The best free software for your PC

Essential PC programs you should download today

The best free software for your PC

The best software doesn't always come with a price tag attached. There are a host of free PC programs available on the web that can improve the way you work and play.

Plus, you can often unearth programs that will help you solve problems you didn't know you had, improving your PC's overall performance.

What follows is a handy list of what we believe is some of the best free PC software available - some applications you might know, some you might not. But once you've used them, you'll wonder how you ever lived without them. It starts with …

1. Mozilla Firefox 26.0

The best free software for your PC

If you don't like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, it's easy to switch to an alternative. Firefox from Mozilla leads the charge - a fast, flexible web browser that includes tabbed browsing, smart privacy controls, built-in spell checking, and the ability to add a range of plug-ins to extend its already impressive functionality.

The best free software for your PC
Firefox is a fast and flexible alternative to Internet Explorer

2. Adobe Flash Player

The best free software for your PC

Speaking of plug-ins, if you want to get the best web experience, view every website, play games in your web browser and watch videos in Firefox, you're going to need the Adobe Flash Player. This plug-in is an internet essential.

Flash powers most Facebook games, YouTube, and an array of innovative, interactive websites that include WeChooseTheMoon.org (a recreation of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon) and moodstream.gettyimages.com (an interactive mood board from Getty Images). If you're going to have a good time on the web, and experience it to its full potential, you need Adobe Flash.

The best free software for your PC
If you don't have Flash, you're missing out on the best of the internet

3. Google Chrome

The best free software for your PC

The good news for Google Chrome users is that Google's web browser has the Adobe Flash Player baked in as standard. Like Firefox, it offers tabbed browsing, excellent privacy controls and the opportunity to install different extensions from the Chrome Web Store to boost its functionality.

Usefully, if you have a Google account, signing into Google Chrome whenever you use it gives you the option to sync your activity and preferences across multiple devices. Best of all, Chrome is slick, speedy and stable. It might not be as popular as Firefox, but it's catching up fast.

The best free software for your PC
If you sign into Chrome with your Google account, you can handily sync all devices

4. OpenOffice

The best free software for your PC

Microsoft Office is the obvious choice when it comes to business productivity, but its price tag can put some people off. You might think that a free alternative wouldn't be able to match Microsoft's suite for functionality, but OpenOffice can prove you wrong.

Instead of Word and Excel, try Writer and Calc. PowerPoint too has a free equivalent - Impress is ideal for creating multimedia presentations. Of course, there'd be no point in singing OpenOffice's praises if it wasn't compatible with Microsoft Office document formats. It is, enabling you to save out OpenOffice files that can be opened by Office users and vice-versa.

The best free software for your PC
OpenOffice isn't just an alternative to MS Office - it's a match

5. Adobe Reader 11

The best free software for your PC

If you work with documents on a regular basis, you're going to need to open and print PDFs. Adobe Reader 11 is the best way to do exactly that. Adobe created the PDF standard, and so its Reader software is the obvious way to open and view PDFs.

It's also more than just a reader. If PDFs have been created with interactive forms or require digital signatures, Reader enables you to add information to them quickly and easily. Adobe Reader also supports annotations, letting teams discuss edits to PDF documents and mark them up with highlights and sticky notes.

The best free software for your PC
Adobe Reader 11 is the best way to handle PDFs

6. Avira 2014

The best free software for your PC

A PC without anti-virus software is like a car without any doors. Anybody could get in and wreak havoc. The most popular AV products, including McAfee and Norton require you to take out a yearly subscription. But before you do, consider a free alternative like Avira 2014.

This software equips your PC with a layer of key defenses that protect your computer from threats automatically, eliminating harmful viruses and Trojans, blocking sneaky adware, zapping spyware, and even warning you if you visit a website that could infect your system. And yes, it's completely free.

The best free software for your PC
Keep your PC safe from malicious threats with Avira 2014

7. CCleaner 4.09

The best free software for your PC

If Avira 2014 helps you to protect your PC from viruses and unwanted installs, CCleaner 4.09 will help you get rid of anything that has already slipped through. Using a simple interface, CCleaner can be set up to find unnecessary files and unused applications and, with a nod from you, delete them. This frees up space on your PC, cleans up your Registry, and lessens the load on your system. A win-win-win situation.

The best free software for your PC
Tidy up your PC with CCleaner

8. AdwCleaner 3.0

The best free software for your PC

AdwCleaner 3.0 does much the same as CCleaner above, but it's a much simpler application. Set it to search your PC for unused files, rogue installs and unwanted toolbars and it will cut through the clutter like a digital knife, deleting junk data and optimising your PC system.

The best free software for your PC
Simple and quick, AdwCleaner will clear the clutter

9. Free YouTube to MP3 Converter

The best free software for your PC

With all this talk of work and security, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we have no playful software to recommend. The Free YouTube to MP3 Converter does exactly what it says on the tin - takes any YouTube video and extracts the audio track from it, saving it as an MP3 file on your PC's hard disk.

This makes it ideal for grabbing music tracks from videos or stripping out the content from an interview, webinar or TED talk, so you can listen to it later on an MP3 player or smartphone. Handy.

The best free software for your PC
Grab the audio from YouTube videos with this program

10. VLC Media Player

The best free software for your PC

Last, and by no means least, we come to a program that shames Windows Media Player's lack of multimedia mastery. VLC Media Player might not look as pretty, but it can play any video or audio format that you care to throw at it - DivX, H.264, Cinepak, Real Video, MP3, WMA, FLAC, ALAC and many more besides. No need to download extra codecs.

With an array of settings to optimize playback, tweak sound quality, and set up multi-video 'playlists', it's the ultimate media player. Every PC should have one.

The best free software for your PC
Not only is it free, VLC is also one of the very best media players