Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Recommended Software

Programs & utilities that work

Internet | PDF | Graphics | VLC Player | Office Suites
Editors | Utilities | Security | Invest in Good Software

“Software” in blue 3D rendering with a magnifying glass in front.

These are my recommendations for Windows software. I also have recommendations for Mac software and Linux software. Prices subject to change.

If you don't find it here, I strongly recommend OlderGeeks.com, a software download site without ads, misleading download links or annoyances (100% supported by donations).

 

Password Manager

A dedicated password manager is essential in today's online world because there is no way to create or remember hundreds of secure passwords without one and your browser's built-in password manager is vulnerable to hacking.

I strongly recommend Bitwarden for secure access to all your passwords. You can set up an account for free, but the premium account provides for advanced multifactor authentication, authenticator apps and more at a very reasonable price.

Learn more about password managers.

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Internet Software

Firefox | Thunderbird | The Bat! | FileZilla

Firefox Web Browser

Download Firefox
Get the privacy you deserve. Enhanced Tracking Protection is automatic in every Firefox browser.

Firefox is a slim, standards-compliant browser that takes advantage of hardware acceleration.

Most people browse the web using Google Chrome without really thinking about their options. Gmail or YouTube or some other site once suggested using Chrome, and perhaps they never questioned it.

 

Browsers offer varying levels of privacy and security, as well as unique, helpful features beyond merely displaying websites.
PCMag

Firefox is the only major independent browser. It not only protects and respects your private information but most of its competitors are based on Google Chrome's Chromium base.

At Mozilla, we believe that privacy is fundamental to a healthy internet

 

You should be able to decide who sees your personal info. Not just among your friends, but with every advertiser and company on the internet — including us.
Mozilla

Learn more….

Saving Firefox Profiles

Mozilla has documentation about dealing with Firefox profiles.

Unsafe Addons Blocked

Firefox blocks unsafe content such as extensions that compromise your privacy or you don't need. NPAPI plugins are no longer supported.

Recommended Extensions

These recommended Extensions can help protect your privacy and security:

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The Bat! — Flexible and Secure

The Bat!

The Bat! Professional (US$59.99) and Home (US$49.95) are both flexible, secure email programs with an internal HTML viewer (for security), advanced message handling, OpenPGP encryption and more.

The Bat! is a secure desktop email client for Windows, built to protect your correspondence against third-parties. Continuously improving since 1998.

The Professional version, which includes message base encryption, biometric authentication and hardware authentication with mail servers, is recommended for advanced email users with high volumes of mail or requiring customized handling. The lighter Home version is for personal use only.

Learn more….

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Thunderbird

Download Thunderbird

Thunderbird is a free, powerful, easy to use, stand-alone email program that works great for individuals with simpler demands.

Thunderbird is not recommended for those with high email volumes, including business users. Learn more….

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FileZilla

Filezilla

FileZilla is a FTP program. A FTP client is required to upload files to the Internet such as updating a website or domain-hosted blogs.

Once natively supported in web browsers, the FTP protocol has been removed from all browsers except the obsolete Internet Explorer because of security issues.

FileZilla (free) is the recommended FTP client for casual users, supporting FTP, FTP over TLS (FTPS) and SFTP. Available for Windows, Mac and Debian Linux.

FileZilla is free open-source software distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License free of charge.

 

Basically this means that everyone, including corporate entities, can use FileZilla, including but not limited to private, educational and commercial use.
FileZilla FAQ

FileZilla Pro

FileZilla Pro (US$24.99) is a professional FTP, FTP over TLS (FTPS) and SFTP client for Windows, Mac and Debian Linux. Aimed at professional users, FileZilla Pro client adds support for Cloud Object Storage protocols.

FileZilla Pro manages all of your transfers no matter how many files are in your source directory, it is heavily optimized for speed and you can also adjust the pace of your transfers at will.

The single-user license includes 3 years of support and updates.

FileZilla Server

FileZilla Server is a free open source FTP and FTPS Server supported on Windows 8.1, 10 and 11.

WS_FTP Pro

Progress WS_FTP Professional costs US$54.95 for a single user license* (US$89.95 including one-year email support).

This product is aimed at commercial FTP users. Features include compression, security and automated processes.

*The single user license cannot be shared by more than one user or a single user on more than one device.

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PDF Software

PDF is a format invented by Adobe that allows files to be viewed anywhere with the proper fonts regardless of the software it was created with.

Adobe Reader | Able2Extract Pro | Nitro Pro | Alternatives

Browsers Natively Display PDF Documents

Modern browsers have moved away from plugins like Adobe Reader and have developed built-in PDF capabilities. Not all are as capable:

Even with built-in PDF capabilities, you may require more features than your browser can provide. For example, I found that some PDF documents didn't format well when printed by the browser's PDF interface.

A dedicated PDF reader can provide more features and controls. PDF editors allow you to edit existing PDFs.

Adobe Reader

Acrobat logo

Adobe Reader was the gold standard for PDF software for many years. Unfortunately, the number of security issues has tempered that success.

Adobe Reader isn't just unnecessary. The PDF tool has a history of being an application you wouldn't want on your system. Adobe Reader carries a certain reputation from being heavy and sluggish to a long series of security flaws. For many users, Adobe Reader is simply overkill for reading PDF documents.

 

So, is Adobe Reader safe? If you keep Adobe Reader updated, then you should remain safe. Adobe pushes updates for its apps on the first Tuesday of every month (as part of Patch Tuesday, which many tech companies observe).
MakeUseOf

The June 2024 Adobe terms of use have created controversy, especially for those working with confidential material or subject to a NDA. Adobe responded with a clarification. A number of Adobe users have cancelled their subscription.

I recommend you look at alternative PDF readers.

Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat DC (Pro) has more capabilities than the Reader and can access documents from anywhere (including on portable devices) but requires a subscription.

 

Able2Extract Professional

Able2Extract Professional

Able2Extract Pro: A powerful professional PDF program that allows you to do almost anything with PDFs is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. “The Best Affordable Adobe® Acrobat® Alternative.”

Download | Purchase a Licence | Features | PDF Learning Centre | Support

Save hours on tedious manual tasks and increase your PDF productivity. Whether you are working on personal or business projects that require managing digital documents effectively, Able2Extract Pro is a secure, all-in-one solution to your problems.
  • Extract editable content from PDF documents quickly and accurately. Process files one by one or in batches. Convert scanned (image-based) PDFs with the help of a powerful OCR engine refined over years to deliver the best possible results. Over a dozen of output file formats available - Excel, AutoCAD, Word, images, and much more.
  • Edit and add PDF text and images like you would in any word processor. Modify PDF pages - split, merge, rotate, add, delete, resize or reorder. Fill out PDF forms digitally without the need to print them out. Annotate PDFs for easy collaboration. Redact sensitive content. Apply and verify digital signatures. Encrypt and decrypt documents.

I strongly recommend Able2Extract Pro for users that need professional quality software. Learn more about Able2Extract 19.

Nitro Pro

Try Nitro Pro

Nitro Pro allows you to create professional quality PDF documents that anyone can view, with any PDF reader, on virtually any device.

Downloads | Release Notes | System Requirements | Pricing | Features | User Guide | Support

Nitro is a multi-featured PDF editor, eSign solution and real-time analytics tool with document security, compliance and user trust at its core. It is available for single users, teams of all sizes and large enterprise organizations across industries on Windows, Mac and iOS devices.

Licence

Enjoy all of the benefits of Nitro PDF Pro free for 14 days. No fine print and no credit card required.

 

LibreOffice and Microsoft 365

Most office suites will generate PDFs from existing documents. Following these steps for LibreOffice and Microsoft 365 respectively:

You'll need to create the document first then save it. The resulting PDF will be a PDF copy of the original document. To change the PDF you'll have to modify the original document first.

 

Alternative PDF Readers

The alternatives include both free and fee-based software. If the extra features of the paid software meet additional needs, I would suggest investing in that software unless professional-grade software provides better value for you.

Free PDF Software

I found these free PDF readers added features not found in browsers:

Older versions of Foxit weren't the only PDF software that was compromised:

Other free PDF readers and editors I tried were unable to fill forms or had an unusual interface. I recommend you stick with the browser rather than installing software that doesn't add any features.

PDF-XChange Editor/PDF-XChange Editor Plus

PDF-XChange Editor (US$43.50) is very small and fast PDF editor with features such as the ability to create, edit, annotate, OCR and digitally sign PDF files.

During installation you're asked if you'd like to use the free version. The extra features will work, but DEMO will be stamped on your documents.

PDF-XChange Editor Plus (US$54.50) adds the ability to create and edit fillable forms and customizable dynamic stamps.

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Graphics Software

IrfanView | GIMP

IrfanView: A Quick Graphics Viewer

IrfanView

IrfanView is a fast image viewer/converter that works with a whole range of the most common graphics formats and is free for non-commercial use.

Download

Download and install IrfanView from one of the recommended sites.

IrfanView can acquire images from a camera or scanner but viewing certain images may require plugins.

The Work Area

When you open IrfanView you see a black work area and several icons.

Learning More

Check IrfanView's Frequently Asked Questions page for help, tutorials and information.

Professional Alternatives

IrfanView is designed to be simple for beginners and powerful for professionals but is not designed for intensive graphics manipulation like Photoshop, GIMP or Affinity Photo and Designer.

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GIMP

GIMP

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful open source image editing software that many say rivals that of Adobe Photoshop.

GIMP is free to download and use (even commercially) on Windows, macOS, Linux and other operating systems.

Getting Started

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VLC Player

VLC Player

VLC Player is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework, that plays almost all multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.

Other than the process of rebuilding the cache each time VLC Player is updated, I've noticed no issues. A beautiful player that works seamlessly.

Microsoft Store

VLC Player is also available in the Microsoft Store but the app does not support DVD or Blu-ray playback.

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Office Suites

LibreOffice Recommended

LibreOffice

I strongly recommend LibreOffice because it is better maintained and more frequently updated than OpenOffice. For most folks, it provides everything Microsoft Office offers.

LibreOffice offers the highest level of compatibility in the office suite market segment, with native support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) — beating proprietary formats for security and robustness – to superior support for MS Office files, along with filters for a large number of legacy document formats, to return ownership and control to users.
LibreOffice blog

LibreOffice 24.2 introduced the new calendar-based numbering scheme (YY.M).

Maybe paying an eternal subscription fee for Microsoft works for you. It does for many users. But, if you want an old-style office suite which lives on your PC, LibreOffice is now your top choice. Oh, and did I mention? LibreOffice won't cost you a cent.
ZDNET

Two Versions

LibreOffice is offered in two versions:

  1. The most recent release is a cutting-edge version aimed at tech enthusiasts and power users.
  2. The previous version lacks the latest features, but has been tested longer in real-world conditions.

I recommend installing the newer release to take advantage of the newer features and better compatibility with Microsoft Office. If you have difficulties (I never have) you can move to the more stable version.

Support

LibreOffice is free to download, use, and distribute. Support is provided via mailing lists and Ask LibreOffice.

While much of the documentation for LibreOffice is online, you can also download free PDF manuals (or you can purchase a printed copy):

LibreOffice manuals are provided free of charge in PDF format.

Business and enterprise users requiring support can purchase long-term Service Level Agreements, personalised assistance, technical support, and custom new features.

Download LibreOffice

The 64-bit version of LibreOffice will run faster but cannot be installed on 32-bit computers.

LibreOffice System Requirements

LibreOffice runs on Windows, macOS (Mac OS X), and Linux. Java may be required for certain features of the software.

For certain features of the software — but not most — Java is required. Java is notably required for Base.
LibreOffice

I ran LibreOffice on Mac, Linux and Windows without Java. Your needs may be different, but I recommend uninstalling Java if it isn't required.

See Mac requirements or Linux requirements for LibreOffice.

How-to Guides

YouTube How-to Videos

What About OpenOffice?

OpenOffice is not recommended (it had its last major update in 2014):

Comparison of LibreOffice and OpenOffice development.

LibreOffice has significant advantages.

LibreOffice can freely incorporate code and features from OpenOffice, but OpenOffice can't incorporate anything from LibreOffice. This lets LibreOffice add features at an even faster rate, as it can adopt new features from OpenOffice as it adds them.
MakeUseOf

What About Microsoft Office?

Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) is now Microsoft's main office suite. It is a cloud-based subscription product managed by logging into your Microsoft account.

More impactful, as well as more expensive [than Windows Copilot], is the future release of Microsoft 365 Copilot.

 

Before the release of Microsoft 365, you'll want to review Microsoft's note Data, Privacy, and Security for Microsoft 365 Copilot and Microsoft's Microsoft 365 Copilot: Security & Privacy YouTube video to ensure you understand the security implications of the product.
Susan Bradley

Outlook

Microsoft 365 doesn't allow selective install — it forces you to install the whole product, including Outlook.

Even though Outlook has a significant userbase, I've had significant problems with how it interacts with Windows and other software. Originally developed for the large office environment, there have been challenges with configuration, backup and recovery for home and small office users.

There is a reason I refuse to service Outlook.

Proprietary Software

Unlike LibreOffice, Microsoft 365 is designed to protect proprietary rights.

Microsoft files are still based on the proprietary format deprecated by ISO in 2008, and not on the ISO approved standard, so they hide a large amount of artificial complexity.

 

This causes handling issues with LibreOffice, which defaults to a true open standard format (the OpenDocument Format).
LibreOffice blog

You can obtain a free online version of Microsoft 365 if you register for a Microsoft account.

OneDrive

Files are saved on OneDrive (Microsoft's cloud service) by default rather than onto your computer's hard drive (you can change that).

If you're using your files across multiple devices, OneDrive makes sense. Sharing files across devices via OneDrive requires you to be signed into your Microsoft account on all devices.

However, you should ensure that your Microsoft account passwords are good enough to ensure your documents aren't being compromised. Nothing online is truly hacker-proof.

OneDrive is supported in Windows 10 and later. Those running unsupported versions of Windows can use the OneDrive website to access their files.

Office 2019 or Microsoft 365?

The traditional 10-year Office is still available but with excellent free options available like LibreOffice, you probably should re-examine your reasons for continuing to use Microsoft Office.

[I]f you want an old-style office suite which lives on your PC, LibreOffice is now your top choice.
ZDNET
Office service packs? Forget about them. There will be security updates, but what you see today in Office 2019 is what you'll get when you use Office in 2029.
ZDNET

As with Microsoft 365, you need to log onto your Microsoft Account then install Office 2019 from there.

Microsoft Office Microsoft 365
You'll need to replace your copy of Office when support expires. Microsoft 365 expires annually.
Office Home & Student 2019 allows for installation on one computer until product support expires. Microsoft 365 Home gives you up to 5 annual licenses.
Office Home & Student 2019 includes only Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft 365 Home adds Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.

Business and Enterprise versions offer additional software and/or options.

A successor to Office 2019 launched along with Windows 11 on October 5, 2021. Office 2016 expires October 14, 2025.

WordPad Disappearing

WordPad will no longer receive security updates. A WordPad flaw was exploited by QBot malware in 2023.

WordPad is no longer being updated and will be removed in a future release of Windows.
Microsoft

If you use WordPad and want to replace it with something other than Word or LibreOffice, AbiWord is an alternative with a small footprint.

Finding Your Office License

There might come a time when you need to move your Office onto a new computer. You will need to determine your license key to do so.

Knowing exactly which version of Office you have is important, but many people forget or don't know — because it was installed by someone else, it's been on their system for years, or their record-keeping leaves something to be desired.
Peter Deegan

There are three main types of license for Microsoft Office:

  1. Retail: purchased as a stand-alone product.
  2. Volume: purchased as part of a volume license agreement (probably your workplace).
  3. OEM: purchased with a computer (i.e.,non-transferable).

To find your license key, open Office then click on File ⇒ Account. For OEM versions try File ⇒ Account ⇒ About, but you may need to open a command prompt and enter:

Peter Deegan has more details in his article, “License and Registration, Please.”

Uninstall Unsupported Versions

Office 2010 and earlier are no longer supported and should be uninstalled.

While an unsupported version of Microsoft Office will continue to work as before, it will no longer receive any security updates or support. This places your computer and your data at risk.

Old Office Macros

Macros developed for very old versions of Microsoft Office continue to be used. These make Office vulnerable to malware infections.

Microsoft released Excel 4.0 for Windows 3.0 and 3.1 in 1992 and many companies still use this functionality in legacy operations. The problem is that bad actors have started using Excel sheets and macros as a new way to deliver malware.

 

You'd expect attacks using this old script language to be very limited but we are seeing new obfuscation techniques.
Tech Republic

Companies need to be updating their software and removing their reliance on old macros that make their software vulnerable. They also need to educate employees about the risks.

In the meantime, most security software can be configured to block macros.

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Text Editors

There are a lot of programs that can handle basic text editing including Windows Notepad and similar products included with other operating systems.

While LibreOffice and OpenOffice will often set themselves up as the default text editor they are not as nimble as a text editor should be for quick edits.

A more specialized text editor can be a better solution for specific requirements. I've used all of these editors:

Wikipedia has an extensive list of text editors including the default editors for various operating systems.

NoteTab

Tame your Text with NoteTab — a Better Solution

NoteTab Pro has been my primary Windows text editor for many years. It loads quickly and I find it extremely useful to have multiple tabs open at once to copy content back and forth.

It is simple yet continues to be an excellent HTML/CSS editor (I have made changes to accommodate HTML5 and CSS3).

NoteTab 7

NoteTab is available in three different versions:

I recommend NoteTab Light (Version 7: 100% free — no ads & no nags) as your default text editor.

If you're working with HTML, you'll want to check out NoteTab Pro. Discover why webmasters prefer NoteTab over other HTML editors.

Check out some of the other software available from Fookes. Some of it is freeware, but all of it is quality software.

This site is carefully hand-crafted using NoteTab Pro.

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Utilities

CCleaner | PerfectDisk | Defraggler | f.lux | 7-Zip

CCleaner Disk Cleanup

CCleaner

CCleaner is recommended for routine cleanup but these resources can help with year-end “deep cleaning” of unnecessary files (or when your computer is slow):

While there are many tools out there, CCleaner provides an excellent set of tools for cleaning up the stuff left behind in Windows, Mac or Android.

Caveats

CCleaner is now owned by Avast and has seen a number of issues since then, including some privacy issues. Carefully review the settings.

Some, including Microsoft, feel that cleaning the registry is unnecessary and can lead to problems. I've used CCleaner for years without issue. Backup the registry changes before cleaning so you can restore cleaned entries if there's a problem.

Free Version

The free version is licensed only for home use. Businesses will need to purchase a licence.

The free version has no support.

When installing the free version of CCleaner, watch out for the “extras” you don't need (the Slim version doesn't contain these).

CCleaner also provides a portable version (.zip) that can be extracted and run from a thumb drive.

Professional Versions

The Professional (a one-year renewable subscription) version adds automatic updates and premium support. The Professional Plus version also adds disk defragmentation and file recovery features.

The Interface

There are six tabs at the right of CCleaner:

Settings

Once installed, but sure to check the Options tab on the left to be sure you're happy with what is there.

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PerfectDisk Defragmentation

PerfectDisk

Raxco PerfectDisk Pro (US$39.99/3 PCs or US$59.99/total home) can help to extend the life of your hard drives (including safe disk optimization for SSDs) by improving the performance speed and efficiency at the disk level.

PerfectDisk offers the most comprehensive solution for defragmentation by optimizing virtually every file on the system, including the Master File Table (MFT), most NTFS metadata files, paging files, directories, and datafiles, and completely consolidating free space. And it does it all in a single pass.
— Raxco

PerfectDisk has been my defragmentation utility of choice for several years. I tested a number of different products (including Defraggler) before making this choice.

The PerfectDisk 14 added support for Windows 10 and has S.M.A.R.T. enhancements including better handling of SSDs and failure prediction.

PerfectDisk 13 Pro customers need to upgrade to PerfectDisk 14 Pro PRIOR to upgrading to Windows 10.

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Defraggler

Defraggler is a free defragmentation program from Piriform, the makers of CCleaner. It was last updated May 21, 2018 (version 2.22.995).

Defraggler's slim installer (recommended, if provided) doesn't add extra software but the standard installer can install other software if you don't uncheck the option in the middle of the install (which is not always easy to catch).

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f.lux

Download f.lux

We experience light differently at night. Light is warmer so normal computer screens can appear to have a bluish tinge while running after dark. This can affect our sleep.

f.lux fixes this. Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. f.lux will do the rest, automatically.

f.lux makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

Check out the FAQs if you have problems.

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7-Zip

7-Zip

7-Zip is a free compression utility that works much the same way as the commercial WinZip product for .zip format files, but is free, even for commercial use.

In addition, 7-Zip has an enhanced 7z format which provides a very high compression ratio (smaller zipped files).

Windows can't deal with .7z, .RAR or .ARJ files.

WinRAR Exploited by Hackers

WinRAR is currently being actively exploited by state-sponsored hackers.

Here's the problem: WinRAR doesn't automatically update itself. It doesn't even check for updates and notify users that critical security updates are available. Many people have an old, out-of-date version of WinRAR and will never install this patch. They'll only get a secure version of WinRAR when they get a new PC and download it again.
PCMag

A Problem with Windows

Unlike Linux's package manager, you need to download updates from the manufacturer's site on Windows. Microsoft's approach to app updates has been inconsistent and flawed.

Eugene Roshall, the developer of WinRAR, told me that Windows provides no way to auto-update desktop apps downloaded from websites. “Every developer needs to reinvent the wheel, taking associated security and other technical issues into account.”
PCMag

The lesson here is that you must regularly check for updates to programs installed on your computer. If you don't use an app, get rid of it.

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Security Software

Secure Your System

You need to provide a safe and productive computing environment for your productivity.

Always On; Always Vulnerable

Today's computers and devices are connected to the Internet 24/7. This makes them accessible from anywhere in the world.

Malware, spam, phishing and phone fraud all lead to identity theft.

Learn to Protect Yourself

Be sure you understand security basics such as preventing unauthorized access, strategies to prevent infections and establish security policies, especially in the workplace.

Secure your online accounts with passwords that are long and strong, but also unique to every site. This is nearly impossible today unless you use a dedicated password manager.

Security Software Essential

Protect your devices with decent security software. ZoneAlarm or Kaspersky are recommended. Whichever you choose, be sure you understand how they prompt you to avoid being conned by fake alerts.

Many vendors offer free versions of their security software for personal use.

Update or Replace

Always update software to its latest release version.

Replace it when it is no longer supported by the vendor.

Watch for Unwanted Extras

Almost all software is now obtained or installed from online sources.

Watch for unwanted optional extras when downloading and installing software to avoid unwanted extra software.

Pirated Software Dangerous

Don't be tempted to download “free” copies of commercial software unless it is legal.

Pirated software usually contains malware (and if it doesn't, the site you obtained it from is probably infected).

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Invest in Good Software

Most of the software listed here is free or has free versions available.

You have no obligation to donate or purchase a licence, but be sure you qualify (some are free only for personal use).

Supporting Vendors

While many are free, I strongly recommend that you support future development with donations or purchase paid versions (particularly security software) if you can afford it.

Purchasing shareware or providing a donation to the developer of useful software makes it more likely that it will be available to you in the future.

Business Users

Business users, particularly corporations, may not have the rights to use some software. Where they do, funding future development is in your best interest.

Avoid Subscription Services

I strongly recommend that you avoid subscription-based services like Adobe Cloud.

While the lower monthly fee may be attractive, there is no real incentive to continually improve the product or service.

Free Alternatives

There are free alternatives to most commercial software packages that provide everything most home users need.

While Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office are excellent products, most consumers don't need the extra features.

Free software, like GIMP and LibreOffice, compare very favourably with their commercial counterparts.

Related Resources

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Updated: June 10, 2024