5 of the safest websites to download software for free

While there are many websites to download software for free, not all of them are safe.  When you download files to your computer there is always a risk that they might contain something damaging, such as malware or spyware. Freeware, or free software, is a prime target for this type of thing so you’re going to want to make sure the websites you download from are safe.

free software illustration

Knowing where to download free software doesn’t have to be difficult.  I’ll tell you about five of the safest and best websites to download software for free, so you can feel more confident when downloading.

1. Softpedia.com

screen shot of softpedia homepage

Windows | Linux | Mac | Android

Softpedia is one of the most highly regarded websites where you can download software for free.  It offers a wide selection of freeware content that comes with helpful reviews that are written by teams of Softpedia’s own reviewers.

With freeware such as apps, drivers, security software and games there really is plenty to find on Softpedia’s site.  There’s also a ‘News & Reviews’ area where you can find interesting and helpful articles related to software.  Furthermore, Its downloads are searchable with a handy search function that includes helpful categories to narrow down your search.

The all-important matter of safety

Softpedia’s reputation is solid, and many users report that they’ve used the site for years – and continue to do so to this day.  Most of the downloads are hosted on their own servers that are routinely scanned for malware, making the software you download from them much safer. I myself have used this website in the past and have never had anything but positive experiences.

 

2. Filepuma.com

screenshot of filepuma homepageWindows

This safe and simple software download site is a great resource to try if you’re looking for websites to download software for free.  Although it only offers Windows software, it has quite a lot to offer. 

Neatly organized into more than a dozen categories, Filepuma is not short on choice. I could see software for business and productivity, education, graphics design and many more. This website is easy to navigate and use, with nothing to confuse the user on its no-nonsense user interface.

The safety of this site

I wanted to try out this site before recommending it to you, as although user feedback is generally really positive, this site was totally new to me. I chose to download an application called PicPick: a really nice little tool that feels a little like Paint but with more features.

The installation was easy and there were no problems at all.  I decided to uninstall the software, just to check how easy it was to remove but there were no problems with that either.  I did reinstall it after because I really liked it and decided to do a full review on it later on, so look out for that.

My only criticism is the link to ‘Games’, which you can find in the navigation bar at the top of the page.  When I clicked the link, it took me away to another website called Maiagames.  My problem with this is that the Maiagames website did not have a security certificate (which shows as a padlock in the browser’s address bar and is now industry standard). Also, the games there no longer work because they rely on the now unsupported Adobe Flash Player.  For me, this just hints at low quality and lack of maintenance. Although, I did run a basic scan of the website and found nothing malicious.  At this point I would not really recommend Maia games, but Filepuma definitely gets a thumbs up from me.

3. Filehorse.com

screenshot of filehorse homepage

Windows | Mac | Web Apps

This site claims to offer fast and easy downloads for free Windows and Mac software, as well as a selection of web apps: and it does exactly that via a simple menu structure.  The user interface is uncluttered, and the software is well organized into categories such as ‘Blogging and Messaging’, ‘Imaging and Digital Photo’, ‘MP3 and Audio’, ‘Office and Business Tools’, and more. Additionally, the search function on Filehorse works really well.

On the home page, I noticed that the software listed in categories there shows you a blend of Windows and Mac software with some web apps thrown in.  To view them separately, you do need to click on the appropriate menu icon at the top right of the page.

The only thing that bothered me was that there were a fair amount of software downloads that were not freeware: they ware shareware/free trial software.  It was labelled as a trial, but it’d have been nice to be able to filter these out. However, if you don’t mind picking through them or if you know exactly what freeware you’re looking for, then you might like Filehorse.com.

How safe is this website?

User reviews of this website are generally positive, but it’s not one that I had ever tried before so I decided to download something to get a better idea. I scan every website before recommending them here, but I also scanned the download file itself before doing anything else. All results came back clear enough to satisfy me, which is a real good indication that it’s probably safe to proceed.

I chose to download the Opera Browser and, once I’d scanned the file, I started the download. The process was quick and easy, and the downloaded file installed without error. After confirming that the installation was successful, that the software worked well, and that my computer system was clean, I uninstalled Opera.  As it turned out, the uninstall process was problem free and I came away happy with my experience.

 

4. Ninite.com

screenshot of Ninite homepageWindows

This last one is a little different:  technically, it’s a package manager for Windows. This means that it is designed to allow the bulk installation of a selection of software which you can choose from their collection. It will save lots of time and effort if you need to do many installations, so is particularly helpful for organizations with a greater workload.

One of the reasons Ninite is so popular is just how much it really can lighten your workload. Imagine not only having to locate, download and install several pieces of software but then to have to do that on many different machines? This is where Ninite could prove useful.

Ninite is super easy to setup: all you need to do is select the software you want by checking the boxes and then click to ‘Get your Ninite’.  This will install the Ninite installer program onto your PC which will then take care of everything else automatically.

Is Ninite.com safe to use?

Ninite has built itself a loyal following and a strong reputation over the years.  I have used it myself in the past but have since moved on to more complex package managers that aren’t so beginner friendly. It sources downloads from their official sources and does an automatic check on them to ensure their integrity.  In fact, many IT professionals will tell you that package managers in general are the way to go.

5. Software vendor’s own official websites

Ok, so if you’re looking to download something specific (and it’s just one or two applications you want to install on one or two machines) there is often no better place than its official website. Say you want to download the Mozilla Firefox web browser: the absolute best and most secure place you could possibly look is Mozilla.org. Period.

This is perfect if you know exactly what you’re looking for but sometimes, your search might be a little less informed than that. You might know you’re looking for software to do a particular job, but you might not know exactly which software you want or need.  There are a couple ways around this if you really want to stick to official websites.  You could do a quick Google search to find out about some software options and just go to its official website once you’ve decided which one you want to try.  Alternatively, you could simply browse one or more of the download sites above, using them like a catalogue.  When you find what you like, you can use Google to track down its official website and just go there to download it.

Always remember security when you download free software

Remember, just like I said earlier… There’s no magic bullet when using websites to download software for free and you can never get 100% protection.  Numbers 4 and 5 on this list are, in my opinion, the safest ways to download free software online. Despite this, there are extra checks you can make to improve your chances of staying safe.

At a basic level, there are online tools you can use to check websites and files before you visit or download them.  One such tool is VirusTotal.com – a free service you can use to check URLs (web addresses) and files for known threats. It checks against the results of over 70 antivirus and blacklisting services and is a useful and reputable tool.

Obviously, you should be using decent antivirus software on your PC but this is really your last line of defence.  You should stay mindful of the many security threats that exist in our digital world and be wary.  It is also extremely important that you keep your PC up-to-date at all times.  Software that has not been updated may be missing a vital fix for a security vulnerability, so make sure to get your updates as soon as they’re available.

 

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