Nine must-have freeware apps rise to the top

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

The “best freeware” lists published by Web sites and magazines frequently trumpet dozens of programs, but the results reflect the subjective opinions of just one or two testers.

To find the best of the best, I compared roundupsof “great” freeware conducted recently by four reputable publications to find the programs that were endorsed by at least three of the reviews.

Only a few freebies win multiple accolades

Nearly any free program can impress one or two people, but an application has to be truly worthwhile to pass muster when tested by several different independent organizations.

To reduce the subjectivity of a single software review, I selected the repeat winners from the most recent (or recently updated) “best freeware” lists posted by these sources:

  • “25 Free Downloads You Need Now” from the May 2008 issue of Computer Shopper.
  • “101 Fantastic Freebies” from the May 2008 issue of PC World.
  • “The Best Free Software” from the March 2008 issue of PC Magazine.
  • “46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities,” and “The Extended List — 71 Additional Best-ever Freebies” updated in April and March, respectively, by Gizmo’s Tech Support Alert site. (Note that the extended list is available only to the service’s paid subscribers.)
Security apps and system tools get multiple nods

Despite the hundreds of products covered by the four lists, the overlap is surprisingly small. Only nine products were endorsed by at least three of the publications. I haven’t tested these programs, but Windows Secrets editors are very familiar with them and can state without equivocation that they do indeed belong on this list.

I limited my selection to downloadable software and excluded the best-reviewed online services, which I’ll cover in a future column.

Here’s the consensus of the freeware reviewers:

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-04-24: