Owning and running a computer used to be an expensive business. However, in recent years hardware and software has come down in price significantly. The rise of the open source movement and increased competition means that it’s now possible to equip your computer with software for free.

Before we look at the goodies available, a word of caution: some of this free software might not offer all the functions of the commercial equivalent. However, it’s free, so let’s not gripe.

A number of packages are given away to generate business for more advanced sister products, which are sold commercially. When using the program you’ll receive messages suggesting you upgrade to the commercial version.

These caveats aside, there are some fantastic packages available. What’s more they’re free! So if you don’t like a package, or the sales pitch gets on your nerves, get rid of the software. You haven’t parted with cash, so you haven’t lost anything.

Using a smartphone Copyrighted image Credit: Jupiter Images

Here are five ways to use free software:

1. Communication

There’s a variety of free packages that help you communicate with people:

All of these programs let you talk to people and instant message them. If you want to talk to people remember that you’ll also need a microphone and speakers or headphones. Some packages such as Skype and Windows Live Messenger also allow you to call normal phone numbers, albeit at an extra cost.

Most of this software only allows you to communicate for free with people using the same package, so it’s worth thinking about the software your friends use.

2. Word processing

Gone are the days when you’d need to spend hundreds of pounds on a package to write letters on your computer. AbiWord and Open Office will do this for free. Open Office is a large download, but also includes spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation packages.

Google Docs will let you do your word processing on a website. The features are more limited, but there are advantages if you’re collaborating with other people. The downside is that you can’t write material if you don’t have an internet connection, like when you’re on the train.

3. Photo editing

Improve your photos with one of the free photo editing packages available. GIMP, IrfanView and Serif Photoplus have all received good reviews and have a host of features. Alternatively, you may want to consider Corel Snapfire or Picasa – simpler packages which organize your photos and allow basic photo retouching.

4. Security

You can even protect your computer for free. AVG Anti-Virus Free and Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic will protect your computer from viruses. Comodo Firewall and ZoneAlarm Personal Firewall protect your computers from hackers and worms when you’re online. Make sure you keep these packages up-to-date by checking for free updates.

Ad-Aware SE Personal, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Microsoft’s Windows Defender will help protect you against spyware.

5. Video editing

Trust us, your home movies will be so much better if you edit them. Avid Free DV and Wax will do the job for you. But you might already have software on your PC. Windows Movie Maker 2 comes free with Windows XP SP2 and iMovie comes free with the Mac.

Video editing requires more computing power than other tasks. So, whichever package you use do check your computer meets the software requirements.

 

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