Windows has tons of free software, and of course, there are so many websites where you can download it. The challenge is that a lot of these freeware download sites, each claiming to be the best, routinely saddle the software with custom installers, adware, crapware, and bloatware.
However, there are still quite a few reliable software download websites which don't complicate the core installer with crapware. The following updated list comprises an exhaustive collection of sites where you can download Windows software, minus the bad stuff.
Also read: How to Install Unsigned Drivers in Windows
Our Criteria to Assess a Source's Safety for Software Downloads
In listing our recommended safe sources for Windows software, we took the following factors into consideration:
- No bloat or crapware: often the freeware developers don't even know that their package is being bundled with all manner of other things. We had to weed out such websites no matter how popular they are.
- No adware during downloads: it's one thing to have advertisements displayed on a web page. But intrusive adware during software downloads is to be avoided at all costs. These are very popular with malware authors.
- Direct downloads: all websites below provide a direct download link to the latest version of any software.
Not all websites claiming to be safe for downloads are equal. We have categorized our choices accordingly.
Completely Safe Sources
We call the websites below "completely safe" because they are the most authentic sources for software downloads. You'll always be guaranteed to find the right product without any malware, advertisement, or bloat concerns. If you can find your desired software in one of these three sources, don't look elsewhere.
As this list is primarily of Windows software, the official Microsoft site should be your first port of call. Since it’s the official source of trusted Microsoft apps, you can be 100 percent sure there will be no malware and unnecessary add-ons, guaranteeing a clean installation. Personally, for Windows, Office, and other native Microsoft programs, I prefer downloading only from the official Microsoft page.
On the official link, you’ll not only find all the software packages you need but also optional updates and hotfixes, including the .NET framework, PC security and optimization tools, driver kits, web browsers, developer tools, and service packs for Xbox games, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator. Also, if you need to install older software versions, you can. Naturally, you shouldn’t expect to find third-party software on the Microsoft site.
2. Microsoft Store
Continuing with our “you can’t go wrong with the source” approach, Microsoft Store is a recommended source for downloading frequently used and popular Windows software. Apart from native Microsoft apps available on Microsoft.com, you also get access to several third-party apps designed for a Windows system. These include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Facebook, Spotify, VLC, Python, Adobe Lightroom, Pinterest, Ubuntu for Microsoft, Slack, Screen Recorder Pro, Zoom for Microsoft Edge, and plenty of latest games.
One reason Microsoft Store is more popular than other sites is because it is designed to work with Windows systems, and the software gets automatically updated with a PC update. Downloading any non-native apps is so much easier and faster than running a manual installer. Basically, the third-party software developers worked to optimize their offering for a Windows environment. This means there will be absolutely no compatibility issues. However, some users have reported problems with Microsoft Store, for which we have an extensive troubleshooting guide.
3. Developer's Website
There are many places to download third-party Windows software. But you can always bet on the original download site for a winner. No matter which software you need, you can find it using a simple Google search. In most cases, the official site will be listed as the first search result or at least within the first search page. Whether you want to download a programming language like Python or a full-fledged game, don't forget to check its official website first.
In latest Windows versions, if you had to choose between Microsoft Store and the official third-party website, you should always opt for the former (if available). This is because the Microsoft Store version has been specifically tested and optimized for performance on your device.
For example, Netflix available in Microsoft Store refits exactly according to your Windows screen size, and looks so much better. But you won't have any problems with downloading the software from netflix.com, the official site.
Highly Safe Sources
We'll call our next category of download websites "highly safe" sources. They are a cut above the typical online sources because of internal malware checks, verified user ratings, and a safe, straightforward download experience. If you can't find something on Microsoft.com, Microsoft Store, or the official third-party software website, this is where you look next.
SourceForge is worth its reputation as a reliable open source and business software download site. What I like most about SourceForge is that it aims to address an important user concern that the third-party software may not be the official one. This is done through a ticker that the software is an “exact mirror” of the official project hosted on the official site. While other download sites also give similar indications, SourceForge has an extra reassuring "feel" about it.
The site further reassures us of safety by scanning all installations for malware. If flagged, you can view clearly displayed warnings on the downloads. From an intuitive search button, you can zero in on any software you need, including its latest and legacy versions. Each one has honest user reviews and screenshots, which helps you know what you’re getting into.
The collection of software is similarly impressive. Currently, SourceForge hosts over 500,000 projects, including nearly 80,000 business software. Although a majority of them are open source programs, there are hardly any Windows (and Mac, Linux) programs you won’t find here. From a user experience perspective, SourceForge is easily a top third-party recommendation for us.
We highly recommend AlternativeTo for those situations where you’re not satisfied with some of your existing software and need better-quality alternatives. AlternativeTo has a “SourceForge-like” feel in how the software items are arranged: with easy search, screenshots, comments and reviews, and official download links plus verifiable sources of the concerned solution. Nearly 100,000 of them.
But there’s a slight difference: the site itself does not host any mirrors, only maintaining the updated links to download whatever you need. AlternativeTo's main selling point is a crowdsourced rating and comparison system which gives you tons of alternatives at one glance. The detailed user-centric reviews help you learn new products on the anvil, any UI and customization issues, and whether you'll have to eventually pay more than what is advertised.
While a little intricate to learn, GitHub is increasingly a popular option for sophisticated software versions, as it’s one of the largest repositories of original code. Apart from mainly open source software, you can find thousands of Windows repositories such as its latest Windows Terminal, Skype for Business, Docker, Azure, PowerToys, and much more.
All the software versions are malware free and updated in real time by a global community of developers. If malware is ever detected on a GitHub page, they promptly remove the software.
GitHub has today become a necessary tool for advanced developers, but you can find a lot of solutions for the casual user. One stumbling block is that there are no direct download links. The best way to use GitHub is to go to the top level of a repository and choose a download Zip option from a code pull-down menu.
Also read: How to Install Git and Git Bash in Windows
Are you an avid gamer? If you want to play any game reliably on a Windows PC, Steam gives Microsoft Store a run for its money. It not only has a collection of over 30,000 gaming software for Windows and other OS but also some of the best discounted prices, user reviews, and a community 100 million strong. You have to install the Steam software from the official link and need a Steam ID and library manager. Once done, you can download any game you want. If you've run into any issues while working with Steam, try these fixes.
8. Epic Games
Until recently, Steam was the number one source for Windows gaming software, but Epic Games is better in so many ways. The Epic Games US Store has a superb collection of Windows-compatible games, both free and paid. It is the company behind Unreal Engine, the highly portable graphical interface powering Fortnite, Gears of War, Xenon Racer, Ark II, and many other 3D games. With virtual reality (VR) attracting hard core gamers, Epic Games has the single most largest collection of the best game franchises.
You only need to download the Epic Installer for Windows once. It's available on each game web page, and installing it allows you to securely download anything you want with ease.
Sufficiently Safe Sources
The following websites are reasonably and "sufficiently safe" for Windows software downloads. You won't find anything dangerous and harmful to your PC. However, to be extra safe and cautious, we recommend that all installer files downloaded from these links should at least be tested at Virus Total.
We have so far discussed the latest software downloading environments. If you’re looking for a more traditional site with a minimalistic approach, Filepuma will easily serve your needs. It's not the biggest repository of PC software but certainly one of the cleanest and most user-friendly in terms of not foisting advertising or dodgy installers on you. It has all the mainstream stuff you'd expect – from Skype to Google Drive via Dropbox. Filepuma posts up-to-date versions of the most popular software. You can also download its free update detector to get upgrade notifications.
There's plenty more unique software here, too, and it's all pretty easy to find using the categories listed in the pane on the left. The most popular software in the various categories is listed on the main page, and that's pretty much all there is to it. Minimal and elegant, Filepuma is a nice simple choice for your software downloads. The only annoyance is the ads on the main page (not on the software), which can be easily turned off.
Ninite is one of the best free software download sites that provides some popular software, like Chrome, VLC, Gimp, Foxit Reader, and Spotify. While using Ninite, you don't have to worry about the bundled crapware, and best of all, you can install all the software you want with just a click or two.
You don't have to install each and every software individually. Just check the boxes for all the products you need, and Ninite automatically downloads the latest version of each and installs it for you. Ninite Pro software is used by thousands of companies for its great reliability. The only drawback: the range of available software is rather limited.
Softpedia is one the biggest and most popular free software download sites where you can find almost any free and paid software you need for multiple platforms. Each download page contains a detailed review of the software you need, along with the total number of downloads, and whether it made it to list of the editor's picks. Unlike the previous two options, Softpedia offers more variety and scale in terms of available downloads.
Another good thing about this source is that you will always get the latest version of the software you need. Moreover, it also provides you with software reviews and actual screenshots for almost all the popular and most-used software. If you’ve never used Softpedia, do give it a try.
DownloadCrew has recently updated its navigation menus and features selection to provide intuitive access to software on Windows and other platforms. It expressly provides the latest download links, mentions the last update dates, and gives comments on software use.
Among many Windows-centric solutions, DownloadCrew has a superb collection of VPN apps, security and privacy toolkits, audio and video tools, and collaboration/meeting software. With a neat interface and easy-to-read font style, you can easily zero in on your desired software. This is a good site with an exhaustive list of Windows and third-party software solutions.
FileHorse offers a handy selection of high-quality software and apps for Windows and macOS. All the software are frequently updated with the latest versions. Along with the download links, you get a complete description on whether the software is free or a free trial, and the key features to expect. You also get a handy list of alternatives to the software, although not as exhaustive as Alternative.to, which we have mentioned above.
A prominent security status badge next to each software download reassures you of file safety. If you don’t want to install any software, FileHorse also offers a cloud web version where you can work with various cloud-based software.
Also read: 8 Ways to Customize Windows Terminal
Chocolatey is a simple coding platform that helps download any program on a Windows PC. This is useful for developers who work with PowerShell, Windows Terminal, and Command line tools. To download any software through Chocolatey, you have to run PowerShell or Windows Terminal in admin mode and install Chocolatey using the following command.
Set-ExecutionPolicy Bypass -Scope Process -Force; [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol = [System.Net.ServicePointManager]::SecurityProtocol -bor 3072; iex ((New-Object System.Net.WebClient).DownloadString('https://community.chocolatey.org/install.ps1'))
Once Chocolatey is installed on your system, you can search for the relevant maintained package on the site. Currently, there are more than 8000 pieces of software, including Adobe Acrobat Reader, Google Chrome, Python, Git, and Windows Terminal. To install any software using Chocolatey, just type
choco install "software name". The following screen shows how to install Google Drive File Stream.
A sketchy art website as a download source for software seems unnatural. But DeviantArt is a real treasure trove of some of the most brilliant Windows themes, wallpapers, screensavers, sound schemes, icon packs, visual styles, and other Windows customizations. You have to be signed in to the website to complete the download.
If you're concerned about the lack of imagination in Windows themepacks for your existing Windows version, DeviantArt will astonish you with its sheer variety of beautiful images and posters online.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I download software without viruses?
Malware shouldn't be a problem if you download software from official sources and safe websites we have listed above. In any case, to prevent downloading any unsafe software, make sure your Windows SmartScreen has been enabled. Although SmartScreen does not always successfully alert you, it will physically prevent the software from downloading on your device.
What do I do if I downloaded unsafe software?
Always check the installer file on VirusTotal. If there are any instances of malware, delete that download immediately.
If you have Windows Defender turned on, it will prevent the unsafe downloaded software from installing on a manual click. Make sure you don't click on a downloaded program which also happens to be a batch file (.bat file) as that cannot be stopped. But Windows Defender will still quarantine it easily.
How do I uninstall all unsafe software on my Windows PC?
The best way to uninstall unsafe software is to remove it from Windows Apps & Features and the Control Panel. But some programs can be particularly stubborn, because they override Windows permissions in removing the software. It is best to not install these programs in the first place, but if you did so by mistake, here's how to uninstall persistent programs.
Image credit: Sirina Ins @ Pexels
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