Reader's Choice Best Free Software Part 1
You may remember the recent reader survey I ran as part of the 31 Days of the Dragon contest where I gave away an HP HDX Dragon. At that time, I promised to share your picks for the best software in each of the 20 categories. What I didn't realize is what a monumental task filtering the data would be. People from all 31 sites participating in the contest filled out the survey, which made the number of entries huge and delivered a massive set of results to filter through. A survey with entirely free form answers is much more complicated to assemble into meaningful data than one where everything is multiple choice. As a result, I'm breaking the results into two parts. The first 10 categories will be covered now, with the remaining 10 coming next week. In addition to the top vote getter in each category, I've provided additional popular choices for each category of software to provide a broader picture of what people are using.
Here are the reader's choice winners for the first 10 categories:
Picasa dominates the photo organizer category with 69% of readers choosing Google's photo organizer as their favorite. I understand why, although as I mentioned, I've largely switched to using Flickr for my photos. The Picasa interface is great for sorting, the search feature is snappy, and it's got great cataloging tools. If Picasa supported more online video hosts it would be almost perfect.
See other popular free photo organizers
GIMP is quite possibly the most powerful free image editor available. It's also extremely popular with 38% of reader's choosing GIMP as their favorite. GIMP works great for simple things like batch resize a bunch of photos, covert a color photo to black and white, or even cropping one image file. GIMP excels at color correction, multi-layer image creation, and custom scripting for complex batch edits. If you want an image editor that can take whatever you throw at it, GIMP is a solid choice.
See other popular free photo editors
uTorrent tops the list of popular BitTorrent clients with a solid 46% of total reader votes. Technically the name is µTorrent, not uTorrent, but I find it less confusing to refer to it alphabetically rather than with a symbol, not unlike referring to Prince by a name rather than an unpronounceable symbol. uTorrent also happens to be my favorite solution for downloading torrents. It handles simultaneous downloads extremely well with highly configurable bandwidth throttling on a per download basis. Quick-resume is an excellent way to make sure interrupted downloads complete. And the RSS downloader neatly handles subscriptions with embedded torrents.
See other popular free BitTorrent clients
CDBurnerXP Pro received 20% of votes to lead the pack in this collection of CD/DVD burning tools. It's simple workflow translates to creating data disks of virtually any type, including support for burning data to HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. The app also makes ISO files, including the handy feature of converting BIN and NRG formats to ISO.
See other popular free CD and DVD burning software
SUPER, aka Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer leads this crowded pack of applications with a respectable 10% of reader's votes. It's among the best in this category and deserves a place at the top for it's ability to convert virtually anything you throw at it. Because of it's depth of features, SUPER is a little more bloated than most of the competition and I've occasionally found it slowing down my system if I use it for too long. Having said that, if you haven't ever tried SUPER, I highly recommend downloading the app. It's very likely SUPER will replace whatever you used for video conversion in the past.
See other popular free video converters
Windows Movie Maker leads the pack as the most popular free video editor with 34% of votes. While you could make a case that Movie Maker isn't free since you have to pay for Windows, I'd argue that you're not likely to use any of the apps listed here without Windows, so Movie Maker is a bonus and free enough to qualify for this list. It handles most video formats if you have the right codecs installed on your machine, although it's ideally suited for either MiniDV or HDV video editing (the latter being Vista only).
See other popular free video editors
Audacity won the audio editor category for the reader's poll with a landslide 77% of all votes. It does multi-track editing, handles most effects and custom audio tweaks, and is actively developed. If you ever need help with Audacity, there's also a very friendly support community. In addition to a Windows version, there are also Mac and Linux installs.
See other popular free audio editors
Spybot Search & Destroy received a commanding 37% of reader votes for best anti-spyware solution. While many critics (myself included) feel that there are stronger alternatives in the commercial software realm, Spybot S&D has been among the top of the heap for years, commanding a great deal of mindshare with computer users everywhere.
See other popular free spyware eliminators
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition received the most votes in the reader survey, chosen by an overwhelming 61% of readers. AVG also happens to be the free solution most closely resembling a traditional commercial antivirus product. AVG provides basic protection from virus and spyware infestation by scanning email messages, and doing scheduled system scans. Like other free solutions, AVG does not proactively scan downloads and instant messaging communications, but should catch anything that slips through either of those methods if you happen to inquire an infected file and open it.
See other popular free antivirus software
ZoneAlarm While only winning by a narrow margin, ZoneAlarm's free firewall product came in first place with 36% of all reader's surveyed choosing the ZoneAlarm free firewall as their favorite choice. ZoneAlarm offers very basic free protection from both inbound and outbound threats. It also includes a stealth mode designed to keep you invisible to hackers. In this case, I disagree with the readers and find Comodo (#2) to be a more fully featured solution.
See other popular free firewalls