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.
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.
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.
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.
IrfanView is a lightweight image viewer, editor and processor that can batch edit photos with lightning speed and a plethora of keyboard shortcuts.
Bar none ZDNet readers' favorite web browser, the unparalleled versatility and speed of Mozilla's Firefox browser gets better with each release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find Windows files as you type with this aptly-named application, which is a simple, fast file-locator with added integration with FTP servers.
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.
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.
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.
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.