Best GitHub projects 2018

Discover cutting-edge free tools that are constantly being updated and improved by the open-source GitHub community

Most of us have our regular go-to sources for the latest free software, such as FileHippo, Softpedia and MajorGeeks, or the Best Free Software section of this very magazine. But if you want to try some really cutting-edge tools that are constantly being updated, refined and improved, you need to get into GitHub.

This massive open-source community has been used by savvy developers for 10 years, and last month was bought by Microsoft for a whopping $7.5 billion (£5.7 billion), which has brought it to wider attention. GitHub is designed to let developers easily collaborate on projects, but for the rest of us it provides a way to discover and download innovative and interesting new free software that you won't find elsewhere.

In this feature, we've chosen 20 new open-source programs that can either only be found on GitHub or which have dedicated websites but host their files and code on GitHub. If you like the tools you download, you can help with their future development.

Boost your privacy and security

Bitwarden 1.27

Windows 7/8.1/10, MacOS, Linux, Android or iOS

An open-source password manager might sound dubious - if anyone can access its code, does that mean they can also access your data? – but if anything it's actually safer than commercial software. Not only is a program from a lesser-known developer less likely to targeted by hackers than tools such as LastPass, but open-source code undergoes greater scrutiny by more people, and security flaws are generally identified and fixed much faster.

Store your passwords securely using Bitwarden's super-strong encryption

In any case, Bitwarden is an excellent and easy-to-use free program for storing your logins securely and is now available as a desktop program, as well as a browser extension and mobile app, and lets you sync your passwords across all your devices. Your data is protected using end-to-end AES-256-bit encryption, PBKDF2 salted hashing and two-step verification; and Bitwarden has its own strong-password generator to save you having to conjure up logins.

Unlike most password managers, you don't have to pay for 'premium' features (although paid-for plans are available for businesses) and can even share your account with a trusted partner or friend. Bitwarden is proudly "100% open-source", with all of its code available on GitHub and allows savvy users to host it on their own servers and discuss the program's development in its community chat channel and forums. It's a shining example of how 'small' free software can beat the big guns.

Cryptomator 1.3.4

Windows Vista/7/8.1/10, MacOS, Linux, Android or iOS

How confident do you feel that the files you upload to cloud services such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox are completely secure, not just from hackers but from the companies themselves? If the answer is "not very", then you need Cryptomator, which encrypts and protects your sensitive documents and other data, for free.

Cryptomator offers an easy way to encrypt sensitive files you store in the cloud

Encryption tools are often baffling, but Cryptomator is very straightforward to use – create a vault, save it to a cloud-storage folder (or a desktop one if you want to keep things local) and enter a password to secure it. Unlock the vault and it will open as a virtual drive to which you can drag and drop files you want to protect, and they'll be encrypted automatically using AES. Lock the vault and the virtual drive disappears so nobody else can see it.

The desktop version of Cryptomator is completely open-source and regularly updated, but its iOS and Android apps cost £3.99 and £4.49 respectively.

Ghostery 8.1.2

Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge

Yes, we're sure you're familiar with Ghostery and no, we haven't made a mistake including it here: back in March, the popular privacy tool officially went open-source and added its source code to GitHub.

Earlier this year Ghostery made its popular privacy tool open-source

Ghostery described this as an "invaluable opportunity" for its users to contribute to the browser extension's development and help it become the "best product we can be". Hopefully, the GitHub community can help make Ghostery even more efficient at blocking trackers, protecting your data and speeding up page-loading times, and that bugs in the tool can be quickly flagged and fixed.

Privacy Possum 2018.6.10

Chrome, Firefox

If Ghostery seems like a blast from the past, try sticking Privacy Possum down your browsers. This new open-source privacy tool blocks all invisible trackers embedded in web pages, including referrer headers that reveal your location, all third-party cookies and hidden code that may be used to 'fingerprint' (identify you).

Privacy Possum automatically blocks invisible trackers on the web

Privacy Possum has no settings to configure – other than turning it on or off for specific sites – and its blocking shouldn't interfere with how web content is displayed. The extension is available for Chrome and Firefox and its creator claims it goes further than the similarly named Privacy Badger, which he helped to develop on GitHub.

Malware removal

HiJack This Fork 3

Windows XP/Vista/7/8.1/10

You may remember the tiny but powerful security tool HijackThis, which scanned your PC for malware and produced a detailed log of its findings. The program was bought by Trend Micro in 2007 and made open-source five years later, and although the original tool is no longer updated, it lives on through this GitHub 'fork' of the project.

The once-popular security tool HijackThis lives on through a fork on GitHub

HiJack This Fork works in exactly the same way as HijackThis (notice the different syntax) – run a scan for unusual items in vulnerable areas of your system, then carefully review the results before clicking 'Fix checked'. Don't remove anything you're not sure about and, if you require advice, click AnalyzeThis for instructions from the forked tool's developers. Note that, because of the unofficial and system-altering nature of the program, you may get a 'malicious file' warning – we did in Windows 10 – but this is safe to ignore.

Hack and optimise Windows Driver Manager

DriverStore Explorer 0.9.10

Windows 7/8.1/10

The Driver Store folder in Windows is where all your device drivers are kept – hence the 'Installing device driver software' message you see when you connect new hardware to your PC. It's full of files with gobbledygook names (see for yourself at C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository) and over time can become bloated, but randomly deleting its contents may cause serious problems.

DriverStore Explorer lets you easily delete old and unnecessary device drivers

Instead, install the fantastic free tool DriverStore Explorer, which makes the folder much friendlier to browse. It lists the name, type, manufacturer, version number and installation date of every device driver, and lets you easily remove entries you no longer need. The program launches in Read-only mode, so if you want to delete old drivers, click Run As Admin and restart it in administrator mode.

System tweaker

Hardentools 1.1

Windows XP/Vista/7/8.1/10

They don't call Windows 'soft' ware for nothing – it may seem sturdy on the surface, but security-wise it's as weak as a kitten, with numerous built-in tools that leave your PC vulnerable to hackers.

Hardentools strengthens system security by disabling risky features

HardenTools beefs up your system by disabling Windows tools that are more risky than useful, such as AutoPlay, Office macros and ActiveX. Before you run the program, make sure you disable any options you're not sure about, and even create a System Restore point, in case it 'hardens' too much and you lose access to important features.

File Shredder

Permadelete 0.5.2

Windows XP/Vista/7/8.1/10

System cleaners such as CCleaner often include an option for erasing files permanently, but for a lightweight, open-source alternative, it's worth considering Permadelete.

Permadelete offers a fast and friendly way to erase unwanted files

This tiny (1.3MB) free tool couldn't be easier to use – simply drag and drop files and folders onto its dustbin icon, confirm you want to shred them and they'll be instantly deleted. Unlike similar tools, there are no options for overwriting data more than once - in fact, there are no options at all - but Permadelete says this is all that's necessary and that excessive overwriting could damage your hard drive.

System optimiser

XTR Toolbox 2.1

Windows 7/8.1/10

Despite its unattractive colour scheme – brown is never a good idea and the alternative green theme isn't much better – XTR Toolbox is an impressively versatile suite of tools for cleaning and speeding up your PC.

XTR Toolbox is a suite of tools for optimising your PC's performance

As well as standard system-optimisation options such as a startup manager, program uninstaller and a junk-files cleaner, it offers features you won't find in similar software, such as letting you edit the Hosts file, remove unwanted Chrome extensions, uninstall Windows 10 apps and delete telemetry updates that compromise your privacy.

Memory optimiser

MemPlus 1.3.3

Windows 7/8.1/10

If your PC often freezes, crashes or takes ages to perform simple tasks, it's likely that you're running out of memory. Help is at hand from MemPlus, which reduces the amount of RAM being used by software on your system, to free up memory for you.

Free up memory to make your PC run more smoothly using MemPlus

It works by monitoring how much memory is currently being used from the total available, with a speedometer indicating when you slip into the red. You can then click 'Clear memory' to close down unnecessary background processes and reclaim memory, or else set MemPlus to optimise your memory usage automatically. Note that the program requires .NET Framework 4.7.1 – you'll be prompted to install this if you don't have it already.

Bootable USB

Rufus 3

Windows 7/8.1/10

Rufus is an example of how collaborative development on GitHub can shape a program for the better.

The GitHub community helped refine and improve the new version of Rufus

The new version of this nifty free tool, which lets you create bootable USB drives using ISO images, has been redesigned with a smarter, simpler interface; resolves problems identified and fixed by its GitHub community and supports additional ISO formats. Rufus has also dropped support for XP and Vista, but older versions can still be downloaded.

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