Free software on the internet is sometimes called freeware. At another level there is shareware. In theory you pay nothing for freeware but you are supposed to donate to the cause on shareware. After all, the developers of shareware need something for their time.
The next level is trial software. Use trial software if you have a one time thing that needs doing, so it doesn’t make any sense to buy the software. Often trial software has built in limitations such as you may not be able to save your work or you may not be able to use all the features.
The first thing you want to think about when you are thinking about downloading software from the internet is viruses. The Second is spyware. The third is adware. The fourth is: Why am I doing this? Downloading free software is an inherently risky proposition. So much so that I recommend that you never do it on your work computer or on a computer at home that you have not backed up. By the way, before you embark upon this adventure, back up all your data and personal files and make sure you have an extra, legal copy of your operating system lying around. The back up has to be physically distinct from your computer or it is useless.
If downloading software is so dangerous why am I even talking about it? Downloading free software from the internet is dangerous in the same way that fire is dangerous. And we all have fire in our kitchens. You can’t just do any old thing any old way with fire but most people can use fire without burning their houses down.
I just downloaded some free photo editing software for my wife at home. She has used it and she seems happy with it. They key to downloading free software safely is to know where to go. By the way, a place not to go is one of those sites recommended by those annoying popups. If you ever get a popup that says you may be infected and you need to go to Jolly Rogers pirate emporium to get the latest registry cleaner-don’t. Jolly Roger is there to infect you not to help you. Close that window, make sure you own anti-virus, anti spyware, and anti adware programs are running and up to date and due to scan sometime in the next week. If you don’t have anti virus software get off the internet until you do.
I have links to three sites I have found to be safe in the resources. They are CNET, TUCOWS, and ZDNET. There are other cites that might work as well but these have worked for me. When you are doing something mildly risky like downloading freeware, you might try the rule of threes. Three strikes and you are in. Which is to say, if you can get three independent sources to recommend a site then check it out. Also, the more reputable the sources the better the recommendation. It is unlikely that science writers for CNN, FoxNews, and PCWorld would recommend a site full of wicked malware. Speaking of PCWorld, they have their own download site. Though I don’t have any experience downloading from PCWorld, I will probably do so in the future because they meet some of my main criteria for being a safe site. PCWorld is a known brand and a known quantity. They have something to loose if they steer your wrong. Their downloads list the number of people who have downloaded the software before you. When it comes to downloading software, you do not wish to be first. If possible, you want to be the 15 millionth person who has downloaded the software. When so many have used the software not only is it more likely to work, but it is extremely unlikely to have any malware, or bad software associated with it.
Now as to the site I have more familiarity with, I generally use CNET. I like the fact that they have an editors rating, a users rating and a download popularity indicator. Software that rates high with the editors, and users and has been downloaded by millions is highly unlikely to give you any problems and is very likely to do at least some of what you want. You can also sort the software on ratings and search on which platform you are using. Another hint on software hunting is make sure the software will work on your machine. If you have the latest PC this is usually not a problem. If you have a Mac or an older PC, tread lightly and make sure the software will work for you.
Another thing I like about CNET downloads is that it is not that difficult to see if something is free, or shareware or a trial version or a full pay version.
Use the same basic criteria I have discussed on whatever site you use to get your free software and you should not have any problems. Make sure your software has been recommended by someone, either editors or users or both. Make sure that more than few people have downloaded it. If the downloads are under say 100,000 this product is too green for you-pass it by. Make sure the software is actually free and that it will work on your system.