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Genuine free software (not illegal or pirated copies) comes in two categories: trialware and freeware. With trialware, the period of free use expires after 30 days or so. The main purpose of trialware is to get you to buy the paid version once you've had the chance to assess the product.

The second category - which this article is all about - is known as freeware. Freeware is software that is both free and completely legal to download. It is often created as a hobby, by a programmer who doesn't need (or doesn't want) to charge for it. Sometimes it is even created by a whole team of people, as with Mozilla, makers of the fabulous Firefox browser, Open Office and many other wonderful things.

But why do programmers go to all the trouble and expense of creating free software, producing a website and allowing anyone to download the program completely free of charge?


Mozilla software and the various others I will be recommending in this article have no strings attached. They are the genuine article. But some free software does, and the strings may be hidden. In particular, free programs sometimes include spyware, so after downloading and running one, you might find that your browser gets redirected, your home page changed, or unwanted pop-ups keep appearing all the time. With some free software there is no spyware, but during installation you have to be careful not to accidentally agree to change your toolbar or to install additional items on your computer that you don't actually want. Always read the prompts carefully before clicking the 'OK' button!

Some free software is full of ads which are intentionally quite obstructive and annoying. The programmer earns a bit of money from the ads, and states that if you register the program you can make the ads go away. Registration often costs just a few dollars, and if you like the program it may be well worth the cost.


Free downloads of anti-virus products? Surely they can't be as reliable as paid programs? With free stuff, where's the guarantee? If this is what you think, you couldn't be further from the truth. Some free anti-virus programs are actually better than paid products. I'm not going to name any names of paid programs which did not compare so well in tests - but rest assured, it's true.

Two really outstanding free anti-virus downloads are Avast and Avira (to get the download links see my website address at the end of this article). They both have excellent reviews, and provide first-rate protection. Many people feel they have overtaken AVG Free Antivirus, which used to be top of the charts. Anti-virus products are very expensive to produce, and if you're wondering how the makers manage to survive by providing them free, it's because they also produce complete commercial internet security packages, which give broader protection than just antivirus. People who like the free antivirus often invest in an annual subscription to the full security suite.


For enhanced firewall protection, it's hard to beat free ZoneAlarm. Many people who get this as a free download and use it together with one of the top free antivirus programs, feel that they have complete protection. But even the best anti-virus can sometimes fail when it comes to spyware and Trojans. I've already mentioned some of the harm that spyware can do. Free Ad-Aware from Lavasoft, and free Spywareblaster are top-rated free anti-spyware programs. Spywareblaster doesn't just remove spyware, it also prevents it from being installed on your computer.

Trojans are just as sinister as viruses and spyware. They are small programs that masquerade as something useful, but in fact exist to steal information from your computer. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is recommended by many as supreme in Trojan detection and removal. With the free version you have to update it manually every time you use it, but the paid version (which does not cost a lot) keeps itself automatically updated.


The other day I tried to play a short video using Windows Media Player, only to find that WMP rejected it as having an 'unknown codec'. Surely a video is a video is a video...? What the h... is a codec anyway? The video was in a perfectly normal format, so there wasn't anything I could do to make it playable.

I had heard that free VLC Media Player could play absolutely any audio or video format, and can even repair failed downloads, so I decided to download it. Lo and behold, it was not only incredibly easy to use, but played my video without a hitch. Guess what I'll be using in future instead of Windows Media Player? VLC gets a 10/10 rating from quite a lot of reviewers on the internet, and that's rare. It can also convert files into different formats, and there's a Macintosh version too.

Another top-rated free media player is free Jet Audio. This program plays your music files and you can also use it for CD ripping and burning, recording, and converting music files to different formats. Other Jet Audio features include an equalizer, ability to download YouTube videos, synchronized lyric (karaoke), and tag editing (artist, album, track title etc.)


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