Contents of the article
Bruce Johnson asked for “a list of minimum programs and applications needed to…operate my laptop”
PCWorld senior editor Brad Chacos wrote an excellent story about the best software for a new PC. But if we're talking the barest minimum, anyone with a Windows PC really, absolutely must have a program in each of the categories below.
[Have a tech question Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to [email protected].]
Browser: More than anything else, we use our computers to surf the web. Windows comes with a perfectly good browser—Internet Explorer. You can see how it fared against major competitors, including Firefox and my browser of choice, Google Chrome, in PCWorld's recent browser comparison.
Antivirus: Connecting to the Internet without protection is like leaving the front door open when you’re on vacation, with a sign out front proclaiming “Expensive stuff inside. No one home.” A good antivirus program, working in the background, provides the protection you need. I use Avira Antivirus, and PCWorld compared other major antivirus suites earlier this year.
Supplemental malware scanner: Your antivirus isn’t perfect, so it’s a good idea to scan your drive every week or so with an on-demand malware scanner, such as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. I wrote about this necessity in more detail last year.
Backup program: You wouldn’t believe how much email I get from frantic people who've lost important files because they didn't have a backup. You can check out my introduction to backup for details and recommendations, and you can check PCWorld's feature on free backup programs from earlier this year.
Password manager: You need a different password for every site you log onto. And the passwords must all be long and complicated. Since you can’t memorize them all, you need a secure program to store them. I use KeePass Password Safe. I’ve already explained why.
PDF reader: PDF files are all over the place, and everyone assumes—with good reason—that you have software that can read them. My choice: FoxIt Reader.
Beyond this bare-minimum list, there may be other categories to cover depending on what you want to do with your PC. You may or may not need a photo organizer, web-authoring tools, or an accounting program. You probably need an office suite, but I’m not going to say that’s an absolute, especially with so many web-based alternatives. There are programs, such as games, that you may not need but still want. Some of these useful programs are free, but please remember that software programmers need to eat, too, and be willing to pitch in a little money if requested.To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed KJ Activator
Windows Server 2012 — Википедия
Recently, I received a fresh new laptop from Dell. Upon receiving it, I did the traditional “installation of Windows from scratch” on it to remove a lot of the garbage that is preinstalled on Dells. Then I got really busy installing tons of great software that takes care of pretty much every software need I have. Not only was all of the software free, every piece of it was open source, which means that the code is peer-reviewed; no spyware here!
What follows is a list of thirty pieces of software that are the cream of the crop of open source software for Windows. Not only is every piece of it free, almost all of them directly replace expensive software packages.
Now, if only there were an open version of The Sims 2, I might go the whole way and switch to Linux…
Thirty Free and Open Software Programs Worth Downloading
Replaces Internet Explorer
If you haven’t switched to Firefox for your web browsing needs, do it now. It stops annoying popups and it has tons of amazing plugins that can make surfing the web even better. I could evangelize all day about Firefox, but one thing’s for sure: the first thing I do on any new Windows machine is run Internet Explorer just long enough to download Firefox.
Replaces Microsoft Outlook or Eudora
Thunderbird is an email client that has five big things going for it: it’s free, it’s full featured, it’s lightweight and runs quick, it has an unparalleled spam filter, and it protects you from those ridiculous phishing attacks by clearly indicating which emails send you to a bogus website. If you’re not already using a web-based email solution, Thunderbird should be your client.
Replaces Microsoft Outlook’s calendaring functions
Might as well get the Mozilla trifecta out of the way by mentioning Sunbird, which is the Mozilla Foundation’s calendaring program. It’s extremely easy to use (I figured out everything I needed in a minute or two) and easy to share your calendar with others. I consider a calendaring tool to be essential if you’re using a laptop, and this is no different.
Replaces Microsoft Word
Want a good word processor but find Microsoft Word too expensive AbiWord is my favorite replacement for Word. It’s lightweight (meaning it runs quickly) and includes pretty much every feature that I use regularly in a word processor, plus it can save files in formats that you can exchange with Word and WordPerfect users, plus open any of their files, too.
Replaces Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint
If you want to replace the rest of the Office suite, your best bet is OpenOffice. It includes very nice replacements for Excel and PowerPoint (and workable replacements for Access and other Office elements). In fact, I actually prefer their Excel and PowerPoint replacements to the real thing.
Replaces Norton AntiVirus or McAfee
ClamWin is a slick anti-virus software that’s quite easy to manage and is unobtrusive while keep your system free of viruses. That’s pretty much all I want from a package, so why pay money for McAfee to keep bugging me all the time
Replaces AIM, Windows Messenger, etc.
This is a very clean instant messaging program that allows you to be on AOL Instant Messenger, Windows (MSN) Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger simultaneously with one program. There are other free packages that do this, but Gaim is stable and clean and simple.
Original but essential
From their website, “BitTorrent is a peer-assisted, digital content delivery platform that provides the fastest, most efficient means of distributing, discovering, and consuming large, high-quality files on the Web. Our mission is simple: to deliver the content that entertains and informs the digital world.” In other words, BitTorrent allows you to download large media files and also use your bandwidth to help others download these files. Search for media files you want and download ’em.
Replaces Adobe Photoshop
This is a version of the GNU Image Manipulation Program that does a pretty solid job of imitating Adobe Photoshop – a regular user of Photoshop (like me) can adapt to it quite quickly. It’s very richly featured and runs quite well – in fact, I see no reason to ever go back, even if Photoshop were free.
Replaces LimeWire, BearShare, etc.
Sure, LimeWire and BearShare are free, but why not just get the same basic software without all of the spyware Gnucleus is pretty much identical to those software packages – but without all that extra junk that slows down your computer.
11. VLC Media Player
Replaces Windows Media Player, Quicktime, RealPlayer, etc.
If you get tired of having tons of media players on your computer, get this package that runs pretty much every media type you’ll run across without breaking a sweat.
Unique but essential
Juice lets you effortlessly subscribe to podcasts, organize them, and listen to them at your convenience. In conjunction with PodNova, I find it easier to use Juice to organize podcasts than using iTunes itself.
Unique but essential (for some)
If you’re interested in recording your own podcast (or just want to make your own voice recordings for whatever reason), Audacity and a microphone are pretty much all you need to get the job done. I’m not much for podcasting (let’s just say I don’t have a radio voice), but I use Audacity for other voice recording purposes.
Unique but essential
RSSOwl is one of many open source RSS readers. In other words, it enables you to use one program to keep track of the content of a lot of different blogs; if you read a lot of blogs, it’s the only way to keep tabs on all of them without devoting hours jumping from site to site. If you have a laptop, it’s preferable to using sites like Bloglines, but if you’re on a desktop, a web-based feed manager might be better.
Many people occasionally have a need to FTP files to other computers; if you ever have the need to transfer files in such a fashion, FileZilla will do the job slickly and quickly.
Unique but essential
Keynote is basically designed specifically for the task of taking notes on a laptop. If you ever find yourself in a meeting or a presentation with your laptop open and want to jot down notes and organize them just a bit, Keynote is unquestionably the program for you. It’s not good at quality word processing, but that’s not the point. In my professional work, I find myself using Keynote almost as often as any other utility.
If you’re not already committed to downloaded music from the iTunes Music Store, then MusikCube is the best choice available for a music organizer and player. It organizes your mp3s, makes it really easy and really fast to find them, and allows you to make some incredibly clever smart playlists.
Unique but essential
Handbrake enables you to stick a DVD in your DVD drive and have the contents of that film stored to your hard drive in a form that can be read by pretty much any media player. I often use it to put a few movies on my laptop for travel purposes, so I don’t have to worry about keeping track of DVDs while on the road.
19. X-Chat 2
X-Chat is a free IRC client. For those unfamiliar with IRC, it’s a place for technical people (and, as my wife loves to point out, nerds) to meet and discuss topics in an open environment. I often find it very useful when piecing through difficult technical issues.
Unique but essential
KeePass is a program that securely stores and manages the abundance of passwords we all use on a daily basis. I have literally hundreds of usernames and passwords spread out all over the place; KeePass keeps them all for me and keeps them safe.
Unique but essential
TrueCrypt enables you to convert a memory stick into a strongly encrypted data storage device, meaning that you can store personal data on it without worrying about losing it and having personal information get out and about. I use it to keep some of my most personal data off of my laptop and strongly secured, just in case.
Replaces Adobe Acrobat
PDFCreator creates a virtual printer on your computer that, if you print a document to it from any program, creates a PDF of that document that can be read on any computer with Acrobat Reader on it. After installing PDFCreator, all you have to do is print like normal and out comes a PDF!
Unique but Essential
Freemind is a “mind mapping” software program. In essence, it enables you to brainstorm and link together ideas quickly, creating “maps” of concepts similar to what you might do on a whiteboard. I find it incredibly useful when putting together ideas for new posts or planning small projects or assembling the backbone of a writing project.
24. NASA Worldwind
Replaces Google Earth
WorldWind is very similar to Google Earth in that it allows you to browse the globe. While it isn’t strong for creating maps (but why not just use Google Maps for that), it is utterly incredible for viewing three-dimensional landscapes of any place on earth.
Notepad2 is a replacement for the traditional Windows Notepad that just adds a few sweet little features: multiple documents; line, word, and character counts; and some highlighting of tags. In fact, I’m using Notepad2 as I draft this post (after using Freemind to organize it).
Unique but useful
HealthMonitor enables you to keep an eye on the health of your computer. It identifies slowdowns and other system issues quickly and lets you know (for example, it gives a popup if your system memory gets to a certain percentage of fullness, or if your hard drive has only 10 GB free). This can keep you out of trouble and also give you clues to problems your machine might be having.
Unique but useful
Sometimes late into a writing session, my wrists get sore from too much repetitive movement. Workrave basically jumps in before this happens and locks down the computer for a while, preventing me from working too much and causing repetitive stress injury. Since I’ve started using it, it hasn’t significantly hurt my productivity at all and my wrists are thanking me!
Replaces Microsoft Project
If you do any project management (or have a need to dip your toes in the water), GanttPV does a brilliant job of managing the task quickly, easily, and freely. If you need to move to MS Project later, you can export from GanttPV to Project, but once you start digging into GanttPV, you’ll likely have no reason to use Project.
Replaces Microsoft Money or Quicken
GnuCash is a slimmed-down version of the bloated Microsoft Money and Quicken packages, but it contains all of the features I want for managing my money. The interfaces are incredibly simple – it functions much like a checkbook ledger on your computer – but there’s a lot of meat hidden throughout the software.
30. True Combat: Elite
Replaces Quake IV, Halo, etc.
After all this downloading, you’re going to need to blow off a little steam, and I’ve yet to find a more enjoyable free game than this one. It’s basically a third person combat game, but the graphics are spectacular and the game is quite engrossing.
If you’ve downloaded and installed all of these, you’ve got access to all the productivity software you’ll likely need, clean and open and best of all free.
A brand-new computer comes with a host of pre-installed software, some of which are only accessible as limited free trials. Fortunately, many of the best open source software are not only able to completely replace their paid counterparts but they also (arguably) perform better since they are peer-reviewed. If you’re on the hunt for the best free software, start with our open source software list below:
Best Free Software for Personal Use
Replaces Microsoft Office
Apache OpenOffice provides word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, a formula editor, and database management applications, all of which generally offer the same functionalities and features as MS Office.
Replaces Internet Explorer
A popular alternative to Chrome, more than 30% of web users use Firefox as their browser. Firefox stops annoying popups and has tons of amazing plugins that can make surfing the web more personalized and efficient.
Replaces Internet Explorer
Google Chrome isn’t an open source software but it’s a viable alternative to Firefox (if that isn’t your thing). It’s free, fast, and efficient — and comes with an abundance of add-ons so you can customize it to your liking. There’s even an option to open an incognito window, which doesn’t save your cache or browser history if prefer to keep things more private at home or in the office.
Replaces Microsoft Outlook or Eudora
Thunderbird is an email client that has five big things going for it: it’s free, it’s full-featured, it’s lightweight and runs quick, it has an unparalleled spam filter, and it protects you from those ridiculous phishing attacks by clearly indicating which emails send you to a bogus website. If you’re not already using a web-based email solution, Thunderbird should be your client.
Mozilla Lightning Calendar
Replaces Microsoft Calendar
Meant to be used with Thunderbird, Lightning enables you to organize your schedule and important events in a calendar that’s fully integrated with your email. You can manage and share multiple calendars, create recurring events, add to-do lists, invite friends to events, and subscribe to public calendars, including holidays.
Replaces Adobe Acrobat
PDFCreator creates a virtual printer on your computer that, if you print a document to it from any program, creates a PDF readable on any computer with Acrobat Reader installed. It supports many Adobe PDF options, including password protection and 128-bit encryption. All you need to do is print and it creates a PDF!
If you have multiple instant-messaging accounts, use Pidgin to use them all at once. It supports AIM, ICQ, Google Hangouts, Jabber/XMPP, MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, Bonjour, Gadu-Gadu, IRC, MXit, Novell, and more.
Best Free Business Software
Replaces Microsoft Project
If you do any project management (or need to dip your toes in the water), GanttPV does a brilliant job of managing the task quickly, easily, and freely. If you need to move to MS Project later, you can export from GanttPV to Project, but once you start digging into GanttPV, you’ll likely have no reason to use Project.
Mind mapping is a key process in many businesses, and this mind mapper does a great job providing an easy-to-use hierarchical editor and other tools to help organize your ideas into one coherent overview.
Unique but essential (for some)
VirtualBox is a desktop virtualization software, which functions to separate your physical desktop from your desktop space and applications so you can access it from anywhere. It also makes recovery of lost files much easier since all the components are saved in a data center. VirtualBox comes with impressive processing power so your desktop isn’t slowed down.
Replaces Microsoft Windows Notepad
Notepad ’s minimalist, user-friendly style is pleasant to use and comes with features such as multi-view, multiple tabs for separate documents, word auto completion, zoom functions, and bookmarking. On top of that, their systems minimize carbon dioxide emissions by using less CPU power!
With Greenshot, you can take full or partial screenshots and add text and shapes to it so your colleagues quickly understand what you’re visually describing. Greenshot supports several image formats.
Many people occasionally have a need to FTP files to other computers. FileZilla will do the job slickly and quickly, especially with their simple drag-and-drop functionality. FileZilla is especially efficient for batch transfers.
Best Free Accounting Software
TurboCASH 5 is a small-business accounting package that includes such functions as invoicing, debtors, creditors, VAT accounting, balance sheet and income statements, and reporting. It’s accessible to multiple users and companies.
Replaces Microsoft Money or Quicken
GnuCash is a slimmed-down version of the bloated Microsoft Money and Quicken packages, but it contains all of the essential features for managing money. The interfaces are incredibly simple — it functions much like a checkbook ledger on your computer — but there’s a lot of meat hidden throughout the software.
Best Free File-Sharing Software
Ares Galaxy is a BitTorrent and chat software program with an easily accessible interface and a built-in audio/video viewer. You can share any types of digital file and publish your them through their own peer-to-peer network.
eMule is a peer-to-peer file-sharing client that includes robust search features, checks for file corruptions during downloads, and previews of downloads.
Tribler enables its users to discover and share video, audio, photos, and other files.
Best Free Graphics Software
Replaces Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is the most popular free alternative to Photoshop. It is known for its versatility, as you can use it as a simple Paint program or for more sophisticated capabilities, such as photo retouching, layering image rendering, and format conversion.
Replaces Maya, 3DSMax
Blender is a 3D graphics-creation program that enables you to perform animation, modeling, rendering, post-production, real-time interactive 3D, and much more.
Replaces Microsoft Visio
Very similar to Visio, you can use Dia to create a wide variety of diagrams, such as flowcharts and relationship charts. You can save your pieces to an XML format and export them to EPS or SVG formats.
Replaces Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw
Inkscape is a vector graphics editor that includes features such as shapes, paths, markers, clones, text, gradients, and patterns while supporting functionalities such as layers, node editing, bitmap tracing, and more. You can import JPEG, TIFF, and PNG files and export as PNG or other vector-based formats.
Replaces PageMaker, InDesign, QuarkXPress
Scribus, a desktop publishing application, supports many major graphic formats as well as SVG import and export.
Best Free Audio/Video Software
VLC is a fast and powerful multimedia player that supports various audio and video formats, including but not limited to MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, and MP3, as well as DVDs and VCDs. It plays almost any file, CD, DVD, webcams, and other devices.
SMPlayer is a free media player with the added ability to play and download YouTube videos. On top of that, if you’re the type not to sit and commit to an entire movie, SMPlayer will simply replay where you left off, which is perfect for busy folks.
Unique but essential
Handbrake enables you to stick a DVD in your DVD drive and have the contents of that film stored to your hard drive in a form that can be read by pretty much any media player. This is awesome for travel since you can store all your movies in your laptop instead of carrying around DVDs.
Unique but essential (for some)
If you’re interested in recording your own podcast (or just want to make your own voice recordings for whatever reason), Audacity and a microphone are pretty much all you need to get the job done. Audacity is also very useful for other voice recording purposes.
Media Player Classic
Media Player Classic plays a wide swath of audio and video formats, including MPEG/MPEG-2/MPEG-4, DivX, Xvid, and CD/VCD/DVD media.
Best Free Security Anti-Virus Software
KeePass is a lightweight and intuitive password manager for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and mobile devices. Your passwords are kept safe in an encrypted database, which you can quickly access with a master password.
TrueCrypt enables you to convert a memory stick into a strongly encrypted data storage device, meaning that you can store personal data on it without worrying about losing it and having personal information get out and about.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Replaces Norton Antivirus
You can hardly tell Bitdefender is running, as it works quietly but efficiently. It’s excellent at blocking and removing malware as well as protecting your computer from phishing.
HealthMonitor enables you to keep an eye on the health of your computer. It identifies slowdowns and other system issues quickly and lets you know (for example, it gives a popup if your system memory gets to a certain percentage of fullness, or if your hard drive has only 10 GB free). This can keep you out of trouble and also give you clues to problems your machine might be having lant final
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Windows has more great programs than we can count, but some are essential to just about every PC setup. In this year’s annual Lifehacker Pack for Windows, we’re highlighting the must-have downloads for better productivity, communication, media management, and more.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favorite, essential applications for each of our favorite platforms. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our Windows App Directory.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of the best applications and tools for…Read more Read
The Ninite Pack
Once again, we have the awesome folks at Ninite helping us out this year, creating a one-click installer for the Windows Lifehacker Pack. You can download the entire pack together, or just pick the apps you want, and Ninite will install them all at once, no bloatware or toolbars included—perfect for new Windows installations or setting up your friends with a good set of apps.
And, just like every year, we have two packs for Windows: an Essentials pack that everyone should have, and an Extended pack, which includes some tools that more hardcore users will probably need around. This year we’ve added a new app or two, removed some unnecessary ones to keep the ever-growing pack lean, and included links to more Lifehacker guides on getting the most out of each app. (And, of course, this is just a starting point—there are tons of great Windows apps out there, even if they aren’t essentials.)
Some apps are essential, and you use them every day. Everyone knows their names: Firefox, VLC,…Read more Read
Note: unfortunately, the Ninite pack is missing a couple apps from the list—most notably CCleaner (because they don’t want their software in Ninite), Bins, and Fences (both of which are paid apps). So don’t forget to grab those ones manually after you’ve installed the rest of the pack with Ninite!
Download the 2016 Lifehacker Pack Here
So, without further ado, here is the 2016 Lifehacker pack for Windows!
On the surface, Launchy is an utility that helps you launch programs super fast—but it’s really much, much more than that. Not only can you launch your favorite programs with just a few keystrokes, but you can also open documents and folders, perform calculations, kill processes, search the web, and perform any number of advanced tasks (like start an SSH session). You might need to create some special shortcuts for “Modern UI” apps in Windows 10, but it’s still our favorite.
Do you still launch applications by pressing the Windows key and searching for your app…Read more Read
ResophNotes and Evernote or OneNote
Everyone needs a place to store little notes and clippings, but not everyone needs the same thing. So, for our note-taking portion of the pack, we give you two options: ResophNotes and Evernote. Simplenote’s native Windows app is now available, but ResophNotes is still our pick, letting you sync plain text notes through Simplenote or Dropbox so you can get back to work. Evernote, on the other hand, is more of a filing cabinet for notes, web clippings, and just about anything else you could possibly need. It may seem like overkill, but once you actually figure out how to use it, it can be indispensable for work and play.
The same can be said for Microsoft’s OneNote, which goes toe-to-toe with Evernote in most features. And OneNote has become especially appealing for Windows users after Evernote bumped up the prices of their paid plans and added more limitations to free users. Fortunately, you can swap over all of your Evernote notes in a snap if you feel like making the switch. OneNote is not included the Ninite one-click installer, so make sure you grab it at the link above if that’s the route you want to go.
Evernote and OneNote are two of our favorite tools, but both have changed substantially since we…Read more Read
ResophNoes icon by Jayvant.
Text expansion is one of the greatest improvements you can make to your productivity. Think of any tedious typing you do during the day—addresses, canned email responses, bits of code, or anything else—and imagine being able to type it all with just a few keystrokes. That’s what text expansion does, and it can save you hours of typing. PhraseExpress is the best free option on Windows, and while it has its problems, its our go-to for folks new to text expansion. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it though, Breevy might be a worthy upgrade.
In a regular day, most of us type the same things over and over again, wasting an enormous amount…Read more Read
More to-do apps exist than we could even count, and which one you choose depends a lot on how you work best. If we had to pick a favorite, though, it’d be Wunderlist. It’s free, syncs to the cloud, and exists on just about any device you could want or have. And there’s now a plugin for Microsoft Outlook that makes it easier to share to-do lists, turn email into actionable to-dos, and set reminders based on emails and requests in your inbox. Just start it up and start making your lists. It’s incredibly simple to use, which is exactly what you want from a to-do list: make it easy to add and move tasks, so you can get back to actually doing them.
The to-do list is the crux of your daily productivity, but between all the task management apps out …Read more Read
LibreOffice and Microsoft Office
When Google Docs just isn’t enough for your word processing needs, you need LibreOffice, the feature-packed, cross-platform, 100% free office suite. When LibreOffice’s word processor, spreadsheet tool, and presentation creator don’t cut it, Microsoft Office will undoubtedly fit the bill (albeit at a price). If you aren’t sure which one you need, check out our comparison between the two. And if you just need to view Office documents, you can check out the Microsoft Office Viewers instead.
For a long time, Microsoft Office has been the reigning champ of office suites, but that…Read more Read
The first time you go to open a PDF on a new Windows machine, you may be greeted with that ever-familiar prompt to install Adobe Reader. Don’t do it! Unless compatibility issues force you into using Adobe’s reader, you’d be much happier with something fast, light, and simple, like the awesome (and free) SumatraPDF. If you need to edit PDFs, check out our favorite PDF editor, PDF-XChange.
Internet and Communication
The browser wars aren’t as close as they used to be, and most power users have switched over to Chrome these days. We can see why, too: it’s fast, smooth, syncs all your settings, and has an incredible extension library. It may not be quite as customizable as Firefox, and it may use a lot of RAM, but for the majority of people—even us power users—it’s more than enough.
Chrome may be the best browser around, but it eats up your PC’s RAM like turkey on Thanksgiving. If …Read more Read
http://lifehacker.com/5867446/the-always-up to date-power-users-guide-to-chrome
Whether you live and die by instant messaging or just need it for the occasional contact, having a desktop client is much easier than using the web. With an app like Pidgin, you can sign into multiple accounts at once (like Google Talk, AIM, and Facebook Chat), carry on multiple conversations in one window, and do all sorts of other stuff with Pidgin’s fantastic plugins.
http://lifehacker.com/356291/ten-must have-plug ins-to-power-up-pidgin
Skype may not be our favorite video chat program, but it’s definitely the most popular. Chances are, you have at least one or two friends and family members that will want to use Skype with you, so it’s a good program to have in your pocket, even if you don’t use it as part of your regular telephony. Just make sure to disable the auto-start feature so it isn’t always running.
http://lifehacker.com/5915839/phone ify-your-computer-for-considerably-improved-at home-calls-and-texts
Music, Photos, and Video
Windows Media Player can play the most basic file formats, but when it comes to playing DVDs, files you’ve downloaded from the web, and more, you’ll need something that can do more. VLC plays every file format under the sun, and it does it well. It isn’t our favorite video player—that honor goes to the amazing PotPlayer—but VLC is incredibly simple to download and use, so we’re substituting PotPlayer for VLC in this Lifehacker pack. It’s the app we’d recommend to just about anyone. Plus, it can do a lot more than just watch video files, which makes it a good app to have around no matter what.
Google Photos Desktop Uploader
Our previous pick for easy-to-use photo storage and editing was Picasa, but Google has retired the service to make way for the new and improved Google Photos. Google Photos uploads all of your photos from all of your devices for free, organizes all of your photos for you, and makes it easier than ever to share your photos with friends and family.
The Desktop Uploader just makes it easier to automatically back up all of the photos on your desktop, cameras, and other devices. Of course, if you aren’t a fan of photo management apps, you could just skip Picasa and use Dropbox instead.
Paint.NET or GIMP
Unless you’re a professional designer, you probably don’t need something as advanced and complicated as Photoshop to edit the occasional images. For the rest of us, there’s Paint.NET: a basic, free, easy-to-use image editor that fills the basic needs you’ll encounter on a regular basis. This year we’re also including the slightly more advanced but still free GIMP, since its such a staple in any casual image editor’s arsenal.
Picking a music player is one of the more personal choices you can make when it comes to apps, so we recommend trying a few things and seeing what fits you. If you aren’t sure what you want, we’d recommend MusicBee as a good place to start (replacing our former choice, Winamp). It’s customizable, lightweight, and easy to use—a hard combination to find. It has tons of options to tweak the interface, install extra plugins, and otherwise get everything working just so. If MusicBee isn’t your cup of tea, check out the extended pack below for a few more options.
MusicBee might be our pick for music player, but we still recommend having a streaming music player on hand—even if it isn’t your main player. Spotify is a great app to keep around. It helps you discover new artists, try them before you buy, listen to different streaming radio stations, and create awesome collaborative playlists—among many other hidden features. Plus, music isn’t the only thing you can listen to on Spotify. There are audiobooks, radio dramas, language lessons, famous speeches, poetry, and even guided meditation.
These days, lots of us have more than just one device. Maybe it’s a work computer and a home computer, or maybe it’s three computers, a smartphone, a tablet, and a time machine that runs Linux. Whatever your span of devices, Dropbox is absolutely essential for keeping all your files (and other stuff) in sync. You get 2 GB of free space to start, but it’s really easy to load up on extra space for free.
When you have to download a large file, BitTorrent is almost always a better alternative than a slow direct download. When it comes to Windows, uTorrent is still our tried-and-true BitTorrent app of choice. It’s full of useful features, but keeps itself lightweight and easy to use, a balance few programs can truly say they’ve struck. It’s got a few ads, but they’re easy to disable. Once you’ve got it set up, make sure it’s optimized for speed and privacy.
Everyone needs a backup. There’s no worse feeling than having your hard drive crash and having to start from scratch. Enter CrashPlan. While you could always back up to an external drive, that won’t save you if you lose your computer in a fire, burglary, or other disaster. CrashPlan backs your computer up to the cloud, using either CrashPlan’s cloud service or a friend’s computer, keeping your data safe no matter what. Plus, it’s really easy to set up. Set it, forget it, and relax.
It’s amazing it took us this long to add one of our all-time favorite apps to the pack, but it’s here: F.lux is a genius little app that sits in your system tray and change the color temperature of your monitor based on the time of day. As the sun sets, it gives your screen a slightly orange tint so you aren’t taking in all that blue light that can disrupt your sleep and cause eyestrain. And research suggests that reducing your exposure to blue light at night will help you sleep better. It’s a little off-putting at first, but trust us: give it a week and you’ll never be able to go back.
Every computer needs a bit of maintenance now and then, and CCleaner is the perfect way to free up hard drive space if yours is getting a little full. CCleaner cleans temporary files and cookies from your browser, temporary files and documents from Windows, cleans up junk from your other installed programs, and will even securely wipe your hard drive if need be. You can read more about how to use it effectively here.
Windows can create ZIP archives for you right out of the box, but when you stumble on a less familiar file format—like the much more efficient RAR or 7Z—you’ll need an archive tool. 7-Zip is the tool you want, allowing you to not only create and open archives of other formats, but also encrypt them for safe keeping, all right from Windows’ context menu. Chances are you’ll need this one day, so you might as well install it now. It’s perfect for compressing a bunch of files or sending sensitive information online.
No matter how careful you are, every computer should have a good antivirus program installed. If you pick the right one, it’ll be lightweight enough that you never notice it, but strong enough to pick up any infection that comes your way. Our previous pick, Avast!, has been scoring lower in antivirus testing according to both AV Comparatives and AV-Test than in previous years, so Avira is our new go-to for free antivirus on Windows. Avira was the top free option in both the AV Comparatives and AV-Test tests, and it’s easily one of the best options in terms of usability.
The Extended Pack
So you’ve got the basic essentials that every computer should have, but there are other programs we’ve found ourselves installing time and time again whenever we boot up a new Windows installation. That’s what the extended pack is for: they aren’t essentials, but they’re very useful apps that deserve to be part of your toolkit.
.NET, Silverlight, and Java
.NET, Silverlight, and Java are three frameworks that you might not always need right away, but you may somewhere down the line. If you know you’re going to need them in the future (like if you’re a Netflix user, which requires Silverlight), go ahead and download them right now. If you aren’t sure, it won’t hurt to hold off. Just make sure to disable Java in your browser for.
When you uninstall a program with Windows’ built-in tool, sometimes it leaves behind extra files or registry entries that it can’t find. Revo fixes that problem: not only does it uninstall every trace of the program in question, but you can also uninstall program via its “Hunter Mode” just by clicking on the program you want to get rid of. It’s a must-have for any Windows user, especially those that like to try a lot of software.
Handbrake isn’t a must-have for everyone, but it’s very useful for anyone ripping, encoding, or otherwise working with videos. Not only is it the perfect program for ripping a DVD to your computer, it can also convert big Blu-Ray rips, encode videos for your favorite phone or tablet, and more. Best of all, it’s 100% free and open source.
Bins is a great little app that combines multiple icons into one stack in the Windows taskbar. It’s perfect for grouping together your music players, creating a stack of your less oft-used programs, and otherwise cleaning up your messy taskbar. It’s $5, and one of the Windows programs that’s well worth paying for.
If you have more than a few icons on your desktop that are in a constant state of clutter, Fences is for you. Fences divides your desktop up into a few little groups, letting you place icons in each one individually—by category, file type, or however else you want. You can even create fences based on folders on your PC, and swipe between multiple pages of icons. And now Fences supports high DPI displays and is totally compatible with Windows 10. It’s everything you need to create a clean, organized desktop and keep it that way. Fences is $9.99, but you can get a free trial before you buy (or grab the old, free version of Fences here).
iTunes, MediaMonkey, and foobar2000
If MusicBee isn’t for you, it’s a good thing you have so many other choices. We’ve put a few other music players in the Extended Pack that should fit almost any needs. iTunes, while far from perfect, is ideal if you have any iOS devices to sync. MediaMonkey has a ton of advanced tagging, organizing, and syncing features, and can even sync to iOS with a bit of work. Foobar2000 is more customizable than anything else out there, and while it’s a bit advanced, it can really become anything you want it to be. Try one of these and you’re sure to be satisfied.
Whether you’re a hardcore programmer, occasional web developer, or just a mild tweaker, Notepad is miles beyond Windows’ built-in notepad for editing code. It’s lightweight, stores open documents in tabs, highlights syntax, and has a ton of plugins for customizing your experience. Even if you only edit the occasional INI file, Notepad will make you happy.
What can be said about our favorite little Windows utility that hasn’t already been said before AutoHotkey basically turns any action you can imagine into a keyboard shortcut. It requires a little bit of code, but even the most basic users can grasp it in an afternoon—and you can do anything from simple shortcuts to build full-fledged programs with AutoHotkey. Use it to add your own shortcuts to Windows Explorer, create a customized boss key, put your computer to sleep, and lots, lots more. If you haven’t tried AutoHotkey yet, now is the time—you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
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Steve Resnick has worked at Microsoft since the mid-1990s, spanning architect, developer, and evangelist roles in the field. He specializes in Internet technologies, architecting and designing high-volume, high-value Web applications. Steve is the National Technology Director for the Microsoft Technology Centers in the United States, where he sets strategy and direction so that his team can solve the toughest customer challenges. He has worked with .NET since the beginning and is an expert in Web services, BizTalk, transaction processing, and related technologies. He holds a M.S. and B.S. in Computer Science from Boston University and University of Delaware, respectively.
Rich Crane is a Technical Architect at the Microsoft Technology Center in Waltham, Massachusetts. A software architect and engineer with more than 18 years of experience, Rich has spent the last six years helping customers architect and build solutions on the Microsoft platform. He has worked with numerous Microsoft products and technologies and is an expert in BizTalk, SQL Server, SharePoint, Compute Cluster Server, and of course Visual Studio and the .NET Framework. He has spoken at conferences and community events such as TechEd and Code Camp. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Drexel University with a B.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Chris Bowen is Microsoft’s Developer Evangelist for the northeastern United States, specializing in development tools, platforms, and architectural best practices. Asoftware architect and engineer with 15 years of experience, Chris joined Microsoft after holding senior positions at companies such as Monster.com, VistaPrint, Staples, and IDX Systems, and consulting on Web presence and e-commerce projects with others. He is coauthor of Professional Visual Studio 2005 Team System (2006, WROX) and holds an M.S. in Computer Science and a B.S. in Management Information Systems, both from Worcester Polytechnic Institute To The Moon (January 11, 2011)
Best Free Essential Software - FreewareFiles.com
Forget about limiting yourself to typing and touchpads. Microsoft’s Surface family, which recently expanded with the Surface Laptop and Surface Studio, and a legion of touch-enabled Windows laptops, are built to do far more than your standard run-of-the-mill computer. Whether its sketching out illustrations, signing documents on the fly, or jotting down quick notes, embracing the Surface Pen and Windows 10’s deep-rooted inking features truly opens another door to enhanced productivity.
If you want to put that trusty Surface Pen to work, of course, you’ll need an arsenal of ink-enabled apps to unleash its potential. But where to start Here are some of our favorite stylus-centric applications in the Windows Store. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re a note-taker, artist, or just an occasional doodler.
Microsoft’s Fresh Paint is a rather easy-to-use application for someone who wants to explore the drawing capabilities in Windows 10. The app will even hold your hand through the process, giving you a half-finished canvas and close-ups of the final version. Fresh Paint will also pull from Bing’s considerable image bank or give you a blank slate if you want to indulge in some free-form art.
With Scrble, you have a free-form notepad for writing and illustrations, with options for a traditional lined-paper background, blackboard, whiteboard, math sheet, or music sheet. The app is on the basic side without a ton of major bells and whistles, but the pen input is very responsive and the various paper options are nice for different needs.
The Windows Store app is free to try, or $3.99 for the full version.
When it comes to apps that are purpose-built for graphic artists and designers, you can count on Autodesk. Sketchbook is a professional-level drawing program that’s ideal for graphics pros or anyone who needs more power than a simple tool like Fresh Paint offers. The app also works with the Surface Dial, giving you greater control over your artistic endeavors. Going with a pro membership gets you additional art tools, templates, tools and cloud storage, but will set you back $30 per year.
If you have a Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, or Surface 3, then Drawboard PDF came installed on your device (otherwise it is $9.99 in the Windows Store). But far from bloatware, it’s a useful PDF application that makes it easy to annotate, highlight, and add other writing to your files. It’s smart enough that you can simultaneously navigate with your finger on one hand and add some ink with the Surface Pen in your other hand. I’ve made it the default PDF viewer on my Surface, and you’re likely to appreciate it as well.
Microsoft’s Paint 3D app could pique your interests in the capabilities of the Windows 10 Creators Update. You can use your pen to produce illustrations that are beyond the flat, two-dimensional surface you’re used to. Construct 3D objects and a full scene, throw in some stickers, and share the creation with others. Even if you have zero artistic talent (like myself), the app is still fun and worth checking out.
NY Times Crossword
Filling out a crossword pe on your laptop may lack the nostalgia of putting pen to newspaper. Nonetheless, the NY Times Crossword app for Windows is still a satisfying activity that should give your mind a daily workout. You get to try the daily puzzle and archive for seven days, but thereafter you’ll need a subscription to get full access to continual puzzles and the archive without advertisements.
Journalist is an ode to the lost art of journaling, which is about both chronicling one’s experiences through writing and the creative outlet that comes from art. Journalist offers you a free-form canvas with tools like a ruler, various two-dimensional shapes, and several paper choices. The Windows app also works with Surface Dial, expanding your ability to choose and mix colors on a Surface device.
Generally, I recommend OneNote to those who want a digital notebook for their PC. However, give Nebo a strong look if you want an alternative that’s primarily focused on the pen. It has several innovative features that make the writing process more powerful. You’re able to use gestures such as scratching out a letter or word to delete it. The app will transcribe your writing into text in real time. There are also several templates for writing, art, or other uses. Nebo only works with a Surface, however, so you’re out of luck with another PC.
Zen: Coloring Book for Adults
Adult coloring books are all the rage. No, seriously! If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, give it a try on your Surface with Zen. It’s quite fun, and can bring you some serenity after a crazy day filled with annoying co-workers, frustrating family members, or both. You can even mix some DIY colors to customize your creations.
The app is free, but you can buy additional sets of books for a few dollars each if you want more art projects to choose from.
Color by Disney
Maybe what you really need to survive the next meeting is some Disney magic. The Color by Disney app gives you a diversity of coloring books for just about any Disney film you can imagine. Instead of free-form coloring or illustrating, you touch the shapes that comprise the artwork to add the color. While Color by Disney is free, there are various in-app upgrades required if you want to access more color batches or additional characters.To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed Motion Stabilizer Training
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