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Best Free Internet Software for Windows and Macs

Download.com hooks you up with the best free Windows and Mac Internet software.

Apps in this Guide

Even the savviest of Internet users can benefit from tools other than a Web browser and its addons, and the contents of this kit has changed as the Net has evolved. For example, we no longer requiremore

Even the savviest of Internet users can benefit from tools other than a Web browser and its addons, and the contents of this kit has changed as the Net has evolved. For example, we no longer require third-party download managers or online activity erasers, but VPNs (virtual private networks) and encrypted cloud data backups are no longer just business services. Let's give you an overview of which Internet software you need, and which you don't.

Frequently Asked Questions

What security and privacy tools should I avoid?
Online activity erasers are a big one. There's a cottage industry of utilities that promise to delete the traces of your online activities from your computer, but they are no longer necessary. Instead, you can use Incognito Mode in Google Chrome (press Ctrl-Shift-N in Windows, or Command-Shift-N on a Mac), or Private Browsing mode in Firefox (Ctrl-Shift-P in Windows, Command-Shift-P on a Mac). In this mode, the browser won't keep a record of the pages you visit or the searches you conduct, and it won't keep cookies or temporary files. This doesn't make you invisible on the Internet, though; it just doesn't leave a trail on the computer itself. Most major browsers have this function.
How do I pick a good connection monitoring tool?
Your ISP (Internet service provider) may provide a download meter for you on its website, but it's generally better to keep your own logs. An app like BitMeter OS can park in the background and track your download speeds and how many gigabytes of files you're downloading. It can also help you troubleshoot connection problems. Not recommended: Download accelerators or download managers. There was a time when file hosting websites put a cap on their maximum download speeds, and in some cases you could use a download accelerator to get around that by making multiple connections and once. But these days, you're usually limited by the overall speed of the site and that of your Internet connection. Accelerators are rarely needed now. Programs that track what you're downloading and where you're downloading it from aren't really needed now either, because that functionality is built in to most major browsers. In both Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, press Ctrl-J to open it (Command-Shift-J on a Mac).

Recommended Internet Apps for Windows and Mac

Tor Browser

Tor Browser

A snoop-free browsing experience can be difficult to achieve, but apps like the Tor Browser make it possible. The browser is a modified form of Firefox with built-in support for the Tor network. This is a network of encrypting relays between you and the Internet that makes it difficult for nosy people to intercept your private online communications or record your whereabouts. The Tor Browser works similarly to a VPN, but it's more decentralized, and it's free. The Android version is called Orfox and is used in combination with the Orbot app to connect to the Tor network. iOS doesn't have an official Tor option, but there are third-party Tor-aware browsers such as Art Fusion's VPN Browser.

iVPN

iVPN

VPNs provide an encrypted tunnel between you and your online destination, greatly reducing the chance that people in the middle can snoop on you and potentially collect sensitive personal information. There's usually a compromise in connection speed, and some websites will not let you connect if they detect that you are reaching them via a VPN tunnel. But most VPN services offer a money-back guarantee, so you can test them out commitment-free. (We generally don't recommend free VPNs, since their monetization methods may include your user data.) iVPN has a good reputation.

SpiderOak

SpiderOak

Google Drive is easy to use and very accessible, but it's technically not private. Any data you put in there that's not encrypted can be viewed by Google or a third party with the necessary legal paperwork, because they keep a copy of your decryption keys. If you don't want someone digging into tax records or other sensitive materials that you've uploaded to Google Drive, you'll have to manually encrypt your own files, which can be a hassle -- or you can sign up for a cloud data backup service that does not keep a copy of your decryption keys. This is called client-side encryption (CSE). The tradeoff is that non-shared keys cannot be reset. So if you lose or forget your password, you can no longer access these files. SpiderOak is a reputable choice.

It can be difficult to find a trustworthy-looking personal VPN service. NordVPN ticks pretty much all of the important boxes. Its sales pitch doesn't promote legally dicey stuff like downloading torrents or watching region-specific versions of Netflix. It doesn't overstate how much your privacy and security are increased by a VPN. Its prices are reasonable, but not so cheap that it looks like corners are being cut.

NordVPN provides a long list of VPN servers that you can connect to, and your connection is consistently fast enough to at least stream an HD video. Its software is easy for a non-technical person to use but still has additional options for more advanced users. The privacy policy is written in plain English. You can pay with Bitcoin. Developers don't keep logs of user activities. The only information stored are your email address and your payment info.