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Introduction

You have no doubt invested time, trouble and possibly money, in your "must have" software. This investment is largely protected when you move to Vista 64 and, if not, there are many excellent freeware alternatives. (In addition, Vista continues the tradition of offering "compatibility mode".)

Here are the top freeware picks for Vista 64 in their various sections.  Where a native 64 bit application is currently unavailable, a suitable 32 bit alternative is provided.

Discussion


BROWSER

Although Vista 64 includes both the 32 and 64 bit versions of Internet Explorer, many prefer more secure products. The 32 bit versions of Firefox, Google Chrome,and Opera all work without a hitch in Vista 64. 

Apart from 64 bit Internet Explorer 8, the only other 64 bit browser currently available, and still under development,  is Firefox. Various preview versions can be found at http://wiki.mozilla-x86-64.com/Download.  I've found version 3.0.10 to be as stable as the 32 bit version. This version will import all of your bookmarks and history from the 32 bit version of Firefox 3.0.10.  All currently installed addons are checked for compatibility when 64 bit Firefox is started, and those that are known to work are loaded automatically.

Active development is starting but these applications are not yet ready for daily use:

  1. To support Java, a 64 bit browser requires a 64 bit version of the Java Runtime Environment. There is a suitable version of JRE for Vista 64, but no major Web site actually supports this combination of software.
     
  2. Adobe has yet to release a 64 bit version of their Flash Player, and the 32 bit version cannot be used in conjunction with a 64 bit browser under Vista 64. Adobe have only committed to releasing a 64 bit version of the player at some point after the release of Flash Player version 10.
     
  3. Some sites may simply refuse to allow access to a 64 bit browser.
     
  4. Common addons for Firefox that interact with external 32 bit applications such as Roboform are not compatible with the 64 bit version of the browser.

If you find these restrictions unacceptable, stick with a 32 bit browser. See:

Best Free Web Browser

 

EMAIL CLIENT

The only usable 64 bit email client is Windows Mail, included with Vista 64. There is a project for 64 bit Thunderbird 3, but the latest available build isn't even suitable for testing. Those who require greater flexibility than offered by Windows Mail, and are happy to use a 32 bit email client, should refer to our review:

Best Free Email Client

  

FTP CLIENT

Following a comment from a reader I have been searching for free 64 bit FTP clients. So far, I have only managed to find one, Null FTP from Vision Works.

The free version of Null FTP, a cut down version of the paid product, has the following limitations:

  • Number of concurrent transfers is limited to three.
  • Number of FTP servers defined for quick connection is limited to three.
  • Maximum TCP buffer size is limited to 128kB

Whether or not you can live with the first two limitations depends largely on how much you rely on FTP in your day to day activities. The third restriction has no impact on the speed of Internet or local network FTP transfers so I am surprised that they even bother to mention it.

In use, Null FTP has the typical local and remote files panes which support drag and drop, and status and log windows which provide details of the current connections and file transfers.

Overall, the product fails to match the top 32 bit selections in our review Best Free FTP Client. Unless you feel that a 64 bit FTP client is essential, and there is no performance benefit to support this, I suggest that you look there for the solution best suited to your needs.

 

FIREWALL

Remember that you should never run two or more firewall products side-by-side.  If you plan to switch to one of the products below, ensure that you disable Windows Firewall and any other firewall you have installed first.

There aren't many free firewalls for Vista 64, but you can control both inbound and outbound traffic. If all you need is a simple two way firewall and aren't too fussy about appearance or features, the free version of Vista Firewall Control is perhaps the answer.

If you are looking for a free firewall with extra peace of mind in the form of a Host-Based Intrusion Pevention System (HIPS - see our article HIPS Explained for further information), Comodo Internet Security (CIS), is an excellent choice. CIS can be rather intrusive at first, but things do settle down as the program learns more about the system. It's necessary to change mode when installing new software and when dealing with reports, but this is a small price to pay since CIS includes one of the most effective firewalls on the market, free.  Full instructions are available in the "Miscellaneous" tab, or from the Comodo website.

When installing CIS, deselect the Install Antivirus option if you already have a suitable antivirus solution installed.  If you are using an old version of the CFP or CIS you should upgrade to the latest version as this will increase stability and reduce memory footprint.

 

ANTIVIRUS

With its ease of use, fast scanning, and excellent detection rates, my first choice is Avira Antivir Personal Edition.   Although it lacks an email scanning feature, it compensates by the speed in which the Real-time protection leaps to your defence when any threats, including infected email attachments, are detected. As of version 9, Avira protects against Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Rootkits, Dialers, Spyware and Adware. I have no information, as yet, regarding the effectiveness of the anti-spyware and anti-adware components added in version 9.

Version 9 of Avira also adds the facility to review suspect items at the end of a scan, rather than dealing with each item when detected. This leaves the user free to run a scan unattended at any time and simply deal with the results when appropriate.

My main criticism is the large advert for the paid version which accompanies the updates, but it only takes a click to make it go away.  You also need to periodically reregister.

If you need an antivirus with extra features, such as email scanning and antispyware Avast 4 may be the answer. The detection rates are good, but it can be rather slow and its appearance isn't to everyones liking.

Both Avira and Avast are hybrid 64 bit applications. Only the low level kernel mode drivers that interface with Vista are written in 64 bit code.

You can have more than one AV product installed, but only one should be enabled for real-time scanning. The same applies to email scanning.

 

ANTISPYWARE

There are some very good  on-demand  scanners  which don't  conflict with real-time protection.  Perhaps the best of these is SUPERAntiSpyware (SAS). This is only available as a 32 bit application, which can detect malware that other products miss, remove rogue applications, and also repair some Malware damage.

If you check the Windows event log, don't be concerned by entries relating to SASDIFSV.SYS and SASKUTIL.SYS following a reboot.  These are 32 bit device drivers used by the full version of SAS and do not affect operation of the free version.

The 64 bit version of SAS is currently undergoing beta testing.It is unclear if there will be a free version.

Malwarebytes is also worth considering because of its fast scanning and general ease of use. Effective at detecting and removing trojans, results are less impressive for other types of malware.

The newly released Ad-Aware Anniversary Edition represents a major overhaul.  Heuristic detection and integrated real-time protection have been added, although the latter is only for rogue processes in the free version. Resource efficiency has been targeted, particularly processor and memory usage, scanning speed has been improved, and a more extensive detection database is now used.  Ad-Aware AE is certainly more resource efficient than previous versions and scanning times compare favourably with SuperAntiSpyware when tested on a system with over 200 Gb of software and data.

Real-time protection is implemented by a combination of an interactive Windows service and a 64 bit kernel mode device driver making Ad-Aware AE a hybrid 32/64 bit application. Support in Vista for interactive services is intended for legacy applications only and Microsoft has indicated that this will be withdrawn in a future version of Windows. I can at least confirm that support is still present in the current 64 bit Windows 7 release candidate.

As to real world effectiveness,it continues to maintain a reasonable detection rate but many threats go undetected.

For full details of the testing carried out on these and other products in this category refer to our review:

Best Free Adware/Spyware/Scumware Remover

 

SYSTEM TOOLS

Although Vista has its own housekeeping tools for defragmenting the hard disk, removing junk files and various other tasks, there are 3rd party alternatives which perform better and offer additional features.  There are few 64 bit tools but the ones available, added to the 32 bit versions that work under Vista 64, are very good at what they do.

Before you dig too deeply into this section you might want to read the great article:

"How to make Vista run faster" .

 

DISK DEFRAGMENTER

JK Defrag, available as a native 64 bit application, finds many fragmented files, even if used immediately after the Windows defragmentation tool.  After defragmenting files it optimizes file placement and, being Volume Shadow Copy aware, doesn’t destroy your valuable Restore Points. JK Defrag can be run on demand from the desktop or USB stick, there is a command line version, and also a screen saver version.

Readers who dislike the minimal JKDefrag GUI, and are not prepared to run it from the command line via a scheduled task or as a screen saver, should consider the 32 bit products covered in:

Best Free Disk De-fragmenter


IOBit Smart Defrag and Defraggler, both covered in our review, are impressive tools with GUI interfaces that are much better than JKDefrag. But they are not 64 bit applications and incur a performance hit by having to use the WOW64 interface.

 

DISK CLEANER

CCleaner, recently rewritten in c++ and released as version 2.16, scans for both junk files and registry errors. The registry cleaning component only handles that part of the registry visible to 32 bit applications and is quite mild. Additonal features include cookie management, program removal, and secure file erasing. Existing users who upgrade will notice a signifcant reduction in scanning times.  

This is one of the first tools I recommend people install on a Windows PC, and regular use will go a long way to preventing the hard drive from becoming bogged down with unwanted junk.

CCleaner has never dealt with purging Vista Restore Points, a major source of accumulated junk. Vista 32 Disk Cleanup would allow you to do this but, under Vista 64, although the option to perform this task still exists, it does not work correctly.  My thanks go to Kristan Kenny for providing the solution to this problem.

If you want to correct the Disk Cleanup shortcut in the Start menu, follow these steps:
 

  1. Click on Start, All Programs, Accessories, and then click on System Tools.
  2. Right click on "Disk Cleanup" and from the context menu click on "Properties."
  3. Change the Target to %SystemRoot%\system32\cleanmgr.exe.
  4. Click on OK.  If a UAC prompt appears, click on Continue or provide the appropriate credentials.

If you've automated Disk Cleanup, the correct path to use in your script is:

%WINDIR%\sysnative\cleanmgr.exe

If you launch Disk Cleanup from another location in Windows, for instance by clicking the “Disk Cleanup” button in the properties window of a drive, the correct 64 bit version of Disk Cleanup is launched.

  

REGISTRY CLEANER

I am not a fan of Registry cleaners.  They have a nasty habit of removing things that are vital to the correct operation of commercial software. 

That aside, even finding a specific Registry Cleaner free of charge for Vista 64 is no easy task .  People on many Vista forums recommend Wise Registry Cleaner 3 (WRC3), and only although it only handles that part of the registry visible to 32 bit applications, I have found it to be the most satisfactory product. 

Firstly, it allows you to backup the Registry before you start and there is also a restore option.  Secondly, by default, it doesn't check Class Security Identifiers (CLSIDs) or other areas where most Registry tricks are played, although these can be included if required. Finally it divides redundant/invalid entries into two groups, 1) those you can remove safely, and 2) the rest which require closer examination before removing. I think it is fair to say that you are reasonably safe removing the entries in the first group although I would caution against removing those in the second group unless you have a good understanding of the Registry and how applications use it.

 

REGISTRY DEFRAGMENTER

While a PC is in use there is a constant stream of data being added to and removed from the registry and over time this can cause the registry to become fragmented, there is also the problem of registry cleaners and program uninstalls producing gaps in the registry file.   When this occurs, it does nothing to enhance the performance or reliability of the system, therefore, the occasional use of a registry defragmenter / optimiser is seen by some as a necessary part of the maintenance regime.

Free Registry Defrag V2.35. is a fast,  reliable and free tool which is capable of compacting and defragmenting the registry.   If used when the level of fragmentation is in excess of 10% the results are noticeable.  Be aware though that the software does not include a Registry backup option so exercise caution and create a Restore Point before using it.

 

ALL IN ONE

If you prefer to use  a single tool for the upkeep of your PC, you need look no further than the latest version of the excellent Glary Utilities. As this is a 32 bit program that runs in a 64 bit environment, you will notice that one or two of the modules are not fully working, the Uninstall Manager for example, doesn't recognise 64 bit applications, and therefore cannot uninstall them. This is a step in the right direction though, and perhaps there is a native 64 bit version of Glary Utilities on the horizon.

 

SYSINTERNALS SUITE

No list of system tools would be complete without mentioning the excellent SysInternals Suite which is used to trouble shoot PCs worldwide. Although SysInternals is now part of Microsoft, the tools remain free and are regularly updated.

I have not had the chance yet to test all of the programs but can confirm that Process Explorer and Process Monitor work fine, indeed when launched they even run 64 bit versions extracted from the 32 bit software.  The much used Autoruns also works correctly.

For those of us working at home, Autologon no longer works, however the reasons for that are well documented and should be addressed in a forthcoming release.  In the interim, check out http://www.brothersoft.com/auto-logon-tool-162345.html which provides links to an alternative Autologon tool available in both 32 and 64 bit versions.

If you are looking for a utility that will create shortcuts to the most commonly used SysInternals Suite tools, check out SysInternals Toolbox in our review :

Best Free Vista Tweaks.

 

SYSTEM INFORMATION UTILITY

The 32 bit SIW utility still manages to display a host of detailed information relating to your PC hardware, operating system, installed programs, processes, services, serial numbers (CD keys), users, open files, system uptime, network, network shares, as well as real-time monitors for CPU, memory, page file usage and network traffic when running under Vista 64. It also displays currently active network connections, passwords hidden behind asterisks, installed codecs, and more. 

SIW now includes an installer.  I have,checked that the installed files can be copied to, and run from, a USB flash drive without problem.

For a full guide to System Information Utilities:

Best Free System Information Utility.

 

TWEAKING TOOLS

The majority of tools in this category are covered in: Best Free Vista Tweaks which includes details of compatibility with Vista 64.

Iconoid main dialog box Iconoid  is one notable exception, a 64 bit port of SillySot's application, which allows you to change the colour of text associated with your desktop icons. You can also save and restore the position of desktop icons and, optionally, hide and restore icons by clicking on the desktop.

In order to use Iconoid to change the colour of text you must first turn off drop shadows for icon text.  This must be done via Control Panel, System, Advanced System Settings, and then click on the Settings button under Performance.  Right clicking on Computer and then choosing Properties will only change settings until you logoff or the PC is rebooted.

 

DATA/FILE/FOLDER TOOLS

DATA RECOVERY / UNDELETE

No matter how careful we try to be, there's a chance that an important file, picture, track etc will get deleted by accident. Hours of work and valuable photos can all be lost with a click of the mouse, or by selecting the wrong option on a digital camera.

There aren't many data recovery apps that support Vista 64, but the good news is that the 32 bit application Recuva, from the makers of CCleaner, is one that does.

Recuva is simple to use, effective, and can be used to recover lost items from the following:

  • FAT12, FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, NTFS5 , NTFS + EFS file systems
  • Removable media (SmartMedia, Secure Digital, MemoryStick, Digital cameras, Floppy disks, Jaz Disks, Sony Memory Sticks, Compact Flash cards, Smart Media Cards, Secure Digital Cards, etc.)
  • External ZIP drives , Firewire and USB Hard drives
  • iPods

     

FILE ARCHIVER/ZIP UTILITY

7-Zip and PeaZip are available as native 64 bit applications and contain all of the functionality of their 32 bit counterparts. Readers interested in a comparison of these products should refer to our review:

Best Free File Archiver/Zip Utility

 

FOLDER SYNCHRONIZATION UTILITY

Microsoft's SyncToy, available as a native 64 bit application, can copy, move, rename, and delete files between any number of folders and even computers. Operations are carried out on local and/or remote pre-defined folder pairs. Remote folders can be specified by drive letter or UNC name. You define and name these pairs, files can be included or excluded based on wildcards and/or file attributes, and then when you want to perform a task, you recall one of these pairs and carry out the operation. Syncing can be in either direction and covers all options from complete sync to updating newer files only. SyncToy can also keep track of files you rename and rename those in the sync destination.  Overwritten files in the destination can be saved in the recycle bin, in case you need the older version. SyncToy also allows you to preview a sync, that is, view what would happen if the sync operation was executed. This ensures the operation will do exactly what you want before you use it.

In addition to the easy to use GUI, SyncToy can also be run from the command line to sync a chosen folder pair or, all folder pairs.

SyncToy is a versatile utility that will satisfy all but the most demanding of users. It also runs very quickly despite being based on the .NET framework. The only major things it lacks are the ability to select files from a folder via a standard tree view, direct support for ftp, and a portable version.

 

SECURE ERASE UTILITY

The 64 bit version of Eraser will securely overwrite selected files and folders, or even whole disks (it works with any drive, including IDE, SCSI, RAID, and CD-RWs). It addition to handling normal data areas, Eraser can also wipe data in the paging file, Internet cache, temporary files, Internet cookies, unused disk space, and a number of other places where data can secretly lurk.  It can handle FAT, FAT32, and NTFS partitions.  Erasing files with a high level of security, involving user selected data patterns and multiple passes, will always be a time consuming task, and 100% security cannot be guaranteed. However, Eraser makes the task about as easy as it can be, at a security level that exceeds  most conceivable requirements.

If Eraser goes beyond what you need, then refer to our review Best Free Secure Erase Utility for details of simpler, 32 bit alternatives, that work quite happily under Vista 64.

 

DESKTOP/OFFICE TOOLS

DIGITAL IMAGE EDITOR

This is not a field in which I can claim to have any expertise. I have tested the products identified to confirm that they work under Vista 64 but readers who are interested in comparing product features should refer to our review:

Best Free Digital Image Editor

Paint.Net is available as a native 64 bit application. In addition to the products built in features there are a huge number of user contributed plugins that add further capabilities. Despite requiring version 2 or higher of the .NET Framework, 3.5 SP1 is recommended, Paint.NET isn't too resource intensive and during testing I didn't notice slow downs at any point.

An experimental 64 bit version of The GIMP is available although the installation routine stresses the fact that this version isn't suitable for day to day work.

 

DIGITAL IMAGE VIEWER

A reader has brought to my attention FastPictureViewer, a native 64 bit application for viewing JPEG images.This claims to be (and probably is) the fastest viewer ever. It uses hardware to speed things up and requires a lot of system resources and graphic capabilities. It has a nice interface as well. Anyway, the program offers no other functions and is limited to just viewing.
 
For readers who require greater functionality, the top picks in our review Best Free Digital Image Viewer, XnView and IrfanView, both 32 bit applications that include 64 bit shell extensions, run flawlessly under Vista 64. I suggest that you refer to the review for an expert comparison of these products.

 

OFFICE SUITE

Open Office covers just about all the bases, everything from a document writer to databases and spreadsheets,  it handles files produced with Excel. Word and Powerpoint,  and also there are numerous extensions available.  All in all this is one of the best examples of freeware to be found!

For those of you who need to be able to handle Office 2007 documents I suggest that you check out How do I open Microsoft Office 2007 files?

 

PDF READER

Thanks go to one of our readers for bringing PDFXCHANGE Viewer to my attention. PDFXCHANGE Viewer is available as a combined 32/64 bit download containing the full product and 32 bit shell extensions, or as a 32 bit only portable version. The free version of PDFXCHANGE, which simply has the features of the Pro version disabled, has enough capabilities to satisfy all but the most demanding of users. The toolbars can be customised to suit user taste, even the performance of the application, maximum memory usage, number of threads and so on can be tuned.

In use, the 64 bit version is quick and memory usage is on a par with Adobe Reader 9. Image quality, although not quite as good as Adobe's product, is still excellent. In fact, for documents that originally contained rasterised images, reproduction is actually far better.

The portable 32 bit version is worthy of mention. It naturally lacks some features available in the full product but still produces high quality images making it ideal for a personal PC toolkit.

If you want a feature rich 64 bit PDF viewer and are not prepared to wait for Adobe to play catch up, then I recommend you take a look at this product.

 

PDF WRITER

BullZip, CuteWriter and doPDF all have 64 bit versions although BullZip and CuteWriter rely on the 32 bit version of GhostScript Lite.

I have successfully tested all of these applications under Vista 64 and suggest that interested readers refer to our review :

Best Free PDF Writer

to assist them in choosing the best product for their needs.

Have Your Say

To make this category a success feedback from readers is essential. I cannot possibly cover everything, but if you have an idea for an area of software that should be covered, or if I have left out one of your favourites, then post a comment.

There are five ways to send feedback: registered users can contact me directly here or in the forum under Contact Info. Registered users may also post in the forum. Anyone can post a comment at the bottom of this page. Finally, please help us by rating this review

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Useful Links
Start64! Comprehensive list of commercial 64 bit applications and latest device drivers
Vista Forums Forum post, found by Foundation Editor Peter, listing free software for Vista 32/64

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Quick Selection Guide

Null FTP    Rating 5 of 10

Pros   Available as a native 64 bit application.
Cons   Offers no benefit over better known, and established, 32 bit FTP clients.
Developer Home Page   http://www.vwsolutions.com/NullFTP
Download link   http://www.vwsolutions.com/NullFTPClient/freeDownload.aspx
File Size   5.80Mb   Version 1.3.0.0   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Vista Firewall Control    Rating 4 of 10

Pros   Provides simple protection for inbound and outbound connections.
Cons   User interface is not all that it could be. No HIPS support.
Developer Home Page   http://sphinx-soft.com
Download link   http://sphinx-soft.com/download/VistaFirewallControl-Setup-x64.exe
File Size   1.02 Mb   Version 2.1   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Comodo Internet Security (CIS)    Rating 9 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Firewall and HIPS protection that match any other product free or otherwise.
Cons   CIS can be somewhat intrusive when first installed. Existing users should upgrade to the latest version to increase stability and reduce memory footprint.
Developer Home Page   http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com
Download link   http://www.personalfirewall.comodo.com/download_firewall.html
File Size   73.78 Mb   Version 3.9.76924.507   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Avira Antivir Personal Edition    Rating 8 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Ease of use, fast scanning and excellent detection rates. May surprise you by detecting problems that other AV programs do not. Anti-spyware and anti-adware components now included.
Cons   Hybrid 32/64 bit application. No email scanner, but infected attachments are detected if opened. Large advert when updating antivirus definitions, also need to register again periodically.
Developer Home Page   http://www.free-av.com
Download link   http://www.free-av.com/en/trialpay_download/avira_antivir_personal__free_antivirus.html
File Size   28.61 Mb   Version 9.0.0.386   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
64 Bit version available   Hybrid 32/64 Bit version available

Avast 4    Rating 6 of 10

Pros   Detection rates are good. Includes email scanning and antispyware.
Cons   Hybrid 32/64 bit application. Can be rather slow and the appearance isn't to everyone's liking.
Developer Home Page   http://www.avast.com/eng/avast-free-home-antivirus-antispyware.html
Download link   http://www.avast.com/eng/download-avast-home.html
File Size   28.70 Mb   Version 4.8   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   Hybrid 32/64 Bit version available

SUPERAntiSpyware (SAS)    Rating 9 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Detects malware that other products miss and is able to remove rogue applications. Also has the ability to repair some of the damage that can be caused by Malware.
Cons   Currently only available as a 32 bit application. Free version only offers on demand scanning. Errors recorded in the event log under Vista 64 , although harmless, may concern some users.
Developer Home Page   http://www.superantispyware.com/index.html
Download link   http://www.superantispyware.com/downloadfile.html?productid=SUPERANTISPYWAREFREE
File Size   6.03 Mb   Version 4.26.1002   License Type Restricted freeware (full commercial version available)   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
Info   64 bit version of SAS is currently undergoing beta testing. It is unclear at present if a free version will be made available.

Malwarebytes    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   Worth considering because of its fast scanning and general ease of use. Effective trojan detection and removal.
Cons   Less effective on other malware. Currently only available as a 32 bit application.
Developer Home Page   http://www.malwarebytes.org/index.php
Download link   http://www.download.com/Malwarebytes-Anti-Malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html?part=dl-10804572&subj=dl&tag=button
File Size   2.83 Mb   Version 1.3.6   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

Lavasoft Anniversary Edition 8    Rating 6 of 10

Pros   Totally rewritten to reduce resource usage, improve scan times. Still maintains a reasonable detection rate. Provides real time protection against rogue processes. Now a hybrid 32/64 bit application under Vista 64.
Cons   Many threats go undected. Uses a programming technique designed for pre-Vista applications that may be unsupported in future versions of Windows.
Developer Home Page   http://lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php
Download link   http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-Anniversary-Edition/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?part=dl-ad-aware&subj=dl&tag=top5&cdlPid=10998841
File Size   35.72 Mb   Version Anniversary Edition 8   License Type Private Freeware (full commercial version available)    Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   Hybrid 32/64 Bit version available
Info  

Also requires either Internet Explorer (version 5.5 or higher), Firefox (version 1.5 or higher) or Opera (version 9 or higher) Pro version available for free by completing a trial offer.

JKDefrag    Rating 9 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Not only defragments your hard disks but optimises file placement and is File Shadow Copy aware, so it doesn't destroy your valuable Restore Points. Can be run in GUI mode, from the command line, or as a screen saver.
Cons   Best run from the command line, the program can appear to be slow, but the results are worth it.
Developer Home Page   http://www.kessels.com/JkDefrag
Download link   http://www.kessels.com/JkDefrag
File Size   488 Kb   Version 3.3.6   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows XP, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

CCleaner    Rating 6 of 10

Pros   Excellent at cleaning up junk you probably didn't even realize was there!
Cons   No 64 bit version. Registry cleaner only handles entries visible to 32 bit applications and is not up to the same standard as many standalone products.
Developer Home Page   http://www.ccleaner.com
Download link   http://www.ccleaner.com/download
File Size   3.02 Mb   Version 2.16   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64

Wise Registry Cleaner 3 (WRC3)    Rating 8 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Registry backup and restore functions. Does not scan areas of the Registry where it is difficult to determine if data is still required (option can be changed.) Divides results in two sections 'safe to delete' and 'check before deleting.'
Cons   No 64 bit version. Only handles that part of the registry visible to 32 bit applications. Entries left for review by the user prior to deletion may prove confusing.    
Developer Home Page   http://www.wisecleaner.com/index.html
Download link   http://www.wisecleaner.com/download.html
File Size   2.12 Mb   Version 3.94   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista 32/64
Info   Much as I dislike Registry Cleaners, I am happy to recommend this one.

Free Registry Defrag V2.35    Rating 6 of 10

Pros   Fast, reliable and free tool which is capable of compacting and defragmenting the registry. If used when the level of fragmentation is in excess of 10% the results are noticeable.
Cons   No 64 bit version. Does not include a Registry backup option so exercise caution and create a Restore Point before using.
Developer Home Page   http://www.registry-clean.net/free-registry-defrag.htm
Download link   http://www.registry-clean.net/free-registry-defrag.htm
File Size   469 Kb   Version 2.35   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

Glary Utilities    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   Single tool for PC maintenance.
Cons   Not a 64 bit application so some areas of the product, such as the Uninstall Manager, do not work.
Developer Home Page   http://www.glaryutilities.com
Download link   http://www.glaryutilities.com/gu.html?tag=download
File Size   5.36 Mb   Version 2.9   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

SysInternals Suite    Rating 9 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   The must have toolkit for anyone who is serious about their PC(s.) The most important tools run as native 64 bit applications.
Cons   Autologon no longer works but this should be addressed in a future release.
Developer Home Page   http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/default.aspx
Download link   http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/default.aspx
File Size   9.97 Mb   Version N/A   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64

SIW System Information Tool    Rating 8 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Displays just about every piece of PC related information you could possibly wish for. Despite now being installer based can still be run from a USB stick.
Cons   No 64 bit version, although this doesn't seem to impact on usability. Correct hardware detection dependent on the drivers that you have installed.
Developer Home Page   http://www.gtopala.com
Download link   http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/System-Info/SIW.shtml
File Size   4.34 Mb   Version 2008-12-16   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

Iconoid    Rating 6 of 10

Pros   Allows the colour of desktop icon text to be easily modified.
Cons   Requires a manual change to Windows Visual Effects to work.
Developer Home Page   http://www.highrez.co.uk/downloads/
Download link   http://www.highrez.co.uk/scripts/download.asp?package=Iconoid
File Size   298 Kb   Version 3.8.4   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Vista 64, Windows 7 64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Recuva    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   Recuva is simple to use, effective, and can recover deleted items from a comprehensive range of media. Latest version adds iPod support. Can be run from a USB stick.
Cons   No 64 bit version.
Developer Home Page   http://www.recuva.com
Download link   http://www.recuva.com/download
File Size   2.99 Mb   Version 1.23.389   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

SyncToy    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   Can copy, move, rename, and delete files between any number of folders and even computers. Remote folders can be specified by drive letter or UNC name. Files can be included/excluded by wildcard and/or file attributes. Sync operations can be previewed to ensure they are correctly defined. Sync operations can be run from the GUI or the command line.
Cons   Cannot select files from a folder via a standard tree view. No direct support for ftp. No portable version.
Developer Home Page   http://www.microsoft.com/prophoto/downloads/synctoybeta.aspx
Download link   http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=c26efa36-98e0-4ee9-a7c5-98d0592d8c52&displaylang=en
File Size   4.4 Mb   Version 2.0   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available
Info   Requires .NET framework version 2.0 or higher.

Eraser    Rating 8 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Works with CDFS, FAT, FAT32 and NTFS partitions on IDE, SCSI, RAID and CD-RW. System and application data areas such as the paging file, browser caches, cookies, etc, can be overwritten without detailed knowledge of disk/file layout.
Cons   Time consuming.
Developer Home Page   http://www.heidi.ie/node/6
Download link   http://www.heidi.ie/node/14
File Size   9.46 Mb   Version 5.86a   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, 2003 Server, XP, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Paint.NET  

Developer Home Page   http://www.paint.net
Download link   http://www.paint.net
File Size   1.6 Mb   Version 3.36   License Type Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License    Installation Requirements XP, 2003, Vista 32/64, Windows 7 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available
Info   Requires .NET Framework version 2 or higher (version 3.5, SP1 recommended)

The GIMP  

Developer Home Page   http://sourceforge.net/projects/gimp-win
Download link   http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=121075&package_id=250052
File Size   16.98 Mb   Version 2.6.4   License Type GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Version 2, June 1991    Installation Requirements XP, 2003, Vista 32/ 64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

Open Office    Rating 10 of 10  Gizmo's Top Pick

Pros   Open Office on its' own is proof that open source software can and does work. Add to the base product the hundreds of extensions that are available and you have, as some well regarded publications have pointed out, a world beater.
Cons   No 64 bit version, but then Office 2007 isn't available in 64 bit either. Dealing with files in Office 2007 format can be quite a challenge.
Developer Home Page   http://www.openoffice.org/index.html
Download link   http://www.openoffice.org/index.html
File Size   148.06 Mb   Version 3.1   License Type Unrestricted Freeware   Installation Requirements XP, Vista 32/64

PDFXCHANGE Viewer    Rating 8 of 10

Pros   Feature rich and can be highly customised. Image quality close to Adobe Reader 9 and sometimes better.
Cons   None
Developer Home Page   http://www.docu-track.com/home/prod_user/PDF-XChange_Tools/pdfx_viewer
Download link   http://www.docu-track.com/download/PDFXVwer.zip
File Size   17.92Mb   Version 2.0.0041.3   License Type Free for personal and commercial use. Not to be used for personal gain   Installation Requirements 2000, XP, 2003, Vista 32/64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available   Portable version available Portable version available
Have Your Say

To make this category a success feedback from readers is essential. I cannot possibly cover everything, but if you have an idea for an area of software that should be covered, or if I have left out one of your favourites, then post a comment.

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This category is maintained by volunteer editor Rik Mayell, a self confessed computer nut, who loves PCs, desktop or server, and thinks the Mac is cool, although doesn't own one. Also plays around with Linux in his spare time.

 

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