when the price is FREE. On their site's home page they link to KompoZer listed as NUV's unofficial bug-fix release "KompoZer is a complete web authoring system that combines web file management and easy-to-use WYSIWYG web page editing. KompoZer is designed to be extremely easy to use, making it ideal for non-technical computer users who want to create an attractive, professional-looking web site without needing to know HTML or web coding." Blue Griffon is to be the next-generation Web Editor based on the rendering engine of Firefox. It is currently NOT finished as we go to press Nov/08.

Two of the tenets of my Web Page development are fast downloading and correct encoding. Google has always loaded fast and on most computers it loads in less than a second. according to ALEXA is downloaded "Very Fast" (97% of sites are slower), Avg Load Time: .4 Seconds. One program I use after NVU is an award winning program called Absolute HTML Compressor a FREEWare program which removes the extra spaces from the code before I upload the file.

I upload my files to the server using a FREEWare program called FTP Commander (ftp for File Transfer Protocol). "FTP Commander is simple and easy to use ftp client. It's really the bare minimum with no extra frills or thrills. It offers a no-nonsense interface consisting of two side-by-side local computer and FTP server panels. It's easy as pie to establish a connection. All you have to do is select the server you want on the list and push the Connect button." This program is really easy to use and allows me to update a file or remove a file from either my computer or the server or change the name of a file on either.

Dad always said if it's worth doing it is worth doing right. I check my web pages once they are uploaded using a simple Firefox extension called HTML VALIDATOR. "It is a Mozilla extension that adds HTML validation inside Firefox and Mozilla. The number of errors of the HTML page is seen on the form as an icon in the status bar when browsing. The details of the errors are seen when looking at the HTML source of the page." It is FREEWare but asks for your donation for continued development. The program will actually fix the page code in some cases - a big plus.

Two more programs further assist in my website maintenance. First is GSiteCrawler which is a Windows Generator for Google Site map "Do you only need a quick sitemap file? Just follow the steps in the integrated wizard and you'll have the sitemap file on your server in no time! Are you looking for more than just a sitemap? The program also offers tons of options, settings, tweaks, and more - if you want to do more than generate just a simple sitemap file. How about a url list-file for Yahoo? an RSS feed? a ROR file? a HTML sitemap page? It's all possible with the GSiteCrawler!" This program is FREEWare but they ask for a donation ($10). I have tried a number of other programs but this was the best and well worth the donation which I made.

Second with my website having over 100 web pages and URLs needing updating (especially .gov which seem to change at whim) another great maintenance program is Xenu's Link Sleuth (TM) and is FREEWare with a suggested donation of $20. "Xenu's Link Sleuth (TM) checks Web sites for broken links. Link verification is done on "normal" links, images, frames, plug-ins, backgrounds, local image maps, style sheets, scripts and java applets. It displays a continuously updated list of URLs which you can sort by different criteria. A report can be produced at any time."

Since the WebSite I maintain provides a portion of my business, other than hosting which I pay less than $20 per month, the entire cost is very inexpensive.

Step 6


It is a common belief that when you 'delete' a file, the data is gone. WRONG! Actually when you delete a file, the operating system does not remove the file; it only removes the reference (location) of the file from the file system table. The file remains on the disk until another file is written over it, and even after that, it might be possible to recover data by studying the magnetic fields on the disk platter surface. Most people have some data they would rather not share or have available for nefarious purposes; passwords, personal information, classified documents from work, financial records, drafts of articles about to be submitted to Before a file is overwritten, anyone can easily retrieve it with a disk maintenance or an undelete utility (see step 2 above). "Eraser is an advanced security tool (for Windows), which allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns. Works with Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 2003 Server and DOS. Eraser is FREE software and its source code is released under GNU General Public License." Eraser is the Winner of Chip Magazine's BEST FILE SHREDDER AWARD.

Step 7

Office Suites. I used Lotus Suite for many years (original dBase etc.) until it became no longer supported and the overwhelming number of email attachments required Microsoft applications.

Microsoft Office Suites 2007 comes in 8 different versions (currently). The most expensive has 10 applications. The Office Home and Student edition has 4 applications. If you do not own one of the applications to open a specific file, check out the FREE downloads from Microsoft to help you with your file. Example, you just received a PowerPoint presentation from you boss for your review and comment. You download the file on your notebook while you are vacationing next to the beach. You do not have PowerPoint loaded on your notebook. Solution, click to Microsoft Downloads and click on office and you will find a PowerPoint viewer. A FREE download which allows you to access a PowerPoint files although you may not make changes you can at least view and show a PowerPoint presentation. Other FREE application viewers are also available. 3 "is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose." OpenOffice3 has a download and information page for those interested in a FREE Office Suite.

Step 8

FREE Google

One of the great bargains on the Web today is Google Sketchup, which is a FREE 3D design application that lets you create 3D models of buildings, floor plans, layouts, products, or anything you can imagine. The top-rated design application has been an editor favorite for years. (CNet's Peter Butler Senior content manager). Google offers a number of FREE software applications which is continually changing. For the most recent available applications check the More Google Products page.

Step 9

Good News and Bad News - Microsoft Live OneCare

Good News: Windows Live One Care has been an excellent program when I first purchased an annual subscription for under 20 bucks and I canceled McAfee!

Bad News: subsequent annual renewal price went up to just under $50.

Good News: current subscription is good on 3 computers and has performed admirably for the past few years.

Bad News: Microsoft announced plans to kill its Windows Live OneCare security suite.

Great News (better than good!): Microsoft plans to replace it with a FREE anti-malware utility code-named “Morro,” which will be designed for a smaller footprint and will use fewer computing resources, making it ideal for low-bandwidth scenarios. Microsoft said “Morro” will be available in the second half of 2009 and will feature standard anti-malware capabilities to detect viruses, spyware, rootkits and trojans. "Morro" will use the same home-built malware protection engine that powered Windows Live OneCare.

Bad New: My annual Live OneCare subscription expires in April!

Step 10

Operating Systems "In January, Hewlett-Packard will introduce a glossy black mini-laptop at retail for a mere $379. When it does, it will become the first major computer maker this decade (besides Apple, of course) to push a non-Windows PC in stores. This Linux-based version of the HP Mini 1000 will not slay Microsoft (MSFT) Windows. But it will add to a growing sense that the iconic operating system’s best days are behind it." Fortune on-line Magazine October 29, 2008

Tired of Windows operating system? Never made the upgrade to Vista? Don't even want to know about Windows 7 now in pre Beta release? Well, there is another game in town. Netcraft's top 50 host servers shows Linux is used 2 to 1 over a Windows OS environment. And would you believe it is FREE! Although using a different OS than Windows is probably NOT a good idea for most of us, to further wet you curiosity to what might possibly by Microsoft's competition other than Apple and Google, please "link on over" to and learn more about Linux.

Ubuntu "is a community developed, Linux-based operating system that is perfect for laptops, desktops and servers. It contains all the applications you need - a web browser, presentation, document and spreadsheet software, instant messaging and much more."
They promise: 1. Ubuntu will always be FREE of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates. 2. Ubuntu comes with full commercial support from Canonical and hundreds of companies around the world. 3. Ubuntu includes the very best translations and accessibility infrastructure that the free software community has to offer. 4. Ubuntu CDs contain only FREE software applications; we encourage you to use FREE and open source software, improve it and pass it on. A review on "You can get the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 down to as low as $349 by opting for a smaller hard drive (4GB or 8GB), 512MB of RAM, an Ubuntu Linux OS , or knocking down the Webcam to a lower-resolution option. Are Window's days numbered?

Congratulations! You made it to the end! Please provide your comments (on subject) and any suggested links. Other articles written as part of the Van's Money Saving Series include: How To Save Money When Buying Prescription Medicine and How To Find Foreclosure Listings with more articles to follow.


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