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Free Office Software Word, PowerPoint, Excel & others

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He could've got it free...The open source movement means there's now more top quality, legit free software floating around the web than ever.

We've cherrypicked some of the best free downloads for PCs and Macs (and a few for Linux), to help you completely kit out your computer for nowt.

Always check any software you put on your computer's suitable and compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any problems caused from acting upon the info given.

How can it be free?

Free software falls into two categories: promotional freebies and software developed to help people fight back against big software providers. The latter category has grown hugely as more people have embraced open source projects, where the building blocks - big chunks of code - are free for everybody to adapt and improve.

If you've ever typed "Microsoft Word, free download" or "Microsoft Powerpoint, free download" into Google and been baffled by the results, then this guide shows clearly where you'll get equivalents of both for zilch.

Click the categories below to read more about the types of free software available.

Free software as a commercial giveaway

Open source software

Freeware and shareware

The BIG software directory

Here's a list of all the top free software for PCs, Macs and Linux, sorted by category.

Office suite alternatives - downloads

Microsoft's Office 2010 office suite is a costly proposition, with the Pro version costing £190 even where you can get it cheaply. Yet you can furnish your machine with equivalents to most of its applications for nothing, thanks to open source alternatives.

Open Office

LibreOffice: Just like MS Office

LibreOffice is an open source project which includes six word-processing programs. It's compatible with many Microsoft documents.

The newest version, 4.2.2 is now out, and it looks and feel much more like its Microsoft counterparts. The programs included in LibreOffice are:

Writer: A word processor, its equivalent of Microsoft Word.
Calc: A spreadsheet program, its equivalent of Excel.
Impress: Presentation software, its equivalent of Microsoft PowerPoint.
Base: A database, its equivalent of Microsoft Access.
Draw: A design program, especially useful for flowcharts.
Math: A simple tool for equations.

Combined, they make for a powerful suite of programs. It also works with Microsoft's "docx" standard, which most free office software isn't compatible with.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Oxygen Office

OxygenOffice: OpenOffice with extras

Based on OpenOffice's source code and similar to LibreOffice, OxygenOffice adds a wealth of templates, clip art and photos. In fact, over 3,400 graphics are included, and you also get 90 new fonts and a more detailed help guide. For some people, these extra features will seem like unnecessary bloat, but if you'll use them, it's well worth considering.

Be aware though that, unless you have a decent broadband connection, it's a big file (355MB) and could take a long time to download, and eat heavily into your download allowance.

If it's right for you, click the link above, the scroll down and look for 'see your downloads'.

Download: Windows Linux

Office suite alternatives - online

The alternative to downloading an office suite is to use one of the many online options. With these, there's no installation to worry about, you can store your work online, and easily collaborate with others. The obvious flipside is you must be online for them to work.

Here are the best:

MS Office Web Apps

Microsoft Office Web Apps: Online MS programs

Microsoft's stripped-down Office Web Apps include Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Anyone with a free Windows Live account can use them, along with 7GB of storage on the SkyDrive back-up service, which you can use to store documents.

If you're used to the Microsoft packages, they're worth a try, but bear in mind these are hobbled versions of the software. After all, Microsoft doesn't want to cannibalise its profitable business of selling the full versions of Office.

ThinkFree

ThinkFree: 100% compatible with MS Office

ThinkFree is a free online suite which bears a striking resemblance to the official Microsoft software.

It's received glowing reviews all round. It includes the equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, looks pretty, and most importantly for an online suite, is responsive and simple to navigate.

It also holds a trump card in the way it hides your web browser window when in use, so you can use regular keyboard shortcuts to control it without upsetting your browser. Neat.

You also get 1GB of cloud space free per account (if you need more, see our Free Online Storage Services guide).

Try it: ThinkFree
Zoho

Zoho Office Suite: Ideal for simple tasks

This basic-but-superfast package is fine for simple tasks, but if you're going to need advanced features it's best to look elsewhere. It's largely aimed to help directors of small businesses who need to use various applications.

While it offers a wider range of applications than ThinkFree, they aren't as detailed. Zoho stores all your documents in its free online storage space, and allows you to share them with (member) friends via email invitations.

Try it: Zoho
Google Docs

Google Docs: Good for file collaboration

This service has more of an emphasis on collaboration than the other two. You can select a few people to work with you on the same document, and they can all see it and make changes in real time. You'll need to create a free account to use it.

It includes plenty of useful document, spreadsheet, and presentation templates which you can use to get going. You can even set-up offline access when using Chrome.

It's also the most web-oriented, since if you publish one of your Google Docs, you can use all manner of Google's whizzy analytics tools to track its progress too. Google Docs works in conjunction with Google Drive, so you'll have 15GB of free storage (if you need more, see our Free Online Storage Services guide).

Try it: Google Docs

Power up your PC (or Mac)

The longer you use any computer for, the slower it'll get, since operating systems leave a trail of hard drive-clogging mess behind. Thankfully, there are plenty of freeware to help you spring clean your PC, keeping it powerful.

Double-check it's suitable for your system before downloading.

CCleaner

CCleaner: Dump the junk

This super-fast program cleans up unused files in around a second, getting rid of all the crap (that's what the first "c" stands for - honest) as it goes. CCleaner doesn't run all the time; just have it give your machine a quick spruce-up each week to keep it shipshape.

Download: Windows Mac OSX
Ultimate Windows Tweaker

Ultimate Windows Tweaker: Vista & 7 only

Allows you to control all your Windows settings in one place, letting you customise your computer's interface as much or little as you want.

Great for those that like modifying their software, but aren't into coding.

Download: Windows
Defraggler

Defraggler: Speed up your hard drive

From Piriform, the same stable as CCleaner, Defraggler is a defragmenting tool. Fragments are made when your computer splits up files because there's not enough space in the place they were originally saved. It has a significant effect on performance, since when re-opening these files, your PC has to find two (or more) pieces instead of one. Defragmenters join the pieces together again, thus speeding up the computer.

Windows has its own Disk Defragmenter, which can be found in the System Tools menu, but it takes ages, as it'll only go through your entire hard disk at one go. Defraggler can be used to do the job on a smaller scale: just choose the files and it'll process them in a few seconds.

Download: Windows
Stuffit expander

StuffIt Expander: Compression tool for Macs

While OSX is perfectly capable of packing/unpacking .zip files, if you want to open or use the wealth of other compressed file types out there, you'll need a third-party expander.

Smith Micro's free version of StuffIt fills this void perfectly, and offers a simple drag-and-drop interface which works just as well as any paid-for version, so you can focus on more exciting things, like, erm, anything.

Download: Mac OSX
Quicksilver

Quicksilver: Speed up your Mac's productivity

If you've got the time to learn it, Quicksilver is a clever productivity tool which'll allow you to launch applications, files and folders without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Many more advanced features mean it can totally change the way you use your computer for the better (and faster), and plug-ins extend its capability yet further. Read Lifehacker's Beginners' Guide to see if it's for you.

Download: Mac OSX
Supercal

SuperCal: Improve your Mac's display for free

It's worth trying out SuperCal even if you think your display looks fine. It's a display calibrator which can clean up the image you see on screen by tailoring your computer's output to the characteristics of the monitor you're using.

The results should be better tonal colour gradients, clearer text, and better long-term eyesight for you.

Download: Mac OSX

Utilities - ONLINE

Zamzar

Zamzar: Free file converter

This is a nifty, user-friendly site which can convert over 100 types of media file formats between each other. So, if you've a CV document from Word, and you'd like to make it a PDF instead, you simply put in your email address, upload the file to convert, and choose ".PDF" in the drop-down box.

Zamzar will do the hard work, and then email you a link to download the new file. One thing though, since it stores your files online before conversion, it's not advisable to use it to convert sensitive documents.

For non-paying users, you can upload a maximum of 100MB of data split between up to five different files. But if you sign up for an account you can upload files up to 1GB in size.

Try it: Zamzar

Image & Photo Editing - downloads

Go top end on graphics software and you can easily spend £1,000s, so it's good to see that capable freebie programs exist. As the majority of photos are now digital, there are some great free photo editing programs emerging too, both to download or use online.

Paint.NET

Paint.net: Probably all you'll need

The beauty of basic-yet-surprisingly-powerful Paint.net is if you've used the simple Paint program that comes with Windows, then you'll be able to navigate it with no problems.

It's the most straightforward program to use for basic image cropping and editing, and will optimise images for quick loading on the web too. In short, if you only need the basics, Paint.net should be your first port of call.

Download: Windows
The Gimp

The Gimp: Advanced image editing

If you're looking for a Photoshop equivalent, oddly-named The Gimp is probably the closest you'll get.

Now in version 2.8.10, it offers powerful editing and filtering tools for photos and graphics, and is further boosted by a range of free add-ons.

For an insight into its capabilities and how it works, check out the screenshots hosted on its site.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Inkscape

Inkscape: Fun with vectors

Inkscape is a free program similar in operation to Adobe Illustrator or Corel Xara.

It's made for building "scalable vector graphics" - the ones which remain perfectly sharp no matter how much you zoom in or out, making them ideal for serious design work.

Download: Windows Linux
Google Sketchup

Google Sketchup: Simple 3D modelling

If you're planning an extension to your house, or are simply redecorating, Google's free Sketchup tool makes it relatively easy to build an accurate 3D model to work from.

There are plenty of video tutorials to set you on the right track. Once you've used it a few times, you'll be impressing everybody with your designs.

Download: Windows Mac OSX
AutoCAD

Pro AutoDesk software: Free for students

Students can get AutoDesk's computer-aided design software free for three years simply by registering.

The package includes over 40 AutoDesk products, including AutoCAD which retails at over £5,000! These are the most common computer aided design packages in almost all design, mechanical and engineering industries and are used in everything from mechanical engineering design to urban planning.

You get full functionality for three years, provided it's not used for commercial purposes.

Any student or teacher with an ac.uk email address can sign up to the AutoDesk Education Community where you download the software, as well as access forums, support and content sharing. It doesn't matter if you are part-time or about to graduate.

Please note, some of this software will come with built-in features to prevent its use commercially, such as a stamp on any printouts.

Download: Windows Mac OSX

Image & Photo editing - online

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Live photo gallery: Photo organiser

Photo Gallery, part of Microsoft's SkyDrive suite, is an application for photo storage and online editing. It's very similar in use to Google's Picasa below, but seems notably faster and adds a couple of extra features.

Which you choose is likely to depend mostly on whether you've a Hotmail or Gmail account, and which behemoth's products you like most.

See the Free Online Storage Services guide for more info on SkyDrive.

Google Picasa

Picasa: The Google equivalent

Google's photo organiser, Picasa, also offers a wealth of photo editing, storage and back-up options, and makes navigating ill-organised photos scattered around your computer more straightforward than the Live offering above.

It can be used in conjunction with Google Drive. See the Free Online Storage Services guide for more info on Google Drive.

Try it: Picasa

Desktop publishing - downloads

Page Plus

PagePlus: Easy-to-use DTP

Part of the free suite of Serif programs, PagePlus is the most user-friendly desktop publishing program we've come across, with professional-looking results.

The company hopes that after using it, or the other free applications, you'll spend £20 on the full version, which has extra features.

Download: Windows
Scribus

Scribus: More complex and powerful

An acclaimed open source desktop publishing program, Scribus offers features usually only found on more expensive suites like MS Publisher or InDesign, such as CYMK colour and ICC colour management.

If that means nothing to you, but you want to make a professional magazine, then download this and read some of the detailed free tutorials. Also available for Linux.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux

Audio & video - downloads

As well as a free sound recording program to banish Windows' Sound Recorder forever, there are ways to organise your MP3 collection, an alternative media player which'll play almost any format, and a clever converter which lets you play any video you like on your iPod.

IMGburn

IMGBurn: Perfect for making DVDs, CDs, etc

If you need to burn disk images on DVDs, Blu-rays and the like but don't want to be besieged by millions of options, IMGBurn is a good bet. Skip its advanced mode and you've a fairly foolproof tool which seldom wastes your CDs.

Warning. Avoid the "express install" option, as users have reported this to also install malware and a toolbar which takes over your browser's default settings.

Download: Windows
Audacity

Audacity: Pro wave editing

Audacity is a proper wave editing and recording program (open source). It lets you record audio, add effects, and even create your own soundscapes from scratch.

It's not the most user-friendly tool, but its power more than makes up for this.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Levelator

Levelator: Podcast powerhouse

Designed for podcasters, the sole purpose of Levelator is to normalise audio files and make them sound crisper. There's no way to change its settings, you just drag audio files into the program and it does its thing, making all but the most appalling recordings listenable.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
MusicBrainz Picard

Picard: Organise pesky "unknown" MP3s

If you've got hundreds of untitled MP3 tracks on your machine, Picard will analyse them and add all the relevant artist/title info for those that match tracks in its database.

It also offers a wealth of other options for keeping your collection organised.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Media Monkey

Media Monkey: Sidestep iTunes

While iTunes is a necessity for most of us, the sheer number of features it now offers means there are far more streamlined music library options available, especially on Windows machines, where iTunes is especially slow.

Media Monkey offers the ability to manage iDevices without iTunes, and some find it far more useful (and less salesy) than Apple's offering.

It's also worth checking out FooBar2000 if you'd rather have a lightweight music library solution.

Download: Windows
VLC Player

VLC: Plays EVERYTHING

Another of the free software greats, VLC Player is the most widely compatible media player available.

It seems no matter how esoteric a music or video format you throw at it is, it's got it covered. Plus, nowadays it's using more and more hardware acceleration to make proceedings more snappy too.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Flip4Mac

Flip4Mac: Upgrade Quicktime on your Mac

Like it or not, if you watch video content online, you'll come across plenty of Windows Media .wmv files, which Quicktime doesn't natively support.

The previous solution was to download Microsoft's basic Windows Media Player for Mac, but thankfully you can now just get Flip4Mac, a plug-in for Quicktime which allows it to play these files.

Download: Mac OSX
Videora

Videora Converter: For video iPodders

Videora converts a range of formats, including the ever-popular DivX, into files playable by iPods and other Apple products, meaning you needn't buy all your video from iTunes after all.

Several versions are available, so make sure you find the right one for your player.

Download: Windows Mac OSX
Handbrake

Handbrake: As above

Like the Videora converter for Windows, in essence Handbrake's a DVD to MP4 converter which makes files playable on a portable media player.

It's better than Videora in its support for the likes of Dolby Digital and multi-track audio, and also runs really rather fast.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux

Audio & Video - Online

AudioTag

AudioTag: Identifies songs

Upload a sample or link to a web-hosted snippet of the song (15 seconds will do), and AudioTag will identify it.

Try it: AudioTag

COMMUNICATION TOOLS

As well as those you'd expect, like Skype, there are a number of communication tools which bring all your disparate instant messaging accounts together, and some sharing apps too.

Skype

Skype

Skype barely needs inclusion here as you probably already have it installed.

There are other VoIP services available which are dedicated to internet calling, and there are certainly cheaper ones for calling landlines and mobiles. But for straight PC-to-PC calls, Skype's still the leader, simply because it's the most popular.

Download: Windows Mac OSX Linux
Trillian

Trillian Astra

Clever tool Trillian allows you to keep track of all your instant messaging and social networking conversations from one centralised location.

It looks like any number of the IM clients you're probably familiar with, and has a straightforward interface, plus all manner of handy features, like instant URL-shortening for Twitter users.

Download: Windows Mac OSX
Adium

Adium

If you're a Mac user and your online social life includes more than one instant messaging program, Adium X's a neat way of combining them all in one easy-to-use window.

It supports AIM, Yahoo!, Facebook and Twitter among others. It's also highly customisable with add-ons aplenty.

Download: Mac OSX

Where to hunt down more free software

This list covers the best all-rounders, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of sites out there with vast databases of free programs.

If you're looking for free antivirus software, read our dedicated Free Antivirus Software guide.

Or, if you're looking for a storage solution, take a read of the Free Online Storage Services guide. Beware though, there are a lot of fakes out there which can download malware and viruses onto your device. Always triple check before downloading.

Also check out the Techie Stuff board, where regulars are keen to help (though remember there are no guarantees they're right). These sites may help too:

Ninite

Ninite

Designed for when you reinstall your operating system and want to get up to speed quickly, Ninite installs a whole range of top free software in one package.

Just go to its site and tick the boxes for the software you want, and it'll install as many or as few as you choose. Everything is neatly categorised, so it's a good place to get the basics together quickly.

Osalt

Osalt

Osalt is a software database with a difference, as it only lists open source equivalents to commercial programs. You just tell it which commercial program you want, and it'll list free programs which are most similar to it.

sourceforge

Sourceforge

Sourceforge is another open source software database - search and it'll hunt through thousands of titles.

download.com

Download.com

Cnet's Download.com hosts practically all the programs listed in this guide, and is certified virus-free. It reviews bigger programs and charts the most popular, so it's well worth a browse.

filehippo

FileHippo

A user-friendly and well-organised site, FileHippo catalogues browsers, firewalls, audio tools, DVD tools and more. It also promises no pop-ups when you visit the site.

snapfiles

SnapFiles

A bit slicker than FileHippo, SnapFiles has the added bonus of user reviews and feedback, though it can be hard to find what you're looking for.

tucows

Tucows

Like Snapfiles, Tucows includes its own and users' ratings and also has sections for Linux and Mac users.

Know of some free software that should be included here?
Please report it in the discussion below, and we'll investigate.
Thanks to all the MoneySavers who've left feedback so far!

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