Here at Gizmo's Freeware we have been selecting an annual freeware product of the year for the last six years. Normally we make the selection ourselves but this year we asked our readers to nominate their choice for the best freeware product of 2010.
The voting results are in; we have a winner.
Best Freeware Product of 2010
Microsoft Security Essentials
The award for the Best Freeware Product of 2010 as judged by the users of Gizmo’s Freeware, goes to Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE).
It is a worthy winner. MSE is a truly outstanding free product. It is an anti-malware program that offers real-time malware detection and file scanning capabilities that are the equal of the best commercial security programs. Furthermore it does its job without noticeably slowing down users’ PCs. In fact most users will see no significant performance impact at all after installing MSE.
Equally important, it is unobtrusive. Some security products continually worry users with warnings and questions. MSE by contrast, is virtually invisible to the user except of course when it detects a problem. Even then its messages are low key and informative rather than alarming and cryptic.
This combination of effectiveness and ease of use means that MSE is an easy first choice for average users who want to protect their PC against infection. Higher risk users may want to consider additional layers of protection but for most users who follow safe computing practices, MSE combined with the Window Firewall is all the security protection they need.
MSE is not only an outstanding product but a most unusual one. Who would have thought Microsoft could produce such a high quality security product given their relative inexperience in producing consumer security products? Even stranger, who would have thought they would offer such a product for free?
But they have and we are the beneficiaries. Our congratulations to Microsoft for this remarkable achievement.
(2) Opera Browser
Votes for Opera in our poll surged forward with the release of the long-awaited Opera 11 during the voting period which had the effect of pushing it into second place.
Opera 11 is a big step forward; it now offers extensions and on-demand plug-ins, faster performance, improved security features as well as some nifty new features such as stacked browser tabs.
I’ve been using it for around a week and am really impressed. It is faster than Firefox 3.6, more complete than Google Chrome and a total delight to use. And it offers an excellent built-in mail client as a bonus, a feature not available in any competing browser.
Still I will find it hard to give up some of my specialized Firefox extensions and even harder to forgo the additional security and speed of Google Chrome. What I can say is that Opera 11 is a real contender in the browser wars and every user should at least try it out. Be warned though, once you try it, you may never use another browser again.
This is no surprise as it is one of most popular freeware products ever and one of the few products I’d suggest that should be installed on every PC. If you want to remove unnecessary files from your PC to free up disk space you can do no better than CCleaner.
2010 saw no major advance in the development of CCleaner bur rather just the usual regular updates that seem to add ever more temporary files and file locations that can be safely removed to free more disk space.
I have one small beef with CCleaner – they continue to include the Ask toolbar in the default installation. Now the Ask toolbar is not adware or anything like that but it is a product most users don’t really need – unnecessaryware if you like. If the developers of CCleaner simply set the default installation option for this product to “No” rather than “Yes”, they would simply solve this problem. This beef aside CCleaner is a wonderfully effective product and a personal favorite.
(4) Secunia PSI
Secunia is a program that monitors the programs installed on your PC and lets you know if any programs have known security loopholes and need to be updated to a later version. It really is an indispensable aid to improving your PC security.
(5) Firefox 3.6
Firefox won our Freeware of the Year award in 2009 but this year it has fallen a little behind its competition mainly due to the much deferred release of Firefox 4.0. Version 4 promises to improve speed to be closer to Google Chrome and Opera 11 and update the now slightly dated user interface.
(6) Google Chrome Browser
With its lightning speed, minimalist interface and class leading security, Chrome has become the browser of choice for many savvy users.
(7) VLC Media Player
A multi-platform media player that runs mostly without the need for external codecs. It's the player of choice for many experienced users though a little daunting for beginners.
(8) Revo Uninstaller
If you want to remove every last trace of an uninstalled product then Revo is hard to beat.
This file scanner offers excellent detection of spyware and other nasties combined with powerful malware removal features.The free version has no real-time detection though.
This is a terrific product that fully address the password management needs of most users including automatic login. The fact that it is web-based scares off some users concerned about the online security of their password data but the encryption system used by LastPass is so powerful and effective that most of their worry is needless.
(11) Open Office Suite
This is the best free alternative to Microsoft Office. It provides all the features you really need provided you can tolerate its slowness to load. This has become less of an issue with modern PCs but can be annoying on older equipment.
This long standing favorite allows users to browse and install software in a virtual “sandboxed” environment without fear of infecting their real PC.
(13) Everything Search
Find any file on your hard drive in an instant without bogging down your PC in background indexing. Only finds files by name not content. I use it every day and now find it indispensable.
A fast, powerful image viewer with a good basic image editor that offers a major upgrade to the Windows image viewer. Does batch processing and file conversion as well. Functionality can be expanded using plug-ins.
(15) NotePad ++
A powerful programming editor as well as a Windows Notepad replacement though in the latter role it is possibly overkill for average users.
Why pay money for WinZip or other commercial unzippers when 7-Zip does the same thing just as well for free?
A real alternative to MalwareBytes with a slightly different set of features. Many users utilize both products for their on-demand scanning to ensure the best possible detection rates.
(18) PDF-Xchange Viewer
A smaller, faster, safer and more full-featured alternative to Adobe’s security flaw-prone Acrobat Reader. It offers basic PDF editing as well.
(19) FastStone Image Viewer
An alternative to IrfanView and my preferred choice due to its superior speed and more intuitive interface.
(20) Microsoft ICE
A truly amazing product that assembles one or two dimensional photo panoramas with ease and speed that borders on black magic. A must-have product for all digital photographers.
How the winner was decided
In December 2010 we asked our website users to nominate the products they considered worthy of our annual Freeware Product of the Year award. The response was overwhelming with over 200 separate products nominated.
We then selected the 20 most nominated products and asked our site users to vote for their favorite over a 7-day polling period. Only one vote was allowed per user. The poll closed on the 28th of December, 2010.