Windows optimize

10 free Microsoft programs worth checking out

If you know where to look, you can find a variety of useful applications - free from Microsoft. Greg Shultz introduces a few of his favorites.

If you know where to look, you can find a variety of useful applications - free from Microsoft. Greg Shultz introduces a few of his favorites.


If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone say, "For all the money I've spent on Microsoft products, they should be giving me free software by now," I'd be rich! Well, unfortunately, that's not going to happen. But Microsoft does have a lot of Windows software that is free for the taking. We're all familiar with the free Windows Live offerings, but that's not all there is. Microsoft has a lot of free software just waiting for you to find it. You just have to know where to look. Here are 10 free programs to get you started.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Paint.NET Paint.NET started as a computer science project at Washington State University. But it was such a good image and photo editing product (as well as an exceptional example of the .NET Framework technology in action), Microsoft hired the two developers, Rick Brewster and Tom Jackson, and has allowed them to continue improving the application and offering it as a free download. Paint.NET has a great user interface (Figure A) and it's easy to use. It provides all the essential image editing features you need, plus layers, special effects, and support for a wide range of image formats. Paint.NET also has quite a following on the Internet, and you can find lots of help, tutorials, and plugins -- and it supports Windows 7! Figure A

Paint.NET has all the image and photo editing features you're likely to need for most tasks. 2: Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition

If you're Web site developer at any level, you need to investigate Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition. This easy-to-learn, easy-to-use development environment makes it a snap for anyone to create Web sites or small applications. Mainly aimed at the amateur or intermediate-level developers, Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition provides professional-level features that will allow you to create a wide variety of Web sites, from the most basic HTML to more advanced ASP.NET pages or SQL Server databases. You can get started by viewing an introductory video that covers the main features of this package and walks you through some of the most common tasks.

3: XML Notepad 2007

If you need a basic, yet powerful XML editor, you'll want to investigate XML Notepad 2007. The user interface features a tree view pane on the left that provides a color-coded view of classes, tags, and values. On the right, the main text editor pane shows all text, which is synchronized and color matched to its associated identifier on the left. You can even customize the colors and choose fonts to your liking. Other features include drag and drop, find and replace, incremental search, instant XML schema validation, a built-in XML Diff tool, and much more. You can learn more about the XML Notepad 2007 Design on MSDN.

4: Virtual PC 2007

Windows 7 supports Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode. However, if you are running Windows Vista or Windows XP, you can still download and use the free Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 package, which will allow you to run multiple operating systems at the same time on the same physical computer. Virtual PC 2007 is easy to install and easy to use.

While you can install your own copies of Windows in Virtual PC 2007, at the time of this writing, Microsoft has several preconfigured VHDs (virtual hard drives) containing sample copies of Windows XP and Windows Vista that you can download and install in Virtual PC 2007 for testing purposes. You can find another Vista evaluation here.

5: WorldWide Telescope The WorldWide Telescope from Microsoft Research offers a rich visualization environment that essentially provides you with a virtual telescope. This package brings together amazing imagery from the Hubble Space Telescope and approximately 10 earthbound telescopes. The images are stitched together seamlessly, allowing you to pan around outer space and zoom as far into any one area as the data will allow. The user interface (Figure B) makes galactic exploration easy, right from your computer. Figure B

The WorldWide Telescope allows you scan the through outer space and focus in on heavenly bodies that interest you. 6: Windows SteadyState

If you support shared-access computers in a public venue, such as classroom/lab, a library, or an Internet cafe, you're definitely a prime candidate for Windows SteadyState. With this package, you can configure and lock down a Windows system to be just the way you want for your public setup. Users can do whatever they need to do, change whatever they want, or even inadvertently crash the system with malware while they're using it. When they are done, you can reset the entire system to be exactly the way that it was the first day you configured it. just as if no one had used it. You can find several demos as well as an FAQ that will help you quickly determine if Windows SteadyState is the tool for your environment.

At the time of this writing, Windows SteadyState supports Windows XP and Windows Vista. Once Windows 7 is out the door, Microsoft should be adding it to the list of supported operating systems.

7: SyncToy 2.0

As its name implies, SyncToy is a synchronization tool designed to assist you in maintaining duplicate copies of files you might keep on a laptop and a desktop or a desktop and a network drive. With the widespread availability of inexpensive external hard disks, SyncToy is also a great backup tool. SyncToy is intuitive and it sports a straightforward user interface. In fact, the first time you use it, the opening screen prompts you to select a pair of folders you want to use and then for simplicity, the folders are designated as the Left Folder and the Right Folder. There are five synchronization methods to choose from, but since there is no built-in scheduling capability, you must perform the operation manually. Even so, SyncToy 2.0 is extremely quick and efficient and is a great tool.

8: Office Accounting Express 2009

Office Accounting Express is an easy-to-use accounting package that has the familiar Microsoft Office interface and is designed to integrate seamlessly with other Office applications. Providing most accounting features a small business might need, such as managing credit cards, bank accounts, payroll, vendors,  invoices, quotes, cash sales, and even built-in PayPal functionality, Office Accounting Express is a great piece of software for business managers.

9: SQL Server Express 2008

SQL Server Express 2008 is a slimmed down version of SQL Server, yet it retains all the powerful SQL database features you need for building Web sites and apps. In fact, there are three versions: Express, Express with Tools, and Express with Advanced Services. It's easy to learn, easy to use, and provides the same advanced database engine as the full fledged editions of SQL Server.

10: ServerQuest II game Okay, for the last of these Microsoft freebies, let take a look at something technologically entertaining. Do you remember playing the vintage computers games King's Quest or Leisure Suit Larry? If so, you should enjoy Microsoft TechNet's ServerQuest II game. It emulates the same sort of pixilated graphics (Figure C) and cheesy humor as those classics, but it's aimed at IT professionals and computer specialists. Figure C

ServerQuest II re-creates the cheesiness of vintage games like King's Quest.

In the game, which is created with Silverlight and runs in your browser, you play an IT pro (either Matt or Alicia) whose objective is to keep the network running smoothly while encountering a host of technical problems that are presented as games and puzzles, ranging from the absurd to things you might encounter in the real life of an IT pro. As you work through the tasks, you'll learn about and use Microsoft technologies to solve problems, encounter hidden Easter Eggs, earn geek points, and get to post your high scores for others to compete against. The game is really very humorous -- and you might even learn some interesting troubleshooting techniques as you play.

What's your favorite Microsoft freebie?

Do you know of other free Microsoft programs? Which ones are your favorites? Join the discussion and share your preferences with other TechRepublic members.


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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

53 comments
ericblissmer
ericblissmer

did MS seriously come up with that stupid game? Wow. Vista at a business, lame interactions and scenarios that are pretty out there. Concept sounded cool, but i'll never get that time back. Maybe cisco /packettracer can team up microsoft, VMware, and gns and create something useful where " IT pros can simulate and virtualize in the cloud" to keep up with everything and have some fun too.

haronaa
haronaa

TRY cnet, THEY HAVE THE OFFICE ACCOUNTING PACKAGE

hclau_my
hclau_my

Hello, The Office accounting is discontinued. Please check MS site. No more download

bhandary
bhandary

Very good tool to create movies with images, sound, transitions, to burn on DVD or project on large screen display. The editing window is at times too small, but maybe that's been redesigned, as it's been a year or so that I've not checked the product.

giorgos67
giorgos67

1) I'm using Clonezilla for partition imaging, but I think it's a bit difficult for new users (since it's text based). The internal windows image backup it's by far more easier (and free) for new users. PS. I'm using the home premium edition and it's included. 2) 2 thumbs up for me too, for windows essentials and firewall. Free and really easy to use.

icedcoke15
icedcoke15

Office Accounting is not free anymore!

roydv
roydv

The versatility of this application is underrated. Being able to identify all the files (with meta-data) on a hard drive and export it into a SQL database for analysis has proven its worth many times over. Similarly importing log data into a SQL database where fruitful analysis can be conducted it relatively simple. It's command prompt driven and so more likely to appeal to the more technically driven. A great tool.

housknecht
housknecht

This is from Micosoft re: the Office Accounting app: Important notice: Microsoft? Office Accounting will no longer be distributed after November 16, 2009. We would like to thank the many dedicated users and partners who have been enthusiastic supporters of Microsoft Office Accounting over the years.

RayG314
RayG314

Not to diminish either your contributions, or those of others in the discussion, but I also wanted to suggest Blake Handler's "RoadtoKnowWhere" that are extensive lists of Microsoft freebies, but without the expert assessments that you provide. And I have found the Windows Live Essentials may also be worth peoples' consideration.

opyner
opyner

SteadyState worth what you pay for it. You can't manage it in a domain environment, and Windows Disk Protection is a joke. It's glacially slow, and has corrupted too many of our hard drives to be worth it. Faronics DeepFreeze is a much, much better program.

RayG314
RayG314

I wanted to suggest Outlook Mobile Manager. It forwards "important" messages and calendar alerts to my cellphone.

smoqui
smoqui

MS Accounting is free because it is worthless. It will not import files from other accounting software. To get started you must manually input any previous transactions. Also, the interface is a typical accounting program maze. Quicken may not be perfect, but it is a heck of a lot easier to use than this piece of SH**.

HBE
HBE

Microsoft SharedView is nice, easy and does-what-it-says. Connect with up to 15 people in different locations and get your point across by showing them what's on your screen. Share, review, and update documents with multiple people in real time. A Windows Live ID (Passport, Hotmail, or MSN) is required to start sessions, but not to join sessions.

jeyerly
jeyerly

Don't forget Windows moviemaker

Bristar
Bristar

SharePoint Designer, formerly known as FrontPage, also became a free download as of April 2 of this year.

Darksun45
Darksun45

Another program that I still can't believe is free is Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express. It is quite robust, and with the SharePoint Services 3.0 integrated if you don't yet have a basic intranet, you could in minutes!

JMF667
JMF667

Please do not confuse yourself and your readers by including genuinely free programs from MS and others that are only free for a 60-day trial. Not the same thing at all.

eugenefleming
eugenefleming

Far and away, my favorite Microsoft free program is the PowerPoint Viewer. No everyone has MS Office that included PowerPoint, so this makes it easy for those folks to view my presentations. I usually include it along with Power Point presentations that I send out.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Regarding SteadyState, with a small bit of work [if you know AD well enough], you can lock down a PC quite easily. I did it before. Nothing on the desktop. Nothing in the start menu. Could only log off - not shutdown [you don't want people shutting down a kiosk]. Etc.

---TK---
---TK---

O wait thats not on the list... hm... thinking... Synctoy sounds nice and fun, but I have back up's covered already with a scheduled task. SteadyState also sounds like a fun toy, and I have herd people around here talk about it... But I have yet to toy around with it.. So, I think I'm sticking with my original thought sysinternals is my fav. power toy from MS.

DanielRP
DanielRP

You can get this to automatically sync everything. With the program open, click on Help and then click "Learn how to schedule Synctoy". This provides you with a walkthrough for setting up a Scheduled Task to peform the synchronisation using the SyncToycmd.exe file. ;)

nursetech
nursetech

MS says they no longer distribute Office Accounting as of 11/15/09, I think it was.

duke.url
duke.url

It is a very useful program. Basically, it allows you to pretend that flat files in various formats are actually database tables. Very useful in transforming data to other formats, such as csv and html. You can also get data from Active Directory and event logs. Additionally, LogParser can be instantiated it as a COM object, so that you process the data within a vbScript program. You could probably use it in this way within PowerShell too. The learning curve for LogParser is not a problem; you get good documentation with it.

hug.login
hug.login

You saved me the hassle of installation!

kylehutson
kylehutson

Do you still have to run everything through the demoroniser to get resonable HTML out of the thing?

GreatZen
GreatZen

I use Reader all the time in combination with the basic Microsoft SAM text-to-speech engine to listen to .lit files while driving as if they were books on tape. Unfortunately, some books turn into comedies when rendered in a robot voice that butchers pronunciation and cadence-- especially of names.

NoPro
NoPro

PhotoStory 3. It just works! Putting digital "slides" to music with simple pan and zoom.

HBE
HBE

...and always have been. MS Word Viewer MS Excel Viewer MS Visio Viewer MS Journal Viewer MS Powerpoint Viewer and some more. These all are 100% free - absolutely no trialware or anything. You can read more on the appropriate pages on http://www.microsoft.com/downloads among others. The main application themselves (MS Office ...) are trialware - but those were not mentioned in the original posting.

alexri
alexri

Could you be more specific? The two of which I didn't know if they were actually free I checked, and they seem to be as free as can be. Could you enlighten us with what you found as being 60-day trial?

tomhat9
tomhat9

Why just use a viewer. I know it's not MS, but it's MS compatible, OpenOffice is free and actually lets you modify ppt files as well.

jollyollyman_87
jollyollyman_87

I was hoping TrueSpace might get a mention. MS bought this company a while back and released their flagship product for free. VERY powerful 3D Modelling software. http://www.caligari.com

bdayton
bdayton

One useful piece of software available for free from MS is FixIt. Part of the ATS suite (Automated Trobleshooting System). It can check and fix simple registry errors and settings, install (or re-install) latest MS drivers, and perform many other similar low-level, but useful, tasks. I used it when my computer did not recognise my latest USB device -- it found the right driver and installed it automatically.

willcomp
willcomp

Free Anti-virus and Anti-spyware. So far it looks like a decent solution without the bloat of many such programs.

Bapster
Bapster

Microsoft and Free in the same sentence!

luis
luis

Nothing out there that even comes close.

laserbrian
laserbrian

Visio Viewer lets you open and view a file, but if you want to print (or view) a Visio Document properly, you need to buy the full product.

tomhat9
tomhat9

Was someone putting confusing that with top 10 apps?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'm using at least three of these, and I've never seen an expiration notice. John, exactly which ones are you saying are 60-day trials?

GreatZen
GreatZen

1) The openoffice.org install files are not small. You certainly can't be sending them out as attachments with .ppts you are emailing all over. PowerPoint viewer is 25.8MB while OpenOffice is 150mb. I've never seen a place to download Impress as a stand-alone DL. 2) Openoffice.org is NOT 100% Office compatible. It's not even close. In particular print dimensions almost always get screwed up. I use OpenOffice.org 3.1 as my primary office productivity suite and I almost never open a document that is formatted identically to the MSOffice document. Maybe... one in 50 documents. That includes simple things like short letters, or 5 line spreadsheets.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Sysinternals is STILL free.

viralnexxus
viralnexxus

First off, thanks for these useful tidbits and MS "swag." I also want to thank jollyollyman for mentioning TrueSpace. I had been looking for an affordable Modeler and now I got it; for FREE! ;)

casefiler
casefiler

The DVD-RW drive on my Toshiba laptop suddenly stopped reading, although it would spin up. I scoured the user boards and finally concluded that I'd have to pony up $135 for a replacement drive, then I found one comment that mentioned the Fix It site. I thought, what-the-heck, give it one last shot, and five minutes later the drive was working like new! Still, the experiece left me ambiviant toward MS... they provided the fix, but it was also their softward that broke it in the first place! Anyhow, I recommend Windows users bookmark the Fix It page. You just never know!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

they're more tools than apps. They're great tools, but the apps mentioned here are more productivity or entertainment oriented rather than technician-level tools.

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

Linux, Apple, OS/2, Win98, DOS 6.22, Unix...

Den2010
Den2010

For all the heat that Microsoft receives, it does offer some really neat stuff for free. For instance, Virtual PC (in all versions), as well as the SysInternals programs. On top of that, the Visual Studio Express versions are good entry-level tools for would-be programmers. And finally, despite what so many people say about Microsoft pricing, the company has become successful because it has offered "good-enough" software at a "good-enough" price. Microsoft is not perfect by any means--their licensing policies, for enterprise or corporate users, for instance, are a nightmare for the unititiated. That being said, however, they still manage to deliver the goods. I challenge any ABM (Anything But Microsoft) zealot to name _any_ software company of similar size that doesn't have a vocal body of critics.

kevin.stafferton
kevin.stafferton

I suspect John is confused as he doesn't appear to have noticed the word Express at the end of some of the items in the list. You can get the full versions on 60 day trials but all those listed are the free Express editions.

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

_Not_ because MS owns it. It always was.

TG2
TG2

Just FYI - sysinternals was originally free and *outside* the microsoft totalitarian regime ... its only because they bought out the guys that made the tools that they are now considered "microsoft's sysinternals" programs. You would have been better off refrencing TweakUI, since the people that wrote it were in fact microsoft owned (employeed) already. And the "for all the heat" please make sure you understand, they get the heat because they do some truely mind numbingly stupid stuff, and as the 98th percentile OS leader on PC's, they have more than just a responsibility to their financial stakes, but to the core of which they could not exist without, namely the PC owners. Its not by choice that so many people stick with windows, but by the absense of choice, since there aren't any significant enough competitors to give people real choices that are easily understood or used in today's computer world. Please don't misread that as anti-Linux or *nix ... but the facts are plainly obvious, most people don't run linux or any varient there of, because they can't get over the hurdles of self support and reliance on "open source". Many of these same people are not computer literate enough to make the conscious choice, and even when they are, they usually have to keep some varient of windows available for "compatibility" sake. So ... enough of that belief that microsoft shouldn't be receiving even more heat...