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Avast Free Antivirus Review & Rating

You might expect that a free antivirus would come with only the most basic protection, with advanced bonus features reserved for paying customers. In truth, many of the most popular free antivirus tools offer full-scale protection along with a ton of extra features. Avast Free Antivirus gives you more than many competing commercial products. On top of excellent antivirus protection, it adds a network security scanner, a password manager, browser protection, and more. It’s an amazing collection of security features, considering that this product is free.

Avast acquired rival free antivirus company AVG in 2016. Fans of both companies can rest easy; three years later, there’s still no plan to merge them into a single product. Both have many thousands of users worldwide, but each is strong in geographical areas where the other is weak. And the underlying antivirus engine is exactly the same in Avast and AVG AntiVirus Free, as demonstrated in my tests and independent lab tests.

This product is only free for personal use. If you want to use Avast in a business setting, you must upgrade to Avast Premium Security, which replaces both Avast Internet Security and the all-inclusive Avast Premier. It’s a simpler product line than most, just a free antivirus and a for-pay suite.

During installation, Avast offers to install Avast Secure Browser, noting that it’s private, secure, and fast. By default, it also makes this your default browser. The installer also presents a full page devoted to explaining how Avast uses your nonpersonal data, and how you can opt out if you wish.

The biggest part of Avast’s main window is a slate-gray rectangle with a bit of texture, decorated with a status icon and a big button titled Run Smart Scan. A left-rail menu lets you switch from the main Status page to Protection, Privacy, or Performance. Across the bottom, you find a banner offering you a welcome gift. Unwrapping the virtual gift reveals a discounted upgrade to Avast Premium Security. If you reject the upgrade, it offers a 60-day trial. Avast really wants you to experience the suite!

Avast Free Antivirus Main

One of this product’s features needs special mention, because it’s virtually invisible, and it’s disabled by default. After you reach into settings and enable Passive Mode. Avast takes pains to avoid interfering with other antivirus tools. If you install another antivirus, Passive Mode kicks in automatically. To avoid conflicts, it disables all real-time scanning and other active protection. You can still launch scans manually. There’s precedent for this behavior—Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center does something similar.

Lab Scores High and Plentiful

It may seem counterintuitive, but antivirus makers typically pay for the privilege of having products included in testing by the independent labs. The companies do benefit from testing, in two ways. A high score gives the company bragging rights. If the score is poor, the company can improve by examining what went wrong. When the antivirus doesn’t bring in any income, a company might be tempted to skip the expense of testing. Not Avast. I follow four independent testing labs that regularly release test reports, and all four of them include Avast.

The analysts at AV-Comparatives perform a variety of security tests, of which I follow four. Products that do well enough to pass the test receive a Standard rating, while those that show advanced features and capabilities can rate Advanced or Advanced+.

Out of the four tests, Avast earned three Advanced+ ratings and one Advanced. That’s quite good, though Avira and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

AV-Test Institute reports on antivirus capabilities in three areas: protection, performance, and usability. With six points possible in each category, the maximum score is 18 points. Avast got all six points for usability, meaning it didn’t screw up by flagging valid programs or websites as malicious, and earned six more points for malware protection. It came close in performance, with 5.5 points. AVG precisely matched that score.

A total of 17.5 points is high enough for AV-Test to designate Avast a Top Product. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Norton AntiVirus Plus managed a perfect 18 points.

Trying to emulate real-world conditions as closely as possible, the experts at SE Labs capture drive-by downloads and other web-based attacks, relying on a replay system to hit each tested product with the exact same attack. The very best products receive AAA certification; others may be certified at the AA, A, B, or C level.

Avast managed AAA certification this time around. Quite a few other products also reached that level. Among them were Avira, Kaspersky, McAfee, and Norton. Despite having the same underlying antivirus engine, AVG only reached the AA level. Surprisingly, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security came in with just A-level certification, the lowest score in this round of testing.

MRG-Effitas reports test results a bit differently from the other labs. Products that don’t manage perfect or near-perfect protection simply fail. In the past, Avast has passed the banking Trojans test, and achieved Level 2 certification in the all-types malware protection test, meaning that it let at least one attacker install, but remediated the problem within 24 hours. That wasn’t the case in the latest reports. This time around, Avast failed both grueling tests. AVG wasn’t tested, though it scored the same as Avast the last time both were included.

Of the many antivirus products I track, 10 don’t appear in results from any of the labs. Avast is one of the magnificent seven featured in all four lab reports. I use an algorithm that normalizes all the results to a 10-point scale and produces an aggregate score from 0 to 10. The aggregate score of 9.2 points for this free antivirus product is good; only a few have done better. Looking just at those tested by all four labs, Avira Antivirus is at the top, with 9.9 points. Norton comes next, with 9.8, and then Kaspersky, with 9.7. Bitdefender and Sophos each managed a perfect 10, based on three and two labs respectively.

Avast Online Security

The Avast Online Security extension installs in Chrome and Firefox. It installed automatically when I launched those two browsers. As usual, I had to give permission before the browser enabled it.

Online Security marks up your search results in popular search portals. Green means all clear, red means stay away, and gray means the site hasn’t yet been analyzed. You can click the toolbar icon to give a simple thumbs-up or down to the current page.

If Online Security detects any advertising trackers or other trackers on the current site, it displays how many it found as a number overlaid on its toolbar icon. Clicking the icon gets you a summary of found social media, advertising, and web analytics trackers. You can dig in for details and block some or all trackers on the current site or automatically block all trackers on all sites.

You won’t easily see the SiteCorrect feature in action. It kicks in when you misspell a popular domain name, steering you away from typosquatting sites that try to capture your clicks.

Online Security also watches out for dangerous and fraudulent websites. Avast also filters out such sites before they even reach the browser, but as you’ll see below, that protection must be combined with Online Security for maximum protection.

Avast installs the SafePrice add-on alongside Online Security. Like the similar feature in AVG, this add-on helps you find the best prices when you’re shopping online. Just click its toolbar icon to see what details it found. It also offers coupons, when available.

Online Insecurity?

All is not rosy in the world of Avast Online Security. Firefox recently removed this extension from its collection. Why? Because researcher Wladimir Palant reported that the extension sent vast amounts of information to Avast, seemingly more than required to do its job, and including “two different unique user IDs.”

Avast has been in the security business for more than 30 years. I found it hard to accept that the company would jeopardize customer privacy, so I checked with Avast CEO Ondrej Vlcek. “We have already implemented some of Mozilla’s new requirements,” said Vlcek, “and we will release further updated versions that are fully compliant and transparent per the new requirements.” He also noted that the takedown occurred just 12 hours after Mozilla’s announcement of its new store policies.

SecurityWatch

But what about all that data sent by the browser extensions? Vlcek went down the laundry list of data points that Palant identified, explaining each. Many, such as the referrer field, feed into URL analysis in the cloud. Some of the fields, such as the page title, “aren’t used and will be removed.” Avast collects the country code for a general idea of location, in lieu of capturing the much more personal IP address. Browser type and version feed into aggregate statistics, though Vlcek said a future version will let you opt out of that feature.

As for the unique user IDs Palant reported, Vlcek confirmed they exist, but said they don’t connect to any personal data. They simply let the cloud-based analysis system match up multiple reports coming from the same source.

When you install Avast, it makes a point of asking permission to gather information, specifically requesting “non-identifying data” and stating the data “is fully de-identified and aggregated and will not be used to personally identify or target you.” You can click to agree or decline the sharing request. I asked if declining to share data meant that Avast wouldn’t use those unique identifiers. Vlcek said no, the only difference is that if you agree to share, Avast retains and aggregates data reported by the browser extension, while if you decline, it discards the data after use.

Just about every antivirus product includes the ability to steer your browser away from unsafe or fraudulent URLs. To do this, they must send the URLs you visit to the cloud for analysis. Yes, that means that they could construct a complete record of your browsing activity. But any actual misuse of that data by a security company would spell its destruction.

Secure Browser

Previously called SafeZone, Avast Secure Browser is a Chromium-based browser with a boatload of security features built in. Naturally it includes the same protections offered by Online Security. It also blocks ads and flash content, prevents installation of dangerous extensions, controls which sites can use your webcam, and enforces use of secure HTTPS connections wherever possible. From its security center page you can launch an antivirus scan, switch to stealth mode, install Avast SecureLine VPN bring up the password manager, or clear your browsing history.

Secure Browser’s Bank Mode opens a browser window in a separate desktop that’s isolated from processes running on the regular desktop and protected against keyloggers and other spy tactics. As with the similar SafePay feature in Bitdefender, you can switch back and forth between the regular and protected desktops. In the past, Avast automatically offered Bank Mode when it detected you were visiting a financial site. I didn’t observe that happening this time around, but you can easily flip into Bank Mode manually.

Avast Free Antivirus Bank Mode

Going beyond the anti-tracking skills of Online Security, Secure Browser offers the ability to disguise your browser fingerprint. What’s that? Well, your browser offers a huge amount of information to websites, because sites can use that information to tune the pages they serve up. They can also process this information into a browser fingerprint that uniquely identifies you, for tracking purposes. Like the standalone TrackOFF Basic, Avast can randomize what the browser reports, just enough to prevent fingerprinting.

By default, the Hack Check feature notes when you log into online accounts and checks whether there’s been any breach associated with that account. You can also enter any email address for an on-demand breach check.

If you’re a Chrome fan, consider using Secure Browser. It’s Chromium-based, so you’ll find it familiar. And it really does offer a ton of privacy and security enhancements.

Decent Malware Protection

Malicious software from the Internet must run the gauntlet of numerous defense layers before it can infect your PC. Avast could block all access to the malware-hosting URL, for example, or wipe out the malware payload before the download finishes—I’ll discuss those malware protection layers shortly. If a file is already present on your computer, as my malware samples are, Avast assumes it must have gotten past the earlier protection layers. Like AVG, Emsisoft, McAfee, and a few others, it checks those files one more time before they execute.

To test Avast’s malware-blocking skills, I opened a folder containing my current collection of malware samples and tried to launch each one. Avast blocked 80 percent of them immediately, wiping them out so fast it left Windows displaying an error message reporting that the file could not be found. It killed off some of those that managed to launch before they could fully install, but missed others, mostly low-risk types.

Avast detected 87 percent of the samples and scored 8.4 of 10 possible points, which isn’t great. Sophos, Windows Defender, and Malwarebytes all detected 98 percent and scored 9.8. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus

Kaspersky Free above and Bitdefender below. All three did very well in lab tests but not so well in my hands-on tests. When that happens, I give more weight to the labs, with their extensive staffs of research experts.

Unusual activity by a few files merited deeper examination. Avast displayed a message stating, “Hang on, this file may contain something bad,” and promising an evaluation within 15 seconds. A little animation depicts the analysis process, with a magnifier going over a document. All my hand-coded testing utilities triggered this warning; all three got a clean bill of health.

The samples I use for the malware blocking test stay the same for months. To evaluate each product’s capabilities against the very latest malware, I start with a feed of malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas. Typically these are no more than a few days old. I try to launch each one, recording whether the antivirus blocked access to the URL, vaporized the malware download, or totally failed to notice anything wrong.

Once I’ve recorded results for many dozens of malware-hosting URLs, I tally the results. Initially, I found that Avast blocked around 40 percent of the URLs and eliminated roughly 40 percent more during download, for a total of 81 percent protection.

Avast has done quite a bit better in the past, enough so that I went seeking a reason for the difference. It turned out I had to run this test again. I had used Internet Explorer as the browser, forgetting that Avast doesn’t have an extension for IE. When I re-ran the test using Chrome, the extension kicked in to help out, bringing Avast’s score up to a respectable 90 percent.

McAfee, Sophos, and Vipre Antivirus Plus hold the top score here. In their latest tests, all three managed 100 percent protection.

Avast Free Antivirus Unsafe Site

Excellent Phishing Protection

Phishing websites are significantly easier to create than websites that secretively launch malware attacks. All a phishing fraudster need do is create a convincing replica of a sensitive site. They go after banks and financial sites, but also try to scam such things as gaming and dating sites. Any user who logs in, not recognizing that the page is fake, has just given away account access to the fraudsters. If a thousand web surfers spot the fraud and just one falls for it, that’s a win for the bad guys. And when the authorities quash the fraudulent site, the fraudsters just pop up another one.

I test antiphishing using the very newest phishing sites, including plenty that haven’t yet been fully analyzed and blacklisted. I launch each probable phishing URL in four browsers. The product under test protects one of the browsers, naturally. The other three rely on protection built into Chrome, Edge, and Firefox.

Any schmoe can write a phishing protection module that blocks blacklisted sites. The best products use real-time analysis to identify frauds that are too new for the blacklists. Avast clearly has this capability; the company touts its enhanced real-time phishing detection technologies.

In my first round of testing, Avast only caught 81 percent of the fakes, way down from last year. I realized that because I used Internet Explorer for that test, I wasn’t getting full protection, as Avast doesn’t offer a browser extension for IE. I ran the whole test again using Chrome, with much better results.

Avast blocked some frauds below the browser level, displaying a popup reporting the page was “infected with URL:Phishing.” I saw this same popup when I tested with IE. However, for other URLs Avast Online Security steered the browser away from the page to a warning page stating, “This website is unsafe.” In some cases, it did both. With two layers of protection in play, Avast detected 97 percent of the frauds, the same as Webroot. It beat Edge handily, edged out Firefox, and was in turn edged out by Chrome.

Kaspersky and Trend Micro pulled a perfect 100 percent in their latest tests. Close behind them, Bitdefender, McAfee AntiVirus Plus, and Norton managed 99 percent.

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See How We Test Security Software

Scan Choices

If you just click the big button in the middle of Avast’s Status screen, it runs a Smart Scan. In addition to a quick check for active malware, this scan looks for browser threats, apps with missing security patches, and what it calls “advanced issues.” On my test system, it only found the last category.

Digging in for details, I found three efforts to upsell me to Avast Premium Security. It pointed out three sensitive folders needing protection from ransomware, noted that the system has only a basic firewall, and warned that hackers could hijack my DNS. Clicking the big Resolve All button sent me to the upgrade page.

Clicking Scan on the Protection page gets you more choices. The Full Virus Scan took 34 minutes on my standard clean test system, and a repeat scan ran eight minutes faster. That’s quite a bit speedier than my last test of this product, probably because since that time I upped the number of virtual processors in my virtual machines.

Avast Free Antivirus Scans

Avast offers a boot time scan, designed to eliminate pernicious and persistent malware that resists normal cleanup. Because the scan runs before Windows boots up, the Windows-based malware doesn’t have any chance to defend itself. You should set aside plenty of time for the scan. Two hours after I started it, the display still reported one percent complete. I checked its log in the morning, but alas, it doesn’t report scan duration. Note that Bitdefender’s Rescue Mode reboots in a non-Windows operating system for even more power against Windows-centered malware.

Wi-Fi Inspector

Avast was one of the first security products to add a network security scanner to its product line. Despite “Wi-Fi” in its name, the Wi-Fi Inspector can report on all the devices connected to any network, wired or wireless, and flag devices with security problems.

On my test system, the scan ran quickly and displayed my devices in a series of concentric rings, with the router at the center and the devices that connected most recently in the inner circles. The scan reported one problem—it warned that the HTTPS port on the main router was visible from the Internet (a necessary configuration setting for my Network Attached Storage backup device). The detailed warning included a suggestion to install Avast’s VPN, along with a link to open router settings.

Avast does its best to identify each device by name and type, but it can’t always get that information. If you have some network skills, you may be able to identify a device from its IP address and MAC address. The vendor name may also offer a clue. You can change the type of any device to any of more than five dozen choices, among them vehicle, drone, and hand-held gaming console. You can also change the name to something more recognizable than, say, Unknown70259bb1f4e. And Avast remembers your changes for future scans.

In testing, I had a tough time finding the desired device type, because those five dozen entries aren’t in alphabetic order. With Router, PC, Mobile phone, and Tablet at the top, I’m guessing they’re ordered by prevalence.

Avast Free Antivirus Inspect

Avira users can install Avira Home Guard from the main Avira launcher; it works very much like the Wi-Fi Inspector. Bitdefender Home Scanner is another similar (and free) network security scanner, one that goes into more depth about possible security problems.

Simple Password Manager

Password management is an unexpected feature for a free antivirus, though Avira offers Avira Password Manager as a companion to its free product. Avast Password Manager handles all the basic functions, and does them well, but that’s as far as it goes.

To get started, you activate the password manager as an extension in Chrome, Firefox, and Secure Browser. Alarmingly, Avast does not force you to create a master password. You absolutely should not proceed without doing so. Click the settings link, and click the big Create Master Password button.

Avast doesn’t rate your password with a strength meter, but it pops up notes pointing out any problems. For example, when I entered “Password” it said to avoid common words. Entering “d8cd8fb” got the comment “Now that’s a password with muscles.” Adding three exclamation points brought the password to excellent status.

In each supported browser, Avast offers to save the login credentials you enter for secure sites. When you revisit a website, it fills in your saved credentials right away. I do prefer password managers like Keeper Password Manager & Digital Vault that require a click from the user before filling credentials. Doing so prevents password theft using invisible forms.

If you have multiple accounts on the site, you can click a little key icon in the username field to get a menu of all your choices. And it does handle Skype and other two-page logins.

With many password managers, clicking the toolbar icon gets a menu of logins. Avast works differently. If you’ve saved one or more sets of credentials for the current site, it displays those in a popup window. If that’s not what you want, there’s a link to open the app. From the same window, you can invoke the random password generator, which creates 15-character passwords using letters and digits (but not punctuation) by default.

In the app, you can edit your saved passwords to give them a friendly name. You can also add Secure Notes and Credit Card details. When you visit a web form that asks for credit card data, you click the Avast key icon to fill in the card of your choice. In addition, you can sync password data to Avast’s iOS or Android apps.

Avast isn’t much help if you’re switching from another password manager. It can import passwords stored in Chrome or Firefox, but that’s it. There’s no import from competing products, or even from plain CSV files. In addition, the password manager doesn’t report on weak or duplicate passwords.

Some password management features hide behind a paywall, with a list price of $1.58 per month, currently discounted to $0.99 per month. Paying customers get tech support on a 24/7 basis, receive an immediate alert on detection of a password leak, and can log into the mobile apps with a fingerprint. These aren’t very impressive as premium features. Truly advanced features like two-factor authentication and secure password sharing just don’t appear. If you want more from a password manager, you’re probably better off adding a separate free password manager.

Performance Features

Software is created by humans, and hence imperfect. White hat and black hat hackers are constantly finding security holes, and security companies strive to patch them as soon as possible. If you fail to apply security updates, you leave your computer open to attacks that exploit those holes. Avast’s Software Updater scans your computer and reports any out-of-date software it finds. You can click a link to find out what changed in each product, or click a button to install the updates. If you try to turn on automatic updates, you learn that this is a feature of the paid security suite. On my test system, it found an update for Firefox and reported that Flash and Java were up to date. I was left wondering if those are the only apps it checked. No Chrome? No other extensions?

When Do Not Disturb mode is active, the antivirus postpones scheduled scans and suspends all but the most critical notifications. This kind of feature is becoming very common in antivirus products. Avast notices when you run a program full-screen and offers to add it to the list. To avoid being a disturbance itself, it only does so after you shut down the full-screen program.

Premium Features

The Protection, Privacy, and Performance pages each contain some features that are locked away from users of the free edition, indicated by a lock icon overlay. Clicking one of these displays a little animation explaining the feature, with a big Upgrade Now button. In the current Avast lineup, if you want any of these you must purchase Avast Security Premium.

Avast Free Antivirus Premium

On the Protection page, locked icons include: Firewall, to keep hackers out of your system; Sandbox, to run suspicious files without risk; Real Site, website confirmation beyond detection of phishing frauds; and Ransomware Shield. This last item deserves some explanation. Avast’s regular behavior-based detection should catch ransomware just as it does other types of malware. On the chance it might slip up, Ransomware Shield bans unauthorized modification of your documents and other sensitive files.

Most features on the Privacy page are locked for free users, all but the password manager. You must upgrade to get the secure deletion Data Shredder (AVG gives you this feature at the free level). The Sensitive Data Shield scans your documents for sensitive data that could be vulnerable to exfiltration, and helps you protect it. The Webcam Shield offers a degree of spyware protection by limiting webcam use to known, trusted programs. AntiTrack Premium supplements the Do Not Track protection found in Secure Browser.

The button for Avast SecureLine VPN displays a lock, but it isn’t precisely locked away. Clicking the button starts the installation process. Only when you’ve gone through the process, launched the program, and tried to make a VPN connection do you find out that you must pay $2.89 per month to use it beyond a seven-day trial.

On the Performance page, the locked-up Driver Updater promises to reduce crashes by updating old and broken drivers. It installs the first time you try to use it. If it finds anything, you’ll have to go fetch the update yourself, or upgrade to Premium.

Avast Cleanup Premium works in much the same way. It happily scans your system for performance problems, but if you want to do anything about those problems, you must shell out for a subscription.

An Excellent Free Antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus offers antivirus protection that earns good scores in my hands-on tests and very good scores from the independent testing labs. As for bonus features, it offers much more than many competing commercial products, including a network security scanner, a password manager, and more. Avast remains an Editors’ Choice product for free antivirus.

The base antivirus engine in AVG Antivirus Free is the same as Avast’s, but AVG just doesn’t offer the wealth of additional security features that you get with Avast. Go ahead and try it if you like, but we’re no longer calling it an Editors’ Choice.

Kaspersky Free is our other Editor’s Choice free antivirus. Where Avast gets very good ratings from the four independent labs that I follow, Kaspersky gets even higher marks. It comes with a bandwidth-limited VPN, but not many other frills. The key with Kaspersky is getting antivirus protection loved by the labs without any cost.



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Office 365 on Windows 7 gets free patches until 2023

Customers who continue to power PCs with Windows 7 after the operating system’s expiration date will be given one more update to Office 365 ProPlus – the application soul of the subscription service – before shutting down the feature pipeline.

But Office 365 ProPlus – the application stack that’s part of most business plans – will receive security updates long after Windows 7’s retirement on Jan. 14. How long after? Three years after.

The arrangement – “no” to new features but “yes” to vulnerability patches – was unusual enough to upend the typical definition of “support.”

“Office 365 ProPlus won’t be supported on Windows 7 after January 14, 2020,” Microsoft plainly stated in a support document last revised less than two weeks ago.

So, ProPlus is not supported but it will receive patches? Huh?

The contradiction about support is the source of confusion. Most users, whether of Microsoft’s operating system and applications or of any kind of software, hear the word support and equate it with fixes and patches. Software in support receives updates that quash bugs and fix problems, software out of support does not.

Yet Microsoft says that Office 365 ProPlus “won’t be supported” on Windows 7 even though it will continue to deliver security updates to the suite.

Again, what the hell?

First, a bit of background

Normally, when Microsoft axes an operating system – and stops patching its security vulnerabilities – it halts updates to other Microsoft-made software running under that OS at the same time. So, for example, when Microsoft set Windows 7’s end-of-support calendar at Jan. 14, 2020, that meant Office 365 ProPlus – or any Office – would also stop receiving updates then. (It works like this for Microsoft’s browsers, Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge, too.)

But Microsoft upset that cart when it announced Extended Security Updates (ESU) in September 2018. A “last resort” – Microsoft’s words – for commercial customers who would not make the Jan. 14, 2020, deadline for purging Windows 7, ESU would provide Critical- and Important-rated vulnerability patches to out-of-support Windows 7 machines. For a price, of course.

When Microsoft extended Windows 7’s security update support, it also had to extend that of Office 365 ProPlus (or make those Windows 7 PCs worthless for common productivity chores). And remember, customers were paying money to remain in support. And that’s what the company did.

“Office 365 ProPlus will be supported on devices with active Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESU) through January 2023,” Jared Spataro, vice president for Microsoft 365, said in a post to a company blog. “This means that customers who purchase the Windows 7 ESU will be able to continue to run Office 365 ProPlus.”

With a few keystrokes, Spataro committed Microsoft to providing patches to Office 365 ProPlus for three years after Windows 7 retirement.

Here’s what is to happen

Microsoft upgrades Office 365 ProPlus, like Windows 10, twice a year, in the late summer (around August) and the late winter or early spring (February or March). But Windows 7 users will get just one in 2020.

“Version 2002 is expected to be the last version of Office 365 ProPlus that will be available for devices running Windows 7 after Windows 7 goes out of support in January 2020,” Microsoft said in the support document.  (As with Windows 10, Microsoft tags Office 365 ProPlus with a four-digit label in the form yymm, so 2002 indicates a February 2020 release.)

Office 365 ProPlus, with its three different “channels” or distribution milestones, will upgrade to 2002 on this timeline, according to Microsoft:

  • Monthly Channel … late February
  • Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted) … March
  • Semi-Annual Channel … July

Once Office 365 ProPlus version 2002 is in place on Windows 7 systems, no future upgrades will be allowed onto the machines. Microsoft made that clear. “If you try to install a newer version of Office 365 ProPlus, such as Version 2005, on a device running Windows 7, you will receive an error message,” Microsoft said.

But monthly security updates will keep on coming through January 2023. (That month should be familiar; it’s the end of Windows 7’s ESU program.)

“We’re doing this to give you additional time to make the transition from running Office 365 ProPlus on devices running Windows 7 to a supported operating system, such as Windows 10,” Microsoft said, giving a reason if not necessarily the reason. Left unsaid, naturally, is the fact that once ESU came into existence, Microsoft had to continue patching Office 365 ProPlus, at least for those covered by the pay-for-patches plan.

Even though a specific ProPlus channel is usually available just for 14 months, version 2002 will be accessible to Windows 7 customers for much longer. How much longer? Remember, until January 2023.

“We’re making ((this)) exception just for Version 2002 to align with how long ESU for Windows 7 is available,” Microsoft said, coming clean.

On PCs powered by Windows 7, Office 365 ProPlus will be updated automatically to 2002 if those devices are getting updates directly from Microsoft’s servicing mechanism, Windows Update. If the PC is later migrated to Windows 10, ProPlus will automatically transition to the most recent available version. From that point, the machine will start receiving new feature-and-functionality upgrades, too.

Enterprises that manage ProPlus via, say, WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) or SCCM (System Center Configuration Manager) can continue to use their familiar tools.

Microsoft also said that Office 365 Business – the name for the application bundle offered with some subscriptions, including Office 365 Business Premium and Microsoft 365 Business – will be serviced on Windows 7 in the same way as ProPlus.

What about home users?

They, too, will get security updates to their Office 365 applications, according to a different support article Microsoft highlighted.

“As a valuable Office 365 subscriber, we want to continue to provide a stable Office 365 experience,” Microsoft stated on that page. “Even though Windows 7 will no longer be supported after January 2020, we’ve decided to continue to provide you with security updates for Office 365 for the next 3 years, until January 2023.”

You get patches … and you get patches

Everyone running Windows 7 after Jan. 14 will continue to get patches for Office 365’s applications – Word, Excel and the rest – for up to three years. The OS may be out of support (there’s that word again) and at risk from criminal exploitation, but Office itself will be safe.

Although few will look this gift horse in the mouth and object, it’s odd that Microsoft would give away Office security updates when it’s charging for the same thing for Windows 7.

But no one said Microsoft’s moves were logical.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Microsoft to end updates to Windows 7’s free AV software, Security Essentials

Microsoft will not provide new malware signatures for its home-grown Security Essentials software after it retires Windows 7 in five weeks.

“No, your Windows 7 computer is not protected by MSE ((Microsoft Security Essentials)) after January 14, 2020,” the company said in a support document mainly concerned about the Extended Security Updates (ESU) being shilled to enterprises. “MSE is unique to Windows 7 and follows the same lifecycle dates for support.”

Security Essentials, a free antivirus (AV) program that launched in 2008, was originally limited to consumers. However, in 2010, Microsoft expanded the licensing to small businesses, defined as those with 10 or fewer PCs. Two years after that, MSE was replaced by Windows Defender with the launch of Windows 8.

Since then, Defender has been baked into each follow-up version of the OS, including Windows 10. Windows 7, though, has been stuck with MSE.

Computerworld previously speculated that Microsoft would provide updates to MSE even after Windows 7’s retirement, slated for Jan. 14. The forecast was based on Microsoft’s behavior five years ago, when it kept cranking out malware signature updates for Windows XP users of MSE in the months after that operating system’s April 2014 retirement.

What Computerworld neglected to consider, of course, was that in 2014 MSE still had a large pool of users or potential users, those running Windows 7. Because Microsoft was still required to produce MSE signature updates for Windows 7, there was no, or little extra work needed to push the same updates to XP. That’s not the case now; Windows 7 is the end of the line for MSE.

Without question, it would be in Microsoft’s interest to continue updating MSE on Windows 7 after Jan. 14; unprotected systems threaten the Windows ecosystem as a whole, because exploitation of, say, one Windows 7 PC could lead to the compromise of several other devices on the same network, such as one connecting the machines of a small business. But Microsoft has presumably weighed that against its desire to induce customers to upgrade to Windows 10 and found for the latter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Amazon Music Is Now Free on Your Smartphone

Amazon has expanded its free Amazon Music tier to more devices. Amazon Music was previously only available for free to customers using Echo devices. However, the ad-supported Amazon Music tier


Amazon Music Is Now Free for Amazon Echo Owners




Amazon Music Is Now Free for Amazon Echo Owners

If you own an Alexa-enabled device such as an Echo speaker you can now listen to Amazon Music for free (with a side of ads).
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is now also available on the web, Android, iOS, and Fire TV.

How to Listen to Amazon Music for Free

Amazon announced the expansion of its free Amazon Music tier in a post on The Amazon Blog. The ad-supported tier is available on the Amazon Music app for Android, iOS, and Fire TV. And you can also listen on the web at music.amazon.com.

The company explains that “Amazon Music customers who do not yet have a Prime membership, or a subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited, can now listen to an ad-supported selection of top playlists and thousands of stations for free.”

As you may have noticed, this isn’t the full Amazon Music catalog. Instead, the free tier lets you “play thousands of stations based on any song, artist, era, and genre,” as well as the “top global playlists” and “the best in Holiday tunes”.

Playlists available for free (with ads) include All Hits (featuring the biggest songs in the world, Fuego Latino (featuring the week’s hottest Latin tracks), Country Heat (full of country music hits), and Rap Rotation (full of big hip-hop tracks).

Download: Amazon Music for Android | iOS

Essential Amazon Music Unlimited Tips

While the ability to stream music for free is appreciated (even with ads) this makes Amazon Music more confusing than ever. There are now five distinct tiers available, ranging from this free option all the way up an Amazon Music HD subscription.

And that’s also the whole reason behind this endeavor. Amazon is giving you a taster of Amazon Music for free in the hopes that you’ll sign up for a paid subscription. And if you do decide to sign up, here are our essential Amazon Music Unlimited tips


7 Essential Amazon Music Unlimited Tips to Help Get You Started




7 Essential Amazon Music Unlimited Tips to Help Get You Started

To help you get more out of your Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, here are some tips and tricks to start using right away.
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.





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Truebill can help you manage your finances—and it’s free to download

Learning how to manage your money correctly is a necessary step towards financial freedom. However, we always seem to forget about online subscription services that go unused. Perhaps you haven’t watched Netflix or forgot to cancel a one-month free trial; if you have these services set to autopay, you’ll end up wasting money on them each month. 

Let’s be honest, though. Who has the time to hunt down every payment or fee that gets charged to them monthly? This is hassle enough for a single bank account, but it’s nearly impossible to do if you manage multiple accounts manually. If you want a refined way to track and manage your finances, you can download Truebill for free and start lowering your monthly payments today.

The Truebill app provides a snapshot of your financial life. Once you sync your bank accounts, Truebill will monitor your bills and pinpoint the subscriptions you no longer use. In fact, 84% of users found subscriptions that they had totally forgotten about. You can view your personalized spending insights straight from the dashboard for a quick glance at where you can save money right away. 

On top of saving you money on unused subscriptions, Truebill will help you manage your budget by automatically setting aside funds for savings and by categorizing your expenses, so you’ll know exactly where your money is going each month. 

A lot of money-tracking apps provide these features already, so what makes Truebill special? For one, Truebill will negotiate lower prices for you. This means that if one of your expenses—such as a cell phone or cable bill—is too high, Truebill will save you money. Truebill will even help you score a refund if your cable company has an outage, so you don’t have to pay for a service you can’t use! 

Truebill makes it easy to track your monthly budget and lower unnecessary payments. Download Truebill for free today and learn about how you can save money here.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Get 70% off NordVPN Virtual Private Network Service + 3 months free – Deal Alert

Get their popular 3-year plan for 70% off + 3 months free. NordVPN gives you a private and fast path through the public Internet. All of your data is protected every step of the way using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) with 256 bit-keys – also used by the US government to secure classified information and by the NSA to protect national security data. Access Hulu, Netflix, BBC, ITV, Sky, RaiTV and much more from anywhere in the world. Choose from over 5218 NordVPN servers in 59 countries and enjoy unmetered access for 6 simultaneous devices. NordVPN is based away from the EU and US jurisdictions and has no obligation to collect your personal information. You’re sure to find dozens of good uses for a VPN. Take advantage of the current 70% off deal that makes all of this available to you for just $3.49/month for a 3-year plan (access deal here) plus they’re throwing in 3 free months on top. This is a special deal available for a limited time.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.



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How to Free Up Your DRM Protected Music

Digital Rights Management—better known as DRM—is a scourge for anyone who’s bought music online. By preventing the buyer from copying or sharing music, DRM limits what the owner can do with the track they’ve purchased.

Thankfully, there are a few tools that can remove the DRM from the music you’ve downloaded. This frees it from the virtual shackles and lets you use it in any way you please. Here are several different ways to remove DRM from your music files.

1. AppleMacSoft DRM Converter for Mac

AppleMacSoft DRM Converter for Mac remove DRM

In the old days, any music you bought from iTunes used to have DRM attached to it. The DRM was so restrictive that you could only play the music on Apple devices.

Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Today, all songs listed in the iTunes Store are categorized as “iTunes Plus.” That means they’re in the AAC format and don’t have any DRM attached. But what about all of those old songs you downloaded in years gone by?

In theory, Apple will let you redownload a non-DRM version. However, if you’ve long since lost access to the original account, that’s a non-starter. You need a DRM removal app.

One solution is to use AppleMacSoft DRM Converter for Mac. It integrates directly with iTunes and can remove DRM in bulk. You can save your new audio file as an MP3, M4A, M4R, AAC, AC3, AIFF, AU, FLAC, or MKA file, and can even use the tool to remove DRM from your Apple audiobooks.

Download: AppleMacSoft DRM Converter for Mac ($40, free trial available)

2. MuvAudio

MuvAudio remove DRM

Many of the tools that can remove DRM from music take advantage of the “analog hole.” For those who don’t know, the analog hole is the term given to the phenomenon whereby any digital audio or video file can be recaptured in a fairly straightforward way once it becomes perceptible to humans.

But this approach has a downside. By using your system’s soundcard, you can experience a significant loss in quality. MuvAudio is different. It uses a digital conversion process, thus allowing you to retain the audio quality of the original file.

MuvAudio can convert DRM protected file formats that are only readable on certain devices into files that are device-agnostic. The app can read the major formats, as well as some more niche ones like SPX, MPC, APE, OFR, OFS, TTA, and MPE. The seven supported output formats are MP3, M4A, WMA, OGG, FLAC, WV, and WAV.

Some of the app’s other features include the ability to split long audio tracks into shorter files, a way to edit a DRM-protected file’s metadata data before you create the DRM-free version, and a search tool for missing album artwork.

The trial version of the app lets you remove the DRM from 60 songs. If you have more tracks to fix up, you’ll have to pay for the full version.

Download: MuvAudio ($19, free trial available)

3. Audacity

Audacity remove DRM

If you’d prefer to save some money and take the “analog hole” approach to removing DRM from your music files, you only need a simple audio recording app. Both Windows and macOS come with such an app as a native part of the respective operating systems.

However, we’d recommend going one step further and downloading a more powerful tool such as Audacity.

Use Audacity to Remove DRM on Windows

To use Audacity to remove DRM on Windows, follow these steps:

  1. Open Audacity.
  2. In the dropdown menu in the upper left-hand corner, select Windows WASAPI.
  3. Hit the Record button.
  4. Start playing the DRM-protected track.
  5. Click Stop when the track finishes.
  6. Trim the file to remove the silence from the beginning and end of the recording.
  7. Go to File > Export.
  8. Select Export as MP3.
  9. Give the file a name and press Export.

Use Audacity to Remove DRM on MacOS

If you’re using a macOS device, the situation is slightly more complex. Macs do not have a native way to record a computer’s audio output. As such, you’ll need to download and install another third-party app—Soundflower—before you begin.

When you’re ready, use the following step-by-step guide:

  1. Go to Apple > System Preferences > Sound.
  2. Click on the Output tab at the top of the Window.
  3. Select Soundflower (2ch) from the list of options.
  4. Open Audacity and go to the Preferences menu.
  5. Head to Devices > Recording.
  6. Select Soundflower (2ch) in the Device dropdown menu.
  7. Hit the Record button.
  8. Start playing the DRM-protected track.
  9. Click Stop when the track finishes.
  10. Trim the file to remove the silence from the beginning and end of the recording.
  11. Go to File > Export.
  12. Select Export as MP3.
  13. Give the file a name and press Export.

The downside of using Audacity to remove music DRM is two-fold. Firstly, you need to play each DRM-protected track in full. If you have thousands of DRM-protected songs that you’re trying to work through, that might not be practical.

Secondly, you’re making an entirely new file. As such, you’ll lose any metadata from the original file. Again, if you’re working with hundreds of songs, that’s a significant extra workload that you’ll have to take on.

Download: Audacity (Free)
Download: Soundflower (Free)

To learn more about using the app, check out our article detailing how to remove ambient noise using Audacity


How to Remove Ambient Noise From Audio Files Using Audacity




How to Remove Ambient Noise From Audio Files Using Audacity

It’s simple to remove background noise in Audacity and give your recordings a much more professional feel. Here’s how to do it.
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.

4. Burn a CD

rip CD to remove DRM

You can also burn DRM-protected music files onto a CD. So, a simple way to bypass DRM is to create a CD of the tracks you want to free up, then immediately rip the CD back into your computer’s music player.

The only requirement is that you use a music player on Windows or Mac that has CD burning capabilities. Most of the best music managers on both platforms have this functionality.

Naturally, your computer also needs to have a CD drive. If it doesn’t, check out the Rioddas External CD Drive on Amazon.

And remember, if you use this technique, you don’t even need to burn a physical CD. You could download an app like TuneClone to create virtual CDs—AKA ISO files—then rip them back onto your machine.

Download: TuneClone ($35, free trial available)

Remove DRM From More Media

Music isn’t the only type of media that’s afflicted by DRM protection. Some audiobooks, movies, TV series, and ebooks are locked behind Digital Rights Management.

But don’t worry. Just like audio files, you can remove the DRM from those types of media too. If you’d like to learn more, check out our article explaining how to remove the DRM on every ebook you own


How to Remove the DRM on Every Ebook You Own




How to Remove the DRM on Every Ebook You Own

No one likes DRM. We all understand why it exists, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready to embrace it. Therefore, this article explains how to remove the DRM from every eBook you own.
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9 Awesome Free Printable Board Games

If you’re on the lookout for a new hobby you’ve probably considered exploring the world of printable board games and printable card games. And it turns out that it’s both easy and free to make your own games.

There are lots of games available to download and print out at home. And all you need are dice, counters, and poker chips. Here are some great free printable board games and printable card games to get you started.

Set in Lucky Mansion, the aim of the game is to find and kill Doctor Lucky. He’s appropriately named, so it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Furthermore, you have competition from your opponents.

This free printable game is based on the 2002 “Director’s Cut” of Kill Doctor Lucky and includes five PDF files for you to download. You’ll also need some player pieces; chess pawns and checkers pieces should do the trick.

Take-Back-Toe printable board game

Take-Back Toe looks easy and is simple to learn. Better still, you can play it again and again without it getting boring.

Requiring 40 poker chips (or checkers), a 4 x 3 grid and a six-sided die, Take-Back Toe has its roots in traditional games mancala and backgammon. It’s a game of strategy that you can print, with the game board designed to fit a standard mouse mat.

This means that if you want to print it to a 9 x 7.5-inch mouse mat, you can.

This solitary adventure game based on British TV series Doctor Who was created by Simon Cogan. It’s a booklet-based adventure game in which you play as the Doctor, essentially writing your own Doctor Who adventure.

“Evil events have overtaken the Universe! The Timelords and your home planet of Gallifrey have been destroyed in the Time War. You managed to escape, and now in a new regeneration, are standing at the console of your TARDIS as it flies through the Time Vortex.”

The game requires four downloadable booklets: Rules, Adventures, Enemies, and Events. You’ll also need two six-sided dice. Cards help you to gain allies, fight enemies, and take part in events and adventures. Various expansions are also available, including a story book based on the Doctor Who spin off, Torchwood.

And if you’re new to Doctor Who, here are the best Doctor Who episodes of all time


Who Is Online: The Best Doctor Who Episodes of All Time




Who Is Online: The Best Doctor Who Episodes of All Time

If you want to get into Doctor Who, and enjoy the most important episodes of this British institution’s entire televised history, start with the list we have lovingly prepared for you.
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.

You’ve probably heard of Cards Against Humanity. Described as “a party game for horrible people” it is available to download under Creative Commons license (what is Creative Commons?


What Is Creative Commons, And Should You Use It?




What Is Creative Commons, And Should You Use It?

Creative Commons is a set of licenses which automatically give you permission to do various things, such as reuse and distribute the content. Let’s find out more about it and how to use it.
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).

The download for this printable card game is around 9MB, which means you’ll need quite a bit of ink. Indeed, while this is a downloadable game, the designers advise you head to a print shop. They estimate that printing will cost around $10.

As card games go, Cards Against Humanity is memorable. But it isn’t for children.

If you really like it, you can buy Cards Against Humanity instead.



Cards Against Humanity


Cards Against Humanity

Buy Now On Amazon
$25.00

Play the printable card game TimeLine

Another game with a time travel theme, TimeLine challenges you to find important artifacts from across history. With the items retrieved, you must then travel to the end of time to sell them.

TimeLine is basically a card-laying game, with three PDF files to download. You’ll also need pawns for each player and 20 colored chips. Simple, fun, and comparatively lightweight, TimeLine is suitable for playing while traveling.

Licensed under Creative Commons, Zombie In My Pocket is a fun solo game in which you fight zombies. The modular board and development cards mean that you get a different game every time you play. Downloaded over 72,000 times, it’s worth taking a few moments to download and print.

What’s more, the visual design of this printable card game is stunning, perhaps the best in this list.

This print-and-play solo game is small enough to fit in your pocket. Which is just as well as it means you can play Zombie In My Pocket while sat on a train, waiting in an airport lounge, or anywhere else you can think of.

Printable tabletop game Pirates and Plunder
Image Credit: Jester/BoardGameGeek

Inspired by Carcassonne, this tile-laying game lets you play as a pirate on the high seas. Explore islands, establish trade routes, and beat your opponents.

Pirates and Plunder requires the use of printable ship pieces, or anything that resembles a boat that you already have. The tiles can be downloaded (at just 179KB) and printed, but you’ll need a color printer and something to add weight. Card, plastic, or cork should do.

This is a great game, particularly suitable for family play. After all, kids love being pirates.

A printable game of Guess Who with LEGO characters

Here’s a great way to refresh your old boxed Guess Who? game, with a LEGO flavor. If you find the original game getting a little repetitive, Mom Blogger Keri Houchin has the answer.

With her printables, you can replace the original Guess Who? cards and create a brand-new, LEGO-themed game. Better still, you could potentially do this yourself. As Keri notes: “I just photographed a bunch of minifigures and edited the pictures in Photoshop. I gave all the characters names for the sake of the game.”

Like LEGO Guess Who? there’s an official LEGO What Am I? game, complete with 16 minifigs.



LEGO What Am I?


LEGO What Am I?

Buy Now On Amazon
$43.20

Print your own Monopoly board game
Image Credit: atkinson000/Flickr

Possibly the most famous board game in the world, Monopoly comes in many different flavors. From Star Wars to Fortnite, via many major cities of the world, and even the Cheater’s Edition, it remains popular.

But what if you wanted to print your own Monopoly board game?

Blogger Shauna1934 has created a completely blank version of Monopoly, including the board, money, and property cards. You’ll need to arrange your own Chance and Community Chest cards, but this is a pretty bulky download. It’s a smart idea to have the colored paper ready for the Monopoly money.

You’ll need nine pieces of card or paper (to glue to card) for the board. Instructions show how to print the board image over the multiple sheets, but you’ll need to do a bit of cutting, too. By the end, you’ll have your own custom version of Monopoly to play with your family and friends.

How Long Do Printable Board Games Last?

If you’re printing your own board games, you’re saving money on polished presentation, transport or shipping, and time. But is it really worth it?

While printable games can be like having an instant boxed game pop out of your printer, it’s not a perfect process. After all, like real games, cards, sheets, and boards can become worn. As such, it’s a good idea to take the time to laminate your printouts to help them last.

You might also buy some generic game pieces and dice, keeping them safe in a plastic tub.



Universal Game Pieces


Universal Game Pieces

Buy Now On Amazon
$21.99

Find More Free Printable Card and Board Games

The games featured above are just a few of the awesome free printable games that you can download today. Looking for more games to print? Then try these sites:

  • Free Printable: Offers a collection of printable board games, as well as word searches and crosswords.
  • BoardGame Geek: The best site for fans of board games features many free downloadable board games.
  • CheapAss Games: This site features a curated selection of board games, card games, and even games in beta.

By now you should have found all of the printable board games you can shake your dice at. Want something different? Then try these awesome board games based on video games


9 Awesome Board Games Based on Video Games




9 Awesome Board Games Based on Video Games

Board games based on video games might seem like a strange concept, but it can work really well. Grab one of these games, and you’ll be hooked!
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instead.



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7 Free Chat Apps for Messaging on Your Phone or Computer

For a seamless way to message your family and friends, you need the free chat apps available across multiple platforms. Ideally, on both mobile and desktop.

So, what free cross-platform chat apps should you download? And what are the best instant messaging apps available today? Keep reading to find out.

1. WhatsApp

Despite the Facebook buyout and concerns over advertising, WhatsApp remains the world’s most popular messaging app by some distance. At the time of writing, it has more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, and the growth is showing no signs of slowing down.

But what about cross-platform chatting? Well, WhatsApp has apps in both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. There’s also a web app (which you need a QR code to log into), and standalone desktop apps for both Windows and Mac. Unfortunately, there is no Linux version of WhatsApp.

Other notable WhatsApp features include voice and video chat, groups with up to 256 people, and end-to-end encryption on all messages.

Download: WhatsApp (Free)

2. Telegram

telegram desktop app

Windows users will be curious to know about the best messaging apps for PC. Out of all of the options, we think Telegram provides the best Windows client.

The app is extremely lightweight, fast, and packed with all the same features that you get on the mobile versions. And, unlike WhatsApp, you don’t need a QR code in order to log in—your phone number is sufficient. Uniquely, Telegram even offers a portable Windows app; you don’t need to install it on your PC and can use it on any Windows machine you’re working on.

Telegram has a macOS client, and apps for Android and iOS. It is also the first free chat app on our list to support Linux.

Some of the most useful Telegram features


10 Useful Telegram Features You Should Be Using




10 Useful Telegram Features You Should Be Using

You’ve made the switch to Telegram, but are you using it to its fullest? In this article, we pinpoint several useful Telegram features you may have overlooked.
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are its support for self-destructing messages, groups with up to 200,000 members, bot integration, and the ability to schedule messages for the future.

Download: Telegram (Free)

3. Facebook Messenger

facebook messenger web app

Like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger benefits from having a large userbase. After all, any instant messaging app is useless if the people you want to chat with most frequently don’t also have the app installed.

Facebook Messenger has standalone apps for Android and iOS. However, the only way to read your Facebook messages on a desktop/laptop is to use the web app. Facebook has not developed a standalone desktop Messenger app for either Windows or macOS.

Download: Facebook Messenger (Free)

4. Line

Line is one of the most popular communication apps in Asia. It is the market leader in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan. If you have friends and relatives in those locales, Line is a must-have free chat app.

Thankfully, Line also boasts impressive cross-platform support. There are Line apps available for PC, macOS, Android, and iOS. You can also install the Line Chrome extension if you want to send instant messages directly from your web browser.

In addition to its chat functionality, Line doubles as a video messaging app and real-time location sharing service. You can even use it to follow other accounts, such as those of brands, celebrities, pop stars, sports teams, and more.

Download: Line (Free)

5. WeChat

WeChat is the third most popular messaging app in the world behind WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. If you want a free chat app to talk to people in China, this is a good solution. It is the top instant messaging app in that country.

It is also another free chat apps with solid cross-platform support—you can find standalone WeChat versions on Android, iOS, and desktop. However, although WeChat offers messaging apps for Windows and macOS, there is no Linux version. If you are running a Linux distro, you will need to use the service’s web app to chat with your friends.

Some of the other top features on WeChat include video messaging, custom stickers, a “Moments” stream (akin to Instagram Stories), and real-time location sharing.

Download: WeChat (Free)

6. Skype

Another of the best messaging apps for PC is Skype. Almost all Windows users have an account, and it is tightly integrated with the operating system’s other apps like Mail and Calendar.

Skype, of course, is an instant messaging app and video messaging app all rolled into one. Depending on the package you choose, you can even use the app to receive voicemails, call landlines and mobiles, send SMS messages, and create group chats.

In addition to the Windows version of Skype in the Microsoft Store, it is also available on Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. A web app also exists, but it is more limited in features than its desktop counterpart.

Download: Skype (Free)

7. Viber

The last app on our list of free chat apps is Viber. It’s often thought of as a direct competitor to WhatsApp. But while they do share some similar features (such as end-to-end encryption, voice and video calls, private group chats, and integration with Google Assistant and Siri), there are some key differences.

For example, Viber has a feature called Viber Out. It’s a VOIP facility that allows you to call mobiles and landlines around the world. You can also follow public accounts and chats, create hidden chats, and even play games within the Viber app.

Regardless of the differences, Viber remains a popular instant chat service. It has cross-platform support, with apps available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Like WhatsApp, there’s also a web app that requires a QR code to log in.

Download: Viber (Free)

Note: We previously covered reasons to ditch WhatsApp for Viber


5 Reasons Why You Should Ditch WhatsApp for Viber




5 Reasons Why You Should Ditch WhatsApp for Viber

WhatsApp is the biggest instant messaging app out there, but is it the best? Hit the link to find out why Viber might just be a better choice.
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for a more detailed breakdown.

Are These the Best Free Chat Apps?

When you’re deciding on the best free chat app for your needs, there are two primary points you need to consider. First, can you use it on the hardware you own? Second, are the people you want to talk to also using the service?

If any of the above fit your needs then great. If not, please let us know your favorite alternative in the comments below. Even if it’s one of these online instant messaging services


5 Online Instant Messaging Services to Chat with Friends




5 Online Instant Messaging Services to Chat with Friends

If you were an AOL Instant Messenger fan, don’t worry. There are still some worthwhile services available. Here are five to check out.
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that let you chat to friends and family.



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4 Free Morse Code Software and Apps to Send Coded Messages

Morse code was once a revolutionary form of communication, as it allowed people to transmit messages electrically over long distances. While it’s fallen out of favor due to modern technology, you’ll still find cool Morse code software to make use of it in the 21st century.

Let’s take a look at some Morse software you can use to transmit messages and have fun with Morse code.

Chances are that you don’t know Morse code by heart. It’s easy enough to find a key or flowchart online to translate the code, but you might be interested in fully learning it on your own.

If that’s the case, check out Google’s Morse Typing Trainer tool. Google released it alongside support for Morse Code in its Gboard keyboard for Android and iOS. This is primarily intended as an accessibility tool for people who have difficulty typing on a standard keyboard, but anyone can use it to send Morse code from their keyboard.

This tool uses visual aids to help you associate each letter in Morse code with its dots and dashes. For example, for the letter “B,” which is represented by “. – – -” in Morse code, it shows a banjo with a dot in the middle and three dashes going up the neck.

Google Learn Morse Code

You can access a demo of the service on your desktop, but it’s intended for use on your phone using Gboard.

Download: Gboard for Android | iOS (Free)

Using Morse Code on Gboard for Android

First, download Gboard if it’s not already on your phone. To open the app’s settings, select a text field to bring up your keyboard. If another keyboard appears, tap the Keyboard icon in the bottom-right corner and switch to Gboard.

Next, hit the arrow at the top of the keyboard to show a list of icons. Select the three-dot Menu button to show more items, then tap the Gear icon to open Settings.

From here, select Languages and tap the existing English (US) entry. Scroll all the way to the right and select Morse code. Below this you can change a variety of settings; tap Done to add the Morse code keyboard.

To switch between the standard keyboard and Morse code, tap the Globe icon in Gboard.

Using Morse Code on Gboard for iPhone

Download Gboard from the App Store if you don’t have it yet, then open the app from your home screen. Once you’re here, select Languages, then Add language. Scroll down to the bottom and select Morse Code – English for whatever region you prefer.

Now Morse code is added to your keyboard. To switch to it, tap the Globe icon in Gboard. You’re then ready to type in Morse code on your iOS device.

Morse Code Translator

If you don’t want to commit to learning Morse code, you can still use tools like the Morse Code Translator to send and receive Morse code on your computer.

This site lets you enter a message in English to see the equivalent in Morse code. It also supports showing the English output for Morse code characters. Once you’ve typed out a message, you can hit Play to hear the code. Check the Light box to also show corresponding flashes.

It’s also easy to share your Morse code with others. Click the Save button to download a copy of the audio in WAV format. Or use the Send button to create a unique URL that you can send to friends. When they open it, they’ll hear the message, see flashes, and watch the English characters appear in real-time.

This site has several other resources related to Morse code, including a virtual keyer, text guide to the characters, and information on message timing.

3. Morsecode.me: Communicate With Others in Morse Code

Morsecodeme Morse Code Chat

One of the coolest online Morse code programs, morsecode.me allows you to join chatrooms and talk to other people in Morse code. As people type, you’ll hear the corresponding sounds and see the text appear in real-time.

The service offers several channels depending on your proficiency level. The default is channel 1 for beginners, while more experienced users can switch to a different channel using the top menu.

Give it a try if you’re confident enough in your Morse code skills to communicate back and forth. There’s a key on the right side to help you out, but the site mentions that this is for people who know Morse code. Thus, you should take care to be respectful and not clog up the chat.

4. Morse Decoder: Listen to Encoded Messages

Morse Code Decoder

Years ago, we covered a free Morse code decoder software called CwGet. It’s still around, but it’s fairly clunky and only available for Windows. You can achieve the same effect with Morse Decoder, which is made by the same person as the Morse Code Translator service mentioned above.

This service lets you either upload an audio file containing Morse code or listen to audio from your computer’s microphone. It will display the characters in the message as it detects them. You can also see a basic graph of the input below.

If you wanted, you could use this tool to send secret messages to your friends in Morse code. However, you’ll need to encrypt them in some way, as anyone who has access to the raw audio can easily decode the Morse code text using a service like this. You might hide the Morse code file as a single track in a multi-track audio file, for instance.

However, this is probably overkill for most people. You’re better off with easier self-destructing apps to send secure messages


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Morse Code Apps Are ..-. ..- -. (Fun)

Even if you’ve never used Morse code before, we hope you can have some fun with this collection of free Morse code software. They’re available to use on any platform and make learning, translating, decoding, and communicating in Morse code simple.

Due to its storied history and universal nature, Morse code is a wise skill to pick up. And it’s easier than learning a new language. For more like this, check out alternative ways to type on your Android phone


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You know how to type on your Android phone, but did you know that you can also type with Morse code, your voice, and more?
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