Linux is a freely-distributable open source operating system that runs on virtually any platform. One of the most interesting aspects of using Linux is that besides the operating system, you get a web browser, an office productivity suite, and many, many other programs - not only do you get an operating system, you also get all the software you need for your everyday computing needs. There is little initial cost for this operating system. The costs come later in the form of training & organizational costs associated with switching from one system to another or integration between existing software and the new stuff. These issues are examined in my Thesis and Project.
Try the OpenOffice.org office productivity suite. The Mission Statement for this free, open source product is to, "To create, as a community, the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format." This is traditional software - you download the application, run the setup.exe file, and the program is installed on your computer's hard drive. You can install it on a computer running Windows.
The Mozilla foundation's Firefox web browser is an alternative to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. According to the Mozilla website, the goal is a better web experience. Firefox "has an intuitive interface and blocks viruses, spyware, and popup ads. It delivers Web pages faster than ever. And it is easy to install and import your favorites. Packed with useful features like tabbed browsing, Live Bookmarks, and an integrated Search bar, Firefox will change the way you experience the Web, for the better." I use this product at home and at work. This web browser will work on a computer running Windows.
Here are two free versions of commercial PDF creation software. CutePDF Writer installs itself as a printer subsystem - this enables virtually any Windows application (that can print) to create a PDF document. The other program is named PDFCreator and works in a similar fashion. Either of these programs will work with Windows.
AVG is a free anti-virus scanner that works on computers running Microsoft Windows. If you have a computer that is connected to the Internet, please install an anti-virus scanner on your PC - it will keep out Trojans, worms, and nasty viruses!
What your computer also needs is an anti-spyware. The best freeware anti-spyware program that I have found is called Ad Aware and I use it at home and work.
OpenVPN is a full-featured SSL VPN solution which can accomodate a wide range of configurations, including remote access, site-to-site VPNs, WiFi security, and enterprise-scale remote access solutions with load balancing, failover, and fine-grained access-controls. And the best feature of this application is that the application is FREE - there are no licensing fees. Don't know what VPN is, check out this nice definition on the Wikipedia site.
The concept of a web-based word processing application has been around for a few years. Writely is a web word processor that provides simple and secure document collaboration and publishing on the web using only the browser.
Basecamp is a unique project collaboration tool. Projects don't fail from a lack of charts, graphs, or reports, they fail from a lack of communication and collaboration. Basecamp makes it simple to communicate and collaborate on projects. It's elegant, easy, and web-based. You don't need to download, install, or configure anything (no IT department required!). All you need is a web browser and an internet connection.
Writeboards are sharable, web-based text documents that let you save every edit, roll back to any version, and easily compare changes. Use Writeboard to write solo or collaborate with others.
Ta-da Lists are simple, sharable to-do lists. It's just what you need and nothing you don't. And this is another web-based application that is free.
I use three sites to find new and interesting freeware programs, SnapFiles.com, Downloads.com, and SourceForge.net. Use the search feature at each of these sites to look around and find what you are looking for.