Windows managers cannot sacrifice system efficiency for cost-effectiveness. Fortunately, many free tools are available from to keep Windows systems operating smoothly. This guide reviews the top free downloads from Microsoft including the five free overall downloads, as well as the top five free tools for Windows desktop management, Windows server management and Windows security management.
IT Picks: Top free downloads from Microsoft
Part one: Top five free overall downloads
Part two: Top five free Windows desktop management tools
Part three: Top five free Windows server management tools
Part four: Top five free Windows security management tools
Part one: Top five overall free Windows downloads
Ask just about any Windows administrator about a favorite tool and many of them drop a list of free ones they can't do without.
Some of these free tools and updates come from Microsoft's Download Center, such as those featured in this article.
The popularity of these downloads changes as new tools become available and new products are released, so be sure to check here for the latest links to this cross-category of the most popular free utilities from Microsoft.
Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats
When it was released: 11/19/2007
What it does: Let's you open, work on and save files of older Office versions in the 2007 Office System's native XML formats: .docx for Word, .xlsx for Excel and .pptx for PowerPoint. This tool can be used with the Microsoft Office Word Viewer 2003, Excel Viewer 2003 and PowerPoint Viewer 2003 to view files saved in these new formats.
Where to get it: Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats
System requirements: Support Windows 2000 Service Pack 4, Windows Server 2003, Windows XP Service Pack 1; Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Vista. Microsoft recommends having the following Office programs: Microsoft Word 2000 and 2002 with Service Pack 3, Excel 2000 and 2002 with Service Pack 3 and PowerPoint 2000 and 2002. Also Word 2003, Excel 2003 and PowerPoint 2003 with at least Service Pack 1. Microsoft Office Word, Excel and PowerPoint Viewer 2003 are recommended as well.
Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 for Windows XP When it was released: 9/16/2008 What it does: IE 8 Beta 2 is a "feature complete" beta that promises to simplify navigation, add more privacy and speed up performance for users, but for IT administrators, the beta has Group Policy enhancements to ease desktop deployments of the browser, a new feature that lets IT install the browser as part of the OS image and a better administration toolset. Security enhancements help prevent non-executable code from running in memory, block fake websites and head off the spread of malicious software to other accounts if a user installs a malicious ActiveX control.
Where to get it: Windows Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2 for Windows XP
System requirements: Supports Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows XP Service Pack 3. Check here for a list of other requirements. There are also several compatibility warnings and known issues to be aware of.
Windows Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP
When it was released: 5/6/2008 What it does: IE7 has many improvements over IE 6, which released in 2001, such as new security features like a phishing filter and automatic shut-off of preexisting ActiveX controls. IE7 also adds a redesigned interface and easier navigation with features like tabbed browsing. Where to get it: Windows Internet Explorer 7 for Windows XP System requirements: Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Service Pack 3 only. Check here for memory, processor and device requirements and support.
Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable [v2]
When it was released: 9/2/2005 What it does: Windows Installer lets you install, manage and remove software on Windows systems. This [v2] version replaces the previously released 3.1 version of the redistributable package for installing and upgrading to Windows Installer and corrects a problem with the earlier redistributable version in which Windows Installer fails silently when you upgrade to version 3.1.
Where to get it: Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable [v2]
System requirements: Windows Installer 3.1 Redistributable supports Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3 or later, Windows XP, Windows XP Service Pack 1, Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Server 2003. Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 contains Windows Installer 3.1 and can't be installed or upgraded by this redistributable.
Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 Redistributable Package (x86)
When it was released: 1/22/2006 What it does: Installs the .NET Framework runtime and associated files required to run applications developed for .NET Framework v2.0. The .NET Framework version 2.0 has improved caching, application deployment and updating with ClickOnce, and support for more browsers and devices with ASP.NET 2.0 controls and services.
Where to get it: Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 Redistributable Package (x86) System requirements: Supports Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows ME, Windows 2000 Service Pack 3, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP Service Pack 2. Also requires Windows Installer 3.0 (except for Windows 98/ME, which requires Windows Installer 2.0 or later). Windows Installer 3.1 or later is recommended. You must be running Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 or later for all installations of the .NET Framework.