Best free software for 2015: 10 essential downloads for the year ahead

What will rock the software world in 2015? Find out here

2015 is here, and now that the dust has settled on our New Year's shenanigans, we find ourselves squinting, bleary eyed, into the year ahead. Need a hand working out what lies in store for those of us with downloads on the brain? Then fear not; TechRadar is here for you, my friend.

Because while we haven't yet mastered hover boards or self-drying clothing (copyright Back to the Future II), there are a lot of exciting tech trends set to come of age in the next 12 months. The good news is you can tap into these trends from your PC right now with the help of the following free downloads, so strap yourself in and take a ride into the (near) future now.

Windows 10

Give Windows 10 a test drive with this free pre-release version.

2015 will be the year of Windows 10, but why wait until it finally arrives in October when you can start familiarising yourself with it now? Microsoft has made the pre-releases available to the general public – all you need to do is sign up for the free Windows Insider program and you can download and install the latest pre-release version of Windows 10 to explore its new features and discover how it works.

Windows 10

Install Windows 10 on a virtual machine for safe testing.

All pre-release software comes with risks attached, so make sure you install the Windows 10 Technical Preview on a second PC or – failing that – on a virtual machine such as VirtualBox so your precious data, settings and programs aren't put in danger.

Computing everywhere

Take remote control of your PC from any other computer or mobile device.

The notion of ubiquitous computing has been gathering pace as apps and services make themselves available across a range of platforms and devices. With wearable tech such as smartwatches set to take that one step further, why limit yourself to specific services when you can make your entire PC accessible from any computer or mobile?

TeamViewer

Access your home PC via your iPad or other device.

Install TeamViewer on your main PC, and you can enjoy on-the-go access to your entire desktop – files, settings and programs – from anywhere. All you need is to install TeamViewer on your other computers, or add the free mobile app to your tablet or phone – iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone are all supported.

3D printing

The best free 3D modelling and animation tool for your PC.

2014 proved three-dimensional printers weren't a passing fad, and 2015 should see them hit the mainstream as prices start to become more affordable. Once you've bought yours, how can you start generating your 3D objects? The answer lies with the brilliant free 3D modelling and animation tool, Blender.

Blender

Use Blender to create objects for your 3D printer.

Create your 3D object using its modelling, painting and sculpting tools, then switch on the built-in 3D Printing Toolbox extension via the File > User Preferences > Add-ons (search for '3D' then enable the Mesh: 3D Print Toolbox option) to ensure your finished object will appear correctly when sent to your 3D printer.

Artifical Intelligence

This user-friendly personal assistant makes it easy to access data and information.

Skynet may still be some way off, but AI is evolving fast and 2015 will see it hit the mainstream when Microsoft rolls out its AI-powered personal assistant (Cortana) to Windows 10. But you don't need to wait for Microsoft when there's a free personal assistant ready and waiting for you now in the form of Braina.

It works in the same way as Cortana (along with Siri and Google Now), providing you with information from the net, playing your choice of songs and videos, finding and opening files on your PC or setting alarms and reminders. As you use it, it learns your behaviour to better anticipate your needs. Control can be done via your keyboard or your voice (use your PC's mic or separate Android app).