There are countless software tools available on desktop, but finding a secure platform on a tight budget might be a struggle.

We're here to help with this list of software that can help solve your security, productivity, synchronisation, Wi-Fi woes, and other issues - and they're all free.

Read next: Best secure mobile messaging apps

Audio software


Audacity is free and open source software built to record and edit audio files on multiple tracks.

The software is available for Windows, macOS/OS X and Unix-like operating systems. It is able to output the exact audio required for MP3 mode, and is great for post-processing of all types of audio, including podcasts.

Another free audio offering is Ocenaudio, which is easy to use with added real-time previews of audio across all desktop operating systems.

It is a good option for podcast recorders and musicians in search of easy software.

Ebooks


Kindle Cloud Reader is a very popular piece of software for ebook readers. It is available on multiple apps, platforms and also internet browser and all you have to do is buy an ebook from Amazon.

Users can read the book from multiple devices, and it's particularly handy when you're travelling with your laptop.

Messaging


WhatsApp is a free messaging software app that can be used by people worldwide. It provides end-to-end encryption and group chat features for over 250 people, document sharing, voice and video calls and more.

Telegram is another messaging option, which also includes an ecosystem of apps. Similarly to WhatsApp, it also provides end-to-end encryption and enables users to create broadcast channels of up to 5000 people.

PDF editors


AbleWord is a free word processor that offers a PDF editor, a handy feature for viewing and editing PDF files.

To edit a scanned PDF, however, AbleWord recommends downloading the FreeOCR software to make the editing process a lot easier. The user interface is very similar to Microsoft Office and is available on Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and all later versions.

Other options for free PDF editors include PDF-XChange, DocHub.and Foxit Reader.

Password manager


LastPass offers a free cloud-based password manager to securely store passwords when logging into online accounts.

It also provides personal information storage and an option to share passwords with family members or work colleagues that may need to access your account.

Dashlane is also another option, although the free service is limited to one device, with the premium package costing $3.33 (£3) a month plus a VPN bundled in too.

AdBlocker


AdBlocker Ultimate is a free AdBlocker that completely blocks all adverts that completely blocks out all adverts that could pop-up when browsing the internet.

There are no whitelisted websites or adverts, so users can ensure that all adverts are completely blocked.

It is available on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Internet Explorer, Safari and Yandex.Browser.

A great alternative is uBlock Origin, which is also free.

Antivirus


Security is essential for every PC, whether for personal or business use. As the saying goes, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Although it may not solve every security issue bound to pop up on your laptop, having an Antivirus installed will make a significant difference. You do not always need to spend a lot on it as there are various Antivirus software tools available for free.

We like Avast free Antivirus, available for Windows, Mac and Android laptops. Other high-end alternatives include Bitdefender, KasperskyAvira and Panda.

For more information on antivirus tools, check out our best anti-ransomware tools.

Photo editors


Whether you are looking for an alternative to Photoshop, or just keen to see what other photo editors are out there to make your pictures look great, you can be sure to find a good tool for free.

There are a variety of photo editor software tools that are compatible with Windows, Max, Linux and Android laptops - some even built solely for specific operating systems.

Here are some we like:

GIMP, a free image editor and Adobe Photoshop Express. For more information see our list of best photo editing software.

Desktop messengers


For those that don't want to constantly send emails back and forth, there are plenty of desktop messaging apps that will make collaborating much easier, whether it be working on a group project or in most cases just general chit-chat.

We like Fleep and MatterMost which provide a free version.

For a more information see: Seven of the best messaging and ChatOps apps for work

VPN


Not just for browsing with autonomy, VPNs can access country-specific content. We think CyberGhost's free service is one worth checking out.

Another VPN service that allows users free access is Browsec. It is praised for its speed and lack of ads. 

TunnelBear VPN provides a private and secure connection to the internet. This is particularly useful when connecting to an open Wi-Fi network, which may include several connections.

It helps to hide your IP address and location so other users and third parties are not able to see it. The VPN also protects all personal information to ensure that hackers on public Wi-Fi, ISPs and other local networks do not have access.

Although the free option is only available for 500MB of data every month, an alternative is to go for the paid package for unlimited data.

Here's a list of the best VPNs on the market.

Media Player


We all want a laptop that can play good quality videos and audio files, but if the pre-installed service on your laptop is not up to par, there are some great downloads out there that provide crisp audio and visual experiences. Here's a few we like:

VLC Media Player, GOM Media Player and Pot Player.

Firewalls


There are countless options to choose from when considering firewall protection. Should you invest in an external firewall, stick with internal or take the plunge with both? We like these ones: 

pfSense (open source), Comodo and ZoneAlarm

For more information see: Which firewall is suitable for you?

Email client


Mailbird is a free desktop email client for Windows and with Mozilla Firefox's Thunderbird no longer being supported, it's probably one of the best.

Mailbird supports Facebook, Dropbox, Google Calendar, Evernote, Google Docs apps as well as three separate email accounts, pretty good for a free service.

Download Mailbird here.

A useful alternative to Mailbird is eM Client, a service that's been around for ten years. It supports Gmail, Exchange, iCloud and Outlook and also includes an integrated chat app.

Download eM Client here.

Internet security


Before you do anything else with your business-focused laptop, you need to secure your machine and your data. It won't by any means solve everything, but ensure you have a robust internet security suite on your system.

We like AVG as it provides a clean user interface and includes real-time security updates, malware protection and alerts for performance issues.

Alternatively, Qihoo 360 is a great (and totally free) option that provides great protection and an overall good performance. Download Qihoo 360 here.

Office


You may legitimately choose to use Google Docs as your office suite, and we can sincerely recommend you check out our page of Google Docs tips should you so decide. But if you wish to stay within Microsoft's world of productivity, you have a choice: subscribe to the online tools, or buy the desktop software. There is much to be said for both, but we recommend at least trying this trial of Microsoft Office 365. It is free, after all. 

If you are looking for an alternative to Office 365, LibreOffice is a great option.

Speed up your PC


Even the most powerful laptop gets the blues, and you want to keep things humming along nicely. It is a moot point as to how much of an impact optimiser software can have, but it makes sense to have a decluttering influence in your software arsenal. Advanced SystemCare from iObit is one such - you can download it here. 

CCleaner is a great alternative to SystemCare. This free download will clean up your PC making its response time faster and the system run smoother. Download CCleaner for free here.

Make calls for free


Communication is key to everything in the business world. If you need to video call, chat or voice call anyone and everyone, Skype is your friend. There are other great options these days, of course, including Google Hangouts. But we recommend installing the free Skype desktop client today

Keeping accounts


Business is business, and the bottom line is the bottom line. But you need to know exactly what that is. There are myriad free accountancy packages  - but we like Wave.

Wave provides free accounting software for over 2 million freelancers and businesses and it won't disappoint. Its design is sleek and easy to use and you'll be able to get accounting, invoicing and receipts all for free as well. Although payroll isn't included, so you'll need to pay extra for that.

File sharing


These days it is most unlikely that you will work from just one device. You need to be able to sync and share files and data across multiple pieces of hardware. SHAREit allows you to do this - it lets you easily share files between Windows PCs and laptops, as well as Android phones and tablets, and iOS devices such as an iPhone or iPad. Download SHAREit here

Send Anywhere is another file sharing download that allows users to share any type and size of file across Andriod, iOs and desktop. It utilises p2p networking in order to bypass cloud storage which increases speed and security. 

Conference calling


Skype is good for peer-to-peer and some group chatting, but where Skype falls down TeamSpeak stands up. Chat online in your own teleconference with this industrial-strength VoIP application. For free. Download TeamSpeak here.

An easy to use alternative is Join.me. This free conference calling download offers free online meetings for both personal and commercial use. Download Join.me for free here.

Creative software


In a creative business, or just the creative one in the team? It is likely that you will need something more flexible than Microsoft Word. Perhaps Adobe's InDesign is overkill, but you can find out by using its free trial. Download InDesign here

A worthy free alternative is Paint.net, users can edit images, add special effects and support a number of layers. Download Paint.net here.

Movie software


Everyone is an auteur these days, as our smartphones make for powerful video cameras. But creating high-class video content is an important part of many businesses. Making all of that footage look professional can be a challenge. Cyberlink PowerDirector meets that challenge. Create video masterpieces from your footage with Cyberlink PowerDirector (free trial here).

A great alternative to Cyberlink PowerDirector is Lightworks - a completely free editing suite - Download Lightworks here.

Synchronisation and backup tools


Paragon Backup & Recovery 16 is a good choice for free backup software. It's comprehensive and comes with a vast array of professional backup and disk management features. (Download it for free here).

SugarSync Free is another great option as it does double duty as a synchronisation tool and as an automated backup program. Exceedingly simple to use, it offers 5GB of free online backup space, takes up little RAM and few system resources, and works with Macs as well as PCs. (Download it here).

Networking tools


Network monitoring tools don't have to cost the earth, and having an app on your laptop will mean you can see how your internet network is doing in real-time and flag up any issue if you have them. 

We like Cacti. This network monitoring software is open source and collects data from your router and switching systems, firewalls and servers, and places all that information into easy to read graphs. 

But if you don't fancy the rough and readiness of an open source software, you might want to try Spiceworks Network Monitor, a free tool designed to provide real-time monitoring and statistics for your servers. You'll be able to check your network's performance and fix problems easily with a setup alert system.