Sometimes, the best things in life are free, and that's especially true in the software world. Between the explosion of freeware for the desktop and open source programs, there's a whole world of excellent free apps out there. Here are our favorite free downloads for Windows users, whether you're running Windows 8, Windows 7 or XP.
Recommending a good free antivirus program is always going to be contentious, with a strong field of free, feature-packed options. That said, we like Avira Free AntiVirus 2015 for its consistently solid antivirus capabilities. Avira covers the basics with on-demand and real-time virus scanning, as well as anti-adware and anti-spyware features. New to Avira is a cloud-based real time scanner that can forward suspicious files to compare with known and emerging threats, increasing defenses against potential zero-day viruses.
MusicBee is a free and extremely feature-packed music player that can make life easier for the everyday listener and power user alike. MusicBee supports a variety of formats, from the ubiquitous MP3 to more unusual ones such as OGG, FLAC and APE. The app also sports solid library management, with tag and metadata editing, as well as support for synching devices such as iPods and Android phones. In addition, MusicBee also sports a variety of themes, customization options, plugin support and advanced audio features.
Ultimate Windows Tweaker (Windows 8) is a neat little piece of freeware from The Windows Club that allows users to apply an incredible variety of tweaks to the Windows interface. UWT starts by displaying a wealth of system data to the user, while offering options to tweak the Taskbar, File Explorer, as well as Internet Explorer, performance and security related tweaks. An older version also exists designed for Windows 7 and Vista users looking to customize their system. Make sure to create a system restore point before going all out with tweaking, in case you accidentally bork your system.
Valve's Steam is a gaming digital distribution juggernaut, serving as an all-in-one games marketplace, discovery engine and launcher utility. You can buy games from Steam's massive selection of triple-A releases, classic titles and indie gaming gems, and download directly into your machine, complete with automatic updating and built-in screenshot tools. Steam's infamous seasonal sales and wealth of social features such as messaging, trading, and gifting make it a great addition to any PC gamer's desktop suite.
An easy-to-use standalone screen capture and image editing tool by Evernote, Skitch allows users to quickly edit and annotate screen caps, and then save or share them online. Skitch's emphasis is clearly on ease of use, with a clean, simple interface; the toolbar on the left side of the app puts all your editing tools within easy reach. Images can be saved locally, uploaded to Evernote, or shared to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Rainmeter is a free desktop customization tool for Windows that allows users to add "skins", compact applets that float on top of the desktop, much like Microsoft's old Windows gadgets. Rainmeter skins can provide a whole range of functions, from RSS readers, system resource use, battery life, email, and weather forecasts. A rich online community has developed a wealth of Rainmeter skins and themes that you can apply to your desktop, and the program itself also allows you to create your own.
Comodo Backup is a free and thorough backup tool that provides both scheduled and on-demand backups with a variety of settings and options. Users can set Comodo Backup to create full, incremental, or differential backups, with a smart profile mode that lets you categorize and selectively target photos, documents, music and videos for backup. The program is packed with a variety of features, such as support for Volume Shadow Copy, various levels of data encryption, backup versioning, as well as the option to backup to Comodo's own cloud storage.