I have long been a proponent of free software. Much of the free software available is often as good, if not superior to, its commercial competitors. Many of the free software products are written by altruistic individuals in order to solve a particular problem or to fill a specific niche, while many others are free versions of commercial software where the publisher hopes that the users will be so satisfied with the free version that they willfully upgrade to the paid version, which often offers additional features. While many of the free software utilities are indeed totally free and lack any commercial support activities, some of the free software products are fiscally supported through paid advertising displayed in the program, or by a revenue stream generated through the use of added toolbars or affiliate sales deals. When installing free software, it is incumbent on the user to view the installation screens and knowingly approve or reject any default or displayed selections where the program asks to install additional toolbars, change default search engines, add eBay affiliate links, promote shopping services, and other revenue generating techniques.
One of my favorite resources for information on free computer software is Gizmo’s TechSupportAlert.com, which has been reviewed and referenced in several previous columns. Gizmo has earned its reputation as one of the top sources on information and evaluations of free software, with the evaluations and ratings performed by a community of thousands of volunteers. Gizmo publishes frequently updates lists of the top free software available and calls them its “Best Freeware Lists,” where the reader can “Browse our super-lists. All our top selections in one place!”
Gizmo also posts information on other sources and lists of free software, and recently posted a recommendation on a competitive resource that has compiled a list of the “100 best ever free PC system tools.” Gizmo commented on this by writing, “Do you like to keep your PC tuned up and humming along? Gizmo offers plenty of top-notch free tools for maintaining the system and keeping it safe but it doesn’t hurt to check out some other lists. Here is another large collection of free PC system tools that I came across.” The Web site that Gizmo was referring to was the UK-based TechRadar.com, which published the “100 best ever free PC system tools” list. While this list was originally created in 2010, the time stamp displayed at the top of the TechRadar.com Webpage as I am typing this says that it was last updated “four hours ago.”
TechRadar.com says, “There’s a tool for just about anything you can think of in Windows. And if you look hard enough, you’ll find a freebie is more than capable of doing the job you want – in some cases, free tools outclass their shareware or commercial rivals.” This listing of its top 100 free PC system tools contains several that I have written about here in the past, including CCleaner, MalwareBytes, Crystal Disk Monitor, Microsoft’s Mr. Fixit, Recuva and several others. There were dozens of programs listed that I had not previously heard of, but I have now downloaded and tried them, and was favorably impressed.
This TechRadar.com listing is divided into four distinct pages, each listing the top free utilities of that particular type. The four types of utilities that are recommended and listed by category are system health tools, desktop customization tools (the Web site uses the British spelling of “customisation”), cleanup and stabilization tools (again UK spelling is used), and Windows security tools.
Under the category “System health tools” are free utilities that “Monitor the status of your hard drive, CPU, memory and software.” While some of the already mentioned and reviewed utilities are listed in this category, I found several other free utilities that I was compelled to try. The first one was FixWin (www.thewindowsclub.com/repair-fix-windows-7-vista-problems-with-fixwin-utility), a free utility that claims that it can repair 50 of the most common system problems in Windows 7 and Vista, both 32 and 64 bit versions. FixWin can repair a variety of problems with Windows Explorer, Internet and connectivity related problems, Windows media, a selection of system errors and problems, and several Windows 7 or Vista specific features. The Windows 7-64 installed on my home desktop computer has always had issues running the original Microsoft Windows Media Player (version 12), and FixWin offered several one-click fixes that might be able to repair my Windows Media Player. With the many fixes available in FixWin, this free program is a “must have” for users of Vista and Windows 7. Some of the other utilities listed under “System health tools” include a variety of system rescue (bootable) CDs, hardware information utilities, hard drive monitoring and repair utilities, backup and restore software, and many other useful utilities.
Many users like to tweak the appearance of their Windows, and “Desktop customization tools” lists the top free utilities that can enable the user to perform the appropriate tasks. One that I especially like was Fences from Stardock (www.stardock.com/products/Fences ), which enables the user to create a selection of areas on a desktop where similar types of software can be selectively clustered together. Stardock (www.stardock.com ) also has a variety of other free (and paid) desktop utilities that can modify the desktop including LogonStudio (changes the Windows logon screen), and ObjectDock, which can create a taskbar replacement or “dock” similar to the one used on an Apple Mac. Also included in the desktop tools are utilities to manage and repair icons, radically change the desktop, manage wallpaper, enable the use of Apple Mac desktop widgets on a PC, and other desktop enhancements and tweaks.
The third category of the top 100 free system tools is “ Cleanup and stabilization tools,” which are intended to “keep Windows running smoothly.” One of the many reasons for a slow booting computer with sluggish performance is a cluttered startup, where too many unnecessary programs are loaded when the computer boots; these unnecessary programs not only lengthen the boot process, but they also consume system resources better utilized by running applications, leading to degraded computer performance. Several of the free utilities listed are explicitly intended to streamline the boot process by managing which programs load at boot. Also included in this category of the best free system software are several system tweakers, registry repair and defragmenting utilities, bookmark managers (can also delete obsolete bookmarks and favorites from a variety of browsers), uninstallers, system cleaners (including my personal favorite CCleaner, available from www.piriform.com ), and other performance enhancement tools and utilities.
In the final category, “Windows security tools,” are several excellent free tools that can “protect yourself and your PC with this collection of useful free security tools.” Included in this listing are real-time antivirus protection (Panda’s Cloud Antivirus), one of my favorite utilities to detect and neutralize malware (MalwareBytes), an excellent anti-malware utility that provides an extra layer of protection on top of other security software (Threatfire), firewalls, hard drive encryption, secure file deletion utilities, file recovery utilities, password managers, software update managers, clipboard managers, file compression utilities, file splitters, and several other free security tools. Almost all reasonable PC security needs may be realized by utilizing a combination of these free security utilities.
For anyone who would like to try some of these top-rated utilities, both Gizmo and TechRadar offer a superlative selection of powerful and capable utilities.