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Free Microsoft applications you may have overlooked

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. Originally published as a 10 Things Blog post on October 15, 2009.

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 plug-ins -- 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 a 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. [Update: Web Developer 2010 Express is now available.]

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.

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 to scan 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 a 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 2.1

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 on 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 2.1 is extremely quick and efficient and is a great tool.

8: 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 and easy to use, and it provides the same advanced database engine as the full-fledged editions of SQL Server.

9: ServerQuest II game OK, for the last of these Microsoft freebies, let's take a look at something technologically entertaining. Do you remember playing the vintage computer 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.

45 comments
sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Powertoys, except now I can't find any for Windows 7. Command prompt here (or Powershell here) should be available at the least and then tweakui, then well then any of the rest, but at a minimum these two.

RayG314
RayG314

Also check out Blake Handler's "Road to Know Where" for listings of several HUNDRED free Microsoft applications.

lanzd
lanzd

Visual Web Developer saved my job and the jobs of several others in my department. We were able to create a key performance indicators "Dashboard" in a matter of weeks. The competition in another department wanted hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire contratctors to do the same thing. The economy being the way it is it was a no brainer for upper management. Thank you VWD!

dtaylor
dtaylor

Ok, so you are recycling (content). Could you at least read and update it first. Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition: How about the 2010 version. Windows SteadyState: 3 months until no longer available for download. Office Accounting Express 2009: discontinued last year. Looks like you were desperate to meet a deadline.

rlthomas1
rlthomas1

I use Microsoft Pro Photo Tools pretty extensively and it was not mentioned in the article. It does act a little quirky sometimes, but its great for geotagging photos and editing photo meta data.

Marc Erickson
Marc Erickson

Microsoft has stated it will NOT be supporting Windows 7 on Steady State last I heard - do you know differently?

dpiper
dpiper

Microsoft SharedView, Allows you to share you desktop for presentations, meetings.

sravank
sravank

I use Microsoft Security Essentials, the free anti virus from MS. I'm happy with it. Before I used to be with the paid McAfee Total protection. Now I enjoy more with MSE than the McAfee's. I would say, its worth to list here. --Sravan (twitter.com/SravanG)

dfruk
dfruk

What about a Free Mac Apps you may have overlooked article?

Richard-HK
Richard-HK

From a personal user standpoint, there aren't enough free apps available from Microsoft to offset the latest abusive marketing ploy they seem to have implemented to increase revenue. I recently bought the Home and Student version of Office 2010 for my home computer, mainly for my daughter's use in school. I bought that version because the family only needed Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so saw no reason to pay extra money for a more comprehensive version. When I tried to install the Home and Student version, the install utility defaulted to installing a 30 day trial version of the full Office Professional suite, including overwriting the valid version of Outlook 2007 that I had on the computer. I've been informed by Microsoft Customer Service that I cannot undo the Outlook overwrite and go back to Outlook 2007. So, it appears I'm now forced to pay for an updgrade to Outlook 2010 that I did not intend to buy. Plus, based on a preliminary reading of the instructions for the end of the trial period to activate only the programs I thought I was buying, it could be difficult to avoid being forced to buy a license for the full Office Professional suite. I can see the cost efficiency for Microsoft in selling the progam dvds with all programs in a product suite already loaded, but the activation key should be specific to the programs that are bought or there should be an option to elect out of the trial of the higher priced version, which did not appear when I did the install.

darkstate
darkstate

The microsoft office Accounting has been discontinued "Distribution of Microsoft Office Accounting was discontinued effective November 16, 2009."

gat0rjay
gat0rjay

I clicked on the link for the accounting software and the site informs that it was DISCONTINUED in 2009! Lame.

Slipstream_
Slipstream_

Distribution of Microsoft Office Accounting was discontinued effective November 16, 2009.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

My top freebie has got to be MSE. Small footprint, no 'nag' pop-ups, quiet background updating, efficient protection. The Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool is a self-booting RAM tester.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What is your favorite free Microsoft app? Did you have one that is not on Greg's list?

jeff.franks
jeff.franks

MS has included command prompt here in Explorere. The trick is shift + right-click. You should see it in the expanded list.

rasilon
rasilon

Went to the web page. Here's an "Important Notice": ANNOUNCEMENT: Windows SteadyState will continue to be available for download through December 31, 2010. Support for Windows SteadyState will continue to be available through the Microsoft Knowledge Base portal through June 30, 2011. This announcement does not affect your right to continue to use Windows SteadyState. Looks like another one bites the dust...

kpthottam
kpthottam

This is an old article being recycled and absolutely no effort was made to keep the article in tune with the realities of today !!! Yes the accounting software has been EOL'ed (end of life)

Ron_007
Ron_007

to installing Office, or any other app for that matter. Don't go with the default install, select "Custom". There was a spot in the installation process where you DID HAVE the option to skip the pro trial. The main thing is to carefully read each dialog and prompt. It is too easy to go down the wrong path in the installation tree. Just last week I installed the office 2007 to 2010 "free" upgrade. It went fine, I now have office 2003/2007/2010 (all licensed) running parallel on the same machine. There are 3 important customizations you can specify: - a different location on the HD (I like to add version info) - specify that it not touch old installations or it replace old installations - specify which office apps you will install, or not (such as Outlook), and which elements of each app will be installed Now that you have over-written Outlook you will lose some emails, but since you have backups you can go back and start over.

aureolin
aureolin

I've installed several copies of Office Home and Student 2010, including onto a PC that had Office 2007 Professional, and never ran into this problem. YMMV Steve G.

darkstate
darkstate

I'm guessing you don't regularly backup your machine as you could have just restored. Have you thought about using virtualbox? You can put any test program on that then when you have done using it just delete it and no harm done, and its free. Sorry these ideas come after the fact but hey better late then never.

chasAFD
chasAFD

Great for stitching photos into panoramas

dkyle
dkyle

Well that saved me lots of time ,overlooking some of that software , security essentials works fine ( on a virtual instal win xp ) , virtual pc is ok the rest paaah!!!

miserstat
miserstat

I do feel somewhat ripped off by paying for ONECARE to fund the scanner and we didn?t get the Tools it had; and now the TOOLS in Defender are somewhat unavailable (?) Yea the Security Essentials are Free. Norton & Macafee lookout!

rhuston
rhuston

Small, unobtrusive, reliable - excellent. I dumped Norton for Microsoft Security Essentials on all my machines and all those I support. Paired with SuperAntispyware and Malwarebytes Antimalware, it's very good protection.

BarNoneCS
BarNoneCS

I install this on all my client's PCs when they do not want a full retail solution. It consistently ranks among the top performers... pair or freebie.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

Do you happen to know how to juggle the load order so that WSE loads BEFORE Security Center?

Slayer_
Slayer_

It gets posted once or twice a year I think.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Steadystate is superb. You install steadystate in one pc and you can put this computer to general public. People can do wathever they wants, they can even download problematic software, malware, etc... and after that, you restart and the pc is back in time, no issues!! And you can control lot of stuff (block cd, dvd, usb, software, webpages, etc).

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

I have converted the entire Star Trek series to fit on a 2 gig SD card I can watch them on my ipaq.

ajit19483
ajit19483

I always go for the custom install for any software that I am installing. Particularly those that take up many gigs of space on the HD. This way I can choose what all features to install as well as where to install.

Richard-HK
Richard-HK

Thanks to both Palmetto and darkstate01. Fortunately, do have a backup and can reinstall Outlook 07, even though I'd still consider that an unreasonable demand on my time to have to do just to counter Microsoft's abusive marketing. Had not really thought about the backup, because I was so focused on my irritation at Microsoft. However, if I do either of those and Microsoft Customer Services is correct that Outlook 2010 files are not backward compatible with 2007 version, then still in a situation in which all activity is lost from the time since the install of the Office Pro trial. None of this is a data disaster for me or the family. Was just commenting on my perspective regarding anything free from Microsoft relative to its market and customer abuse for its primary products.

PMBottas
PMBottas

Tell me about it! In the Virtual PC 2007 tout, if you follow the link for the pre-config'd VHDs, under the "Overview" section you'll see that all of the VPC HD images for XP-SP3 expire on 01-Oct-10. This post was "supposedly" written the day before on 30-Sep-10!!

adimauro
adimauro

It must be a repost. Why else would they list Web Developer Express 2008 instead of 2010, SQL Server 2008, instead of R2, and Office Accounting which is now discontinued and unavailable. What a lame list. If you are going to repost it, and least update it...