If you have a smartphone, there’s a good chance you’ve installed at least a couple of free apps on it. But free software isn’t just for smartphones. There are plenty of free PC downloads available for Windows 7 as well. Why are software makers willing to give away this “freeware”? Some free programs are basic but fully functional versions of paid programs. The software company gives away the free version in the hope that you’ll upgrade to the full version. Other freeware comes with additional programs or features, such as toolbar add-ons, that companies pay the software maker to include. However, you should be able to opt out of those extra installs. Some software makers simply want to share their creations with everyone, so they give them away with no strings attached. Here are some of our top picks.
If you have hundreds or even thousands of photos stored on your PC, you know that managing so many pictures can be a real nightmare. Picasa 3, a free PC download from Google, is a great tool for organizing, managing, and tagging photos. You can also use the software to edit images. The program is pretty easy to use and packed full of options and features.
You don’t need to be online to watch your favorite videos if you’ve downloaded the YouTube Downloader. This nifty utility saves online videos to your PC or smartphone so you can enjoy them anytime, anywhere. A CNET reviewer points out that the name is somewhat misleading: The program can also download videos from many sites other than YouTube. Note, though, that it may not let you download copyrighted videos.
If you spend a lot of time connected to coffee shop or airport Wi-Fi networks, consider downloading Hotspot Shield, which will protect you from wireless snoopers when you’re using a public network. This free PC download opts you into a toolbar and will open a new tab to another website when you start the program, but a CNET reviewer says you can opt out of both and gives the software a five-star rating.
Like all machines, PCs need a little maintenance now and again. There’s a lot of junk that can build up on your hard drive as you add, remove, and move around files and programs -- bits of code in your registry, abandoned files on your hard drive. CCleaner cleans out all that digital detritus, as well as cookies, temporary Internet files, and other leftovers. This free PC download includes a few other tools such as a utility for thoroughly wiping a hard drive.
Windows Essentials Media Codec Pack.
There are a whole bunch of media file types and codecs out there, and your media player probably supports only a small number of them. Download the Windows Essentials Media Codec Pack and you’ll be able to play just about every media file imaginable with the included Media Player Classic program. This software requires no setup once you install it. Simply open Media Player Classic and choose the file you want to play.
If you don’t have or don’t like Microsoft Office, you can download and use Apache Open Office for free -- no strings attached. This free PC download includes five pieces of software you typically find in an office suite: a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program, a database program, and a drawing program. The software is compatible with Microsoft Office files, so you can open, create, and share Microsoft Office documents.
Super Mario 3: Mario Forever.
Feeling a little nostalgic for the old Nintendo games of the ’80s and ’90s? Download Super Mario 3: Mario Forever and relive your gaming glory days. This remake of the classic Super Mario 3 is faithful to the original, and fans will no doubt have a blast bouncing through the game to save Mario’s beloved Princess.