The Best Free Software
Where to Find...
Movies for Nothin' and Your Tunes for Free
Lawsuits over file sharing didn't kill free music downloads. Several perfectly legal repositories let you grab digital tunes and movies that are completely free. These are a few of the best.
BetterPropaganda: This music news and reviews site also hosts free preview MP3s from up-and-coming bands like Modest Mouse, Interpol, and Guided by Voices. You'll find a bunch of sites, such as Pitchfork Media, that offer preview tracks, but BetterPropaganda organizes them more effectively than most. Each band gets its own page on the site, with links to reviews, articles, and hosted MP3s.
Etree: The Net revolutionized the old tape-trading market, in which super-dedicated fans swapped bootleg recordings of live concerts. Many groups support taping--jam bands like the Grateful Dead are famous for it--as long as fans agree not to sell the recordings. Etree is the place to find them. The site focuses on lossless-compression recordings of live shows (not MP3s), and it's hooked into BitTorrent, which helps you download faster.
Garageband: Independent and unsigned artists frequently make their work freely available on sites like Garageband, which houses many of the files from these almost-big-time acts that used to live on MP3.com.
AtomFilms: Free registration gets you access to one of the largest, most vital collections of short films on the Net. AtomFilms has original comedy, drama, action, and music videos from artists like Polyphonic Spree and Pete Yorn.
WMV HD: Want a stunning demonstration of the future of video clarity? If you have a beefy system (you need a PC with a minimum processor speed of 2.4 GHz and 384MB of memory to watch the low-resolution videos), head over to Microsoft's Windows Media High-Definition Video site for high-def video samples that will blow your mind.
Great Free Game Downloads
Most gaming download sites break this story's prime directive: They don't offer full-featured games, without restrictions, completely free. You're more likely to find game demos (limited versions of commercial games), and often you have to be a registered user to download anything. Five of the sites listed below have this condition, but despite that, you can still get some good free stuff.
Download Free Games: With more than 140 ad-free, spyware-free games to download (and no registration requirement), this is a great first stop to make on a downloading frenzy. Most of the items you'll find here tend to fall at the low-action end of the gaming spectrum (card, board, and puzzle games), but a few are fast-paced arcade-style games. Make sure you read the restrictions for each download carefully, as some of the "free version" downloads are just time-limited demos.
FileShack: The fastest-loading game site we've found on the Net, FileShack runs a streamlined download library that hosts some of the largest downloads--meaning 500MB and larger files--of demos and patches. You won't find reviews or previews here, just the downloads your gamer's heart craves.
Happy Puppy: With a slick interface that puts the game downloads right up front, Happy Puppy provides the latest demos and patches, along with a tabbed interface that lets you easily switch between the downloads for PC games and the tips, news, and enhancement codes for console titles.
IGN/GameSpy FilePlanet: The makers of GameSpy software, which helps PC gamers find servers for online play, also operate FilePlanet, one of the largest download archives of patches and demos. In addition, gamers can sort through downloadable videos of games in action, and read reviews and previews of current and upcoming games.
WorthPlaying Files: Providing an interface that's almost Google-like in its simplicity, WorthPlaying enables you to search for games by keyword; alternatively, you can drill down through categories such as Action, Adventure, Racing, Simulation, and RPG (role-playing games).
FileFront Latest Files: Simple and intuitive, FileFront's collection of the 50 newest downloads, listed in reverse-chronological order, are a quick way to find something new. Each download is tagged with an icon that identifies the type of file (for example, a demo, a map or mod of an existing game, a screen saver, or a utility). Click the name for any of the icons in the key that explains them, and the chronological list switches into a list of just that type of file.
Freeware to Fill Up Your PDA
PDA software sites offer a mix of freeware, shareware, and commercial software in their lineups. To unearth the free stuff, typically you can browse categories of software and sort the list by price; on some sites, you'll find a navigation link that whisks you straight to the freeware.
PalmGear.com: This is by far the most comprehensive software download site for handhelds that run the PalmOS. Its StreamLync2 freeware tool lets you click a special link that automatically downloads the file and then installs it onto your Palm (when the PDA is connected, of course).
FreewarePalm and FreewarePPC: These related sites offer 24 categories of PalmOS and Pocket PC/Windows Mobile PDA freeware. You won't find a tremendous variety of software here, but the stripped-down interface will appeal to the utilitarian downloader.
Tucows: This PC-ware download site has a library for handhelds, including PDAs based on the PalmOS, Pocket PC/Windows Mobile (sometimes referred to on the site by its original name, Windows CE), EPOC 32, and the RIM BlackBerry OS. Sort on the License column to find the freeware.
PDA Archives: Have an older PalmPilot, a Windows CE handheld, a Psion, or even an Apple Newton PDA? If you do, you probably have trouble locating software that will run on these bygone platforms. PDA Archives still has software that runs on older PDAs--cool stuff you can no longer dig up anywhere else.
Handango: There's no easy way to find all the freeware on this site (and some categories don't list any freeware), but an advanced search will bring up a category of downloads for a particular operating system: Besides Palm and Pocket PC/Windows Mobile, Handango offers downloads for handhelds running the BlackBerry, Symbian, Java, and Windows Mobile Smartphone operating systems. You can then sort the downloads by price to find the free stuff.
The Best Linux Software
Windows users know you can find plenty of free software--often scattered around the Web. But if you're just getting started using Linux (or considering it), you might not realize how easy it is to find software applications that you can freely copy, share, and even modify. In fact, for Linux users the concept of freeware is (usually) irrelevant--virtually everything you might want is free.
Linux users don't often need to hunt for downloads on the Web. Many distributions sold in stores include multiple CDs or DVDs packed with thousands of free applications: image editors, word processors, Web site builders, sound editors, silly desktop games--you name it. Each distribution has its own package management tools, which act as a sort of supercharged version of Windows' Add/Remove Programs control panel applet: The tools can copy the files from the right installation CD (or from the Web), and install the application so that it's customized to work with your flavor of Linux. And of course the package management tools are free.
Where on the Web can you find the very latest version of your favorite Linux app? It's pretty much one-stop shopping: Freshmeat.net contains a page for just about every free and open-source project that exists. And if you're into eye candy, the Themes section of the site gives you plenty of options for giving your desktop a makeover. You might run across other Linux download sites, but none as up-to-date as freshmeat.net.