Everyone knows Microsoft for its Windows OS and Office productivity suite. But the software giant makes plenty of other apps, many of which are entirely free to download and use. In fact, there's a ton of them.
When we started counting up all the best free Microsoft apps, we thought we'd find 20 or 30. In the end, we found a lot more. And because this is Microsoft, these apps aren't just okay, they're good. Great, even.
There's a free program or service for just about every aspect of PC use, from headline-grabbers such as Windows Essentials and Microsoft Office Web Apps, to smaller but no less useful tools such as Microsoft Autoruns, Security Essentials and Desktops.
It's not just about work, either; Microsoft is responsible for lots of apps that are enjoyable and fun to use. See through the eyes of the world's telescopes, play a game or two or – better still – create your own with Kodu Game Lab. The list just keeps on growing.
Some of the programs here are unfinished, and clearly marked as such. That means there's a chance you may run into problems using them – nothing major, but take a System Restore point before you proceed, just in case.
We also recommend you don't attempt to install every program in this list in one go; you'll quickly bring your computer to its knees. Instead, pick out tools that excite you and give them a try.
With the Windows Essentials apps, you can choose the ones you want when you download the Windows Essentials installer program. So, what are you waiting for? You're about to make your PC more efficient, secure and fun without spending a thing.
1. Microsoft Office Web Apps
This must be one of the company's biggest giveaways; you can now gain access to the core features of Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for free through your web browser.
Just log on with your Windows Live ID to create new documents or upload existing ones from your computer to your Windows Live SkyDrive account, then edit them in your browser window. Even if you already own a copy of Microsoft Office, this useful freebie enables you to access your documents from any web-connected computer.
2. Windows Live Mail
It's simply the best free email tool there is – essential for Windows 7 users, and a step up from both Microsoft Outlook Express and Windows Mail, too. Reasons to upgrade? It works brilliantly with multiple email accounts, gives you offline access to web-based providers such as Hotmail and Gmail and organises your mail intelligently into conversations.
It also integrates cleverly with a built-in calendar, enabling you to organise your life, too. Windows 7 and Windows Vista users can also enjoy the new photo email option, which enables you to share dozens of pictures without clogging up other people's inboxes.
3. Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center
Microsoft's attempt to move us all over to a new touch-based Windows interface hasn't gone as smoothly as it hoped. Most of us remain perfectly happy using the traditional keyboard and mouse to find our way around. And, if you've bought Microsoft's own input devices, you'll want this free download, which combines the functionality of Intellipoint and Intellimouse into a single app, enabling you customise how your mouse and keyboard will behave in Windows 8 and 8.1.
4. Visual Studio 2013
This freebie will appeal to developers, giving you all the tools you need to build apps and desktop programs without charging you a penny for the privilege. It comes in three flavours: Web for web-based apps and services, Windows for Windows 8 Store apps, and Desktop for those wishing to build traditional desktop apps based on C#, Visual BASIC and C++. Note you'll need to sign into Visual Studio within 30 days of installation to register and sync your settings – all for free.
5. Free Microsoft Office Templates
Need some inspiration for, or a helping hand with, your next Office document? Just visit the Templates section of the Office website (see the link above), where you'll find a mind-boggling number of useful options.
They're divided up into dozens of categories, which cover all of the major Office applications, and can be accessed through each of the individual Office programs when you create a new document.
6. Microsoft Mathematics 4.0
This freebie is aimed mainly at maths and science students, but will appeal to anyone who has need for a graphing calculator with 2D and 3D plotting capabilities as well as step-by-step equation solving. You'll find a formulas and equations library with over 100 commonly used entries, a triangle solver for those wanting to brush up on their sines, cosines and tangents, plus a handy conversion tool covering most measurable units.
pptPlex enables you to zoom into and out of your PowerPoint slides, as well as jump between non-sequential ones. Once it's installed, launch PowerPoint and view the video tutorial to find out how to use it.
8.Free images and clip-art
Need to jazz up an Office document with some relevant imagery? Thousands upon thousands of free photos, clip art and other illustrations are available at the Office website – download individual pictures through the site or use the Microsoft Clip Organizer tool (part of Office).
This tiny extension adds two buttons to the Ribbon in Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013, enabling you to prevent people in the same organisation from forwarding or clicking Reply to all when they get the email you're about to send out.
10. Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack
This tool enables users of Office 2000, XP and 2003 to open, edit and save documents in the new 2007 formats in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Install the Compatibility Pack and the functionality is immediately available in Office's File Open and Save As dialogue boxes.
11. Ribbon Hero 2
The Ribbon interface was a great step forward for Office 2007 and 2010, but if you want to get the most of it, install Ribbon Hero 2.
It monitors what you do in Office and makes suggestions as to which features you should learn about that could help you do your work more efficiently. It also helps you learn about the Ribbon interface using games and tasks that can be played with your friends and colleagues.
12. Microsoft Office Viewers
13. Docs for Facebook
14. Microsoft WebMatrix
This developer-friendly tool may have uses for less experienced web coders too, seeing as it's designed to simplify the process of building, testing and deploying websites. WebMatrix integrates server, database and programming frameworks – all Microsoft technologies of course – into a single tool, but goes one step further in making it possible to build sites based on open-source tools like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! and many more with just a few clicks, making it a great tool for trying these services out without having to sign up for a hosting package first.
This tool allows you to examine legacy Office formats (doc, xls, and ppt) at the binary level. In most cases it's primarily a tool for technical users, but there are some real-life applications that might make it useful for the rest of us too: open the file, select the appropriate parser (Word, Excel or PowerPoint) from the Parser list and choose Parse. OffVis will then alert you if it finds malicious code, and can – with care – even rescue some corrupt files via the Tools > Repair and Defragment menu. Make sure you save a copy of the file though, in case its repairs actually make things worse.
16. ZoomIt 4.5
Although this freebie is aimed largely at those looking to perform technical presentations, its screen zoom and annotation capabilities have a wide range of uses. Once downloaded, simply extract and launch the tool, configure how it works (levels of magnification, hotkeys, drawing pen colour and size) and off you go. No faffing required.
17. SharePoint Designer 2007
It might be getting a little long in the tooth now, but the fact SharePoint Designer is now completely free still makes it worth checking out. Although geared towards building Microsoft SharePoint sites, it doesn't require a SharePoint server to operate, so the software can be used for basic web editing too.
18. OneNote for Windows 8
Get this – Microsoft's OneNote tool is completely free for Windows 8 and 8.1 users via its own Windows 8 Store app. OneNote for Windows 8 has all the functionality you need – create notes and lists with check boxes, finger-based drawings, photos snapped with your webcam, customised formatting and so on; organise them into notebooks and then store them securely in the cloud for easy access via OneNote or the Search charm. You can even share them with others.
Add extra features to Internet Explorer 8 with this free collection of add-ins, most of which are accessible simply by right-clicking the page or selected text: hide distracting images from a web page, look up selected words in an online dictionary, encyclopaedia or search engine, and fix malformed web links. Note: IEToys isn't compatible with Internet Explorer 9 or later, making it one for XP users only.
Too many open windows? Desktops enables you to organise programs and windows in up to four virtual desktops – switch via the Notification tray icon or by assigning hotkeys; perfect for comparing several open windows without having to resort to the taskbar.
21. Mouse without Borders
Too many keyboards and mice cluttering up your desk? Think of Mouse without Borders as a virtual KVM switch, letting you share a single mouse and keyboard across multiple PCs simply by dragging the mouse from one desktop to another. You can even share files between PCs in the same way – dragging them from one display to the next. The tool comes from the Microsoft Garage, an umbrella for side projects set up for Microsoft employees to showcase their talents.
This tool enables Windows XP users to examine and - if necessary - defragment key system files when the PC is restarted, giving their computer a performance boost.
23. Internet Explorer
Are you running the latest version of Internet Explorer on your PC? Windows 7 and 8 users should be on Internet Explorer 11 by now, while Vista users can update all the way to IE9, which is more secure, stable and – above all – much quicker than previous versions of the browser. Windows XP users should download Internet Explorer 8, which is a far safer option than the outdated and insecure version 6 that shipped with it.
24. Malicious Software Removal Tool
This is designed to detect and remove a wide range of known infections from your computer. It can't protect you against viruses in the first place – that's a job for your security software – but if something gets on to your system, it may be able to help with removing it. The Malicious Software Removal Tool is updated once a month through Windows Update, when it scans your computer for possible infections; to run it manually, download it from the link above.
25. Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer
Give your computer, as well as any other networked PCs you use, a once-over for security problems with this free tool. The Baseline Security Analyzer works by verifying that your system is fully patched with the latest Windows updates, and examines it for specific areas of weakness. For example, it can flag up whether or not adequate protective software has been installed.
RichCopy is designed to speed up large file transfers over the network, mainly by copying multiple files at once to make maximum use of your network's bandwidth. It's aimed largely at power users – click Settings to see a bewildering array of options – but it can also be used simply by choosing your source and destination directories (click Connect to select your network destination), then clicking the Copy button to let it perform its magic.
27. Windows Search 4.0
Windows XP users jealous of how quickly searches are performed in Windows 7 and Windows Vista can benefit from the same super-fast technology with Windows Search 4.0. Once installed, allow time for your drive's contents to be indexed and then use the Search box on the taskbar to gain quick and easy access to all your precious files, wherever they're hiding.
Start-up programs hit Windows performance twice over – firstly by extending the time it takes to start Windows, and then by hogging valuable system resources, giving your computer less to work with. Autoruns enables you to see what's starting with Windows, identify unknown items and disable or delete anything nonessential to make your computer faster. Windows 7 and Windows Vista users should run the program as an Administrator in order to make changes.
29. ClearType Tuner Power Toy
This enables you to calibrate your display to make your text sharper, clearer and more legible, which can only help those tired eyes. It's built into Windows 7, while Windows XP users can download a Control Panel applet from the Microsoft Typography website; Windows Vista users should use the online tool to calibrate their displays.
30. Microsoft Security Essentials
Can't afford to pay for security software? Frustrated with your existing free anti-virus tool? Then this could be the answer. Security Essentials is a lightweight, unobtrusive and most importantly free anti-malware tool that's rapidly become one of the most popular security tools for Vista and Windows 7 users. There are other freebies offering better protection out there, but if you're not the kind of person to put your PC at risk from infection on a daily basis, it should prove perfectly adequate.
31. Microsoft Safety Scanner
You think a computer's infected, but you're not 100 per cent sure. You need a free, regularly updated and above all portable tool you can run from CD or USB stick to quickly give that PC the once over to confirm or allay your suspicions. This is that tool. Microsoft Safety Scanner runs both quick and full scans of the target PC's hard drive, and is capable of removing any infection it finds. It's no substitute for the real-time protection offered by your existing anti-virus tool, but it's worth using as a second opinion. Note the tool expires after 10 days, ensuring you replace it with a version containing the very latest virus definitions.
32. .NET Framework Repair Tool v2
An increasing number of programs – including many in this list – make use of Microsoft's .NET Framework libraries, but what happens if one of those libraries becomes corrupt? This free repair tool now works with all versions of .NET Framework from 2.0 up to 4.0 and can fix most major issues it finds. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, then maybe this will.
If you're interested in chatting online – via IM, voice or video – then Skype has to be your tool of choice. It's evolved in leaps and bounds since Microsoft took it over (ditching Windows Live Messenger in the process) and even ties in with Facebook to give you access to your Facebook chums as well as your Microsoft and Skype contacts. It's easy to use, and potentially a money saver too, as you can place free voice and video calls to fellow Skype users, or pay a fraction of the cost for texting or phoning landlines through VOIP too. It's also ubiquitous, allowing you access from your PC, Mac, phone or tablet.
34. Windows Live Writer
One of the drawbacks of blogging is that it usually has to be done through your browser while you're online. Windows Live Writer changes that – you can access your page through a more civilised interface, composing posts offline and publishing them when you're good and ready.
35. Movie Maker
You'll be surprised at how easy transforming a collection of video clips and photos into a movie can be. Movie Maker ensures it's a breeze without compromising on quality – with just a few clicks, your movie can be burned to DVD or distributed over the internet via YouTube. And with HD support, you can really make the most of your camera's capabilities.
36. Yule Log Visualisation
Warm your cockles – virtually speaking – with this visualisation of a roaring fire, designed for Windows Media Player. Access it by switching to the Now Playing mode, then right-click to the left of the playback controls and select Visualizations > Yule Log > Yule Log. Perfect for Christmas time.
37.Kodu Game Lab
Why get frustrated playing other people's games when you can design your own from scratch? Kodu Game Lab employs a simple point-and-click interface – it's aimed at children, but adults will appreciate the efforts made to make programming more enjoyable. We recommend checking out the video tutorial before you begin.
38. Windows Media Player 11
If you're still running Windows XP, upgrading to Media Player 11 is a must. The interface is slicker and friendlier, burning CDs is less troublesome and a new Sync tab ensures that sharing music with your portable device is easy.
39. Photo Gallery
Import, organise and edit your photo collection without hassle using this powerful cataloguing tool. Windows Live Photo Gallery also boasts some nifty ways of sharing your photos, with tools for creating panoramas, slideshows and even movies. Once complete, you can upload your pictures to various online services, or send them in a photo email.
40. HD View 3.3
This free browser plug-in allows you to easily view large images online as well as create and host your own. It works best with panoramic images, allowing you to pan and zoom in while intelligently adjusting your viewing perspective to present an appropriately standard or curved projection (depending on your viewing position). It works with all major Windows browsers, including IE, Chrome and Firefox.
41. Microsoft Image Composite Editor
Stitch together several overlapping photos to create a widescreen panorama. It can be saved as a single file or shared through thePhotoSynth website.
42. Microsoft Silverlight
Many interactive websites and several applications require the free Microsoft Silverlight plug-in to be installed before you can enjoy their content. Get it from the web address above or install it as part of Windows Live Essentials.
43. Zune Software 4.8
The history of Microsoft's Zune is not a happy one, but one of its major successes was this sleek media player, which you can still use as an alternative to Windows Media Player. It'll even let you access (and purchase) new tracks from Xbox Music and Video too.
44. Games for Windows – Live
This program puts you in touch with millions of other gamers, offering in-game chat and messaging to boost the atmosphere and add an extra edge to your experience. After you've signed in you'll be able to download a game, Tinker, for free.
45. Bing Maps 3D
Use Bing Maps 3D to make it easier to find and locate the information you're after. You can navigate with your mouse and keyboard to pan, tilt and move around the landscape, and even create your own 3D objects.
46. Worldwide Telescope
Enjoy the best imagery from the world's ground- and space-based telescopes, including Hubble, with Worldwide Telescope. Look out for the Guided Tours tab – a great place to get started.
47. Microsoft Photosynth
Photosynth goes one step further than Microsoft ICE, enabling you to create a 360° panorama from photos quickly and easily. You'll need to sign up for free access with your Windows Live ID, and your finished results are uploaded to the same site, either for public consumption or private sharing.
48. Server Quest II
Indulge in some retro gaming with these re-imaginings of classic games, such as King's Quest. The graphics are old-school, but Server Quest II is a great way to spend a quiet afternoon.
49. Microsoft Photo Story 3
It may only create a photo slideshow, but Photo Story 3 does it exceptionally well. Import your photos, then follow the wizard to create your sequence, adding captions, transition effects, minor corrections and a soundtrack. The finished collection can be shared online or burned to DVD using Windows DVD Maker.
50. Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7
Before the launch of Windows 8, Microsoft was keen to extol the virtues of touch – and one of Windows 7's best-kept secrets was that it supported a more basic – two fingers rather than ten – touch interface. This free collection of tools is designed to showcase those capabilities, and while most of it is little more than fluff, there are one or two tools in the collection worth installing. The most notable is Collage, which lets you drag, place and resize photos from your pictures library onto an interesting collage that you can subsequently set as your desktop background.
51. Bing Twitter Maps
Another Silverlight plug-in, this enables you to view tweets geographically, letting you see who's posting nearby.
52. Microsoft Express Encoder 4
Although this tool is targeted at web developers, Expression Encoder 4 has a powerful feature set for video enthusiasts, too. Import clips, edit, de-interlace, crop and add overlay effects, then output the finished result to a WMV file, perfect for sharing over the internet. There's even a handy screen-capture tool built-in, too. You need to install .NET Framework 4.0 to run this program.
53. Microsoft Flight
Microsoft's Flight Simulator was long considered the de facto program for those wishing to experience the joys of virtual flight. Now you can download the basic version of the game for free, which provides you with one 'mission', based around the Big Island of Hawaii. While additional missions and planes will cost you, you'll find a number of free preview versions are available to give you a taster of what's to come.
54. Fresh Paint
Fancy indulging your creative side? This free Windows 8 app is a painting app designed for touchscreens. You can select from a variety of different brushes, paints and canvases to create original artwork or trace over existing photos to turn them into works of art.
There are lots of eye-catching, free Windows 8 games to choose from, including the Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Microsoft Mahjong. But if you want something a little more original, try Taptiles. It's a little like Mahjong, only in 3D and it offers three different gameplay modes to attract even the most hardened puzzle players.
56. Virtual PC
Looking for free virtualisation software? Microsoft offers two versions of its Virtual PC software, depending on whether you're running Windows 7 (Windows Virtual PC) or XP/Vista (Virtual PC 2007). Either tool is a great way to resolve stubborn compatibility issues by running older versions of Windows in a virtual machine. But you'll need to provide your own legitimate copy of Windows to use it. You may get a warning about Home versions of Windows not being supported, but they should still work.
This tiny free tool does one thing, and one thing only: when you open the program, Insomnia prevents Windows from going to sleep. If you're about to download a large file or burn a DVD and you don't trust your computer to stay awake during the process, this is really handy. Just launch Insomnia and the problem is automatically solved.
58. Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel
Windows 8 has a nifty built-in feature whereby you can 'mount' ISO disk image files and use them as if they were a physical CD or DVD. The Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel basically extends this functionality to XP, Vista and Windows 7.
Get a decent estimate of your Windows 7 or Windows 8 PCs power consumption by installing and running this tool – you can immediately gauge how much electricity your desktop or laptop is using by accessing the taskbar application. Alternatively, run the calibration tool to enable Joulemeter to test your set-up and produce a more accurate assessment.
60. SyncToy 2.1
This handy tool enables you to keep the contents of two folders – one of which can be a shared file over your network – synchronised. SyncToolmeans that multiple folder pairs can be created, and you can preview any changes to be made before agreeing to them.
61. Windows Easy Transfer
You've just bought a new computer with an upgraded version of Windows and are wondering how you'll be able to transfer your key files and settings to it from your current PC - you need Windows Easy Transfer. As long as you're running Windows Vista or Windows XP, just download Easy Transfer and let it do all the hard work for you.
62. Windows NT Backup Restore Utility for Windows 7
This storage tool, supplied with Windows XP, isn't compatible with later versions of Windows. If you backed up using the program and need access to your data in Windows 7, download this. After installation you'll find it under Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools.
ScreenRecorder is simple to use: launch the program, select whether to capture the whole screen or a specific open window or program, and start recording. To stop, click the big red button before saving the file in an efficient, compressed format.
64. Windows 7 USB DVD Download Tool
If you have access to a Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 ISO image, this free tool can help you burn it to a bootable DVD or USB flash drive, enabling you to install or repair Windows. It's simple to use and works in XP and Vista too, perfect if you're about to upgrade.
65. SkyDrive for Windows/Mac
SkyDrive may now be heavily integrated into Windows 8.1, but if you're running an earlier version of Windows – or have a Mac – you'll need the SkyDrive desktop tool. It works in a similar way to Dropbox to keep files backed up and synced across all your PCs and Macs, plus give you access to your files from a smartphone, tablet or any web browser.
Like Dropbox you need to keep everything stored in a single SkyDrive folder, but you can place this where you like and use shortcuts and libraries to link in files from all over your hard drive. If you're not running Windows 8.1, you can also choose which folders to keep in sync on specific computers too.
SkyDrive is robust, doesn't produce too many file conflicts, and comes with 7GB of free storage, more than any other backup provider on the market. Upgrades are cheap too, with prices starting at just £16 per year for an additional 50GB of space.
This clever free web service lets you create a visual album based on any topic you choose. Sign in through Facebook, Twitter or your Windows Live ID, and you can pull in RSS feeds, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, web links and more. Choose from a variety of different layouts, give your montage a name and the service will even get you started by pulling in a list of suggested content. Once done, you can keep coming back for the latest updates and even share your work of art with others.