Why would anyone shell out big dollars for the latest and greatest software suite when free software works just as well? Sometimes we like to have the support, sometimes there’s a cutting edge-feature that we have to have, maybe we’re used to a certain software company’s interface.

For the rest of us who don’t like to pay annual cash tributes to software companies, there’s countless free and open source software suites out there for anyone who wants to brave wild west of the free software world.

Here’s a list of free software packages that I have tested and meet my approval:

Instant Messaging
Miranda-IM Since the world of instant messanging is so diverse and so many platforms exist, I use Miranda. It connects to any service you could possibly want to connect to using various plugins. Mine is connected to AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and Google-Talk. It’s lightweight and simple, and there are great skins to make it look good on your desktop.
Media Player
Currently I use winamp. While winamp 5 is very beautiful, it is much slower than some of its predecessors. There are still many places where you can download the classic winamp 2.95. This is without a doubt the best winamp ever. It works, it’s free, and it’s fast. Whenever you use it, or any other digital audio player especially internet radio, thank Dmitry Boldyrev for his ideas, inspiration and brilliant coding.
Compression Utility
7-zip is bar none the best compression utility I have ever used. I never even open the program. I use the software entirely inside context menus with a simple right click. It opens every compressed file format I’ve ever run into including gzip and tarballs.
If you do any file sharing, do yourself a huge favor and grab the latest copy of eMule.
Image Manipulation
Use the gimp, its powerful, and easy. If you don’t need something this powerful, check out Google’s Picassa. And while you’re at it get imageMagick. Imagine being able to resize, frame, optimize, and thumbnail a set of images with a single click. This is possible through scripting with imageMagick and its many APIs.
Office Suite
What’s that? You don’t want to pay $400 to be able to type in Microsoft Word? I don’t blame you. Download OpenOffice, a whole office suite that is very competitive with MS office, except it doesn’t cost a dime. You’re worried about compatibility? Well don’t be. OpenOffice is compatible with more document formats than MS Office.
As a home PC user, please don’t pay a single red cent for your antiVirus software. I would rather watch someone smoke a cigar wrapped in $100 bill. Download either Avast or ClamWin. They’re great, they’re simple, they’re free, they don’t bug you, and they don’t use up all the resources on your computer like some others do.
Web Browser
I’m surprised I still have to even recommend this, but FireFox is at least making an attempt to adopt the DOM standards that were approved over 10 years ago. Another browser which shall remain nameless thinks it gets to decide how the internet runs. If you don’t understand all this, just trust the geeks and ditch internet explorer in favor of firefox.
Codec Pack
Ever try to play a movie on your computer and find out you don’t have the right codec for it? Are you constantly prompted to download real media plyer or apple quicktime or some other garbage media player? K-Lite codec pack is answer number one. Then get quicktime alternative, you shouldn’t have that trouble again.
PDF Reader
I’ll be honest, Adobe Acrobat Reader bugs me. It takes a long time to open, its huge, and it always asks to update itself. Use FoxIt instead, they’re up to version 2 now and it looks even cleaner and faster than the last one. Why would anyone use Acrobat? They either haven’t heard of FoxIt, or they enjoy wasting time.
Task Manager
If you have trouble deleting a file because it’s ‘in use’ but you know it’s not, then you need Process Explorer 32. It really should be the default windows task manager, and you can actually set it that way.
Testing Server
XAMPP, if you need a testing server, and you have to use windows, then this is what you need, it has everything you could need including apache, mysql, perl, php, fileZIlla server, and many more server programs.
Operating System
Everyone has their favorite free operating system. Unfortunately for me, there’s a lot of reasons why I have to run windows. When I finish with school there will hopefully be a lot less of those. For anyone who doesn’t absolutely need windows I recommend Ubuntu. With XGL it looks absolutely stunning. In fact I would say it looks prettier than Apple OSX. Anyway its worth a look.
PBX Server
If you need an open source PBX server you probably already have this, I’m just going to include it here for completeness. Asterisk.
PuTTy: This is pretty much the industry standard windows SSH-2 client.