Free Alternative Lightweight Software for Windows (Part 1)

Sick of your computer running like molasses? Tired of having to perform that annual (semi-annual?) reformat and installation of your operating system? Do you wish your computer just ran faster? Well maybe some free alternative lightweight software will solve your problem! On the other hand, if you enjoy the time you have to make coffee while you load that simple .PDF file, please stop reading now.

I have a fairly complex, yet powerful, Windows box that I run as my primary machine and it runs great. Now this is by no coincidence, it’s taken some hard work to make this thing run like a well oiled machine. I do, however, owe a great deal of thanks to the plethora of free (as in beer), lightweight software I have installed. What software you might ask? Well here’s a list I’ve compiled of some of the best software I’ve run into that will keep your computer from slowing down and your resources free so you can do more important things, like surf for porn.

I have broken this article into four parts to make it easier on both you, the reader, and me. As I publish the other sections of this article, I will add a link to them.

  • Part 1 - Communication/Business Tools
  • Part 2 - Security/Performance Tools
  • Part 3 - Media Tools (Never published)
  • Part 4 - Miscellaneous Tools (Never published)


Replaces: Internet Explorer

Alternatives: Safari, Chrome, Opera

Pros: Speed, Extensions, Open Source

Firefox is an open source alternative web browser by Mozilla that provides a much better web browsing experience than it’s defacto alternative, Internet Explorer. Some of the key features of Firefox include enhanced security features, increased speed, and virtually limitless customization through themes and extensions. Be sure to pay attention as Mozilla will soon be releasing Firefox 3.1 which is supposed to include a few new features and even more speed improvements.

Recommended Extensions: Adblock Plus, Filterset.G Updater, Foxmarks Bookmark Sync, and IE Tab

Download Firefox | Mirror


Replaces: Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express

Alternatives: Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Windows Live Hotmail

Pros: Extensions, Open Source

Cons: No Exchange support (yet)

Another great product from the Mozilla team, the Thunderbird email client, is a great alternative to the pre-installed Outlook Express and, with the right extensions, an adequate replacement for Microsoft Outlook. The biggest drawback with Thunderbird right now is the lack of MS Exchange support, but (as far as I know) they plan on changing that with the release of Thunderbird 3.0.

Recommended Extensions: Lightning, Provider, Enigmail

Download Thunderbird | Mirror


Replaces: AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger

Alternatives: Trillian

Pros: Ad Free, Plugins, Open Source

Cons: No Video Chat (at the moment)

Pidgin is a free instant messaging platform designed to centralize the vast array of popular instant messaging protocols in to one easy to use program. Pidgin allows you to be logged on to multiple instant messaging systems at the same time through one simple user interface. The following protocols are supported: AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, Gtalk/Jabber, ICQ, Gadu Gadu, and more…

Download Pidgin | Mirror

Replaces: Microsoft Office

Alternatives: N/A

Pros: Plugins, Open Source, Can read from and write to MS Office files

Cons: (Very) Slight Learning Curve

Just get a new computer and don’t want to fork out another $150 for word processing software? Well then is your answer! is a free and open source office software suite. Included are applications for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, 3.0 is currently in it’s third revision of a release candidate and will hopefully be out with a final version soon.

Download | Mirror


Replaces: Notepad

Alternatives: Notepad2, Jedit

Pros: Lightweight, Plugins, Open Source

Cons: N/A

Notepad++ is one of many Notepad replacements. Unlike typical Notepad, however, Notepad++ features many front and back end improvements. On the front end you have such noticeable features like tabbed files, line numbers, syntax highlighting, syntax folding, and code completion. In te rms of back end improvements, the following is taken from the Notepad++ homepage:

Based on a powerful editing component Scintilla, Notepad++ is written in C++ and uses pure Win32 API and STL which ensures a higher execution speed and smaller program size.

Download Notepad++ | Mirror

Foxit Reader

Replaces: Adobe PDF Reader

Alternatives: N/A

Pros: Lightweight, Fast, Plugins, Annotation Tool

Cons: Occasional Rendering Mistakes (very rare)

Of all the software on this list, you will probably notice the biggest difference in speed and performance when using Foxit Reader. Compared to the “official” Adobe PDF Reader, Foxit Reader is incredibly small (just over 2.5MB), blazing fast, and its core function is compatible with PDF Standard 1.7. Foxit Reader also comes standard with an annotation tool, unlike Adobe, who would charge you $299 for their pro version to get feature.

Download Foxit Reader | Mirror

CutePDF Writer

Replaces: Adobe PDF Writer

Alternatives: N/A

Pros: Lightweight, Fast

Cons: N/A

Lastly, CutePDF Writer is a very lightweight PDF creation program. After installing CutePDF Writer, creating a .PDF document is as easy as 1, 2, 3. All you have to do is 1) choose the print option from the document you wish to convert. 2) Select the CutePDF option under the list of printers. 3) Choose a location to save the document and hit the save button.

Download CutePDF Writer | Mirror

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