I'm pretty used to being able to find the free software I'm looking for, as well as new software to play with. I am quite familiar with using Google and other search engines for this purpose--and I know how to find general sources for free software (and I will cover the best of those sources in a future article). Because I am so familiar with the software and my research techniques, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that the average user may not know where to start, let alone where to go, to find useful free software.
It turns out that there is a partial solution to this problem that's a very good place to start. There is a downloadable disk image available that contains a great deal of up-to-date free software in a single file, an image file that can be used to create a DVD: The Open Disc. As long as you have a broadband connection and a DVD "burner" you can create a DVD from the downloaded ISO image that will contain dozens of useful free programs, each of them installable from a menu. The software categories comprise:
Design | Educational | Games | Internet | Multimedia | Productivity | Utilities
Some of the programs on the disc include an office suite, a desktop publishing program, an Internet browser, a mail reader, and much more.
But what if you don't have a DVD writer? You can still download the file and copy the software within the image to your hard drive (or a 2GB+ flash drive) using the free 7-Zip in dual-pane mode and run the menu from that drive instead of a DVD (ironically, 7-Zip is one of the programs included on the DVD). In fact, I initially did this on my own drive instead of burning a disc.
I do have my own disc of free software that I have compiled to use or give away, but The Open Disc is better organized and menu-driven, so it's much more appropriate for the average user. It's quite a resource! I am permanently placing the download link in the right-hand column of this blog sometime before I post the next entry here.