153. Free Stuff from Microsoft
By Andrew D. Wright
Microsoft has a lot of free software and product upgrades in addition to
their well-known commercial products Windows and Office. Many of these
require you to be running a genuine version of Windows or Office, but this
should be the case in any event.
For users of Windows XP, which at the time of this writing is still the
majority of home and office computers, there are free add-ons as well as
free performance and security updates.
Microsoft DirectX is used by Windows for displaying video, 3D graphics and
audio. DirectX is updated every few months with security updates and other
Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP are more than a dozen different add-on
programs which were not distributed with Windows. A taskbar magnifier, a
virtual desktop manager allowing you to run four different desktops at the
same time, a program for synchronizing folders on different devices and
more are available.
Users with Windows Vista have a built-in anti-malware program called
Windows Defender which receives updates to its malware definitions list
through Windows Update. If your computer is set to automatically receive
and install these updates, Windows Defender will be updated automatically,
otherwise updates can be manually installed from the Windows Update page.
Now available for Windows XP, Windows Defender works the same way. Windows
Defender and the monthly Malicious Software Removal Tool represent
Microsoft's response to the ongoing aggressive efforts by criminal
networks to take over Windows computers and use them for illegal
A number of free and powerful tools for Windows can be found on the
Microsoft SysInternals website. From Process Explorer, a superior
replacement for Windows Task Manager, to Autoruns, which gives checkbox
control over every program, service, and codec that is set to start with
your computer, the SysInternals tools are indispensable additions to
Users with currently supported versions of Microsoft Office can receive
program updates and service packs through Microsoft Update or download
them manually from the Microsoft Office website. Also on the Microsoft
Office website are a lot of program add-ons. There are also free viewers
so people without Microsoft Office can open Office files.
For users who need or like to use multiple operating systems at the same
time, Virtual PC 2007 supports all versions of Windows and with a little
effort a list of other operating systems as well. So if you're using
Windows Vista and need to run a program that will only work properly in
Windows 98 (other than games, which usually require more video resources
than the virtual machine will allow), Virtual PC 2007 may be your answer.
The new version of Windows due out later this year, Windows 7, will have a
Virtual Windows XP mode as a free download for Windows 7 Professional and
above. While only able to run on processors that support hardware
virtualization (read: newer top end CPUs), Virtual Mode XP can be almost
seamlessly integrated with the parent Windows 7 desktop so files can be
easily shared between the two.
Microsoft Photosynth is a powerful picture organizing tool allowing a
viewer to experience a three dimensional panorama made up of individual
pictures of a scene. Take pictures of a town square, for example, and get
closeups of details of the scene. Photosynth can then recreate the town
square from your pictures, letting you turn and view the scene from any
angle and zoom in on any detail you'd photographed. Free with some
restrictions, pay service available.
DirectX for Windows XP updates (free):
Windows XP PowerToys (free):
Windows Defender (free):
Microsoft SysInternals (free):
Microsoft Update (free: requires Internet Explorer):
Microsoft Office site:
Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 (free: doesn't require hardware virtualization):
Microsoft Virtual PC (free: requires hardware virtualization):
Microsoft Photosynth (free with limitations):
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Originally published 29 May 2009