I get asked this question all of the time. People want to know how they can use familiar office applications at home, but want to avoid paying for it, or their employer will not fork over the software license. I do not recommend stealing it (software piracy) under any circumstances, as the nice folks that write software deserve their payday.
The answer: Use Open Source or Freeware software and straightforward bargain hunting.
A replacement to Microsoft Office that will work with most Microsoft Office files. The file conversions are not always 100% accurate in the formatting, but I have yet to experience anything but minor formatting issues. OpenOffice is working on a new release, currently in beta, that looks to further increase compatibility with Microsoft Office and will add additional new features. If you need a full integrated productivity suite then this is an excellent choice.
I have written several posts on Google Apps and have a post dedicated to Google Docs. The post is linked here. Google Docs is an excellent choice for new home offices and personal use. For high school and college students, Open Office would be a better choice as it has additional features and supports more complex formatting.
Cost: Free for individuals and small groups.
A cousin of Open Office. I have never used this application but I have read that it is commercialized version of Open Office and includes some phone support.
Default browser for every Microsoft XP and Vista installation. This browser has the lion share of the market.
This is Google’s new beta web browser. I have used this browser for three days and it is an acceptable browser that has promise. It is still beta so you can expect some glitches and a lack of add-on features. You will find more features and add-ons for Firefox, but Chrome is still worth a look.
Their are several major providers of free e-mail services. I prefer Google’s service but I have not heard of any real issues from any of the most popular providers.
Avast! Antivirus Protection
This is my preferred personal antivirus product. I have been using this personally for the last few years. I have had great success with the product and have had no stability problems.
Cost: Free for personal home use; Professional edition is $39.95
This is a popular antivirus and I know many people who love this product. I have not heard of any stability issues with this product and from what my friends tell me, it does its job very well.
Cost: Free (basic version); Complete version $54.95
Trend Micro HouseCall
This is an after-the-fact web based virus scanner. This will not prevent a virus from getting on your computer but it can remove it once it is on your system. If I am working on a computer with a virus, I scan it once with the installed antivirus and then scan it with HouseCall to be 100% sure that it is clean.
This space has many (actually to many to list) free applications that are very good. Most developers have more feature packed versions for sale that are below $50, in addition to, their free versions. I use the free versions as I am not a media nut.
A few other applications and services that are very useful
Google Reader and iGoogle (Free)
Quicken for all your personal finance management ($49.99)
Exalead Desktop Search (Free)
PDF995 for printing a document to a PDF file (Free with ads or $9.95 to register and remove the ads)
Have a program that should be on the list? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!