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Finding free software shouldn’t be hard, and it shouldn’t come with risk. Linux users are lucky: they have access to package managers full of clean software. Android and Windows users, not so much: there’s always a chance that any “free” app will be riddled with ads, or come with malware. Which is why open source software is nice: it’s developed by a community, not a company.
But finding clean downloads of open source software, and other free software can be tricky. Today Cool Websites and Apps shows you five places to get clean software installers and updates for a wide variety of free programs. Let’s get started.
F-Droid (Android): Open Source App Store for Android
If you want a bunch of free software that’s ad-free and secure, F-Droid is what you should check first. It’s an alternative app store that only includes open source software.
You’re probably aware that Android is built in part on the Linux kernel, but the broader ecosystem isn’t exactly open source: the parts of Android most people interact with isn’t exactly libre. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t open source software available for Linux – and F-Droid is where you can find it.
You’ll find hundreds of programs here, including newer versions of staples like VLC. It kinda feels like browsing the Ubuntu repositories, with all the pros and cons that come with that, but for mobile. It’s worth exploring.
Oh: and if you want a prettier interface, check out Fossdroid.com.
NPacked (Windows): Package Manager for Windows
I showed you Chocolatey, which lets you install Windows software from the command line – including a lot of open source software. If you’d prefer a GUI tool for browsing software, though, NPacked is what you want. With it you can browse thousands of free programs, and even manage updates.
You can search for software, or browse by category. There are nearly 1,000 apps offered in total, including a few open source games you can enjoy on Windows. The program will scan your currently installed software and offer updates when relevant, so if nothing else it’s an easy way to keep a bunch of programs up-to-date.
Fosshub (Web): Crap-Free Source for Free Software
There have been, shall we say, certain controversies involving SourceForge: many popular projects had adware like Opencandy added to downloads, in an effort to make a few bucks for the site. This is unfortunate: that site was long a go-to destination for open source software, but the brand is toxic among users at this point. Many projects have moved to other sites, like Github, but new alternatives are popping up.
Which brings us to Flosshub, a site that’s trying to build a name on adware-free software downloads for users and code hosting for developers. Basically, it’s a great place to browse for free software that’s clean.
The site’s name is unfortunate: it implies the site is specifically for Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS), but there are plenty of non-FLOSS downloads that are nonetheless free. But even with this in mind, it’s a good place to head to for a lot of the software you install every time you set up a computer.
Ketarin (Windows): Keep Your Installer Files Up-To-Date
If you’re like most geeks, your friends and family are constantly asking you for computer help – so you carry a USB key full of software with you, just in case. But the install files on those keys can go out of date pretty quickly, meaning you need to install updates for programs after installing them.
Ketarin helps you with this, by automatically making sure a folder full of installers and portable software is up-to-date.
This app’s been around for a while and is still actively updated. I’m honestly amazed I haven’t heard of it until now, and I hope it proves useful for all of you.
Ninite (Web/Windows): The Ultimate Software Download Tool
Technically Cool Websites and Apps is dedicated to covering tools that MakeUseOf is yet to cover, but we haven’t reviewed Ninite since 2009, and, to be honest, this list just isn’t complete without it. If you’ve got a fresh install of Windows, heading to Ninite.com should be one of the first things you do. Just check the software you want to install:
You’ll get a single EXE file that will install all of your programs, without any crapware. The installer is silent, meaning you don’t need to hit “Next” again and again. You can run the same EXE later to update your installed software, or you can pay $10 a year for a dedicated piece of updating software.
Seriously, if you don’t know about Ninite you need to check it out. It’s the best way to download free Windows software, bar none.
Where Do You Download Software?
It’s a jungle out there: people are trying to take advantage of open source software to infect your computer. Knowing a few safe sites to download from will save you time and, potentially, the headache of cleaning up an infected machine.
The above sites are, so far as I know, safe. But if I’m wrong, or if things have changed since I wrote this, I want to know. Fill me in using the comments below, or add a few more safe sites for free downloads in the comments below.