Below find links to software I recommend and a brief description of why, everything you find here is free and/or open source. If you like this software and it helps you, consider donating to the developer(s) so they can continue making lives better.
Workstation OS – MX Linux
Lightweight, based on Debian stable with full disk encryption. This distribution impressed me when it supported a Toshiba touch-pad out of the box that Lubuntu, CentOS and Debian standard did not. Comes with scripts that simplify installation of non-free drivers and codecs.
Server OS – Debian
Ports exist for almost every architecture. Source code and packages exist for >50K programs, and it works great on older systems with low RAM.
Firewall OS – IPFire
Easy to use firewall featuring hardened Linux kernel, multi-threaded IPS, Antivirus Proxy, GeoIP blocking and lots more. This site is actually running inside of a qemu vm on ipfire connected to it’s DMZ.
Router OS – OpenWRT
Alternative router firmware I switch to when manufacturer has ended support, or is not providing regular firmware updates to protect against the latest vulnerabilities. Thousands of Linux packages are available to add additional functionality. Easy to use build environment is available to create your own custom firmware. Not recommended for very old routers with less than 16MB Flash or 32MB RAM, for those I recommend using latest DD-WRT beta.
NAS – OpenMediaVault
Ported/forked from the FreeNAS project that was based on FreeBSD, the original developer switched to Linux to better support bleeding edge features. Supports software RAID and sends SMTP notifications when an array is degraded, giving you time to respond to bad drive before you loose data. Lots of additional functionality possible via add-ons, my fav: On-access Antivirus scanning of SMB shares.
Home Security – AgentDVR
I like this system because I can throw just about any camera I have onto it as a video source, from newer high resolution cams to old cellphones with cracked screens. Requires that you install a Microsoft repository on Linux, but this is way easier to setup and use compared to zoneminder.
Image viewer – Irfanview
Supports more image formats that any other program I am aware of, and even more with optional plugin package. Works with Wine under Linux. This supports jpeg lossless rotation and the resize function is very high quality. My website logo was made in <5 mins with MS Paint + the irfanview blur filter, very handy.
Terminal program – Putty
Windows no longer comes with hyperterminal, so this tool is essential if you need to connect to serial devices, and depending on your version of Powershell, you may not have ability to SSH from windows, Putty gives you this ability.
File Transfer GUI – WinSCP
GUI front-end built on top of Putty that allows you to move files around, create links, and set permissions graphically using SFTP, FTP, & SCP. Works on Linux via Wine.
Office Suite – Libre Office
Compatible with MS Office, I have been using this for years to edit spreadsheets and documents for free without issue.
File Compression – 7Zip
Windows no longer supports creating password protected zip files, this can.
Media Player – VideoLAN
This lets you stream in a lot more formats than Windows Media Player, and has built in codecs that play just about every common video format.
Android Network Scanner – Fing
Graphical NMAP in your pocket, great for determining the DHCP assigned address of that newly added device quickly. Calls other programs from port scan results, for instance: if port 22 is open it’ll connect with juicessh if installed.
Android SSH client – Juice SSH
Sounds cumbersome, but its surprisingly easy to manage your home devices via SSH from your phone with this, press the screen for sticky control key or arrows and the rest will feel intuitive.
Android Game – Domination
Risk clone that gets me through boring flights and periods without internet service. The program has always been Java based, so it was a natural android port. Great AI, and features multiplayer support.
Milkdrop for Chrome – Butterchurn
You may be old enough to remember Winamp and its really cool visualization plugin MilkDrop by Ryan Geiss. The original plugin has been ported this awesome Chrome extension. Just install extension, start playing music in the browser, then activate the extension for some really cool visualizations.