I don't really sit anywhere on the whole Microsoft vs. other alternatives debate (despite still lusting after a Macbook pro on the hardware front, and I can't believe they ditched the 17 inch variant). But from actual experience of using MS stuff for quite a long time I'd say they've provided a pretty decent user experience which was anything but second rate for the most part. So generally I don't really have much to gripe about, at least nothing that was too over shadowing in a negative way of my overall long term user experience. 

 Free stuff by Microsoft for

Microsoft and free stuff? Yeah for real, and there's a few useful highly polished bits and pieces to boot which having proven to be pretty useful in the last month or so. But here's my reckoning as I encountered the various scenarios.

Visual Studio 2012 Express (The express version being the free version)

It’s a full easy to use programming and debugging app for a couple of coding languages (C, C++,VB) and web based coding platforms. It's also put together in such a way to help you manage entire projects more quickly and efficiently. But essentially I wasn't looking to manage an entire coding project, I just needed a "resource editor" for quickly editing some system DLL files. I had tried another free alternative which I wasn't too sure of as they also seemed a little dubious, plus it didn't quite work on my machine for whatever reason. I also tried another "resource editor" which was free to use for 30 days but you then had to pay for it in order to continue using it.  When I say free for 30 days it was at the expense of it writing additional tag coding  to the system dll files that you wanted to edit. It also seemed to cause serious compounding glitches and problems with my system too. 

However Microsoft's visual Studio express is a completely free app to download and use. It's provides a transparent means for the user to create and edit dll files which won't discretely inject malicious code into your Windows dll system files. Besides there's also the  fact that MS would have no reason to screw up their own operating systems.

Slight draw backs : Despite being very efficient its not exactly the lightest of resource editing applications so I wouldn't recommend installing it to a DAW. But I got around this by exporting the files I wanted to edit to another host instance that had MS Visual Studio installed to it which wasn't being used as a DAW. Get it by clicking here.

Windows Mover Maker (live essentials)

I Just recently did a DJ mix with a couple of featured remixes that I wanted to upload to YouTube, however with YouTube being a video based service it needed to be in video form. Initially I was tempted to just stick a single static picture over it for the entire duration of the mix but that would have been a little boring. I wasn't quite ready to come up with a full blown video with some full on pro Adobe after effects action rocking just yet since I only needed to put something together very quickly that wasn't just a single static image for an hour or so. Surprisingly (and at the recommendation of YouTube) Microsoft's Movie maker did the job quite nicely. From what I can remember it comes free with windows XP?? But if you don't have it they also bundle an updated version of it with the latest version of Windows Live messenger (also free) which you can optionally either install as a single component or with the rest of the live essentials gubbins. It was very easy to use considering I'd never actually used it before. I was actually very surprised with the results although it did take a little longer then I had anticipated.  You can check out the results in the mix section of my site for the first Red Rooms session which was done entirely in Live essentials movie maker. Get the official download by clicking here.

Security Essentials

Yep, I've said it before, but I reckon its up there with a number of paid for subscription based anti-virus options. It's extremely efficient and light on system resources. Its also free.  It's only been mentioned since I had to re-install an entire system from scratch along with a couple of new sandbox VM's for testing stuff. You might be thinking how can it be like a premium anti-virus app since it lacks a decent firewall interface? Well windows 7 and Vista already has an excellent software based firewall built into the OS. Many other premium apps with software firewall features just leverage it and change the settings for you via the interface that they provide via their 3rd party app. Official download page here.

Office 2010 starter

It only features the revamped versions of MS word and Excel. It's also got a small advert square in it but nothing that’s really in your face or gets in the way of functionality at all. It's also said to be cut down but I reckon there's more then enough features for most people to get general word processor and spreadsheet like stuff done without any problems at all. You do in fact have to download the full version. the option to user the starter app is given if you don't want to activate it. Go here for more info.