Hall of Fame
Windows | MacOS | Linux | Mobile This simplest of Adobe's PDF programs lets you do just about anything PDF-related (besides create new ones), including online collaboration. It includes a host of features to aid users with disabilities.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Whether you're recording or editing, Audacity is all about audio in practically any format.
Windows | MacOS | Linux The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) does most of what Photoshop does; the Gimpshop project (plasticbugs.com) even makes it look like Photoshop. Read our full review of The GIMP 2.0.
Windows | MacOS When you're attached to the top media player in the land (iPod), success is a given. iTunes continues to build sales and refine its organization of songs, video, games, podcasts, and more. Read our full review of Apple iTunes 7.6.
Windows | MacOS | Linux You can spend a lot for Microsoft Office or nothing for this suite with full-function word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentations, even an equations editor. Read our full review of OpenOffice.org 2.3.
Windows | MacOS | Linux You'll pay to call regular phones, but if you sign up all your friends, Skype provides easy (and even international) calls and video-conferencing for nothing. Read our full review of Skype 3.0.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Mozilla's no-cost e-mail alternative is extensible, fast, and easy to master. And a wealth of free add-ons means there's not much this program won't do, from calendars to encryption. Read our full review of Thunderbird 2.
Linux This Linux-based OS comes with many of these Hall of Fame products (Firefox, OpenOffice.org) preinstalled.
Windows After a decade of playing music, the "skinnable" WinAmp has several versions, including one with full CD ripping and burning.
Web A virtual operating system (aka Web OS), it uses Asynchronous Java-Script and XML (AJAX) programming to mimic the look and feel of a Windows desktop in Firefox or IE. It stores files (using Gmail) and runs its own applications, plus Web apps like Meebo and Google Maps. If you can launch a Web browser, you can get work done through ajaxWindows.
Web This Web OS has ultra-simplified applications, including an RSS reader, satellite maps, a word processor, even a browser—yes, for browsing the Web while on the Web.
Linux This community-driven OS is based on Linspire (formerly Lindows)—a Linux distro that looks like Windows, with an emphasis on compatibility with other platforms.
Web | Flash Sleek style sets this Web OS apart, as does the ability (using a separate utility) to sync files, bookmarks, and e-mail from your real OS. Read our full review of Glide Effortless.
Linux Ubuntu-based and powered by Google's apps (just don't call it Google OS), gOS comes with the $200 PCs from Wal-Mart, but you can download it for any PC.
avast! 4 Home Edition
Windows Spiffy-looking avast! notifies you by e-mail or IM if it catches a virus. You can't schedule scans, but its recovery database can help if a virus damages your files.
Read our full review of avast! 4 Home Edition.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
Windows Its control center is awkward, but AVG scans files on demand, upon access, on a schedule, and in e-mail. Its rescue disks will help you recover from disaster.
Read our full review of AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition.
Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic
Windows AntiVir scans files on demand, upon access, and on a schedule; it doesn't scan e-mail attachments until they're saved, but it does go to work on rootkits. It's especially good at coexisting with other security software. Like most good AV software, it has the Virus Bulletin's VB100% award and certification for virus detection from ICSA Labs.
Read our full review of Avira AntiVir Premium Security Suite.
Windows Run HijackThis, save a log, and then post the log on sites that support the program. You'll quickly get personalized expert help to remove any malware.
Windows | Web In less than a minute, NanoScan can analyze all processes running on your computer and identify viruses, Trojan horses, spyware, or other malicious programs.
Windows ThreatFire detects the bad guys by their behavior, not by outdated virus signatures. It's surprisingly accurate and a good companion to standard antivirus apps.
Read our full review of ThreatFire 3.
Trend Micro HouseCall
Windows Use the venerable HouseCall online scanner to get a second opinion, or use the app for cleanup when malware prevents installation of a local antivirus utility.
Comodo Firewall Pro
Windows This protective dragon for XP and Vista keeps hackers out of your system, controls which programs can access the Net (its whitelist of about one million means you get fewer pop-ups), and blocks tricky "leak test" techniques. It's both tough and good-looking.
Read our full review of Comodo Firewall Pro.
Windows The free edition remains a useful protector against hack attacks and against programs that abuse your Internet connection.
Windows Wonder what you're agreeing to when you click "I Accept"? Don't worry; just drag EULAlyzer's target icon onto the EULA for a quick report on any troublesome language.
Read our full review of EULAlyzer Personal 1.1.
Windows Create an instant virtual private network (VPN) tunnel between your laptop and the router at any Wi-Fi hot spot to protect your data from snoops on the public airwaves, even if you're using extra encryption. If you're on a network that limits the use of certain apps (such as Skype), the VPN could give you unfettered access. It even works with your wired connection for an extra layer of security.
Windows Kruptos makes a file accessible only to someone who knows the password; it includes a file shredder.
Windows | Web While ShieldsUP! tests your firewall's ability to stealth all ports, PC Flank performs surgical strikes that emulate specific malware attacks to verify that your firewall blocks them.
Windows This Outlook add-on strips out extra info and tracked changes in Word documents attached to messages.
Web Mint isn't like Quicken, where you enter in all your transactions. Instead, it syncs with your bank and credit card accounts online, checks your spending habits, and tells you how to improve to save money. If you're not paying attention to your spending, it'll send you regular alerts to inform you where your money has gone (nice for making sure you haven't been ripped off).
Linux Linux users can track their bank accounts, stocks, and expenses in this financial program using a double-entry accounting method.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Volunteers keep this open-source word processor alive. It closely mimics the look and feel of Microsoft Word 2003 and earlier.
Read the full review of AbiWord 2.0.
Web | Flash An online-only diagramming tool with more options than you can flowchart. The free version is limited to five diagrams.
Web | Mobile Google's slickly designed office suite offers online shared word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations-and best of all, finally a solid alternative in the office-suite space to the totally dominating Microsoft. Upload or e-mail your current documents for storage and editing.
Read the full review of Google Docs.
IBM Lotus Symphony
Web | Mobile A much prettier version of OpenOffice.org, Symphony is prepped for presentations, spreadsheets, and word processing in a single window (but lacks OO's drawing and database modules).
Read the full review of IBM Lotus Symphony Beta.
Windows | MacOS | Linux A full WYSIWYG Web-page authoring tool akin to Dreamweaver, KompoZer integrates an FTP site manager for file uploads.
MacOS This version of OpenOffice.org has the same great tools and price (free), but with an interface designed specifically for the Mac OS.
Windows Notepad++ handles text--especially source code-in ways the basic Windows Notepad could only dream of, with embellishments like tabs and color coding.
Read the full review of Notepad++.
Windows | MacOS | Linux This open-source page layout tool has features comparable to big names like PAgemaker, plus support for PDFs and scalable vector graphics (SVG).
Windows Live Mail
Windows Live Mail not only reads your Hotmail, but also can check POP, IMAP, or HTTP mail accounts. It works as an RSS feed reader and a newsreader.
Web | Mobile Zoho features every tool you could want-word processing, spreadsheet, presentations, database, even a wiki-and several you never knew you needed. Some are also available off-line.
Read the full review of Zoho.
Web Perhaps the ultimate online address book, Plaxo is enhanced with the superpowers of a social network and plug-ins for many Web-based services like Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and LiveJournal for sharing across the Internet.
Web Backpack is more than a to-do list site. Your five easy-to-update pages send reminders via e-mail or SMS and include a whiteboard for online collaboration.
Read the full review of Backpack.
Windows Imagine taking the e-mail out of Microsoft Outlook to get a killer personal information manager (PIM). That's what EssentialPIM is all about.
Windows | MacOS | Linux To be more like Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird needs a calendar. Lightning provides that, plus a to-do list. It can even sync with Google Calendar.
www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/downloads/powertoys/xppowertoys.mspx Windows This XP-only PowerToy replaces the lame Windows calculator with a mathematical powerhouse.
Remember The Milk
Web | Mobile Never forget another grocery item, or anything else, using this extensible online task manager. It'll send reminders via e-mail, SMS, and IM.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Sunbird is Mozilla's standalone calendar for tracking events and upcoming tasks. It's a sister to Lightning, which adds the same functions to Thunderbird.
Web One of the best-looking online calendars, 30 Boxes features easy-to-grasp pop-ups for adding events and viewing schedule details.
Web Track your schedule and share it with friends, then sync your calendar with Outlook or your phone. It's a great place to back up a handheld.
Windows Sync files between your PC and an external drive, filtering by folder, file name, or file type. The program displays warnings about questionable files before syncing.
Windows Make an image of your entire hard drive for backup and restore purposes.
Windows | MacOS Install the utility on multiple computers, create an online account where you identify each computer, and pick folders to synchronize. Up-to-date data becomes available on all those PCs whenever you make a change in a folder, with sync taking place in the background so you're never disturbed, just happy to find your files wherever you work.
Read the full review of FolderShare.
Windows | MacOS MozyHome provides automatic online backup for up to 2GB of your data.
Web Pack away all your passwords in this secure online vault; it even logs you in to Web sites.
Windows Make sure folders across your networked computers contain the same files, even on drives that change location and name.
MacOS Bootcamp users: Now you can clone (back up) your Windows XP/Vista partition for reinstall on a new Mac.
Windows Launchy launches (duh) applications, files, folders, or searches via a command-line-esque interface.
Windows Organize your application shortcuts in a toolbar that mimics the look and feel of the Macintosh dock, complete with icon animations. It will even mimic Windows Taskbar buttons. Add in extras (docklets) like real-time clock and weather forecasts, even a fully functional Windows Start button and Recycle Bin, to get everything you need.
MacOS This open-source launcher takes plug-ins that allow it to do almost anything you want in the MacOS.
Windows Replace the Add/Remove Programs control panel in XP to get batch uninstalls and clear out leftovers that Windows frequently misses when uninstalling.
Windows The extra C is for crap, and that's what CCleaner gets rid of: all the detritus left behind in the course of using Windows.
Windows Defragment your entire hard drive-or just one heavily fragmented file at a time.
Windows DriverView lists every single device driver running on your system, with extra info on each.
Windows Shredders are popular in the office, so why not have the digital equivalent? Eraser adds a right-click menu that will do away with a file or folder forever.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Download this FTP client for accessing multiple sites or to use as an FTP server. In both cases, FileZilla has convenient drag-and-drop support.
Windows Glary offers a ton of utilities for cleaning, optimizing, and securing Windows in one package.
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007
Windows Install anything-DOS, OS/2, or any earlier version of Windows-as a virtual machine. It'll run in a separate window on your Vista or XP desktop.
Read the full review of Microsoft Virtual PC 2007.
Web Place a layer of "transient storage"-a sandbox-between your applications and your hard disk to stay safe.
Windows Compress and decompress files on the fly, even in e-mail through Outlook integration, and encrypt archives as desired.
Windows Stop any Windows process dead; this is handy for clearing frozen applications.
MacOS Get access to additional preference settings in Mac OS X to turn on hidden features.
Windows | Web You can do the Ctrl-Alt-Delete salute in Windows to see what's bogging down your PC, but can you understand the results? ProcessScanner, coupled with the online Process Library, provides extra information on each process (like whether it autostarts or not, and who makes the software in question), and even lists the security risk to your system for running it.
Windows See what's inside any archive file—ZIP, RAR, even EXE.
Windows The tiniest BitTorrent client around (only 214K) comes with all the torrent download features you crave.
Windows This app runs in the system tray and takes advantage of smart battery support in XP/Vista to provide loads of info on laptop-power usage.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Let Google index and search your hard drive contents. The sidebar adds graphical widgets to your desktop.
Windows miniMIZE puts thumbnails of your minimized applications on the desktop for easier access.
Quero Toolbar 4
Windows Replace the Internet Explorer address bar to integrate ad blocking and make IE7 look more like IE6.
Vista Drive Icon
Windows Add one of Vista's best features to XP: smart drive icons showing the current capacity of each hard drive.
Windows Multiple tabs and improved search enhance and replace the boring old Windows Explorer.
Windows | MacOS Fill your desktop with tiny interfaces for everything from stock picks to RSS feeds to weather forecasts (using Doppler radar!) to Wi-Fi sensors to remote desktops to countdown clocks-to name a few. Pick from over 4,300; some are more useful than others, but almost all are interesting to look at.
Windows Perhaps the fastest PDF reader around, Foxit includes a free annotation tool. Add-ons enable support for new file formats and UI languages.
Web You can display PDF files in your Web browser when no other reader is available.
Web | Mobile Instantly perform optical character recognition (OCR) on pictures by e-mailing them from your phone to ScanR.com.
Web This site turns just about any file into a different kind of file, even online videos from YouTube. It also converts units of energy, force, length, and more.
Web File conversion is no longer a complete nightmare. Just go to ZamZar, upload a file, choose from a long list of extensions (including image, doc, music, video, and compression types), and enter your e-mail address. When it's done, ZamZar will send you the converted file.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Instantly create a free, peer-to-peer VPN connection between your computer and other people's. Download the software, create a network with a unique name, give it to friends you want to join, and start sharing files with them—even your iTunes folder.
Windows Use it to detect any Wi-Fi network in your vicinity and see if it's open for use, or just use it to troubleshoot your own.
Windows Share your printer with others over the Web; in turn, send jobs to other shared printers, no matter their location.
Web | Mobile Blogger was one of the first blog-publishing tools. Years after Google bought it, it remains one of the best, especially for newbies. Create a brain-dead simple weblog and let Blogger host it (with a blogspot.com name) using the slew of provided templates, or use it to publish a blog on your own domain.
Windows This post and template editor can handle multiple blogs, across multiple blogging systems.
Windows Live Writer
Windows Live Writer is not a word processor, but a universal, WYSIWYG blog-posting tool more powerful than most blog services' own tools.
Web It lacks the simplicity of Blogger or Vox, but the commercial offshoot of WordPress.org offers some of the best tools of any hosted blogging service.
Web | Mobile Google Reader is arguably the best RSS/newsfeed reader on the Internet. Read feeds while off-line or on your mobile phone.
Web This is a handsome combination of online RSS reader and podcast aggregator, with some widget apps thrown in.
Web This polished Web app aggregates your AOL, Gmail, ICQ, Jabber, Windows, and Yahoo! buddy lists into a single, Web-based instant-messaging and chat-room experience. Meebo is building in extras, such as games you can play with IM buddies, as well as video and audio chat you'd find with your regular IM client software.
Windows | Linux Open source tackles instant messaging in this client, which supports more IM networks than you've ever heard of.
Windows Access all your IM accounts (AIM, ICQ, Windows Messenger, Yahoo!, and more) from a single interface that also logs all your conversations, if you desire.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Gizmo competes with Skype to offer free, peer-to-peer, over-the-Internet phone and video calls, but uses open standards.
Web | Mobile What to do with nearly limitless e-mail storage space—that's the enviable quandary of Gmail users, who can store up to 5.5GB worth of e-mail and chats. And the amount is constantly growing. Other perks include advanced search options, real-time updates, and "conversations," in which e-mail chains are stored in one continuous thread for easy perusal.
Windows | MacOS | Linux This add-on for Thunderbird lets you bounce a message to the proper recipient without revealing that you got the message first.
Windows | MacOS ooVoo video chat is more P2P than Skype (no supernodes!), with a better picture. It supports up to six co-videoconferencers, file transfers, and group text chat.
Windows | MacOS SightSpeed has better video quality than ooVoo, but in a less attractive interface. More than two video chatters will cost you, as will file transfer and group chat.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Aggregate all your favorite podcasts in one place for easy listening.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Levelator adjusts the levels of your audio files to give the perfect balance.
Windows | MacOS The name is short for Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering, and Recording. That pretty much says it all.
Web A low-price and low-profile audio editor, Wavosaur doesn't even need installation. Just click the executable to start processing and recording sounds. It lacks some of the features of full programs like Audacity, but for quick-and-dirty MP3 editing it can't be beat.
Linux This is professional video-editing software for the Linux crowd.
Web Upload your clips, mix via drag-and-drop, and share your finished videos in one spot.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Convert your DVDs to MPEG-4 video (or just the audio) for backup purposes.
Windows | MacOSx Jing shares what's showing on your monitor with others online, or records it for future viewing.
Web This online app provides Flash-powered video editing.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Miro combines BitTorrent downloads with video playback to become the next best thing to your DVR.
Linux Use your Linux box as a homespun digital video recorder (DVR).
Windows | MacOS | Linux The open-source answer to iTunes (from the makers of WinAmp) plays your music and videos.
Windows Turn your computer into a server to stream video and audio to just about any device on your network.
Web Our reviews call this the absolute easiest way to broadcast live video from your webcam across the Internet.
Windows Convert nearly any video you can find online (or on DVD) for use on any video-capable iPod or iPhone.
VLC media player
Windows | MacOS | Linux Forget Windows Media Player. VideoLAN's open-source VLC can replace it, and nearly every other player, too. VLC supports almost every audio format and video codec imaginable and doubles as a server for streaming your music and video to other PCs. Change its skin to make it look like the player you want—even WMP.
Windows | MacOS If you've got a lot of YouTube videos ready to go online, upload them to the site all at once with the Uploader.
Windows IrfanView previews images (or even audio and video) and then converts or optimizes them without opening a separate editor.
Windows This program is probably the closest thing to Photoshop you can get free, courtesy of a student project.
Windows | Linux Google's photo manager makes it easy to get pictures off a digital camera, organize them, and even edit and share them.
Web | Flash Instantly edit pictures in this Web site. Upload images from your computer, Flickr, Picasa, or elsewhere.
Web Another online pic editor, pikifx.com emphasizes special effects such as added text and borders.
Web | Flash With one of the best Web interfaces yet—all in Flash—rsizr.com incorporates smart resizing to avoid distortion.
Web | Flash Another beauty with a Flash interface, Splashup sets itself apart with multi-image editing and a full-screen mode.
Windows Live Photo Gallery
Windows Windows Live Photo Gallery gives Picasa (above) a run for its money, with many of the same photo-enhancing and sharing features—red-eye reduction, exposure adjustment, cropping, color, sharpen, and auto-adjust. What's more, Microsoft serves up histogram adjustment, panorama creation, and photo-CD burning.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Another browser based on Mozilla, Flock emphasizes interaction with social networks and services. It also accepts many add-ons from the Firefox browser.
Windows Replace IE or Firefox (but still use their rendering engines) with this highly customizable, multilanguage, tabbed beauty.
Windows | MacOS | Linux | Mobile Possibly the nimblest and most usable of all the browsers available, Opera did tabs first and still does them best. Added usability features like Speed Dial and Tab Preview keep popping up in new versions.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Prism is a site-specific browser, meaning you simply load a Web app (Gmail, for instance) and let it run like any other application on the desktop.
Windows | MacOS | Linux You don't have to download one item at a time from a Web page anymore. DownThemAll manages batch downloads, splitting files into pieces so they arrive faster.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Foxmarks can synchronize your Firefox bookmarks across multiple PCs, even multiple operating systems.
Windows | MacOS | Linux In Firefox, Googlepedia loads the most relevant Wikipedia entry it finds alongside your Google search results.
Windows | MacOS | Linux The toolbar brings Google's search and other functionality directly to IE or Firefox. It offers extras like auto fill, spell-checking, and one-click RSS feed subscriptions.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Add this extension to Firefox and then extend it again with thousands of scripts that change the appearance and functions of almost any Web site.
Windows Adds a load of extras to IE7, including control over tabs, spell-checking, ad blocking—even Greasemonkey-esque scripts (see above).
Windows Do you prefer Firefox but still need to look at some sites in IE? IE Tab will load a site in a Firefox tab using the IE rendering engine.
Windows | MacOS | Linux This Firefox add-on sets up an interface for instant blogging on just about any blog system.
Tab Mix Plus
Windows | MacOS | Linux Take total control of how tabs work in Firefox. Adjust how they look, revive those you closed by accident, send tabs to new browser windows-essentially any tab action you can imagine.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Zotero makes it easy to keep track of all your research on the Web, including how to cite it in future reports.
Web | Flash It's not a single game but a series that involves choosing "growing" items that are added to an online environment.
Web | Flash Share your genealogy with everyone in the family. They can contribute more individual profiles until your family tree is complete.
Windows | MacOS | Linux Fly over familiar terrain or foreign lands with Google Earth, a searchable database of satellite images and geographical data—even images of the heavens. You can go a step further with all sorts of downloadable, gee-whiz applications from scientists, media outlets, and other third-party developers to trick out your Earth-moving experience.
Web | Mobile This interactive mapping tool goes beyond driving directions. View destinations in Street View, Satellite, or Terrain modes; check traffic updates; or look up info on nearby businesses.
Web | Mobile Only 2,598 free games (as of this writing) to keep you busy online? Bring 'em on.
Windows | MacOS This 3D virtual world has hundreds of thousands of denizens. Access is free, but you'll pay a bit if you want to get some real estate, or even fancy clothes for your avatar.