Photo by andronicusmax, feature photo by Arbron

Matador contributor Jason Wire recommends his picks for the best freebie downloads.

According to a recent study by DataMonitor, the global software market will have a value of $457 billion dollars. Yet aside from the extra premium I’m paying for Windows or OSX, I don’t see any need to reach deeper into my pockets to get the software I need.

In the past eight years, I’ve been through more than six different computers, from netbooks to laptops to desktops to tablets. Like decorating a new home, I find it impossible to adjust to a new computer without procuring the necessary fixtures to my digital environment. Here are the ones I’ve found most essential, reliable, and, of course, completely free.

Google Chrome/Firefox/Opera

Chances are, your computer came tied to Internet Explorer or Safari as its default browser. While both of these browsers are certainly fit to get the job done, they’re quite possibly the most boring and least user-friendly mainstream browsers out there.

Between Google’s new future-minded Chrome Browser, the ever-now-popular Mozilla Firefox, and Opera’s latest addition to the browser market, you should be able to find the perfect cruiser for your road trips across the information superhighway.

Firefox may come in 2nd in terms of speed, but as it becomes more universally known, many may prefer it over the others.

In differentiating between the three, Google and Opera are both neck-and-neck leaders in page load speed, with Chrome offering more aesthetic customization and Opera maintaining its freer-and-speedier-than-thou reputation.

Firefox may come in 2nd in terms of speed, but as it becomes more universally known, many may prefer it over the others, like a broken-in sneaker over a brand new running shoe.

OpenOffice

During college, I’d constantly receive emails and text messages from friends asking if I had “an extra copy of Office” or if I “knew someone who could get a pirated copy.” Even with student discounts, Microsoft’s industry-standard Office Suite can cost a fat chunk of change.

Considering the necessity of a familiar and effective word processor and the ubiquity of the .doc file extention, one could easily make a case for MS Office holding a monopoly on the productivity market.

Photo by Andrew Currie

Enter Oracle, better known for building massive corporate databases than creating free alternatives to the corporate standards of computing. Around the turn of the millennium, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and a few others decided they’d like to reduce Microsoft’s near-monopoly on the productivity market, and created StarOffice–the first version of today’s OpenOffice.

The latest version is a near-identical-looking copy of the last version of Office (before the weird changes in Word 2007 kicked in), and it will open and save documents in every format you can imagine–including .doc and .docx.

PeerBlock

In the current era of omni-connectivity, if your computer’s turned on, it’s probably connected to the internet. With that, it’s vulnerable to anyone who can crack into your IP and wants to access a part of your computer.

Whether it’s the FBI or an angsty teenage hacker from Eastern Europe, PeerBlock (formerly PeerGuardian) has their number, literally. It continuously updates a database of threatening IPs and acts as a bouncer at your computer’s virtual front door.

Also, if you’re thinking of amassing a large collection of media gathered through P2P networks, without PeerBlock you’re going to get a lot of threatening emails about copyright infringement. Just sayin’.

(Note: Neither I nor MatadorNetwork encourages copyright infringement nor piracy of any kind. We do, however, recommend you wear protection on your internet connection.)

Computer viruses are more like Crips and Bloods, hanging out in the seedier sections of web.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

To be honest, I have no idea why anyone would ever spend money on antivirus software. Computer viruses are not like wild, airborne pathogens that lurk in each and every corner of the internet. They’re more like Crips and Bloods, hanging out in the seedier sections of web, and places with bad credit. Not downloading anything that doesn’t look legit and keeping a clean cache in your browser will usually work just fine.

But if, from time to time, you like to download sketchy files from P2P sites or simply want bulletproof protection, AVG’s Anti-Virus Free Edition will work just fine without costing you anything. Rated 5 out of 5 stars by CNET editors and used by myself for several years without incident, it’s an idiotproof solution to computing that should keep you from ever thinking your computer needs to see a doctor.