When people set out to look for freeware, they are often looking for free alternatives to Microsoft products – free office suites, free alternatives to built-in programs like Paint, Notepad, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer… even free alternatives to Windows itself. However, Microsoft does provide a collection of free software that is definitely worth checking out. This article is designed to provide an overview of the best free Microsoft programs, some of which are featured in other articles on this website.
Using free Microsoft software does have some advantages. A big company like Microsoft has the resources to produce a multitude of help resources for users, from support and Technet pages to video overviews and tutorials. Some of the programs can conveniently be updated as part of Windows Update. Perhaps the best advantage is knowing that you're installing a program that is safe and not bundled with anything extra.
There are several guidelines for this list. An unavoidable fact is that some alternatives will be better than programs listed here, but the programs listed here are still good and useful. However, if a Microsoft program is markedly inferior to other free alternatives, it is not included. If a program has a loose affiliation with Microsoft but is not actually a Microsoft product (e.g. Paint.NET), it won't be listed here.
At this time, I am not including free Windows Store apps for Windows 8/8.1 from Microsoft. These are covered in another category, Best Free Windows Store Apps.
[Doakio Editor's Note: This article was restored from Gizmo's Freeware archives as a service to the freeware community. Gizmo's Freeware provided high-quality, volunteer freeware reviews for decades. They shut down in July of 2021.]
indicates a 64-bit version is available.
Best Free Microsoft Downloads – Quick Select Index
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(64-bit for XP not available) | Supported Systems: Windows XP through Windows 7. Not compatible with Windows 8.
This may be the best free product ever from Microsoft, and it was chosen as Gizmo's Freeware Product of the Year for 2010 and 2011. MSE is a free anti-malware program with an interface that appeals to average users, but its effectiveness can appeal to advanced users as well. Its interface is simple and unobtrusive, and when it detects threats, it displays messages that are meaningful and easy to understand. It is light on resources, receives regular updates, and has exceptional detection rates. You can perform scans on demand, but it also continuously guards your system with real-time protection. Starting with version 2, it includes a “Network Inspection System” and a heuristics engine for a more comprehensive set of protective measures. You can also adjust the maximum CPU usage the scanner uses – this is particularly useful if the computer in question is underpowered and the scanner needs to use less resources. Overall, MSE is an excellent product that rivals even some commercial antivirus software. (Review)
This tool scans your computer for all types of malware threats and removes them if found. Unlike the Malicious Software Removal Tool which targets specific threats, Microsoft Safety Scanner includes complete definitions and looks for all viruses and malware. Because of this, however, the download is about 70MB large and expires after ten days – this is to ensure that an updated version is always used. The intended use of this tool is for emergency situations where installed security software has failed to detect/remove threats. It is true that other products serve this purpose, like Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware, but it is nice to have options.
64-bit version here | Supported Systems: Windows XP and up
This tool scans your computer for specific widespread virus threats and removes them if found. It is downloaded and executed in the background monthly via Windows Update, but you can download and run it on demand.
This new offering from Microsoft, formerly known as Microsoft Standalone System Sweeper, allows you to create a bootable rescue system on a CD or USB flash drive (or save as an .ISO file for later use). The rescue system contains a malware scanner that looks for all kinds of malware, including viruses, trojans, rootkits and more. For users who install it on a USB flash stick, you can update the definitions periodically by running the wizard again. As with other rescue systems, the intended use for this tool is to save computers that are so infected they aren't bootable, usable, or can't be fixed with antivirus software installed on the system.
Some notes: Be sure to choose the architecture (32- or 64-bit) that matches the computer on which you will be booting the rescue system. Be aware that XP users cannot generate ISO files unless IMAPIv2.0 is installed – you can find it here: 32-bit | 64-bit
I was originally excluding this from the list because it only works on XP and it doesn't remove the rootkits – the world has been gradually moving away from XP, and other software exists that is capable of detecting and removing rootkits (Microsoft Security Essentials does this remarkably well). However, I've included it because it is popular, lightweight, and really does what it does well. Just note that scan results don't guarantee the presence of rootkits, so please don't try acting upon them unless you're an expert.
This tool analyzes a computer and provides a summary of how secure or insecure it is. Some of the things it checks for are security updates that have not yet been installed, settings that are not recommended (such as weak passwords, disabled firewall, etc), running services that may not be necessary, network shares, and more. This program can be a valuable tool for IT professionals, but it can also help average users who want to make sure their computers are as secure as possible.
This is a Fix It utility that scans your computer for security vulnerabilities (for example, if you have certain services that give too much control to remote users, or Windows Updates are disabled). Once it finishes its analysis, you can choose to have issues fixed automatically or you can pick and choose what you want fixed. This tool is very simple and easy to use and it could save your computer from future harm.
This small utility is geared more toward IT professionals. It is used to query network computers to determine if they're running network sniffers (programs that are listening to network traffic, possibly to steal passwords and other information). It does have several limitations, but it can still be a valuable tool in detecting suspicious network behavior. Both gui and command line versions are available.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP3, Vista SP1 or later, Windows 7, Windows 8
This toolkit helps prevent security flaws in software from being exploited. It does this by employing various security mitigation technologies. This is especially useful when applied to older applications that have a multitude of security flaws, but it works for newer applications too. Its ease of use and high degree of configurability make EMET a valuable tool. Just be aware that some processes may break when certain mitigations are applied, so make sure your software works after applying them. Also note that you do not need to keep the main program running for your applications to be protected.
Supported Systems: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 | Click here for an XP version
Family Safety is a parental control program for filtering web content. It can also restrict email contacts. It has an activity log that allows you to see who tries to access which sites, and activity across multiple PCs with Family Safety installed can be collected in the same log.
This version of Internet Explorer 9 is customized for CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) and is preconfigured with child safety features. It allows parents, teachers or anyone caring for children to use the jumplist features in Windows 7/IE9 to easily configure the protection settings. Please be aware that these protection settings are not active if the child simply uses a different web browser.
Internet Explorer has long been troubled, unable to keep up with other browsers in several areas, particularly in speed, security, and support for newer web features. Internet Explorer 9 looks to change all that, boasting a wealth of improvements over IE8. It starts much faster, it loads web pages much faster, and it takes full advantage of hardware acceleration wherever possible. It includes a download manager (with pause/resume), and it has a startup manager for add-ons that lets you see which add-ons use the most resources and disable them if needed. The interface has been revamped and is simpler – the address bar now doubles as a search bar (like in Chrome), tabs are on the same row as the address bar by default (this can be changed), and the buttons have been shrunk and rearranged. Also, its improved support for standards like CSS 3 and HTML 5 allow web designers to deliver a richer online experience to IE users. As for security, Microsoft has added protective measures against pop-ups, phishing sites, and suspicious downloads. A sandbox mode has also been added, which can help keep malware contained and prevent it from affecting your system. You can see how it compares to the other major web browsers in this Review.
Internet Explorer 10 is the browser that comes with Windows 8. Originally, it did not work in any older versions of Windows but a download of a Windows 7 version is now available. Microsoft continues to improve IE and this one is quite fast. It also has better support for HTML 5.
Supported Systems: Windows (XP not supported), Mac, Windows Phone, iPhone/iPad
Other Requirements: Free Windows Live accountSkyDrive is a cloud storage solution that lets you back up your files and folders online. SkyDrive has existed before strictly as a web application (click here for details), but with this new SkyDrive application, anything placed in your local SkyDrive folder is automatically uploaded to your SkyDrive storage, which is like the popular DropBox service. Live users get 7GB of storage for free, with paid options to add more.
Skype is a communications program that provides instant messaging, voice chat and video conferencing. The instant messaging includes typical features such as emoticons, status indicators, group chat, and more. Video conferencing can be done in high definition, and group video conferences can include up to ten people (the website recommends five or fewer for best quality). Skype also allows you to share your screen for presentation or other purposes, and you can transfer files. A couple notes: not all features are free – for example, to make voice calls to land lines and cell phones you have to pay a small fee; also Skype cannot be used to call emergency lines.
Microsoft's acquisition of Skype was complete on October 13, 2011. As it will no doubt prove to be a big part of Microsoft's strategy in the months/years to come, I am pleased to be able to include it on this list.
Supported Systems: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 | Click here for an XP version
Writer provides an easy way to create and publish blog entries. It has the standard formatting features, and you can add links, pictures, videos, maps, and more. It integrates with many popular blog sites, including Blogger, WordPress, SharePoint, and several others.
Windows Service Packs
Service packs are extremely important for the security and stability of the Windows operating systems. With a few exceptions (e.g. testing environments, rare occurrence of software incompatibility), it is always recommended to have the latest service pack installed, preferably through Windows Update. For those who have machines that for some reason can't use Windows Update, here are links to the various service packs available.
Arguably the best tool of its kind, Autoruns gives you complete control over the things that run when you start Windows, including items in the Startup folder and items listed in the Registry. It can be useful for optimizing the speed of your system by letting you disable unnecessary programs, and it can also help combat certain types of malware that run when Windows starts. This is a must-have for any computer repair kit. (Review)
An advanced process viewer. Process Explorer was once the best tool of its kind, but it is still useful for anyone who wants something better than Task Manager but doesn't need all the whistles and bells. It lists all running processes in a hierarchical format, you can restart, suspend or kill processes, you can kill process trees, and you can set process priorities. It also lets you view threads, strings, and other details about processes. It displays CPU and memory usage, and you can configure tray icons to show these as well. You can optionally configure it to replace Task Manager. (Review)
This advanced monitoring tool displays and logs file system, Registry and process activity in real-time. You can filter the data by any field, and you can export it in csv and xml formats as well as the Process Monitor pml format. With these features and plenty more, Process Monitor can be a powerful tool in the hands of advanced users for troubleshooting problems or fighting malware.
| Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Other Requirements: .NET Framework 2.0
These two utilities can be used to analyze changes to your system. Windows System State Analyzer is probably enough for most people's purposes – it's used to create and compare snapshots of your system, which is useful if you want to see what changes are made by a program installation.
Those who are interested can also install Windows System State Monitor, which is used to actively monitor changes to your system (as if it were recording in real-time) and save its findings in an automatically generated and formatted report. One possible use for this is to see if certain program features cause any system changes.
You can get these tools from the installer for the Server Logo Program Software Certification Tool. You can select “custom” during the installation to disable the unwanted components and install just these two utilities. You can find more information HERE.
This tool prints various system information and statistics to your desktop background. You can choose from a list of different details to show, and advanced users can add custom ones as well. The appearence is also completely customizable. I personally find this extremely useful for monitoring servers at work. Just to clarify, it displays the information as snapshots and is NOT a real-time monitoring utility.
This tool provides a quick and easy way to see what users have what permissions to files, folders and registry keys. If you find a permission that needs to be changed, you can right-click the item from within the program and view its properties.
One of the PowerToys for Windows XP, Tweak UI lets you change various settings to the appearance and behavior of the user interface. For most users, these settings would otherwise be unavailable for adjustment. Unfortunately it does not have its own dedicated page so you need to scroll down to locate it.
| Supported Systems: Windows XP SP2 and up, Windows Vista SP1
A search tool that uses indexing to allow quick searching for files. You can search local or network folders, and you can modify exactly which folders are included and excluded. By default it adds a search toolbar to the taskbar, and it can be closed if desired. The main search window includes a preview pane, and it lets you finetune your search by choosing which type of files you're looking for. It isn't the fanciest search tool out there, but it certainly is a viable option for some and it can be installed via Windows Update.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP2 and up Other Requirements: XP users require .NET Framework 2.0
If you have a computer on which you'd like to upgrade to Windows 7 but aren't sure if there will be compatibility issues, this utility can help. It verifies whether the computer meets the system requirements, and it will also report any known incompatibilities it finds with your hardware and installed programs. If any issues are found, it will provide recommendations on how to correct them.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP2 and up Other Requirements: .NET Framework 2.0; XP users need to install IMAPIv2.0
If you have an ISO file for Windows 7 installation (OR the Windows 8 preview), this handy tool provides a quick and easy way to create an installation DVD or USB drive. If you choose a USB drive, however, please be aware that the tool must format the drive – erasing its contents – and the drive capacity must be at least 4GB.
It is worth noting that Windows 7 users can burn any ISO file to disc with no extra software – simply right-click the ISO file and selecting “Burn disc image”.
Mesh is a synchronization program that lets you synchronize files and folders between different machines over the Internet. Although this program is mostly obsoleted by the SkyDrive application, Mesh does also allow you to sync settings for IE and Office. Additionally, if you log into your Live account, you can see a list of your computers that have Mesh installed, and you can remotely control any that are currently running Mesh (this feature must be manually enabled in Mesh, and Internet Explorer is required). Other remote control solutions are better, but it is a nice feature to have bundled with the program.
If you like Bing, you might like this. Bing Desktop brings a Bing search toolbar to your desktop and will set your wallpaper as the Bing background of the day (the wallpaper setting can be disabled). You can either keep the bar in the center of your screen or use the option to move it to the top. There are not a lot of configuration options, but it serves as a nice lightweight web search tool for your desktop and will not bog down your system. Bing Desktop can be installed from Windows Update or from its download page.
One of the PowerToys for Windows XP, this adds an entry to the menu when you right-click a folder – it allows you to open a Command Prompt window at that particular folder, which can be quite convenient. One annoying detail is that it does not work if you right-click empty space within an Explorer window – you have to go up one folder and then right-click the folder to get there. Unfortunately it does not have its own dedicated page so you need to click on the “PowerToys” tab to locate it.
It is worth noting that this functionality is built-in for Windows Vista and 7 (hold SHIFT while right-clicking to access it).
One of the PowerToys for Windows XP, this replaces the standard interface that appears when you press Alt + Tab to switch windows and it includes window previews. It's really nice, but just be aware that it runs in the background at all times (the memory footprint is about half a MB on my system). Unfortunately it does not have its own dedicated page so you need to click on the “PowerToys” tab to locate it.
One of the PowerToys for Windows XP, this tool lets you manage up to four desktops, in which you can set different backgrounds and run different programs. After installing it, to enable it you right-click the taskbar, select Toolbars, then click Desktop Manager. To access the options, simply right-click anywhere on the toolbar. For each desktop to have its own set of running programs, ensure that the “Shared Desktops” option is disabled. Other programs offer more advanced features, but this one is perfect if you're just looking for basic functionality. Unfortunately it does not have its own dedicated page so you need to click on the “PowerToys” tab to locate it.
It's nice that an internal Microsoft group has a sense of humor. This screensaver from SysInternals simulates the infamous Blue Screen of Death, complete with a simulated reboot. Just a note: if you use this at work, just make sure your IT department knows it's just a screensaver.
NOTE: I have removed the link to the download at CNET and am instead providing a SnapFiles link. SnapFiles has a good rating with WOT and McAfee Site Advisor, and I've scanned the download with multiple antivirus programs and found no problems. Regardless, please inform me immediately if you find any safety problems with this download link.
This program is no longer supported by Microsoft or even hosted on their site, but it serves its purpose well as a simple GIF animation creator. You can create new frames from the clipboard or from files, you can set the duration of individual frames, you can configure looping and transparency, and a few other features. It isn't very fancy, but it does about everything you need if you create your frames in a separate program like Paint or Photoshop. (Review)
ICE is a panorama stitcher – it takes a group of overlapping photos and uses them to form a panoramic image, including panoramas that span a full 360 degrees. It also allows you to tweak settings, such as cropping, panoramic rotation, types of projection, and in which format to export. Formats include JPEG, TIFF, BMP, PNG, HD Photo, and Deep Zoom – exporting in the Deep Zoom format will allow you to view the panorama in HD View, another excellent Microsoft tool (see below). You can also upload and share your panoramas on Photosynth, where others can view them interactively by rotating and zooming. If you visit Photosynth, you can find many awesome examples that show off what ICE can do.
When started writing this list, I had not previously used Microsoft ICE. After I used it, I could instantly tell why it receives so much praise. I really hope the requirements don't put off too many people because it really is one of the best Microsoft programs out there. The installer will redirect you to all of its dependencies, but I've provide links for those who want them. The Photosynth application and a free Live account are also required to upload to the Photosynth site.
HD View was pointed out to me by a reader, and I'm awfully glad of it. HD View allows you to view very large high-definition images in your web browser, particularly panoramas. These images can be so large some of them push 4 gigapixels – HD View allows you to explore these images by panning and zooming in and out, viewing the fine details, and I highly recommend viewing some examples.
You can use Microsoft ICE to create HD View images if you export them using the Deep Zoom format. I recommend exporting into a new folder because multiple files are created in the process – double-click on the html file to view your image in your web browser.
What do you get when you take a single frame from a video, but then you select an isolated region of the frame in which the video plays back? You get what Microsoft calls a “Cliplet”, and this neat program lets you make cliplets easily. The website offers a handy video tutorial to help get you started.
One of the PowerToys for Windows XP, Image Resizer lets you quickly resize one or multiple images to fit within a certain length and width. You right-click on the file(s) and select “Resize pictures” to bring up a simple interface, where you can select one of four pre-set sizes, or specify your own. You can also choose whether to save over the original files or create new files. Unfortunately it does not have its own dedicated page so you need to click on the “PowerToys” tab to locate it.
Supported Systems: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7; Click here for an XP version
Photo Gallery lets you organize, tag, upload, and edit your photos, among other features. The editing features are no replacement for programs like Photoshop, but they are handy for quick and easy alterations. (Review)
Supported Systems: Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7 (XP users can find “Windows Movie Maker” in their Programs menu, but the features are not as up-to-date)
Movie Maker doesn't boast a set of advanced features, but the features it includes are sufficient for many users and are ideal for putting together slide shows and short videos. Plus, you can use it to publish your videos on SkyDrive, Youtube, Facebook and Flickr.
| Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Additional Requirements: If you are running Vista or 7 32-bit, you may need to install this fix to make the program work.
The aptly named Screen Recorder utility provides a quick and easy way to record your screen, whether it's your entire screen or a specified window. The simplicity of the program makes it perfect for the novice computer user, and even experts may find it handy for recording quick videos. The installation is a bit annoying- on the blog page, download the file “UtilityOnlineMarch092009_03.exe”. Run this file to extract the 32 and 64-bit installers, then run the appropriate one. If you don't have Windows Media Encoder 9 Series installed, the installer will install this first. Re-run the installer and the program will finally be installed on your system.
If you'd like a more robust program with more options, see Expression Encoder 4 below.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP3 and up Other Requirements: .NET Framework 4.0, Silverlight 4.0, at least 1GHz processor and 1GB RAM- see website for additional requirements
The replacement for Windows Media Encoder, Expression Encoder 4 is a high-performance video encoding program. It is mainly geared toward Silverlight projects but it also exports in Windows Media format, and it includes some video editing features. One excellent feature (which alone makes it worth installing) is the screen capture component, which is easy to use and yields high quality videos that can be immediately opened in Expression Encoder for editing and exporting. The free version of the program leaves out some features, including support for some formats and a ten-minute screen capture limit (a features comparison table can be found here).
A very easy yet powerful program for creating slideshows. The program walks you through each step, providing a variety of different feataures along the way. You can add effects of every sort, from photo effects to transition effects to panning and zooming effects. You can add text to each picture, narration, and background music. Overall I think this program is outstanding, and I wish I had started using it years ago. Just be aware of two things: the only video format it can save is wmv, and WGA validation is required if you download from Microsoft. (Review)
Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Other Requirements: Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 or 2010 (must be purchased); for PowerPoint 2007, you must install the Save as PDF or XPS add-in (download)
This neat add-in for PowerPoint provides an alternate way to view presentations. It basically displays the slides as an overview on a canvas, and you can zoom in and out of the slides and skip around to different slides in any order. It also lets you organize slides into different sections and you can change the canvas color.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP3; Windows Vista SP1 and up Additional Requirements: Internet Explorer 5, 6, 7 or 8
Allows you to view and print Visio diagrams and drawings (but you cannot edit them). Unlike the other Office viewers, Visio Viewer is not a stand-alone program – it opens the diagrams within Internet Explorer.
These online collections contain thousands of free templates and clip art that you can use for your documents. You can find templates for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, OneNote, Visio, Project and Outlook.
The only place I could find to download StickySorter is in Portuguese. Click on the link “Instalar” to download.
Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Additional Requirements:.NET Framework 2.0
This simple sticky notes manager has some feature limitations, but it can be really useful if you just need something that's quick and simple. You can freely move notes around, organize them into groups, change colors, add custom text fields and a few other things. Projects are saved with the csv filetype so they are easy to share with others, even if they don't have StickySorter. Just a note: you must allow StickySorter to send anonymous usage data to Microsoft in order to install the program.
The requirements below apply to the Windows client. If your system does not meet these requirements, you can try the web version. Supported Systems: Windows XP SP2 and up Additional Requirements: DirectX 9.0c, .NET Framework 2.0 Hardware Requirements: Dual-core CPU (recommended); 1 GB RAM; at least a modest graphics card; 1 GB disk space; Internet connection required for some features
This interactive program from Microsoft Research lets you browse the wonders of the universe, including planets, moons, stars, galaxies, nebulae and more. You can pan and zoom around the endless starry space, search for specific space objects by name, or take guided tours complete with narration. As mentioned above, the system requirements listed are for the Windows client version that you install on your computer; the web client is there for those who can't or don't want to install the Windows client.
| Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Additional Requirements:.NET Framework 3.5 SP1
This program is targeted primarily for the educational audience, but it can be useful for jobs that require math calculations. It packs in many features, including equation-solving, unit conversion, 2d and 3d graphing, algebra, trigonometry, and even calculus. It can display step-by-step instructions on how to solve a problem, which can be very helpful to students who are learning new math topics. You can also scribble things free-hand as input, and it does a fairly decent job at recognizing everything (although sometimes you may need to redraw some symbols). This program was originally not free, but Microsoft released the newest version as freeware on January 11, 2011. Microsoft also provides Microsoft Mathematics Add-In for Word and OneNote, which adds Microsoft Mathematics features to those programs.
Supported Systems: Windows XP and up Additional Requirements:.NET Framework 3.5
Small Basic provides a programming environment suitable for beginner programmers. It uses a simplified version of the BASIC programming language. Even though it's found in the “Kid's Corner”, it can be an excellent learning tool for both kids and adults who are just getting into programming. It includes a PDF tutorial to get you acquainted with the program and walk you through programming concepts.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP2, Windows 7
This is a great free set of integrated development environments, essentially lightweight versions of the commercial Visual Studio programs. It consists of Visual Basic Express, Visual C# Express, Visual C++ Express, Visual Web Developer Express, and Windows Phone Developer Tools. It also supports the newer .NET Framework 4. Registration is required within 30 days.
SharePoint Designer was originally conceived as a way to build SharePoint sites, but SharePoint Designer 2007 can be used as a generic web page editor. Unlike new versions of SharePoint Designer, this one is completely free and does not require a SharePoint server to operate. (Service pack 2 for the program can be downloaded HERE; service pack 1 appears to be included with the program installer.)
WebMatrix is a web development tool designed to be easy to use. It integrates a web server and database engine, and you can use it to install additional components such as PHP and open-source web applications. You can use page templates or write your own code from scratch. Other features include coding in ASP.NET and PHP, HTML5 support, deployment using FTP or WebDeploy, and building sites that can run on Windows or Linux systems. For those who might be interested, I highly recommend viewing the overview video available on the WebMatrix page. After installation, you can find a help shortcut to some useful online guides in the Start menu.
I am aware that these are not downloads, but they are included here because they are definitely worth noting.
SkyDrive is an online file hosting service provided to anyone with a Live account (registration is free). It offers 7GB of online storage for documents, pictures, website favorites, and other files, and you can share these with friends. It includes a search feature so you can find things quickly. There is a file size limit of 300MB, which should be large enough for most files. (Review)
An online office suite that lets you create, upload and edit Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote documents. Office Web Apps is integrated with SkyDrive so documents can be stored and shared online. These web apps don't include all of the features found in Microsoft Office, but they include all of the common office features and work really well.
This online service helps troubleshoot common problems encountered in Windows, Office and other Microsoft software. It lets you narrow it down by category and sub-categories to make it easier to find a solution to a specific problem, and it offers a small downloadable executable to automatically fix it. Also check out the downloadable Fix it Center application.
Requirements: Live account (free); also requires Silverlight, which requires Windows XP/Mac OS 10.4.11 or later with a modern browser.
Photosynth is a website for uploading, viewing and sharing panoramas and 3d models. If you make panoramas in Microsoft ICE, you can upload them directly to Photosynth from the program if you install the Photosynth application.
If you fancy yourself a game developer, this program is a good place to start for beginners. With most of the tough programming work out of the way, Kodu Game Labs lets you build games by inserting pre-made objects and adding pre-made conditions to them. For a simple example, you can add an enemy object and an apple object. You can configure the enemy to move toward any apple objects within his line of sight, and you can also configure the apple to add points to his or the player's score when touched. The program is packed with tutorials to help you learn your way around the editor, and the website offers even more resources, including the “Classroom Kit for Educators”.
Supported Systems: Windows XP SP3 and up (XP 64-bit not supported)
Additional Requirements: Dual Core 2.0 GHz CPU, 256 MB graphics card (DX 9.0c compliant), 10GB free space (game takes up 2GB), 2GB RAMThe Microsoft Flight Simulator series was thought to be discontinued at one point, but then Microsoft brought it back in the form of the free game Microsoft Flight. You can fly over scenic Hawaii in a variety of different planes, whether you're completing missions or just free-flying. The game also has more realistic weather, cloud and shadow effects than its predecessors and plenty of scenery, but you need a computer with a decent amount of power more than the minimum requirements to take full advantage of all the graphical features. Also, please be aware the download size is about 1.5 GB so it may take a while.
You can download Microsoft Flight from the Games for Windows Marketplace, but it is also available for free through Steam.
(Please note this program is currently in beta so it may not be as stable as the finished product will be!) Just like the online Fix it service, this program helps troubleshoot common problems encountered in Windows, Office and other Microsoft software. It lets you choose among different categories to make it easier to find a solution to a specific problem. It also can suggest and execute best practice configurations for security and other settings. Windows 7 users may not be able to download from Microsoft's site because the beta is closed; if you experience this, you can also download from Major Geeks.
A virtual machine is a simulated environment in which an operating system can run without actually being installed on real hardware. It can have several uses – some use it to test software without altering their system; others use it to run an older operating system compatible with older software; and some even use it for their Internet usage so any malware encountered will be contained within the virtual environment. Several free options exist for creating and running virtual machines, and one of them is Microsoft Virtual PC. Linux and other non-Microsoft operating systems are not officially supported (although it is possible to get them to work), but it runs versions of Windows just fine.
When you create a virtual machine for a specific operating system, Virtual PC will recommend certain settings (hard drive size, memory), but you can adjust these as desired. Once your guest OS is installed, you can install a set of tools called Virtual Machine Additions that make the virtual machine run more smoothly. It also adds support for seamlessly moving the mouse from the host OS to the guest, drag-and-drop files from the host to the guest, and setting up shared folders. One feature that's especially useful for testing purposes is undo disks, which gives you the option to run a virtual machine without committing the changes to the virtual hard drive. Other virtual machine programs can run a wider range of operating systems, but if you're virtualizing a Microsoft OS, Virtual PC is a solid solution. It hasn't disappointed me in the 4+ years I've used it.
Windows Virtual PC is the latest version of Virtual PC, exclusively for Windows 7. It only supports (officially) guest operating systems from XP SP3 and up. If you have Windows 7 Professional or higher, you can download and install XP Mode – this installs a pre-configured XP virtual machine and allows you to run applications in the virtual machine while making them appear to run on the host operating system.
This utility copies physical drives and partitions and saves them as vhd (virtual hard drive) files, which can be used with Microsoft virtualization software. My experience with it is mostly positive, but it doesn't always give me a bootable virtual machine. Ironically, after trying several fancier programs (including VMware and Paragon), this tiny tool is the only one I've used to successfully convert a Windows 98 computer to a virtual machine. It's not a replacement for more robust physical-to-virtual programs, but it's quick and easy and can be very handy.
This utility provides a convenient way to manage multiple USB flash drives. You can create and restore backup images, browse or delete files on flash drives, and you can optionally set your flash drives to autorun the manager when it's plugged into a computer.
This hot new utility from Microsoft's Garage projects lets you use one mouse and keyboard across multiple computers (up to four), provided they each have their own monitor and are on the same network. (I find it particularly useful with my desktop and laptop since I only have one monitor.) You can copy and paste text and images across all computers, and you can drag and drop files. It's very easy to set up and it works great. Definitely worth trying.
Supported Systems: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7
This utility enables the mounting of ISO disk image files as virtual CD-ROM drives. This can be highly useful for reading disk images to install software or recover backup files. Windows 8 has this ability natively. This utility is not supported by Microsoft and requires elevated privileges to install.