The Best Free Software of 2010

1. Ad-Aware Free 8.2
The latest version (8.2) of this venerable tool includes new tech that looks for malware patterns to ID threats, and an ultra-simple mode to automatically handle problems before you need to worry. It’s free for home use; naturally, the Plus and Pro versions throw in extras, but they’ll cost you ($26.95 and $39.95, respectively).
Read PCMag’s review of Ad-Aware Pro 8.1.

2. avast! Free Antivirus 5.0
With a new interface that makes it easier to master, as well as a new heuristic engine for finding trouble on your PC (on top of the usual definitions), this perennial freebie continues to improve. Of course, you can pay to get even more protection via avast! Internet Security.
Read PCMag’s review of avast! Free Antivirus 5.0.

3. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 9.0
This app is better for keeping an already clean system clean rather than rooting out problems (according to our tests), but it excels at that, even when you’re running a Windows system in Safe Mode.
Read PCMag’s review of AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 9.0.

4. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware 1.36
Even other security companies, such as like Norton, use Malwarebytes’ software, probably because it’s fast fast fast at scanning a system for problems. Thankfully, it also does a good job of cleaning up what it finds. Pay for the Pro version to get real-time protection.
Read PCMag’s review of Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware 1.36.

5. Microsoft Security Essentials 1.0
Microsoft realized the dirty truth: Windows is susceptible to viruses! And rather than try to make a buck off this fact, it’s doing the right thing by putting out its own anti-malware for free to the masses. It’s not great protection, but it’s better than nothing. It works great with Windows, of course, in 74 countries and 25 languages.
Read PCMag’s review of Microsoft Security Essentials 1.0.

6. Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0
This is our PCMag Editors’ Choice among free anti-malware software and for good reason. Half the detection action happens in the cloud (AKA, over the Internet) so you’re not downloading over-sized definition files anymore. There’s no update button. It’s also great at finding malware. Security expert Neil J. Rubenking called it “the best free antivirus software available.”
Read PCMag’s review of Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0.

7. ThreatFire 4.5
It’s no longer our Editors’ Choice, but we still like the fact that this heuristics-only anti-malware fighter can work side-by-side with traditional definitions-based virus killers to provide supplemental protection. It’s fast and even removes rootkits.
Read PCMag’s review of ThreatFire 4.5.

8. Trend Micro HouseCall 7.1
Like Panda, Trend is now using a cloud-based database of malware definitions to find problems, and requires no actual installation on your system. It doesn’t run in the background (so no real-time protection), but that also means it’s a great ‘second opinion’ to run along with other anti-malware programs.
Read PCMag’s review of Trend Micro HouseCall 7.1.

9. Launchy 2.1.2
Windows | Mac | Linux
By adding the Mac OS to its lineup, Launchy now can be the ultimate application launcher no matter what your operating system. It helps to know a little bit about what’s under the hood of your OS, but if you do, this nifty and skinnable open-source keystroke launcher can speed up your computing in a big way.

10. ObjectDock 1.9
A favorite that mimics the Mac OS dock within Windows, ObjectDock can take the place of the Taskbar, providing an animated way to interact with program icons.

11. Suite & Platform 1.6
Windows | Portable
It’s kind of a cheat to include this as a program, because is a platform in and of itself; its purpose is to put all of your favorite open-source programs (many of which are in this story) on a USB flash drive, so you can use them at any PC. Think of it as putting your whole computer in your pocket, with providing the backbone for launching them from a pop-up menu.
Read more about in The Ultimate USB Key.

12. Alfred
Yes, we’re showing Macs some love. Quicksilver was once the beloved app launcher (and more) for the Mac OS, but the developer hasn’t done much with it. Now, there’s a new option, Alfred. It does much of what QuickSilver did, from launching programs to searching the Web and contacts. And there are more features on the way.


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