Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tips & Sources for Installing Free Software

Yes, you can get something for nothing and it’s amazing how much software is available for free.  No, I don’t mean the offers you get as spam for free Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. A lot of folks like myself provide software for free and a number of web sites evaluate free software and encourage you to visit their sites.

While my first recommendation for everyone is to download the must-have WinPatrol program, I have some serious warnings before you go crazy populating your computer with free software. Anytime something changes on your computer you run a risk of problems so in the words of Wayne Campbell , “We fear change”.

The worse thing you can do is go is going surfing various web sites, downloading and trying out piles of free software. Every time you install a new software you risk future problems on your computer. Not only will installations add new registry entries, and change system settings but they could also add software you never would have installed if you were paying attention. It’s still very rare to find an Uninstaller that really returns a system to its state before installing software.

Know the software you’re downloading. Don’t just take your friends advice. Search online for reviews and recommendations. Have a complete understanding what the software will do and decide if you will use and need the functionality the software you’re installing.  Ask yourself, “Is this something I’ll really use”?

When installing new software watch for pre-checked boxes that may have you downloading some kind of toolbar that you really didn’t want. I personally think these pre-checked boxes are evil and insulting. Suppose I defaulted my WinPatrol PLUS order form to 10 copies and then blamed users for not noticing it when they wanted their money back for 9 copies.

Even though Microsoft has made it possible for programs to install and be removed with restarting your system, Rebooting is your friend. Even when I install or remove commercial software I like having a my system is in a predictable state. I’m also a big fan of the Windows System Restore. Creating a Restore point is easy and quick before installing something new. Create a Restore point by clicking on the Start button -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Restore.

System Restore Dialog
System Restore is your friend

Free Software Sites

A long time advocate and free software researcher known as (Ian Richards) Gizmo’s Tech Alert is great place to start. Ian doesn’t do fluff reviews and over the years his critical look at WinPatrol has been the source of many improvements. Ian recently joined the good folks who do the Windows Secrets Newsletter which I also highly recommend.

Some other favorite sites include and

CNet’s has long been a useful site for downloading free software. While I’m always a little skeptical of their user reviews, their editors have years of experience. My only issue with is their Most Popular list rarely changes because many programs remain popular just because they’re on the list.  A few years ago, CNet took major steps to clean up some borderline adware and spyware in their download libraries giving up some major advertiser$ in the process.

Other sources I trust include the PC World’s Download This from Laura Blackwell, radio personality Kim Komando,, and which includes many foreign language sites.

Who do you trust for free software?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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Blogger Eagle_Kiwi said...

Great article, Bill. All very good advice.
May I add - my constant companion. It has just "the best" free software in many categories, very neatly itemised and described - and also makes many older versions still available too.
Further, they have an "update checker" program which checks on YOUR machine and shows what you have that they have newer versions of.
All in all, an excellent resource.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Beth said...

Thanks for all the tips on good places to go for free downloads. wastes too much of my time not saying whether a program is free or shareware. I write reviews on my blog about free software, and have had to trash many because they were going to be so negative - I want to steer people to good software, not rag out about the bad. Anyway, thanks for the good sources!

9:03 PM  
Blogger John L. Galt said...


Another great site (which actually hosts nothing but freeware, even if it is a bit old, that has been deemed worthy as 'pricelessware' by the readers and contributors of alt.comp.freeware newsgroup is - a really good source of some of the best freeware that you can find.

3:20 AM  
Anonymous JW said...

A freeware source I've used for years is The site accurately bills itself as "a large collection of 32-bit Windows software that has no disabled features, nags, time limits, or any other tricks."

11:55 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I agee with what you say Bill - I'm forever trying to impress on our clients that loading dozens of trial applications on their systems, even if they are subsequently uninstalled, is a recipe for a slower and possibly buggy system.

One application that readers may find useful is Returnil - . This allows new applications to be loaded into a virtual environment (a protectred copy of your Windows installation) where they may be evaluated fully - but a simple re-boot returns your system to the state it was before the program was loaded. Returnil is simple to use, uses only moderate system resources, is very stable in my experience and the personal version is free to use.
I should perhaps mention that I have no connection with Returnil except as a happy user.

7:25 AM  
Blogger cel said...

I read the GRC Newgroups Many folks write about their experiences with various security programs.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Gerard said...

I use Ashampoo® UnInstaller 3 ( to control software I might only try out once. It does a pretty thorough job of removing all traces of programs installed under its control by recording the system state before and after installation: much more comprehensive than Add/Remove Programs or even those programs that have their own uninstaller. There is also a free version called Ashampoo® Magical UnInstall .

7:22 AM  
Blogger dmiller23462 said...

LifeHacker is good for all sorts of goodies, along with links to free software...


2:24 PM  
Blogger Mina said...

If you're worried about uninstalling all traces of software you're trying out, perhaps ZSoft Uninstaller would be up your alley?

You install and uninstall using this program instead of Windows' version of the Add/Remove menu. Its complete and safer.

And yay to freeware! I love freeware. I also love my freeware OS, Puppy.

11:26 AM  
Anonymous JNygren said...

IMHO is THE home of open source software. Many of the freeware programs you can find on SourceForge are also available on other download sites, like CNet’s, or, but if I can't find what I want anywhere else, I go to

12:35 PM  
Anonymous lizbeth lee said...

I use Softpedia a great deal. I have never had any problems from them & they have a constantly quoted GTD that their programs have no spyware.

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Karin said...

I go to every day and see what they have for that day. They are not a freeware site like the others but every day they have a free software you can download and install for free. You have to register it though on that day or else it's only a trial version. I got lots of good programs and games from them. For other downloads I check CNET and I also check their reviews before I download anything.
Hope that helps :-)

10:59 PM  
Blogger Stewart said...

Great post,

Your tips are quite interesting. I really loved your blog. Thanks a tonne for sharing this useful information and hope to read more from you.

The first benefit of using software that is designed for the home business from the internet is that you have a large selection to choose from. There are many software directories that offer hundreds to thousands of different types of programs that you can use to increase the overall efficiency of your home based work endeavors. These programs have been developed by individuals who have experience of some sort in the business environment. You can discover virtually all types of shareware, trial ware, and demo ware that can prove to be highly effective!

Software Directory

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Gary Housknecht said... wasn't mentioned and is a long time player in the free/shareware game. A note about While I safely download many decent software apps and utilities from the site, I find a disturbing number of downloads are infested/infected with spyware or viruses. They proclaim the safety of their downloads but beware the occasional germ amongst their offerings. User ratings are loaded with ill comments about such downloads, but it seems the word does not get to CNet.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

Filehippo and Major Geeks seem to be the most reliable sources.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Misery Mero said...

i want you to recommend me a link to download free anti-spyware program

6:28 PM  

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