10 freeware to boost office productivity

From word processing software to e-mail clients and cloud-sync programs, ZDNet Asia rounds up some popular tools for employees to level up at the workplace.

There's no such thing as a free lunch but there is always freeware and freemium software.

With nations and companies focusing on productivity to increase competitiveness, ZDNet Asia scoured the Web to compile 10 free tools you can consider adding to your repertoire to boost your productivity at work.

Note: All applications listed are for Windows-based systems (sorry, Mac and Linux folks!) but some have Apple Macintosh- or Linux-compatible versions available.

1. LibreOffice
LibreOffice is a free and open source alternative to the Microsoft Office productivity suite. A fork of Oracle-owned OpenOffice, the office suite includes tools similar to Microsoft Office staples such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Visio--known as Writer, Calc, Impress, Base and Draw, respectively.

While LibreOffice promotes itself as a program that has a familiar look and feel to the Microsoft Office Suite, such that those loyal to the latter will find it "easy and painless" to switch to, there are still some things you should take note when using the open source version. Jack Wallen, blogger at ZDNet Asia's sister site TechRepublic, advises users to save files in a format that is readable by Microsoft Office instead of the native LibreOffice format.

2. Mozilla Thunderbird
Thunderbird is an e-mail client by the Mozilla Foundation, the makers of the FireFox browser. Interesting functionalities include tabbed e-mail--similar to tabbed browsing on a browser--and one-click Address Book which simplifies adding a contact into your virtual Rolodex. Similar to Firefox, users can install add-ons to customize their e-mail clients to fit their needs.

3. Dropbox
Those who constantly bring their work home but kick themselves for forgetting the portable USB stick the next day can utilize the power of the cloud. With Dropbox, users can access files anywhere with an Internet connection. Apart from documents, Dropbox allows people to save photos, videos and music.

The service is available for desktop and mobile operating systems--Apple's iOS, Google Android and Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS--and users can sync files across multiple devices. There is also a "public" function for members to share files with non-Dropbox users.

4. Pidgin
Employees whose companies allow instant messaging (IM) may not necessarily use the same IM client to communicate with their friends. Pidgin allows users to combine various accounts--MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, Google Talk or even Facebook Chat--in a single program, and also provides e-mail notification alerts via its interface. The chat log function can be used to locate information from previous IM conversations.

One downside of the program is that users are not able to view emoticons the way they appear on native IM clients.

5. Foxit Reader
Foxit Reader is a lightweight alternative to Adobe Reader. Aside from reading PDF files, the software includes additional functions such as the ability to include comments, fill out forms and convert a document into a text file.

6. Evernote
The note-taking application helps users create notes, save content from Web pages, snapshots and image files, and sync them in the cloud so that users can access the content from anywhere. An interesting feature of Evernote is its optical character recognition functionality which can process images of handwritten notes or photos with text to allow the text inside to be searched.

7. IrfanView
Instead of the resource-intensive Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Paint with limited functionality, try Irfanview for simple viewing and editing of images. The software also allows for batch resizing of images, a useful function for those who need to process many images at a go.

8. Peazip
An alternative to Microsoft Window's default file compressing and extracting functionalities, Peazip is a file compression software which allows you to create and extract compressed files sent by your colleagues and acquaintances. ZDNet Asia's sister site CNET Download noted that Peazip is "very user friendly" and suitable for novices and expert users alike.

9. Tweetdeck
Keep abreast of your social media contacts, news on Twitter and mentions of your company on public social networks with Tweetdeck. The social content aggregator which was bought by Twitter back in May allows users to manage multiple accounts--including Facebook, Google Buzz and Foursquare--track trends, monitor keywords and reply direct messages all in one easy-to-use interface.

10. Browsers
With the rise of Web-based apps, the Web browser is perhaps the most important--and most overlooked--tool for office warriors. More importantly, users do not have to stick to a single browser and can consider using more than one at the same time as each has its advantages. The most popular browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera Web browser. For users who use multiple desktop systems, the bookmark sync function in most modern browsers is very useful.

What are the essential freeware in your office? Share them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.