I’ve always been a huge fan of free software. Not just open source software but even the purely cost-free variety. I love the freedom involved in trying out various different pieces of software either to find the right one for you, or just because you like the process. Very early on, when I first started my adventures on the internet, finding free software was one of my major online pastimes. In those days my favourite haunt was the now defunct Softseek.com. Eventually that site was bought out by ZDnet, and I was forced to set out on my search for greener pastures.
There are hundreds if not thousands of sites that list free software, but there are some I have come to rely on when I am looking for something specific, or just browsing to see what is new and interesting (or old and interesting). Since this has become a bit of a loose science for me, I thought I would share with you the places I visit for my regular free software fix.
A simple site with a single page listing of each category of software. Listings go from the latest entries to older software at the bottom of the page. The great thing here is that you can find some real old gems which might not have been updated for a while but are still great pieces of software. Best of all is that only software without spyware or nag screens are included in this repository. This is always my first stop when looking for a specific type of software.
The mother lode of open source projects on the net, and therefore by default also one of the best repositories of free software. It is true that many of the projects here are not in a mature state of development, and it is also true that these pieces of software are not always as mass-market oriented as other places. But you can’t complain about the variety available or about some of the ambitious things people are pulling off under open source coding practices.
Similar to Sourceforge, but Freshmeat is less of a host and more of a directory of Linux software. Once again most of this is open source and free, and a lot of these have Windows ports as well. Since Linux is commonly used as a server operating system, many of the projects are focused on server scripting rather than end-user utility, but it’s a great place to broaden your free software horizons.
Straight forward and geeky software download repository that keeps track of new versions and allows you to download older versions and newer betas of a lot of the packages. Good and simple organisation into categories makes it very easy to find what you are after. A great resource.
I generally avoid the major commercial free software download sites like the plague, because they are more focused on advertising and less on the utility of the software they offer. While Freewarefiles is one of the most ad-heavy sites on this list, what it lacks in uncluttered simplicity, it makes up for in variety and good organisation. You can truly come across things listed here when you have never heard of, so its always a good haunt when you are casually browsing or exploring your options.
I don’t consider myself a “dull boy” and I am interested in games too. But my taste in games happens to be a bit old school, involving more point-and-click than strafe-and-shoot. No matter what your tastes, however, Gamehippo will have enough free gaming goodies to keep you busy. Nice listings with helpful descriptions and decent screenshots, make this site a great way to find out at leisure what your next time wasting digital pastime is going to be. There are some excellent games hidden in here so look carefully.
Sticking to the gaming theme, and in keeping with my love for old-school gaming, I can’t pass up the opportunity to mention The Underdogs. Not only are these old games with reviews and descriptions and walkthroughs and even downloads in some cases, but these are games that were either unsuccessful at original release or games that have a cult following. Once again, you can browse here for hours reading up on games but do try out some of the well reviewed gems. They are well made, and ridiculously tiny compared to today’s huge downloads. Well worth the effort.
Last, and certainly the least, I would like to leave you with TinyApps. They are free, they are useful, they are tiny. Heck, forget tiny, some of the software linked on this small site is positively microscopic! Head over there and enjoy the nostalgia trip to a time when floppy drives were a viable storage medium, or just go there to find some really quick and useful software.
That covers my regular hot spots for free software. These are what I rely on for enjoyment and utility when I’m looking to tinker with some programmes. There are tons of other sites out there and I’m sure you have your favourites. Share your favourite sources of free software in a comment below and add to the list. The great sites in this list can always use some great company.