Updated as I learn more.
- Most free software is actually payment-optional. Please consider contributing if you find something useful. Writing software is surprisingly time-consuming work and the developers could be using that time for paying work if they chose.
- Be careful where you download from. Setting up a site for free downloads is a popular way to distribute viruses. Start your search for a download at the website of the organization that created the software. Or check for review of the download site to see whether they’re legitimate and diligent about checking their stuff.
- Learn how to really use Google search — how to search just a specified site, for instance.
- Your local public library employs reference librarians who adore getting the weird kinds of questions writers need answered.
Finding free software
- LifeHacker & PCWorld
- subscribe to web design ledger – good places to look for things to download.
- How to find free programs that are like paid programs: search the web for “similar to _____”
- Portableapps.com – get mini versions of a lot of these things to run from USB drives. They only have free stuff.
- Twitter – a great marketing tool if you’re a creative person
- Etsy – ebay for crafters (e.com)
- Google Alerts will let you know when someone is copying your stuff without authorization.
- Google Fonts for free fonts.
- Google generally is pretty useful!
Utilities, OS-related software, communications
- Use Wine for running Windows software on Linux.
- Firefox and Chrome are more secure alternative to IE.
- Thunderbird – Better than Outlook Express, less expensive than Outlook.
- Skype – free voice and video over IP, cheap overseas phone calls.
- PDF Xchange – Adobe alternative that’s simple, loads quickly, includes editing functions, and has never had a security hole.
- Process Explorer (Windows) – like the Task Manager but much more thorough.
- TrueCrypt – Encrypt flash drives or your whole disk. Written by extremely paranoid people.
- Get a free antivirus. Microsoft Security Essentials <– is good enough, says our security expert. AVG, Avira and Avast. For the Mac, ClamAV is ok but not great. This is a fast-changing landscape so search for latest reviews of free virus checkers.
- Firewalls: all the free ones are linux-based and industrial quality. I’ve heard good things about ZoneAlarm.
- Password managers: LastPass is cloud based, uses master password. Highly secure. The people running the site can’t access your passwords (assuming you choose a decent master password).
- Non-cloud based password manager: Keypass.
File sharing, backup, synchronization
- Google Documents – for sharing, collaboration in real time.
- SugarSync – Automatically sync selected folders between multiple computers; access your files from anywhere online.
- DropBox – free backup. If you recommend someone you get more free space. 2GB to start.
- CrashPlan free version – exchange codes with someone else and back up each other’s computers, encrypted backups, to have a secure offsite backup.
- Toucan – for backup (one click backup solution).
- If you use Windows, your free “OneDrive” storage is not only an automatic backup that lets you edit files on multiple devices via automatic sync, but also lets you share selected files by emailing a secret URL link.
Word processing and other MS-office like applications
- LibreOffice – Your main alternative to MS Office. The earlier versions were a bit feature-poor but the more recent releases are pretty good even with MS word docs, and the UI is cleaner.
Storyboarding, plotting, note-keeping
- Storyist (for Mac only?) to keep track of notes about a story.
- YWriter for windows. Haven’t tried it; best free alternative to Scrivener.
- Evernote – Quick notes and screen shots. Categorize, search. store audio clips, search text from screen shots, very versatile. Synchronizes automatically to the cloud and to other computers. Access your data from any web browser or smartphone.
- Celtx – for film scripting, also for organizing characters and locations for novel writing
- Kindle book maker to make a Kindle file.
- then use Calibre – Turn your kindle book into other e-reader compatible formats
- Or just upload your .doc file to Smashwords. Having done this, I would add, you must use MS Word, and it’s still a pain in the butt.
- Gimp – Turn on the single-window mode, unless you have multiple monitors and want to take advantage of all your monitor space. A reasonably good free alternative to PhotoPaint. There are a few simple things that seem to be ridiculously hard, like drawing a circle. YouTube has great demos.
- There are also various sites that let you upload your image to a website and work on it online (good for quick photo editing, etc).
- SketchUp – CAD software.
- inkscape – vector graphics, better than OpenOffice/LibreOffice, not quite to professional level.
- Audacity – Recording and audio editing. Any number of tracks, nice filtering functions. There are numerous plugins for additional filtering functions.
- “Garage Band” software for Mac is a nice virtual recording studio.
- For MIDI composition: Rosegarden (Linux only)
Free music, audiobooks, etc
- Pandora.com free music
- Grooveshark – ditto.
- Hulu for free TV
- Archive.org – movies, all public domain.
Free clipart and photos
- Library of congress has public domain photos
- Any image captured by a government employee on duty is public domain.
- Flickr – “creative commons” images. Please note: it generally matters whether it’s a commercial or personal use. If you’re making money from their work, people generally expect (and deserve!) to be paid.
- Google image search has a filter by license option. Don’t rely just on this, but read what it says about the image on the site where it was found. Especially, know that the filter doesn’t apply to “related images”.
- StockExchange – photos and vector art.
- Wikimedia commons.
- VLC DVD player – videoland.org
- Videopad – video editing software.
- Lightworks – professional grade video app, now open source in beta (Windows only)
- WinMerge – I’ve used this for years; it’s a great way to compare and resolve differences between two text files. I’m told it works for Word docs also but I haven’t tested this.
- notepad++ – a code editor with highlighting. Very nice.