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I’m broke and software is expensive. What more motivation does a person need to seek out free alternatives? Back before I began my professional career in Information Technology I used to pirate all of the software that I thought I needed; but these days I insist that my clients use legal copies of software, and so it’s only fair that I do the same. And the longer I play by this rule, the more I realize I never really needed all of the expensive software I once thought was indispensable.

There is plenty of free software out there that provides a quality alternative to the expensive products many of us can’t live without. I’ve put together a list of my top ten favorite free desktop applications that I use every day. All of them are available on Windows XP and Windows Vista. Though I have provided a direct link to each of these programs, I need to give credit to, a website which lists popular paid software and their free, open source alternatives.

My Top Ten Favorite Free Windows Programs

1. InfraRecorder

(Alternative to Nero Burning ROM) InfraRecorder doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles of Nero, but it makes simple burning tasks simple. It can create data and auto CD’s, data and video DVD’s, and supports the creation and burning of ISO disc images. If you’re a user like me who bought Nero and never burnt anything more complicated than the projects that Nero Express offers, InfraRecorder will more than fit your needs.

2. Crimson Editor

Not so much an alternative to a paid program as it is a free and handy utility for anyone who has to work with text files. It’s quick, and supports source highlighting for a variety of programming languages. I recommend it for anyone who finds themselves opening Notepad or Wordpad on a regular basis, but especially for students who are just learning how to program.

3. Password Safe

If you’re like me, you have a lot of passwords to a lot of different websites; and if you’re like me, you’re also too paranoid to leave them saved in your web browser. I use a program called Password Safe, which saves the website address, username, and password of all my accounts, all in a securely encrypted database that I can carry with me on a thumb drive.

4. Mozilla Firefox

No list of free software would be complete without the Firefox Web Browser. Firefox is faster than Internet Explorer, and historically has been more secure. If you’re tired of your computer filling with spyware and toolbars, start browsing with Firefox instead of Internet Explorer.

5. FileZilla

(Alternative to CuteFTP, WS_FTP) FileZilla is the best thing since sliced bread for anyone forced to deal with FTP uploads and downloads. I use this application constantly at work, where we are required by law to upload reports to the state government, and Window’s default FTP interface is too clunky to reliably get the job done.

6. PDFCreator

(Alternative to Adobe Acrobat) If you need to create PDF’s but don’t need all the features of Adobe Acrobat, PDFCreator is a godsend. This program creates a virtual printer on your computer that allows you to create a PDF document from any program in Windows. When I bill my clients I often email them an invoice in PDF format, and this program is what I use to create them.

7. OpenOffice

(Alternative to Microsoft Office) Open Office is the best alternative to Microsoft Office you’ll find. Though I use Microsoft Office at my regular job (it’s an unavoidable part of our workflow), I use OpenOffice to create and manage my personal and business documents. Personally MS Office is an application I’d be happy to pay for but if you want to save your cash, choose OpenOffice.

8. LogMeIn

(Alternative to Remote Desktop, VNC) Not a free application per se, but a free service you can use to access your computers from any computer on the Internet. I use this to remotely resolve problems for my clients. It has some limitations, so you may eventually consider their paid service.

9. Microsoft Office Accounting 2008

(Alternative to Microsoft Office Accounting Professional, Quickbooks) Microsoft gets a lot of flack for being the “evil empire” of the software world, but they’ve come a long way and have given a lot back to their customers in terms of free software. They have made an Express version of Account 2008 available for free. It has taken me from a loose system of excel spreadsheets to a more organized billing system at zero expense to myself. I highly recommend it to anyone in business for themselves who doesn’t already have an investment made in Quickbooks technology.

10. Quicken Online

Update: Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Quicken Online is free and available anymore.

(Alternative to Quicken, Microsoft Money) Yet another free online service that frees me up from installing more software on my PC. Quicken Online allows me to view and summarize all my bank accounts and automatically downloads a list of my transactions. It shows me an easy-to-understand overview of where my money is going, helps me develop a budget, and tells where I need to cut back to meet that budget.

Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine!

Now that I’ve listed a few of my favorites, leave suggestions on other free programs and services in the comments section!

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