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Although there are plenty of free software floating around on the web, not all freeware are created equal. There is such a large disparity in quality between freeware from different companies that sometimes we must turn towards established, trusted companies, if just to make sure the software comes from a credible source.

Although Microsoft isn’t a company that people would usually associate with freeware, there are a surprisingly robust selection of free Microsoft products. The following list covers the cream of the crop products that truly stand out among their free and paid counterparts. This is part two to Mahendra’s part one  on free Microsoft products, which you can read here The Top 5 Free Microsoft Products & Why They Are The Best The Top 5 Free Microsoft Products & Why They Are The Best Read More .

1. Microsoft Security Essentials

I work for a technology center that routinely diagnoses and removes viruses from its customers’ computers. While we use a hoard of different antivirus and malware scanners to eradicate viruses, none has been as surprisingly effective as Microsoft Security Essentials. One particular day in our office, Microsoft Security Essentials picked up sixteen entries that neither Panda Activescan nor AVG antivirus had found. In fact, it was so popular in our office that it became the default antivirus that we install on reformatted computers before they go back to their clients.

2. Bing Maps

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Bing Maps is Microsoft’s version of the popular Google Maps. While the latter remains an integral part of many people’s lives, Bing Maps is an alternative that is, perhaps even more efficient. The first great thing about Bing Maps is that the front page of the website features both a To and From box. I typed in two places of interest (just to test how well Bing Maps was able to pin down their addresses) and surprisingly, Bing Maps loaded both these places immediately, and accurately. On the other hand, when I tried the same search on Google Maps, not only did the search take longer, but the addresses that Google picked were wrong!

Some additional features of Bing Maps that may prove useful are: the option to pick a route by the least amount of traffic, and the ability to send your directions to either an email, a mobile phone, or to your GPS. While I wasn’t able to test whether I could actually put my directions into a GPS system, seeing as I don’t own one, just the fact that this option exists makes Bing a viable alternative to Google Maps in my mind.

3. Windows Live Photo Gallery

Windows Live Photo Gallery is a free Microsoft product that can definitely give Picasa a run for its money. Although I prefer Picasa’s interface and organization a bit more, Windows Live Photo Gallery has the same basic features like cropping, people tagging, and simple editing. WL Photo Gallery’s exposure and color adjusting features are a bit more comprehensive than that of Picasa, but it lacks Picasa’s host of filters. As far as plug-ins go, WL Photo Gallery supports much of the same functionality that Picasa does, such as Facebook, youTube, and Flickr upload.

The main reason I love WL Photo Gallery is for its Facebook Upload plug-in. Whereas Picasa’s Facebook plug-in simply puts your photos and the associated captions in an album, WL Photo Gallery uploads your tags as well, which means that you can kill two birds with one stone! Upon upload, WL Photo Gallery pulls out the names you’ve tagged your pictures with, and compares them to the names of your friends, and automatically uploads these tags to Facebook.

For those names that WL Photo Gallery can’t match up, it lets you select the friend that goes with each tag. In the end, if you like having your pictures on your computer tagged, you won’t have to redo all of your hard work when you have to upload your pictures.

4. Process Explorer

To put it simply, Process Monitor is a bit like Task Monitor on steroids. If you ever feel the need to know exactly what is running on your computer, down to the last thread, then Process Monitor is your program. You can trace each program down to the individual processes and files that the program is using. You can also monitor your CPU usage, as well as the CPU usage history. Process Monitor tracks every last minute detail about the memory usage and running operations on your computer, so if you ever feel like learning a bit more about how the programs on your computer works, consider trying Process Explorer.

5. Paint.NET

Although Paint.NET isn’t technically a Microsoft program, it was originally mentored by Microsoft, and intended to replace Microsoft Paint. Now, Paint.NET is still maintained by some of the alumni, and has flourished into a commendable program that rivals Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro. It was designed with speed in mind, so users tired of Photoshop’s laggy rendering and slow startup, or looking for a image editor for their netbook, may find Paint.NET the alternative they have been looking for. Like for Photoshop, Paint.NET also has an extensive list of plug-ins available to further add on to its capabilities.

Although many people seem to think that Microsoft only develops paid products, it is quite the contrary. There is a hoard of free Microsoft products for the public that not only bolster Windows’s features, but also act as viable competitors to many popular programs such as Picasa and Google Maps. Now that we’ve introduced you to a few of these products, try them out, and let us know how they compare!

  1. booqs
    March 12, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    sorry that didn't work sean. thought it was worth a shot as the guys involved are quite responsible, and knowledgeable in their posts. if i come across anything while researching a possible move to mse in my day job i'll drop back in and respond if the thread is still open. thanks for the details, it helps.

  2. Sean
    March 10, 2010 at 4:14 am

    boogs, I tried that and the spiking resumed. It goes from 30-75% at startup for a good 5 minutes, then settles down. Then if I open Chrome, it spikes from between 30-50% for several minutes. Panda spikes at about 12%, but generally hardly makes a dent in my CPU. And this happens on two different machines, a HP desktop running Win 7, and a Lenovo laptop running XP. Strange. I can't for the life of me figure out why, but Panda is running fine and it's free.

    I actually find it a bit odd that I would have to tell my AV program not to scan itself. Hardly the most brilliant programming. I often find myself wondering if any of the employees and programmers at MS actually use their own programs.

  3. Sean
    March 9, 2010 at 11:39 am

    I tried MSE for a few months and from a security perspective it seemed fine, but it randomly hogged my CPU, particularly at startup or when I started certain programs. The CPU usage routinely went over 50% for MSE. I switched to Panda Cloud + ZoneAlarm (instead of Windows Firewall) but had to nix ZA because it corrupted a lot downloaded RAR files. So, I'm now using Panda and Windows Firewall with no major system spikes. I'd use MSE if I could figure out the system spikes though.

  4. booqs
    February 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    @netjunky ... there are many people that have had your problem. so you likely know MSE and ZA do not "get along" in many configurations, and haven't dating back to early MSE betas.
    ZA was a fav of mine for years, but has lost it's luster for a few reasons.
    imho, MSE with W7's firewall configured correctly is doing everything that my customers need.

  5. netjunky
    February 28, 2010 at 5:29 am

    Has anyone else had a problem running ZoneAlarm(free) with Microsoft Security Essentials? I just installed W7 on a new hard drive and I decided to try MSE over AVG for a change. Then when I went to install ZA, it locks up the computer shortly after bootup. I tried uninstalling ZA, re-downloading and re-installing it to no avail. Maybe I should have installed it first or possibly it's something else going on.

  6. booqs
    February 26, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    man, there is always one in a group, eh? i use nod32SS to run our network at work. I install MSE on many machines in my part-time business. I have actually recommended that we take a strong look over the next year at going with MSE at my regular job.

    Since I want to keep my job, you MIGHT guess I LIKE it.

    As for the main critic of the article, he/she installed it over top of Avira, etc. Well duh! I don't care WHAT he comes up with, unless it's a total, genuine apology to the writer.

    I don't agree with ALL your recommendations, but I'm usually knocking MS, but so far MSE works in my world. I say that with the caveat that the installer must have a clue what they are doing.

  7. BOFH
    February 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Hallelujah! MS SecEss is definitely one of the the better AV products out there. Being free only makes it more cherished in my toolbox. I was a former AVG user but they started a constant barrage of popups trying to swing my to the paid product. Hey, if you annoy me enough I'd much rather switch to ANOTHER paid product than one from the bas#@%&$ that spammed me in the first place. :)

    But as far as anything Bing--maps or otherwise--YEEEEEUCK! If I was more concerned with screen design than accuracy or content then maybe I'd use it. No thanks, I'll stick with Google.

    Photo Gallery? BEH! Yeah, I really, really, really want this piece of bloatware slowing my system down. Thanks, but Picasa does everything I need and then some. Without bogging down the works.

  8. ShakiestNerd
    February 26, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    This year, I switched from AVG to MS Security Essentials to give it the test. So far, so good.

    I have recommended Paint.NET to several folks. I like it!

  9. Ada Adamson
    February 26, 2010 at 11:08 am

    "Ellis Fisk" shows exactly what is wrong here. He is running all this extra stuff and doesn't understand why something may not work on his computer. Pick a product and use it. If it doesn't work on your machine then fine. Find out the problem and publish your results. Quit making comments that come off as if you are just trolling a website. Inject some useful comments or don't comment at all.

    Rant over.

  10. Ed
    February 25, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Live Mesh has to be the greatest little known free Microsoft service out there. 5GB of free cloud storage comes in very handy.

  11. Rodski
    February 24, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    paint.net is better than MS paint,the only conflict between them was MS Paint is much easier to use than Paint.net,but i used both of them....Cheers!!!

  12. Trevor
    February 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    I haven't been much of a Windows fan for a while. However, I have to admit, I do really like Windows Live Writer. I have been using it for a couple months and have to say, it is a pretty great app.

    For the most part I would say it is probably one of the easiest to use blogging apps I have tried. I hope they keep making things more user friendly like they have been recently.

  13. Tom Alex
    February 24, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Hello

    Is MSE same as Microsoft Live Antivirus

    I used it for some time and would bet that it was the one of the best i have ever used

  14. Henx
    February 24, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Thanks for the post, really good stuff here. I've use process explorer and its a great tool. And I'm surprised too with the Security essentials, didn't think that it would be that good till I tested it and was very pleased.

  15. Altzan
    February 24, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Good list, process Explorer looks handy.

  16. keyur patel
    February 24, 2010 at 1:27 am

    awesome, microsoft tools can do such a great work
    three cheers to you

  17. Ellis Fisk
    February 23, 2010 at 8:59 pm

    I was sucked in by your description of Microsoft Essentials. I've never liked Microsoft products, but I'm always willing to try something that might be better even if it comes from Microsoft. As with most Microsoft products it too much to long to install. I let it do the first scan, the so called "quick scan". After an 1 1/2 hrs and less than a third complete, I canceled the scan. Mistake #1. Total freeze. Can't access Task manager. I remove the battery and start from scratch. Mistake #2 I tried to uninstall Microsoft Essentials from Add/Remove. The software is like a virus and it took 38 minutes just to get into add/remove and another 41 minutes to uninstall Microsoft Essential.
    I work for a living. You cost me money.
    MUO is a great web site. It's a great tool. I'll continue to use it, but you've tarnished it's image. I hope they think twice about using you in the future.

    • Angelina
      February 24, 2010 at 7:40 am

      I'm sorry that was your experience with MSE, but I myself downloaded it and have been using it without any trouble, and the tech center at which I work has also been using MSE for the past two months, without any incident. Did you perhaps leave your previous antivirus program running while you were installing MSE? Sometimes having multiple antiviruses running simultaneously will cause issues with your computer. further, how much space on your computer do you have, and how much ram do you have? This may be obvious, but if your computer doesn't have sufficient ram to handle MSE, scanning will definitely be slower than usual, especially if your computer is particularly full. Also, if you haven't defragmented in a while, that could also be a reason why scanning / uninstalling took so long.
      hopefully that helps! :]

      • Ellis Fisk
        February 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm

        Yes you are correct. I had other security programs running. I have four: GMER.net, Avira, UBCD4WIN,and Malwarebytes. I have never had conflicts with these programs. With the exception of GMER, I've been running these three programs for at least a year and a half and occasionally trying out other programs as I did with Microsoft Essentials. Again, I didn't have any conflict between any security programs.
        I've been using Microsoft products since 1984 - 1985. When ever there is a complaint about Microsoft software, the reply points the finger at the computer not having enough RAM or hard disk space. The problem is NEVER with the Microsoft software.
        My RAM and hard disk space are not the problem. Let me repeat that so it sinks in. My RAM and hard disk are not the problem.
        But lets say that I'm not the only one who had a problem. Lets take the argument one step further and postulate that hundreds of people had the same or similar problem. Are you going to argue that All these people should dump there existing computers and buy new ones that comply with Microsoft's need for more RAM & hard disk space?

        You need another argument. What do you accomplish by blaming RAM & hard disk? What argument have you made that Microsoft Security Essentials is not only worth using, but is "THE BEST"? Tell me something you don't like about Microsoft Security Essential?
        Give me a comparison between MSE and any two of Microsoft security products. How do they differ? Feature comparison.
        If it's the best, sell it to me. Why isn't Microsoft preaching its best of the best qualities and features. If they own the only security software anyone will ever need, why aren't they shouting it from the mountain tops? Why do they have other security software if MSU is the best?

        Your argument: you use it and you like it. For a whole two months I might add. I'm overwhelmed. I wouldn't recommend a software product to anyone unless I use it for 6 months to a year and in my recommendation I out line the problems that I've run across in the process of using. All software has problems. I wouldn't be naive enough to call anything the best.
        I need a little bit more than I use it and I like it. On average, I try out 10 - 15 apps and software packages a month. I've been doing that for over a year. In that entire time I've had a few conflicts that caused me problems. Those conflicts didn't come close to what Microsoft Security Essentials did.
        It froze two different computers solid. I wouldn't dare try it on my third computer.

        To satisfy my own curiosity, I'll uninstall all the security software that I have running now and load just Microsoft Security Essential. I'll let you know the outcome.

        For comparison, I have Microsoft Office 2007 Professional loaded on my oldest computer. It's a pig. It gobbles up RAM and hard disk space. At times it slows the computer something awful. But it never freezes. Never stalls. I'm able to run multiple programs at the same time.

        As I said, I'm not a Microsoft fan, but I use some of their products because they are good products. Useful. Productive. Worth having.

        • johngun
          February 25, 2010 at 6:45 am

          "...but you’ve tarnished it’s image. I hope they think twice about using you in the future."

          What the hell?? you probably demand they fire the cook at IHOP when he burns your toast. For someone whose time is so valuable you seem to be easily distracted.

        • Becca
          March 14, 2010 at 10:34 pm

          I'm sorry, Ellis, but I too have to disagree. MSE only takes 15 minutes on my 160GB machine and works wonderfully. You may not have had any conflicts that you know of, but you shouldn't have more than one antivirus running at a time. When each is working at the same time, they tend to slow your computer down. I also agree that not enough RAM could be the problem or maybe another software issue. I install MSE on my older relatives computers because it is easy to use, fast and reliable at catching the nasties.

    • Jackson Chung
      February 24, 2010 at 8:01 am

      Hi Ellis,

      As with all anti-malware application, one has to take extra precautions when installing/scanning. As Angie has already pointed out, using multiple antivirus applications simultaneously can cause lockups.

      Also, don't forget that this is not any regular software we're talking about. This is an antivirus application. It will essentially be integrated tightly into the system. You should have though about the installation process before attempting it. It wasn't as though you were going to install MSN Messenger. This is a security application that has definitions to check and scans to run while installing.

      MSE is generally quite highly recommended. If it has these effects on your computer, I suggest leaving it alone. Please don't blame Angie for something your computer screwed up.

      • AriesWarlock
        February 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm

        Or that he himself screwed up.

      • Pat
        February 25, 2010 at 2:13 pm

        I agree, I think Angelina was just giving a few basic suggestions of possible causes to the problem, and her assessments were sound. She's not to blame, after all she doesn't know Ellis's level of technical impairment. IF he is running several antivirus and security suites and installs 10 to 15 new programs per month on a computer that barely has the resources to run Microsoft Office, my guess would be that he screwed it up himself. Don't blame Angelina or the Micronazis.

    • Dustin Harper
      February 24, 2010 at 8:20 am

      That's the first time I've heard of this happening out of many installs. There are a few reasons for it, but as Angie mentioned, it may have been conflicting with another AV program. But, if this one article and program changed your mind on this site, maybe there are other issues to look at.

      Great article, Angie. Paint.NET is a great alternative to Photoshop, especially for us that don't even use PS to it's full potential. MSE has worked awesome for me and many others. And, although I prefer Google Maps, Bing maps is a good alternative.

      • Cad Delworth CEng MBCS CITP
        March 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm

        Agreed, perhaps Ellis was a little OTT in his treatment of Angelina, but I can't argue with his conclusion. I've been using PCs since 1981 and reckon that darn near 30 years of experience qualifies me to comment.

        Ellis is correct about MSE, in that I also found that MSE won't play nice with other AVs. My personal choice of AV is avast! 5.0, but having heard 'good things' about MSE, I installed it. Luckily, I didn't have a lock-up like Ellis, BUT MSE did keep trying to stop avast! from running. So my verdict was to remove MSE and not to bother with it.

        We all know that 'some' AVs won't co-operate with specific 'other' AVs, and MSE seems to be in that category.

        To Angelina: I wouldn't use AVG as a baseline AV for comparison. AVG isn't exactly state-of-the-art any more, and frequently misses threats that many other AVs find.

        To Pat: Actually, Ellis DIDN'T say that he tried MSE on his PC running MSO 2007: he said that MSO 2007 runs on his OLDEST PC.

        To Ellis: While I sympathise with you losing time on this, I can't help thinking that you should reserve 'try-outs' for downtime, and also take appropriate precautions first (a disk image if possible; otherwise, a System Restore point as a bare minimum). Yes, it may have cost you time, but as others have said, AVs integrate tightly into the OS (as I'm sure you know), so it's wise to plan ahead and not 'just try' them.

        Just my two-penn'orth…

        • AriesWarlock
          March 5, 2010 at 7:06 am

          You have 30 years of experience, and you didn't think about disabling Avast! before installing MSE?

    • Bud Parker
      February 26, 2010 at 11:00 am

      Ellis,

      Your rant at Angelina because she was kind enough to post a reply trying to assist you identifies you as “Unapproachable.” You exhibit anger to the wrong audience. Good luck with your dilemma. I, for one, will offer zero assistance. Have a nice life.

  18. Doc
    February 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Process Explorer isn't technically a Microsoft program either. It was originally developed by Sysinternals, which was purchased by Microsoft several years ago.

  19. AriesWarlock
    February 23, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I do like WLPG more than Picasa, whenever I put tags on an image, Picasa doesn't get them but WLPG does show them. there's even a tags tree selection so I can easily pick which images I want to be shown. If anybody knows how to do this in Picasa, please let me know.

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