With many apps on phones and tablets being either free or very cheap, it’s painful to pay £10s or even £100s for Windows software. On the whole, though, you don’t have to as there are free equivalents to just about every paid-for program, from Office and Photoshop to antivirus and games.
Here we offer our recommendations on the best free Windows software you can download right now.
Best free Windows software: office suites
Now that Microsoft has made a concerted effort to switch to a subscription model for Office 365, it’s even more tempting to opt for a free alternative. Our pick is LibreOffice, which is now far from being a mere off-shoot of OpenOffice. For most people LibreOffice offers everything you need, being just about as compatible with Microsoft Office as it’s possible to get.
If you want a suite which copies Microsoft’s ribbon interface, look at Kingsoft Office Suite Free. There’s also Microsoft Office Starter 2010 which includes cut-down versions of Word and Excel plus a few other basic tools.
Right now you candownload and use the Consumer Preview of Office 2016, but it’s only free during beta testing.
Best free Windows software: photo editing
Adobe Photoshop is the pros’ choice, but there are two cheaper alternatives: Lightroom and Photoshop Elements. However, there are plenty of free photo editors, including some web apps.
Some people find that Paint.net offers everything they need, while others will be more than happy with the online editor Pixlr.net by Autodesk (here’s thow to use Pixlr).
Yet another online alternative to Photoshop is PicMonkey, which we also explain how to use.
Best free Windows software: antivirus
Opinions will always be divided on the best free antivirus software and as with paid-for AV software, test results will change on an almost daily basis because makers update their databases and algorithms.
There are quite a few to choose between, but don’t forget Microsoft’s own Defender which in Windows 8 also includes antivirus.
Currently, our top pick of free AV software is Qihoo 360, but there’s also AVG Free, Avast Free and Avira.
See also: Best antivirus for PCs and laptops
Best free Windows software: email
Email is one of those personal things where, as with antivirus, any recommendation is always going to be controversial. Some people swear by Mozilla Thunderbird while others think thatIncredimail is the best thing since, well, email was invented.
Many of us in the office use the Gmail web app, along with the default email client on our phones. But which is thebest free email service is yet another debate that will rage until the end of time.
Best free Windows software: backup
Backing up irreplaceable files is a chore we could all do without, but while cloud storage services let you sync files without lifting a finger, none are capacious enough (even if you’re paying) to back up your entire PC or laptop.
The good news is that there’s free backup software on offer, you just need to provide the storage. One of our favourites is Easeus ToDo Backup Free 3.5
But if you have under 50GB of files, it’s well worth checking out Mega. This cloud storage service will give you 50GB for free. Find out more in our Best cloud storage services roundup.
Best free Windows software: video editing
As everyone knows, Windows Movie Maker is a dire attempt at video editing software. Given the number of free alternatives, there’s no reason to subject yourself to its limitations.
Best free Windows software: VPN
VPN services aren’t just for browsing the web anonymously. They also let you access or unblock content that’s otherwise limited to users located in particular countries. All free VPNs have their drawbacks, one of which could be unwanted advertising. Another is restricted data or download speeds.
But for some people, a free VPN is all they need and CyberGhost‘s free service is one worth checking out.
Here are some other free VPN services we’ve tested out.
If you have Windows 8, it’s well worth reading our tips on how to make it more user friendly by downloading free programs.
You’re bound to know other great free software, so if you feel you have a better suggestion, or want to suggest software in other categories, let us know in the comments below.