As a natural-born cheapskate, I tremble at the thought of paying for any software. My fear of software rip-offs can be traced to the 1990s, when I actually paid $20 for RealPlayer media program and $35 for the old Netscape Navigator browser.
My favorite free word processor remains Jarte, which is based on Windows' built-in WordPad text editor but features a tremendously improved interface. I still rely on Microsoft's free Security Essentials to protect my three Windows PCs, and I continue to use the Dropbox online storage service. Another freebie I use regularly is the Foxit Reader PDF software. Likewise, Belarc Advisor remains my Windows utility of choice.
Your best one-stop resource for all things related to free software is Gizmo Richards' Tech Support Alert, although geeks may prefer the open-source mecca SourceForge. The only problem with the latter is that many of the free, open-source programs available on SourceForge require a computer science degree to operate (not really, but close). The free programs listed on Tech Support Alert have been vetted by the site's staff of volunteer moderators.
Unfortunately, many of the "free" apps reviewed on Tech Support Alert are merely come-ons for the paid versions of the programs. For example, I recently downloaded and installed a PDF editor that promised more editing and management features than Foxit Reader or Adobe Reader X offer, only to find the free version added watermarks to all the PDFs it created. To get rid of the watermarks, I'd have to shell out $20. No thank you.
A great resource for people looking for truly free software is the Free Software Foundation, whose mission is to "promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users." Sounds good to me. The site's resources page links to services offering free-software downloads and organizations that provide material and support for promoting the free-software movement.