ZDNet Readers' Choice: Top 25 free, lightweight apps

ZDNet Readers' Choice: Top 25 free, lightweight apps

Summary: In February, I asked ZDNet readers for the free, lightweight applications they simply can't live without. After tallying the suggestions in the comments and via e-mail -- and there were an awful lot of good suggestions, believe me -- here are the 25 most popular.


In February, I asked ZDNet readers for the free, lightweight applications they simply can't live without. After tallying the suggestions in the comments and via e-mail -- and there were an awful lot of good suggestions, believe me -- here are the 25 most popular.

Editor's note: Don't see a download for your operating system? Use the official site link.

1.) VLC

By far the most recommended application, VLC is the Swiss Army knife of media players: it will play pretty much any file type you throw at it, as well as rip CDs and DVDs, convert video files to iPod-friendly formats and stream media to other computers.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

2.) FoxIt Reader

FoxIt Reader is a small, fast PDF reader that conveniently replaces Adobe Reader on Windows, Windows Mobile, Linux and more. There are no splash windows at startup, and the app features annotation as well as PDF-to-text conversion.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Windows Mobile] [official site]

3.) Pidgin & Adium

Pidgin and Adium are fraternal twin brother instant messaging clients on separate platforms: Pidgin for Windows (Mac, Ubuntu, etc.), Adium for Mac. ZDNet readers love their multi-protocol nature (AIM, Yahoo!, gTalk, ICQ, etc.) and light, ad-free footprint.

[ZDNet download: Windows: Pidgin] [official site: Pidgin] [ZDNet download: Mac: Adium] [official site: Adium]

4.) IrfanView

IrfanView is a lightweight image viewer, editor and processor that can batch edit photos with lightning speed and a plethora of keyboard shortcuts.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

5.) Firefox

Bar none ZDNet readers' favorite web browser, the unparalleled versatility and speed of Mozilla's Firefox browser gets better with each release.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

Go to the next page »

6.) 7-Zip

This highly-recommended open-source app is ZDNet readers' favorite for archiving files. Extract and zip files of various formats, including .zip and .rar files.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

7.) Opera

Behind Mozilla Firefox stands Opera, another speedy standout web browser that many would argue doesn't get enough proper attention. With added security and plenty of handy shortcuts, Opera is a lightweight browser of choice.

[ZDNet download: Windows] {ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

8.) Revo Uninstaller

When installed programs just won't get the heck off your system, it's not the Ghostbusters you call -- it's Revo Uninstaller. With a slick interface, Revo makes stopping startup programs, removing installed programs and permanent file deletion easy.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

9.) Evernote

Like to take notes but can't keep track of all of them? Evernote solves your problem by capturing, storing and managing your data across platforms -- from your desktop PC to various mobile devices, including the iPhone, Palm Pre, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile devices.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

10.) Notepad++

Evident in its name, Notepad++ was designed to replace Notepad with a more robust feature set for source code editing. It manages to do so by supporting several coding languages (C, C++, Java, HTML, XML, PHP, CSS, Flash ActionScript, etc.) and offering syntax highlighting.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

Go to the next page »

11.) CCleaner

ZDNet readers' most popular registry and browser cleaner, program uninstaller and startup folder editor multitool by far, CCleaner gets the job done quickly, with a tiny footprint and ongoing updates to keep things fresh.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

12.) Skype

The application that brought voice-over-IP, or VoIP, to the masses, Skype remains the most popular and versatile phone and videoconferencing tool out there -- especially for intercontinental communication. It's available for Windows, Mac, Linux and several mobile phones, including the iPhone, Windows Mobile, Nokia and even PSP.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

13.) InfraRecorder

When it comes to burning and ripping CDs and DVDs, plenty of ZDNet readers prefer InfraRecorder, an open source app for Windows that can handle ISO, BIN/CUE, dual-layer DVDs and four methods of erasing discs.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

14.) TextPad & Smultron

TextPad for Windows and Smultron for Mac achieve similar goals on separate platforms: both programs are robust code-editing tools with syntax markup and a wealth of useful tools and shortcuts. Naturally, both are beloved by developers.

[ZDNet download: TextPad] [official site] [ZDNet download: Smultron] [official site]

15.) CutePDF Writer

ZDNet readers who don't have Adobe Acrobat prefer CutePDF Writer, a Windows-based PDF creation tool intended to help users who need to create PDFs from pretty much anything.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

Go to the next page »

16.) FileZilla

Users looking for a free FTP program turn to FileZilla, an open source app that is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and offers a fairly robust feature set (IPv6, resume files, drag and drop, transfer speed limits, etc.).

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

17.) Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

It's not easy to find a lightweight way to scan your computer for files from the dark side of the 'Net, but Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware does the trick quite nicely. A scan will take less than 10 minutes, preventing your productivity from grinding to a halt.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

18.) Audacity

You can do a surprising amount of audio editing with the free (albeit slightly finnicky) Audacity, an open source app that lets you record and edit audio in a multi-track interface. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

[ZDNet download: Mac] [ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

19.) KeepPass

It's not easy to remember the 457 passwords you (are supposed to) have, so open source KeePass makes it easy by helping you manage them all securely. Simply remember your master password and you're good to go. It's available officially for Windows with unofficial versions for Mac, Linux and mobile platforms.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

20.) AbiWord

Word processing need not be the chore it often is. With the full-featured AbiWord, your computer will be able to handle Word and Wordperfect files with ease. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download:Mac] [official site]

Go to the next page »

21.) GIMP & Paint.NET

The amazingly full-featured GIMP is the everyman's Adobe Photoshop, and packs a surprising amount of power into a free, open source image editing application. If you're looking for something even lighter, Paint.NET is the way to go, and claims a lot of support from the ZDNet ranks.

[ZDNet download: GIMP: Windows] [ZDNet download: GIMP: Mac] [official site: GIMP] [ZDNet download: Paint.NET] [official site]

22.) Belarc Advisor

Power users who want to know the ins and outs of every piece of hardware and every installed program on their computer would be wise to check out Belarc Advisor, which gives your Windows PC a full system audit in minutes.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

23.) Everything

Find Windows files as you type with this aptly-named application, which is a simple, fast file-locator with added integration with FTP servers.

[download] [official site]

24.) TrueCrypt

TrueCrypt is a free, on-the-fly disk encryption program that ZDNet readers love. From virtual encrypted disks to partition encrypts and automatic settings, this program gets the job done, no questions asked.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [ZDNet download: Mac] [official site]

25.) Launchy

The fastest little Windows application launcher on the planet, Launchy can be summoned with a keystroke and allows you to easily find anything on your computer -- rendering your start menu and desktop icons useless.

[ZDNet download: Windows] [official site]

Honorable Mention: Microsoft Windows Sysinternals Suite

Several readers recommended the Sysinternals Suite, which is a collection of more than 60 individual troubleshooting tools, including Process Explorer, which shows you information about which DLL processes have opened or loaded, and AutoRuns, which shows you what runs automatically at startup and in which order.

[official site/download]

And that's it! Got any more free, lightweight app suggestions? Leave them in the comments.

Download icon at top from White Leopard icon set by DecompositionBeauty.

Go back to the beginning »

Topics: Windows, Apple, Browser, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Missed two but maybe they aren't popular

    If you are including Gimp, then how about Google Apps Picasa. This is an excellent free photo organizing program. Google has even put out a Linux beta of this handy program.


    Google Sketchup - a highly intuitive 3-D Cad program. It's simply awesome...and free. Mac and PC versions but no Linux...yet.

    • he missed google products

      because they are bloated

    • U people

      Why are you all so criticle you always have to pick everything to death.maybe these are old to you but new to others.You always think of yourselves as the center of the universe!there are those of us who may not be so informed because maybe we've had to work most of our lives to put you kids through school and we haven't had the time or resorses to learn what comes naturaly to the young.If you only knew how hard it is to play catchup on 30-40 years of technology!!
  • Tiny tech support app

    I'd vote for TeamViewer, a real small (and free) remote desktop sharing, VPN and file transfer utility.
    • 1

      team viewer is AWESOME and can bypass many proxies and firewall without any extra effort.
  • You forgot edlin

    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    • Haven't given Edlin much though in years...

      ...but sure enough, it's still there. Turns out the NT kernel emulates MSDOS 5.0 for it's CMD.exe. Edlin was a great tool back in the day, but it's rather useless today unless using it on short files names. Seems it never made it to the 32-bit world.
      • Good for Batch files

        I used EDLIN when there wasn't anything else back in the 1980s.

        It retained one advantage over easier editors: For Batch files, one could insert a hard end-of-file marker that prevented extra prompts after the batch ran.
        Seryy Volk
        • Oh yea...

          I remember using it extensively in the day. Starting on a DOS 2.11 based computer. I was one of those that resisted the mouse movement. But yea, Edlin was as useful as QBASIC was later. I believe the two programs are related if I remember, as Edlin was a line based text processor, it was basically a command line interpreter in the way BASIC was. I wrote quite a few near programs in batches. I miss those simpler days sometimes.
      • Wow!

        I never thought I'd hear that again! Edlin, what memories or should I say nightmares?
  • launchy?

    "The fastest little Windows application launcher on the planet, Launchy can be summoned with a keystroke and allows you to easily find anything on your computer ? rendering your start menu and desktop icons useless."

    I doubt it. I've never found search to be replacement for a [b]well designed[/b] application launcher.

    Search is for when you don't know where something is - not for launching something you already know.

    Search is a band-aid for poorly designed application launchers. I can launch stuff faster than I can type the first few letters if the launcher is well designed.
    • launchy is useless

      I don't see how this is ANY faster than simply pressing the start menu button on the keyboard and typing your program name.
      • Don't forget...

        ...about what it's like to use Windows XP.
        • Ah, Yes, Windows XP ...

          Everytime I go back to use it, it feels more and more painful each time to launch an app.

          We'll be upon a new decade in a few months. It's time to move on.
          • No COMPELLING need to move on

            There is no compelling mood to move on from XP. Vista and Vista SP2 (I mean Windows 7) are mainly eye-candy, even though they run a little faster.

            There is no good reason for business (and home users, in particular) to upgrade, unless a particular app or hardware doesn't work under XP.
          • Wrong

            >> There is no compelling mood to move on from

            I take it for granted that you haven't moved on
            to Windows 7 or else you would have spoked

            I have been using XP since it appeared and
            enjoyed it a lot but few weeks ago I switched to
            Windows 7 (64-bit edition) and I won't go back.
            I am using a new computer but friends on mine
            that switched to Windows 7 with older computers
            (like Lenovo ThinkPad T43) also reported a much
            better experience.

            Windows 7 [u]is better[/u] than Windows XP. Try
            it before you judge.
      • Search in general

        Well, search in general is IMHO just not really the best solution.

        Here we were, almost getting to the point of virtually one click application launching. The Start menu is an example: You can pin stuff to it, and it's jut a key press and a click away.

        And I thought that the Start menu would eventually turn into a powerful hierarchical organization tool: If what you had at the root menu wasn't what you were looking for, you would go down into a set of categories and that would help guide you to where you wanted to go.

        Alas, that never materialized. "All Programs" never got organized, and now we're in such a rut we have to resort to searching to find stuff.

        Search is a band-aid. A band-aid that sometimes works, but often doesn't.

        Sometimes you get a new, similarly named application that launches instead of the one you're used to - and now you have to type in a longer phrase to launch what you want.

        Sometimes Search decides to open a search window instead of launching the application.

        Sometimes you forget the name of the application. In that case, search helps, but not always.

        For example, I have an application called "buzzsaw." Wanna guess what it does? How about if I forget its name, what will I do? It's not categorized, and it's not tagged. If I forget its name, searching will not help me.

        So searching in general is IMHO a band-aid to a much larger problem, and nowhere near actually solving the problems with current application launchers.
        • Hiearchies don't work

          No matter how design them they always get bigger as you add things. Eventually they get to the point where some things are buried far away in your hierarchy and you can't remember where it was.

          Search is not a band-aid, it is a supplement for a real issue that only gets worse as new features are added to an already complex system.

          Ordinary folk do not memorize massive hierarchies.

          Regardless, search can be improved with meta data (such as tags and descriptions).
    • Launchy is awsome

      A small, fast and smart launcher that becomes
      effective after few minutes of use. So fast that
      with a couple of keystrokes I can launch any of my
      favorite programs. It is NOT A SEARCH TOOL.

      Really, before writing mis-information, just give
      it a try. It is awesome!
  • RE: ZDNet Readers' Choice: Top 25 free, lightweight apps

    Ad-Aware? Spybot? AVG? Open Office? I don't know if it's cause they're not small enough or what. I know they certainly have never given me any space nor "bloating" issues.