PC Advisor's favourite free software<.h2>

As PC Advisor's CD editor explained on page 1, we test the software we recommend – and we are highly selective about the programs that make it on to our cover discs. You can grab many items from the internet for free, but they won't come with the sort of assurances you get by loading up the vetted items we give you.

We're not allowed to feature software from some companies – the likes of Microsoft and Google have strict licensing rules. But there are plenty of great programs we can include. Here are some of our favourites:


You shouldn't have too many problems with OpenOffice (OpenOffice review here). This is an alternative to Microsoft Office that doesn't cost a bean. Its components cover the same sort of things you get in a standard version of MS Office, but in less depth.

The OpenOffice community actively encourages user feedback – a willing band of enthusiasts on the associated forums will be only too happy to help with any problems. OpenOffice is less resource-hungry than Office – and less buggy too.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets is useful if you need to work on Office-type documents but haven't got access to a full copy of Office or the like.

The web-based Zoho is less well known, but it's probably the most capable of the free office productivity programs. However, we've yet to see whether web apps will continue to thrive and whether their feature sets will expand to truly take on the desktop-based programs they emulate.

Portable Apps specialises in programs lean enough to fit on and run directly from a USB thumb drive. The advantage here is that you can take your apps with you, along with your settings and preferences, and work on them from any PC.

Office Live is a Microsoft offering worth investigating. It allows you to design and customise your own website, and offers good real-time support. Click here for info on using Microsoft Office Live.


Security software is something you simply can't afford to be without. If you don't want to shell out for commercial programs, there are many freebies to be had. Among these are the respected AVG Antivirus and Avast.

It's vital to keep antivirus and antispyware programs up to date. In the case of the freebies, this often means being proactive and getting the updates yourself.
Zone Alarm is a software firewall that helps prevent web-borne nasties insinuating themselves on your PC. Firewalls look at the traffic coming in to your PC and, crucially, prevent anything that shouldn't be shared from leaving it.

Many experts recommend ZoneAlarm above the Windows Firewall in Windows Vista, especially for blocking outbound traffic. Disable Vista's firewall if using ZoneLabs' product to prevent a conflict.

Check for existing nasties by scanning your PC with Spybot Search & Destroy. As last issue's antispyware round-up discovered, this freebie hasn't kept up with the very latest web threats. In fact, it's a fine illustration of why it's often worth shelling out for commercial programs. Software developers need income in order to offer a good service.

Free software links

See also:


In this month's PC Advisor podcast, we discuss the emergence of 'free laptops', 'free broadband' and 'free software', and check out the best deals available to UK consumers. PLUS: find out why technology vendors are so keen to give their wares away, and learn how to avoid the pitfalls inherent in such freebie deals.