By Reid Goldsborough
It has been said the best things in life are free. But with digital technology, sometimes you have to pay to get good enough. It can be worthwhile to open up your wallet for the full version when the free version is missing features you need or when the only available free programs aren't what you want. But not always; some free programs are high quality.
Here are some of the best free digital programs and services available.
Programs and Apps
- LibreOffice and G Suite are free office suites plus other programs, centering on a word processor, spreadsheet program, and presentation program. LibreOffice has more advanced features, while G Suite has better portability and collaboration. Both are Microsoft Office compatible but not 100 percent, sometimes coming up short with more complex formatting.
- Microsoft offers a free stripped-down online version of Office, Office Online, provided you're a registered user of another Microsoft service.
- Google Chrome is the best alternate browser on the market, better than the default browser that comes with your PC, Mac, or smartphone. It's fast and feature-laden.
- VLC Media Player plays DVDs, streaming movies and music, and podcasts on your computer when the software preinstalled on your computer can't, and even if it can, VLC Media Player sometimes plays it better.
- AVG AntiVirus Free is an excellent antivirus program, better than the free tools that came with your computer for blocking and more convenient than any time-limited tools that you have to pay for after a certain period.
- Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free is the anti-malware program to go to if you have a stubborn problem that other programs can't fix. You can't use it to schedule scans, so it doesn't take the place of your regular antivirus program. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free and AVG AntiVirus Free work well together.
- LastPass is the best password-management program out there. If you're tired of forgetting your passwords for individual sites, and you realize using the same password for every site or writing passwords down on pieces of paper isn't safe, all you need to remember is one password for LastPass and it remembers the rest.
- Mint offers a suite of personal finance tools. You can track your spending, tie into your bank account, receive alerts when you have suspicious activity or a low balance, track your investments, and get your credit score.
- Trello is a project manager, letting you manage your workflow. Its visual boards display information about different projects, first broken down into lists for particular tasks then broken down further into individual cards.
- Paint.net is a service requiring an internet connection that lets you edit photos. You can correct color, lightness and darkness, and contrast as well as resize, flip or rotate, sharpen, crop, and impart special effects. It's not as powerful as Photoshop, but it's more powerful than any tool that came with your PC or smartphone.
- Spotify is a music streaming service that costs $10 a month for all the songs you want or $0 a month if you don't mind listening to commercials. It has more than 20 million songs in its library.
Video Streaming Services
- Crackle is an ad-supported streaming service from Sony that offers both movies and TV shows. It doesn't compare in depth to pay services such as Netflix, but more than a hundred movies as well as some original content are available at any given time.
- Hoopla Digital is available through local libraries with a library card - check to see if your library has partnered with it. Among other things, Hoopla lets you to check out movies. You have 72 hours to watch a movie, with individual libraries determining how many movies you can check out a month.