This week we thought we’d have a look at some of the top FREE software available for your PC.
BACKUP: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free
Computer users should always perform two types of backup: one for files and documents, and the other for the system. EaseUS ToDo Backup Free is reasonably good at both types of backup and is straightforward to use. It can back up everything from selected files and file types to entire partitions or drives and includes cloning tools for upgrading from one drive to another. It provides you with backup scheduling options and support for incremental updates so backups are kept as small and efficient as possible. When restoring data, EaseUS Todo Backup gives a timeline of the date and exact time of backups so you can easily pick a point in time in which to find a backed-up file.
OFFICE SUITE: WPS Office Free
Available completely free of charge (although there are ads associated with certain features), WPS Office includes tools for word processing, presentations and spreadsheets and is fully compatible with Microsoft document formats. It includes hundreds of free fonts and templates and has a clear, easy to use interface. All of the most common tools and options are intuitively placed so you won’t spend ages searching for the setting or tool that you need. It even allows you to convert PDF files into Word format.
PHOTO EDITOR: GIMP
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a brilliant photo editor for Windows. It has many excellent tools that are on a par with those you'd find in premium (and not free!) photo editing software, with more being added all the time. It has just about all the essential photo editing tools, features and commands that most users want: special-effect filters; exposure controls, and colour controls, such as hue/saturation; replace colour, bucket fill, paintbrush, eraser, selection tools, etc.
MEDIA PLAYER: VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player has a simple interface and is compatible with almost all video and audio formats. It supports DVDs & Blu Rays, plus MPEG and DivX streaming and can play videos as they're downloading, so you can watch the beginning of a film and then decide whether it's worth downloading in full. It can also search for album covers and a playlist function allows you to play multiple films one after the other.
Image Editor: Paint.NET
This is an image and photo editing software for PCs running Windows. It has a clean interface with support for layers, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. The program includes everything you would expect to find in an image editing package, but there are plenty of surprises considering that this is free software.
Cloud Storage: Dropbox
Nowadays storing information in “the cloud” is pretty much the norm. Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, which isn’t much, but you can increase it by referring friends and other tasks. Dropbox offers an app for every major device so you can take your files anywhere. It’s also easy to share files with others, and the service has a great interface on the web and desktop. Whether you use it for backup, as a cloud flash drive, or for setting up shared folders with others, you can’t go wrong with Dropbox.
PC Cleaning / Management: CCleaner
Over time, Windows builds up useless files that take up space. CCleaner is our favourite disk cleaner and the foundation to a clean Windows 10 system, but it also has many more useful features inside its toolkit.
Aside from cleaning the caches of all kinds of software, CCleaner lets you easily disable startup programs, find which files are taking up the most space, clean up your messy context menu, and create a quick text file of all installed programs.
Browser: Google Chrome or Vivali
Although Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed on Windows computers, there are several excellent free alternatives which can often be faster, have more options, and in many cases, be more secure than Edge.
Chrome is an extendable, efficient and stable browser that takes up the minimum of screen space. It has many easily obtained and installed extensions as well as support for parental controls. Admittedly it's not brilliant on machines with limited RAM, and because it is developed by Google, you might be uncomfortable with the ways in which your browsing data may be used.
If you haven’t tried Vivaldi, you should give it a go. You might be surprised by how much you love it, as a backup browser if not your main. Since it launched in April 2016, it has grown a great deal and is becoming increasingly popular. It offers great flexibility, and features such as web panels make it attractive as a browser option. However, you may find it a bit slow compared to other browsers and the unfamiliar interface takes a bit of getting used to.
Streaming is a way of watching films and TV via the internet. Although traditionally done on a PC or laptop, you can watch on your normal TV, games console, smartphone or tablet. As long as your broadband is fast enough, why buy the latest Blu-rays or box-sets when you can have them streamed to you instantly. But with so many streaming services available, which should you choose?
Netflix offers more than 3,000 movies and TV shows, with several series, such as House of Cards, being exclusive to Netflix itself. Film-wise, it is mainly back catalogue stuff. If you have a 4K TV, Netflix has a selection of TV shows and movies to watch in this resolution. The Basic Plan (watch on 1 screen, Standard Definition) costs £5.99 a month; £7.49 for the Standard Plan (watch on 2 screens, full HD) and £8.99 for the Premium plan (watch on 4 screens, Ultra High Definition). The first month is free.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is part of a brilliant package – Amazon Prime. For a £79/year subscription you get the full Amazon Prime Instant Video service (members can watch thousands of movies and TV shows at no additional cost), music-streaming, free delivery on on-line purchases, unlimited cloud-based photo storage and a load of books on the Kindle store too. Subscription to Amazon Prime Instant Video alone (a more limited selection of content) costs £5.99 per month. If you don’t want to subscribe at all, it is still possible to rent and buy content - you just pay per film. Prices vary - from £3.49 (SD) and £4.49 (HD) for rental and £9.99 (SD) and £13.99 (HD) to purchase. Amazon, like Netflix, has exclusives, such as the new Jeremy Clarkson car TV show (coming soon).
Now TV is a service offered by Sky for those without a satellite dish or who want something more flexible than a conventional TV package. If it's movies you're after, you certainly can't get much better for the price as it offers 800+ films and up to 16 new ones each month. The picture quality, however, is not good. There are various pricing structures to choose from depending on which package best suits your needs.
Google Play is an Android app that allows you rent movies to stream or download via a web page, Android phone or Android tablet. The app is free and movie rentals start at £1.49. Renting a film is simple: you log in to your Google account which has either credit or a credit card attached, then you just click on Rent and the movie is yours. You have 30 days after making a purchase to watch rented movies. Once you start watching you have 48 hours to finish watching the film although you can watch the film multiple times throughout that period.
But with dozens of music streaming services out there, which one do you choose? Here’s our pick.
APPLE MUSIC launches on 30th June. It will be an app combining a song and music video library and a 24 hour live internet radio station called Beats 1. It draws from two sources - your iTunes library of downloads and ripped CDs and also from the 30 million plus songs available from the iTunes Store. Siri has also been programmed to work with Apple Music.
Approx. £9.99/month (to be confirmed).
Available on: PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, Android phones.
SPOTIFY has 30 million tracks in the library. You'll find many major artists as well as plenty of smaller bands. You can create your own playlists as well as export and share playlists with your friends. It recently rolled out podcasts, videos, news and activity-based playlists. Spotify Running matches music to your running tempo to keep you motivated during your run.
FREE ad-supported service (audio adverts interspersed between songs).
£10/month for Premium service (no ads).
Available on: PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Samsung SmartTV.
DEEZER offers 35 million tracks, Facebook integration, recommendations based on listening habits. A laptop is the best way to use Deezer, although the mobile apps are easy to navigate once you know the layout.
FREE ad-funded service.
£9.99/month (no ads).
£14.99/month for the Elite service.
Available on: PC, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, BlackBerry.
TIDAL offers 25 million tracks, sharing of music as well as offline listening. It’s ideal for anyone who misses CDs and the quality they used to bring. You’ll need a decent set of headphones or expensive audio equipment to make the most of the high-fidelity sound quality.
£9.99/month for Tidal Premium.
£19.99/month for Tidal Hi-Fi (take out the free trial to decide if it’s worth paying for). Available on: PC, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android.
Also worth considering are Google Play All Access and RDIO, both of which give access to over 30 million songs at a reasonable monthly cost.
As all of these services offer free trials, why not sign up for each one consecutively? It'll give you several months of free music, by the end of which you'll know which one is right for you. DO REMEMBER to cancel at the end of each free trial to avoid paying for the next month’s subscription.