NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2011
Gizmo's Comprehensive List of the Best Free 64-Bit Windows Software
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)


Almost all newly manufactured PCs have a 64-bit processor and are loaded with the 64-bit version of Windows 7. 64-bit processors and operating systems have the potential to process information much faster than the older 32-bit operating systems and processors, but much of the software available is still written to run on 32-bit machines. While almost all 32-bit software will run on 64-bit machines, performance is sacrificed for the benefit of compatibility and the cost savings of only writing a program once that can run on both systems. While not quite an accurate analogy, running 32-bit software on a 64-bit machine is something like running a new 8 cylinder Corvette on only 4 cylinders; it works, but not at maximum speed and efficiency.

I have been a long-time fan of Gizmo's comprehensive directories and ratings of free software (techsupportalert.com), and use it as my first choice when looking for software. Gizmo's directories and evaluations are continuously being updated by an all volunteer staff of hundreds of contributors who compile lists and rate the thousands of free Windows programs. One of the comprehensive "Gizmo" lists that I have been actively following is the directory of the best (top rated by the Gizmo community) free 64-bit software that will run on 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Vista. While many users may not notice the performance improvements when using 64-bit software rather than comparable 32-bit programs, the aggregate performance when several 64-bit programs are used may be noticeable, and even offer substantial performance improvements.

The only disadvantages of using 64-bit software on 64-bit machines may be some compatibility issues, especially when the 64-bit software is dependent on 32-bit components for part of its functionality. For example, while Microsoft includes both the 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Internet Explorer with the modern 64-bit operating systems, there are few browser add-ons and plug-ins that will work on the 64-bit version, diminishing the usability of the 64-bit product. In published tests, the 64-bit version of Internet Explorer loaded much faster, and used much less memory and other resources than the 32-bit version, but some websites do not display correctly or otherwise do not support the 64-bit browsers, which is explicitly why Microsoft recommends that the 32-bit version of Internet Explorer be used as the default Microsoft browser. In my experience, I will have to agree with Microsoft in this particular case, as I have had some unsatisfactory experiences with Internet Explorer 64, while Internet Explorer 32 (and Firefox, and Chrome) all worked flawlessly on those same websites.

The Gizmo list of the best free 64 bit software (techsupportalert.com/best-free-windows7-vista-64-bit-software.htm) is frequently updated, and currently lists 106 different categories of software, broken down into 12 broad types of software. In its evaluations, the Gizmo community has selected 56 distinct products as the best free 64-bit software programs. Users of 64-bit computers and operating systems may find these 56 top-rated programs a most useful assortment of programs to have on their computers. Gizmo has sorted the programs by function, all easily accessible from the online menu, and include new programs, home and office programs (very few free ones are explicitly 64-bit), image viewers and editors, multimedia utilities, disk and file tools, desktop and graphical user interface (GUI), security and privacy, internet and email, network and server utilities, programming, educational software, and games. On the menu, programs that are written as 64-bit have a red boxed "64' adjacent to the program name, while a grey boxed "64" indicates that the native application is written as a 32-bit program, and despite slower performance, is either the best in its class, or has other features useful to 64-bit users.

Among the dozens of top-rated 64-bit programs listed by Gizmo, there are several that may have wide application, and would be useful to most users. In the Home and Office category, I have been using Bullzip PDF Printer (http://www.bullzip.com), which is arguably recognized as the top performing free 64-bit utility that can be used to create PDF files. A PDF writer is a program (software) that installs as a printer driver, and appears as a printer choice whenever "Print" is selected in another program. Choosing Bullzip PDF Printer as a printer, and then "printing" normally, creates a PDF file rather than printing to paper; it is that simple.

Under the heading of image viewers and editors there are several highly rated programs. One that I have used as an advanced image editor, capable of doing much more than simply cropping and resizing digital images (photos) is GIMP (http://www.gimp.org). More for experienced users rather than novices, due to its extensive feature set, GIMP compares very favorably to the expensive image editors published by some of the biggest names in commercial software.

There are several excellent 64-bit multimedia utilities available that can be used to edit, convert, record, burn, and play different types and formats of multimedia. I agree with the Gizmo community that Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) is possibly the finest free audio editor available. Audacity is feature rich, somewhat intuitive, and very powerful. As with most of the other freeware products on this list, Audacity compares well to its high-priced commercial competitors. For those who may need to edit videos, Avidemux (fixounet.free.fr/avidemux) is among the most powerful and capable video editors available, regardless of price. Since Avidemux is a free open source program, there are codecs available for almost every common video format, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF. What Avidemux may lack in polish, it more than makes up for in its power and functionality.

In the "Internet and Email" section are a variety of utilities that 64-bit users may fine useful. Links are provided for the latest 64-bit versions of both Internet Explorer and Firefox, with Firefox being the preferred 64-bit browser of the two. As mentioned above, while offering enhanced performance, the 64-bit version of Firefox suffers from the same problems as the 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer, in that many of the common and popular add-ons and plug-ins necessary to view some websites are only available in 32-bit, and do not work well or at all on the 64-bit browsers. While I do not have any experience using it (but I soon will), the 64-bit browser top-rated by the Gizmo community is Pail Moon (9 stars for Pale Moon 64, compared to 8 stars for Firefox-64, and 7 stars for Internet Explorer-64). Pale Moon (http://www.palemoon.org) is described by Gizmo as, "A faster version of Firefox optimized for newer processors; some add-ons that Firefox said were "not compatible" work without problems." While still being developed, the current release of Pale Moon requires that bookmarks be manually imported from other browsers, lacks parental filtering, and is missing some of the accessibility features of the other browsers.

Users of 64-bit computers and operating systems may want to try some of the free 64-bit programs recommended by Gizmo. If they work well for you, they may demonstrate some of the enhanced performance features that true 64-bit computing can offer its users.

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