Best Free Software Applications
for Microsoft Windows

It is possible (and easy) to start using free software immediately even if one does not yet have access to Linux. The reason is that there are versions of many of the best free software application programs for use on other operating systems, including the various Microsoft Windows systems. This is largely a result of the fact that the source code for free software is freely available (by definition), which greatly simplifies its modification for use on other operating systems.

The ability to use free software on Microsoft Windows provides several important benefits: (1) It allows Windows users to utilize of some of the best software available. (2) It can help individuals and organizations slash their software expenses. (3) It provides familiarity with programs that are commonly used on Linux and thus helps prepare users for the possibility of an eventual switch to that operating system. (4) It might stimulate users to also switch to a free operating system (e.g., Linux or FreeBSD), and thus reap its benefits in terms of cost, stability, security, etc.

The following are highly regarded free application programs that are available for both Linux and Microsoft Windows in binary form (i.e., already compiled so that they are ready to install) and that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. A more complete list of operating systems for which they are offered in binary form is shown in parenthesis using the following keys: W=Microsoft Windows, A=AIX, B=BSD, C=Cygwin, H=HP-UX, I=IRIX, L=Linux, M=Macintosh, O=OS2, Q=QNX, S=Solaris, T=Tru64, U=general UNIX. Moreover, the availability of the source code for these programs means that it is usually fairly easy to compile them for use on operating systems other than those shown in parenthesis.

AbiWord - a standalone word processing program similar to (and compatible with) Microsoft Word. AbiWord can run on virtually any operating system and is available in many languages. (A, H, L, M, Q, S, T, W)

Apache - the most popular web server on the Internet since April 1996, and currently hosting more than 70 percent of web sites on the Internet. This is truly one of the greatest free software success stories! (B, C,L, O, S, U, W)

Audacity - a sound editing program that can record, replay and mix sounds as well as apply effects using a variety of filters. (L, M, W)

Blender - highly regarded software for three-dimensional modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, interactive creation and playback. (B, L, M, S, W)

Dia - a diagram creation program similar to Microsoft's Visio. It can be used to draw many types of diagrams and has special objects to help draw entity relationship diagrams, UML diagrams, flowcharts, network diagrams and simple circuits. It can load and save diagrams to a custom XML format, export diagrams to EPS or SVG formats and can print diagrams (including those that span multiple pages). (I, L, W)

Firefox - ranked by many as the best major web browser, and far superior to Internet Explorer. Developed by, its most useful features include small size, standards compliance, high speed, tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking. (L, M, W)

GCC - (GNU Compiler Collection) widely regarded as the most important piece of open source software. It contains compilers for the C, C++, Objective C, Fortran, Java and Ada programming languages. DJGPP brings the GCC to the MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows operating systems and provides a complete 32-bit C/C++ development system. (A, B, C, H, I, L, M, O, S, U, W)

The GIMP - a sophisticated image manipulation program similar to Adobe Photoshop, but with a very different user interface and still missing a few of the most advanced professional features. (B, L, M, S, U, W)

ImageMagick - a collection of tools and libraries to read, write, and manipulate images in more than 80 major formats, including TIFF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, PhotoCD and GIF. A high-quality two-dimensional renderer is included, which provides a subset of SVG capabilities. (B, C, L, S, W)

MySQL - the most popular free relational database management system (RDBMS), with more than eight million active installations and tens of thousands of downloads per day. Users include Cisco, Dunn & Bradstreet, Google, Lufthansa, NASA, Sabre Holdings and Yahoo. (A, B, H, I, L, M, Q, S, W)

Open Office - a full-fledged suite of office applications comparable to and compatible with Microsoft Office. Contains word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, equation editing and drawing programs. Among the many features of the word processing program is the ability to convert documents directly into PDF format. (B, L, M, S, W)

Perl - a highly popular, interpreted language optimized for scanning and extracting information from text files and printing reports based on that information. It is also useful for many system management tasks. (A, B, C, H, I, L, M, O, Q, S, T, U, W)

PHP - the premiere server side scripting language for web sites. Among its many features are ease of use and the ability to be embedded directly in HTML code. (I, L, M, O, S, W)

Postgre SQL - an enterprise-class RDBMS that is widely acclaimed as the most advanced of the free databases. (L, W)

Python - an interpreted, interactive, object-oriented programming language which is often compared to Tcl, Perl, Scheme or Java. Python has modules, classes, exceptions and very high level dynamic data typing. (A, L, M, O, Q, W)

QCad - a simple two-dimensional CAD (computer aided drafting) program that allows creation of technical drawings such as plans for buildings, interiors or mechanical parts. No CAD experience is necessary to begin immediately. (L, M, S, W)

SQL Ledger - a double entry accounting system. The assembly feature allows building manufactured goods from parts, services, labor units and assemblies. When the assembly is sold all the accounts linked to the individual parts, services, labor units and assemblies are updated and stock levels adjusted accordingly. Invoices, packing lists, income statements, balance sheets, sales reports, work and purchase orders, statements, receipts and checks are generated from templates and can be changed to suit the requirements of individual businesses. (L, M, U, W)

Tcl - a scripting language for building powerful GUIs (graphical user interfaces), creating multi-threaded applications and developing cross-platform programs. Also featured are ease of learning, rapid development and readiness for the enterprise. (L, S, W)

Thunderbird - an advanced e-mail client developed by Among its many features are advanced spam filtering (including integration with server-side filtering) and a phishing detector to help protect users against e-mail scams. (L, M, W)

Xpdf - a small and efficient viewer for PDF files. The Xpdf project also includes a PDF text extractor, PDF-to-PostScript converter and various other utilities. (L, S, W)

Zope - an application server for building content management systems, intranets, portals and custom applications. It features a transactional object database that can store not only content and custom data, but also dynamic HTML templates, scripts, a search engine, and RDBMS connections and code. It features a strong through-the-web development model that allows the secure updating of web sites from anywhere in the world. (L, S, W)

Created June 22, 2004. Updated February 26, 2006.
Copyright © 2004 - 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.