We all love a product that is free; anything that is proclaimed to be a “freebie” is likely to catch your attention. However, we all know that there is no such thing as a free lunch and there is likely to be a catch.

In many circumstances that may be correct but when it comes to IT based software, yes there are some bad ones (even awful!) out there, but there are also some really good pieces of free and highly productive software available.

Commercial software can be slick, well supported, and ideal for your purpose, yet you may not have considered that free software can sometimes also fulfill some or all of these ideals though they may not have all the bells and whistles associated with commercial software equivalents.

How to download free software safely

Let’s start with a general warning. If you are going to download software, then beware of inadvertently downloading Potentially Unwanted Programmes or PUPs which are unwanted software that can be detrimental to your device. There are a number of websites that can help you check something is safe is by using Unchecky or Ninite.  

So, let’s look at some potentially uses of free software that might be helpful for end users and save you money by not purchasing broadly equivalent commercial software.

One that I use regularly, and I have previously written about is Mailstore, which is an email archiving service. This is a slick piece of software which I have been using for some years now and it stores all my emails offline either on a USB device or on an external hard drive.

Some of the company’s products are paid for but for home use, it is free and fully functional and impressive. If you have not backed up your emails on your own devices then this is a free, simple to use and an elegant solution.

Free office software

Office software is commonly used in computers and many people opt for Microsoft 365 (sometimes known as Office), which contains well known software such as Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Publisher for example. 

However, this product does not suit everyone because of the expense, complexity or both and there are free and open source alternative office suites available. One example is LibreOffice, but there are others as well

Not all software has to reside on your hard drive, one example of this is the online offering that simply requires a browser and an internet connection, namely Zamzar. This can convert, a huge range of file types. For the odd use of a small file size then the free service is just fine. For example, you may want to convert a PDF file into a word file. More regular usage or larger files may result in having to purchase a paid for account. As an aside, if you want to manipulate a PDF file for free and need a large number of tools available then check out PDF24 Creator.

In a similar vein to using online software to achieve a quick result, have you ever been asked to produce a poster, often quickly and as professional as possible? Then maybe pop into Poster My Wall which offers free and paid for versions. 

Finally, as an example of something different, the excellent Nirsoft tools is a website worth remembering when your computer (most if not all seem to be for Windows based machines) runs into trouble or you need more information about your computer or it’s environment. 

There is a huge array of free software out there which includes free apps and web content you can download to your device. I have just given a few examples of what I am aware of, and I did not cover any apps for smart devices. Sometimes it is worth upgrading to the paid for version with more functionality but sometimes the free version is all you will ever need.


Dr Harry Brown is a retired GP, Leeds and medical editor, GM Journal