Tech:free software

This article is a list of free-to-use software that students find useful.

Freeware and Open Source software should be listed here. Commercial software can be included too, if it has an unlimited trial period for example.

If you find a free program especially useful and it's not yet included, please add it to the list. Don't forget to provide a link, a brief description and what platforms it works on.

Please feel free to add your own review to the list, if you wish.

Operating Systems

  • Ubuntu. A free, open-source operating system which has gained massive popularity for its simplicity and accessibility. Based on the popular and stable distribution Debian.
  • Linux Mint. A version of Ubuntu which is tailored for ease-of-use and the very best out of the box experience. A guide can be found on the TSR wiki here
  • OpenSuSe. Another very popular Linux distribution, based on the long-standing stable RedHat Linux.

For more information about Linux, try this getting Started Guide

  • FreeBSD. Based on BSD, a reliable and robust OS, it is often described as "the unknown giant among free operating systems."

For more information about FreeBSD, try this tutorial


Web Browsers

  • Firefox. Multi-platform. One of the most popular alternatives to IE. It has a large selection of Extensions and Themes which will alter the functionality and look of the browser. Privacy mode available.
  • Waterfox 64-Bit variant of Firefox.
  • Chrome The Google browser.Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. Shuts down individual tabs to avoid crashes. Currently considered safest because of its sandboxing technique. Privacy mode (avoids adding a website to the history) available.
  • Opera. Multi-platform. A fully-featured web browser, now freeware. One of the oldest, which regularly had a feature first, such as tabbed browsing.
  • Safari. Mac & Windows. Apple's own web browser, now available on Windows too. Not as fully-featured as Opera or Firefox, but fast, stable and good-looking. One special feature is the Private mode, which works similar to Browzar, below.

Email Clients

  • Thunderbird. Multi-platform. Made by the guys who brought you Firefox, Mozilla.
  • Evolution. Linux only. Part of the Gnome Desktop Environment, included with Ubuntu.

Pop-Up/Banner Blocking

Note, most modern browsers include a popup blocking feature although the effectiveness varies.

  • Adblock Plus - Firefox extension.
  • Ad Muncher - Works with most Windows browsers. This shareware, not freeware so you have to pay after the 30 day trial.


HTTP Download Managers

FTP Clients

HTTP Servers

  • Abyss. Multi-platform.
  • Apache. Multi-platform. By far the most popular server on the internet, Apache has a huge range of very configurable features.
  • Sambar All-in one server. Windows & Linux. Sambar includes not only an HTTP webserver but Mail, FTP, IRC and HTTP Proxy servers and many others. Development has been discontinued.
  • Savant. Windows.
  • TinyWeb. Windows. As the name suggests, TinyWeb is really small!
  • XAMPP. Multi-platform. XAMPP contains Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl, phpMyAdmin, an FTP server and more, all in one simple installer
  • LAMP Multi-platform. LAMP contains Apache, MySQL, PHP, Perl as standard. The installation link given provides phpMyAdmin. LAMP is designed specifically for a Linux based system (hence 'L').

FTP Servers

Instant Messaging

The instant messaging world is split between a range of different protocols, which are not usually compatible (though there are exceptions). So if you use WLM but all your friends use AIM, then you'll be a bit left out! The solution is to make sure all your friends use the same protocol, or alternatively use one of the multi-protocol clients below.

Multi-protocol Clients

These clients connect you to a whole range of networks at once using just one program. They usually include all the protocols listed below, plus some more you probably haven't even heard of.

  • Adium. Mac. A multi-protocol IM client based on the same Purple engine as Pidgin, but with a very good Mac interface. Supports extensions and themes to increase functionality.
  • Trillian. Windows. No support for video chat in the free version.
  • Pidgin. Multi-platform.
  • Kopete. Linux (KDE)
  • Meebo. Multi-platform. Meebo is a browser based IM client, so you don't have to install anything to use it. Useful if you're on a computer that won't let you download or install a full client.
  • Digsby. Also includes notifications from social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace.
  • LiveGo. Has Facebook chat, as well as multiple IMs and email from respective clients in the background. Browser based.
Facebook Chat
  • Chit Chat for Facebook. Let's you use Facebook Chat from your desktop. It's Facebook Chat without your web-browser.
  • Windows Live Messenger. Windows. Formerly MSN Messenger, and that's what everyone still calls it. Probably the most popular IM network in the UK.
  • aMSN. Multi-platform. An open-source clone of MSN Messenger.
  • Mercury. Multi-platform. An alternative MSN client built in Java. Mercury has loads of features but it's more of a resource hog and less reliable than, for example, Pidgin-based clients.
  • KMess. Linux (KDE)
  • gtmess Messenger. Linux. Console-based client.
  • Yahoo! Messenger. Multi-platform. Yahoo and MSN are now compatible, so users can chat to contacts from the other network.
  • ICQ. Windows & Mac.
  • AIM. Multi-platform. The official client from AOL.
Google Talk
  • Google Talk. Multi-platform. Sign in using your Google account.
  • Skype. Multi-platform. Skype offers IM and webcam chat as well as VoIP telephoning. Sign up and create a skype account. It is then free to ring any user logged into skype on a computer and costs a little bit to ring normal phones. Other services can be purchased such as a phone number so normal phones can ring you and a voice mail so that if you are not logged then it will record a message, much like an answer machine. It is possible to buy wireless Skype handsets that you can use to phone without a computer. Skype can also be installed on some mobile phones.

Takes up a lot of bandwidth and can be very slow at times. This is coming from a user of a fairly powerful laptop with a good quality web camera - PLCE

I disagree. You can set skype to function entirely as a text-based IM client, which doesn't take up much bandwidth at all. Skype also has the most reliable call quality and low-bandwidth optimised video and voice chat experience I've ever seen. It is very useful for international students. - m.grump


IRC is a bit different to the other protocols listed here, in that conversations mainly take place in chat rooms known as channels, rather than between individuals. IRC can be a bit difficult to get the hang of, but is a great place to find tech help if you know where to ask.

  • mIRC. Windows. By far the most popular IRC client.
  • Tiny IRC. Windows. Limited features, but extremely small.
  • Colloquy. Mac. A shiny & stable Mac IRC client.
  • XChat Linux. The original XChat IRC client for "*nix" based systems.
  • X-Chat Aqua. Mac. A Mac port of the venerable XChat client from UNIX.
  • [1] Windows. A Windows port of the venerable XChat client from UNIX.
  • irssi. Multi platform, but UNIX at heart. A command-line only IRC client, much beloved of geeks. Incredibly configurable and modular.
  • There are IRC extensions for both Firefox and Opera.

Social Networking

  • Facebook
    • A more professional looking social networking site than others, such as MySpace. Emails are now used with the name of yourself and so when some one asks you to be your friend you are greeted with the message "<name> would like to be your friend" instead of on myspace "ZOG3265 would like to be your friend". Useful for connecting with other students at the same University or College.
  • Myspace - Mostly revolves around music and artists.
  • Xanga
  • Bebo
  • Ning Create YOUR OWN social network for anything! -thrax-
  • FriendFeed Aggregate ALL of your social networking news onto one platform. -thrax-
  • Twitter The most popular 'micro-blogging' platform, but really fits under the SocNet category: write one-line updates to your social group...that's it! [Kinda like your facebook status] -thrax-


  • Blogger
    • Can be accessed using a google account. Is free and simple to use however if you really want to be use a custom template like myspace, then you need to know your way around the internet and understand CSS. Apart from that, it has a great auto save feature so that when you are writing a post then if your computer crashes then it doesn't loose all the work that you have typed up. --wizard710
  • createBlog
  • LiveJournal
  • WordPress
  • Tumblr
    • A mix between a traditional blog and micro-blogging (eg Twitter). Provides much opportunity for customisation and multi-media posts. Has quite a community feel too, as you can "follow" other users. And also auto-saves while you are writing the posts in case of a browser crash. --sparklysparkles

Document Processors


These packages contain components for some or all of the individual tasks below.

  • LibreOffice. Multi-platform. Designed to be a free alternative to Microsoft Office. A successor to Many features, though some people find it too similar to Office! LibreOffice contains a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and a vector image processor.
  • Google Docs. Multi-platform. A web-based suite currently offering word processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities. A major advantage is that your documents are saved on Google's servers, meaning you can edit them from any computer on the internet. Documents can be exported in standard Microsoft formats, but quality varies.
  • KOffice. Linux/KDE suite.
  • NeoOffice. Mac. Fork of the OpenOffice.Org project, optimised for Mac.

Word Processors

  • Write
  • Google Docs
  • AbiWord Free word processor, multi-platform. Cosmetically and functionally very similar to MS Word, so therefore very easy to switch to. Supports .doc and .odt files; among others.




  • Adobe PDF Reader. Adobe's free PDF reader which contains limited features.
  • Foxit Reader is very lightweight and may run a lot faster than Adobe Reader.
  • Qiqqa manages your PDF library, OCRs PDFs, and displays PDFs.


Please keep in mind that most LaTeX processors require an underlying TeX system, such as MiKTeX or TeX Live, in order to actually compile LaTeX documents.

  • LyX is a word processor that uses LaTeX to typeset your documents. Cross platform and a must-have if you write lots of equations!
  • USBTex uses a LaTex to typeset your documents like Lyx does, but you can download the file, and just leave it on your USB and use it in any computer without having to reinstall/download all the time. Also, the program looks and is alot better than other LaTex editors.
  • TexMakerX is a powerful IDE with support for such features as inline spell checking, code folding and syntax highlighting.


Image editing/viewing

  • The Gimp. Multi-platform. An open-source alternative to Photoshop.
    • I use this all the time and its brilliant! As professional as freeware gets :D -Choad-
  • IrfanView. Windows. View almost any type of image file ever made.
    • Simple, yet priceless, image viewer. I would be lost without it -PrincessMarisa-
  • Paint.NET An advanced replacement for MS Paint which requires the .NET framework 2.0.
  • Picasa

Vector Image Processors

3D Modeling/Animation


CD/DVD Burning

DVD Ripping

  • DVD Decrypter. A very simple DVD ripper. Allows you to rip to AVI.
  • Mac the Ripper. Mac.
  • Handbrake. A DVD ripper that works both on Mac and Windows. A raft of presets and the ability to customise every option means you can go as complex or as straightforward as you want.
  • DVD Shrink. Windows.

CD Ripping

  • Audiograbber. Windows. (Use with Lame Encoder for best rips.
  • cdex.
  • EAC. EAC is very nearly freeware. The writer of EAC requests a postcard from your hometown as payment for registration, although it is perfectly usable without this. It's the best audio CD ripping software, with the ability to use custom codecs and various other advanced features.
  • FreeRip. Decent ripper for albums (auto searches freedb)
  • iTunes. Mac & Windows. iTunes contains a decent CD ripper, and it searches CDDB to find the track names.
    • For better results on the Mac, try iLAS which uses the higher-quality open-source LAME encoder instead.

Video Playback

A quick mention could be made of Media Player Classic and GOM Player, For those used WMP, the former can be quite familiar to use while GOM is in general a very good media player with a better interface than VLC. - ish90an

  • GOM Player Works quite well with almost any video format and has a slightly nicer interface than VLC. Can also play incomplete video files.
  • VideoLAN Client. Multi-platform. VLC is a simple yet surprisingly powerful video player. Even if nothing else can play it, VLC probably can.
  • Media Player Classic
  • BSPlayer
  • Cygmp
  • DivX
  • MPlayer. Linux/Unix-type operating systems. Will play most media files, capable of using Windows binary codecs. Can play protected DVDs with libdvdcss.
  • Plex. Complete 'Media Centre' application for Mac. Plays almost anything, and especially plays 1080p HD video more smoothly than VLC. Also keeps your movies and TV shows arranged with a shiny interface.

Music Playback

  • Foobar Very *VERY* minimalist, but equally customisable. All sorts can be done to it, but it takes time.
  • Winamp. Windows.
  • iTunes. Mac & Windows. iTunes is typically shiny and intuitive, but it is quite resource-heavy on Windows.
  • XMPlay
    • Plenty of features, skinable and relatively resource friendly make this one my personal favourite. I particularly like the global shortcuts, allowing you to do various things like skip track even when the program is minimised to the system tray. -Choad-
  • Amarok. Linux (KDE).
  • MediaMonkey Windows
  • MPlayer. Linux/Unix-type operating systems. Will play most media files, capable of using Windows binary codecs. Can play protected DVDs with libdvdcss.
  • Songbird. Songbird is an open-source customizable music player that's under active development; it is now a Mozilla project, which should tell you it could well be the firefox of media players. Here's a Songbird Screenshot -thrax-
  • Media Jukebox Windows. A relatively light alternative to iTunes. A smart looking and no-nonsense player.
  • Banshee Linux. A media player similar to iTunes. Very widely used on Linux.
  • music on console Linux. A media player that works directly through the command line interface. Often referred to as MOC. Minimal.
  • Herrie. Multi-platform. A command line interface music player native to Linux. No additional software needed for Mac OSX use. Cygwinneeded for Windows use.
  • MusicBee. Windows. Similar to iTunes, but less memory-intensive, and with integrated, and facilities to get tags and lyrics automatically from Discogs and FreeDB amongst others. Plugins available for things like iPod management.

Music Tools

  • Audacity. Multi-platform.
    • Matches most of the commercial audio editors feature-wise, an absolute must if you do anything with audio - SunburnedCactus
    • I use this to 'mix' music, and it is simply brilliant. In order to export the mixed song to MP3 you need to download a small prog (called LAME library) that allows you to convert your mixes to MP3. 9/10. -uthinkilltellu-
  • Reaper
    • Action packed sequencer with VST support, amazing shareware alternative to Cubase/Sonar/Logic - SunburnedCactus
  • Sonic Visualiser. Linux, Windows, OSX
    • "Sonic Visualiser is an application for viewing and analysing the contents of music audio files."
  • Music Rescue. Mac OS X and Windows
    • Transfers music from iPod back to iTunes or computer after a crash...etc.
  • Lilypond Multi-platform
    • Excellent typesetting program if you can use it, it requires you to type the music in rather than point and click, which is much easier than it sounds.
  • Iripper Windows
    • Transfers music from iPod back to iTunes or your computer. Only 1mb and super quick. Freeware.

Video Tools


  • CCCP The Combined Community Codec Pack combines FFDShow, Haali's splitter, Media Player Classic and a few other things into a simple installer.
  • DivX
  • Perian. Mac. A collection of codecs for Quicktime Player, includes support for WMV, AVI, DivX, XviD and others.
  • FFD Show
  • K Lite
    • Nice Pack that even includes a player, am yet to find a video it can't decode. -PrincessMarisa-
  • MPlayer binary codecs pack (Also useful for xine).


  • Ipodder (freeware for downloading podcasts.)
  • MDB View (view .mdb database files without MS Access)
  • Vob Sub (Subtitle Engine)

Academic Research

  • Qiqqa is free software to help academics manage their research PDFs and ideas. Full-text search all your documents, sync your library between all your devices, tag and annotate your documents, built-in browser for easy downloading and search, support for BibTeX, and more.
  • Zotero is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, cite, and share your research sources. It lives right where you do your work—in the web browser itself.
  • Mendeley "is like iTunes for research papers". Mendeley is a free research management tool for desktop & web.
  • FreeMind is mind-mapping software that can help you collect research artefacts, create outlines, give structure to documents before writing them, or just generally help you organize your work.


Hex Editors

  • HDD Hex Editor
  • XVI32 is a simple hex editor with a few features such as search and replace.
  • 0xED - Mac. Full-featured, with a handy 'visualiser' that tries to show the selected block as various data types.
  • Synalyze It! - Free hex editor for Mac OS X, handles unlimited file sizes, decodes files based on user-defined "grammars".


  • BlueJ Excellent, easy to use, Java IDE for beginners.
  • Eclipse Eclipse has lots of good plugins for many different programming languages, but was designed to be a Java IDE, and an excellent one, although it can be difficult for beginners.
  • NetBeans
    • My Java IDE of choice. The Profiler and Debugger incredibly useful. It has great integration with JEE servers 'out of the box' if you want to make Web applications. It also has a pretty nifty Swing GUI editor. - Baron
Other Languages
  • Game Maker (Easy to learn yet powerful “Game Maker”).



  • Cygwin Windows. Porting software which gives 'a Linux look and feel environment for Windows'.
  • Wine Linux. Porting software which allows some Windows applications to run on Linux. Check the AppDB for more information regarding a specific application.


  • 7-Zip is a multi-format archiver, it supports zip, rar, tarballs, gzip, bzip2 and it's own 7z format. 7-zip can achieve higher compression than WinZip using zip and 7z (LZMA) archives.
  • WinRAR (Note after trial ends the software is still fully functional)
  • The Unarchiver. Mac. Although Mac OS X opens most archives natively, The Unarchiver supports more formats and is more customisable.

File Stuff

Hardware Diagnostics

Portable Applications

Most, if not all, applications and programmes available as portable can be found here. The website is superb for things that you may want/need and can be easily used to search for something you are looking for ~sohanshah

These applications are specially packaged to run off a memory stick or even a CD.

  • FileZilla. FTP Client.
  • FireFTP. FTP Client.
  • GAIM. Multi-protocol instant messaging client.
  • HydraIRC. IRC Client.
  • Mac-on-stick. Run Mac OS Classic 7.0.1 from a USB stick.
  • OpenOffice. Portable office suite
  • Opera USB. Portable web browser
  • Portable Firefox.(Portable web browser with the ability to save your bookmarks, themes, extensions etc between sessions.
  • Portable NVU. A portable web editor package.
  • PStart. A handy tray tool that allows you to launch your portable apps.