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Best Free Networking Software for Windows and Mac

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

Apps in this Guide

Local home networks don't just get your computers onto the Internet. They also let you stream media from one device to another, or just transfer files. And with the right setup, you can access amore

Local home networks don't just get your computers onto the Internet. They also let you stream media from one device to another, or just transfer files. And with the right setup, you can access a networked Mac or PC from miles away. Because of that, these devices can also benefit from firewall software. Let's give you some shopping pointers. (If you're looking for download monitors, VPN software, or cloud data backup, check out our Internet Software section for recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need special software to connect my computer to a network?
Ordinarily, the network apps built into Windows and macOS are all that you need. However, if you need to remotely access files or computers at your workplace when you are not in the office, you may need VPN (Virtual Private Network) software. Your employer should provide this software to you.
Should I get a software-based firewall?
Most home network setups don't have a strong need for a software firewall -- an app that helps filter out unsolicited connection attempts. Your network router and your ISP (internet service provider) will block the overwhelming majority of attempts to gain unauthorized access to your home network, though your Wi-Fi still needs a solid password. MacOS's built-in firewall should be fine for most home users, though it is disabled by default. To enable it, click on the Apple menu, then System Preferences, then Security & Privacy, then Firewall. Click the padlock to unlock, give MacOS your user name and password, and click on Turn On Firewall.

Recommended Networking Apps for Windows

Google Chrome Remote Desktop

Google Chrome Remote Desktop

There are some connections you might want to make from miles away, however. For example, what if you get to work and realize that you left an important file on your computer back at home? This is where remote desktop software comes in. It allows you to see your home computer like a website on the Internet (protected by a user name and password, of course) and move files back and forth. There are a number of subscription-based services available, which can scale up to hundreds of users -- and also thousands of dollars. For individuals, the Remote Desktop extension for the Google Chrome browser is free to use and fairly straightforward to set up. (Android and iPhone users will need to download a separate Chrome Remote Desktop app to access the computer on the other end, instead of using the Chrome browser itself.) Windows has its Remote Desktop utility built-in, but it requires making some changes to your network router settings, which can be tricky for non-technical users.

ZoneAlarm

ZoneAlarm

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While desktop PCs are usually safe behind a network router, a laptop away from home can benefit from a software firewall, because public Wi-Fi can leave you exposed. Someone connected to the same network as you can see your device and potentially gain unauthorized access more easily than if they were miles away. Apps like Zonealarm can go further than the firewall that's built into Windows 7,8, and 10.

If you have a collection of audio and video files that you want to use on multiple devices within your household, you don't have to take the time to move them around. Instead, you can keep them on one device and stream them to another over your local network. An app like Plex can organize your media library and make it visible to other nearby devices that are on the same Wi-Fi network.