Windows Starter Kit

The Windows Starter Kit is a collection of some of the best and most essential freeware to get your new PC going. From browsers to productivity to utilities, we cover all the bases. If you're looking for the best in security freeware, check out our Security Starter Kit for all your antivirus needs. Essential utilities have earned their own kit, too: the Windows Utilities Starter Kit.

Office and productivity

There's more to productivity apps than just replacement Microsoft Office. Here we offer four must-have alternatives.

Apache OpenOffice

A credible rival to MS Office, OpenOffice.org includes powerful applications for making text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, diagrams, databases, and HTML and XML documents. It handles complex equations and multipart documents as easily as simple letters and faxes.

Even advanced Office users will find the templates, collaborative features, macros, and programming language familiar. Extensible and open source, it lets you both import and save documents in formats as diverse as MS Office formats, PDF, HTML, WordPerfect, XML, and others. However, the default is to save files in the open-standard Oasis OpenDocument XML format for maximum compatibility with other applications.

Multilingual and cross-platform, OpenOffice.org is a compelling option for anyone in search of an alternative office suite. A zippier version is available as the OpenOffice.org remix Go-OO.

AbiWord

OpenOffice can be too much for many users, so we suggest AbiWord when you're looking for just the word processor without the massive suite behind it. It has a quick learning curve with an interface similar to those in Word and WordPerfect, and is compatible with both MS Word 2007 and OpenOffice.org 3.

All the basics are here, including highlight, notation, and a bevy of common formatting tools. Although we did miss a grammar-checker, AbiWord has a multilingual spell-checker. A huge plus is the ability to open and save Microsoft Word documents, though the program also has its own proprietary file format. You can download plug-ins at the publisher's site to import and export a wide variety of other formats, including OpenDocument Format.

Nitro PDF Reader (32-bit)

Nitro's new free PDF reader takes the key features that you want in a PDF reader, a familiar interface, and smooth functionality and combines them into an eminently usable program that doesn't get in between you and your documents. Nitro PDF Reader boasts five main features: tabbed PDF reading; PDF editing including highlight tools for commenting and sticky notes for free-form comments; adding text to PDFs via the free-form text tool or the form-filling helper; a signature stamp for digitally adding your imprimatur to documents; and PDF creation using drag-and-drop or the in-program PDF creating tool.

Along with its robust tool set, Nitro PDF Reader works fast, incurring no noticeable performance flaws. It also converts other files to PDF, and can extract images and text from PDFs separately, making it far more useful for most people than Adobe's Reader, and far less of a hassle than other alternative PDF readers.