After Hours

10+ essential (and free) Windows applications


George Ou just put together a list of free Windows apps in his Real World IT blog -- the ones he installs on every new Windows computer he builds. Along with their essential functionality, he says they're "well-behaved installers and uninstallers" -- no crashing your computer of gunking things up. Here are the apps on his list. You can download the complete info as a PDF or check out this photo gallery for a look at each product.

  1. uTorrent
  2. Skype
  3. Paint.NET
  4. Infra recorder
  5. Dr. Divx
  6. FastStone Photo Resizer
  7. K-Lite Mega Codec pack
  8. IZArc
  9. CCleaner
  10. Autoruns
  11. Process Explorer
  12. AVG Antivirus Free Edition


What favorite free apps would you add to this list? Is there anything here you wouldn't include?

About

Jody Gilbert has been writing and editing technical articles for the past 25 years. She was part of the team that launched TechRepublic and is now senior editor for Tech Pro Research.

92 comments
canning-hoff
canning-hoff

I use Sumatra for PDFs, its fast and never pushes updates..

emanuel.matos
emanuel.matos

Hi, As an IT Asset Manager, my primary concern is with the bundled codecs in the codec pack. Are they really free/open source? For fear of installing codecs that are some one's proprietary property without paying for it has caused us to set it aside. Now a Corporate version of the Codec pack is available... Is _it_ really free/open source? Can it be installed without any licence agreement violations? Until that is clearly answered, I'm afraid that my company will stay away from this (greatly useful) set of codecs and utilities...

Will C
Will C

Seriously this codec pack is too bloated to recommend, a much better option and that plays everything but rm and qt (for those there is Quicktime Alternative and Realtime Alternative and is available at http://www.codecguide.com) is CCCP and you can find it at http://www.cccp-project.net/

cdillahay
cdillahay

ZipGenius, an all format archiver seems to get very little respect, but it's a great utility. Avast is less of a resource hog than AVG, and faster. Gimp and Inkscape are must-haves if you want to do any graphic work, Gimp handles bitmaps and similar formats, Inkscape does vector art. Open Office .org handles all MS office formats very well and has support and templates available online. Want more? Go to sourceforge.net and put a query in the search box. You'll find all kinds of free software that you never knew you could get for free!

tkowinsk
tkowinsk

Advanced WindowsCare v2 Personal 2.7.2 is another really good tool that I use to clean up the registry, msconfig, and many other issues that typically go wrong with Windows. You can find this tool and MANY others at www.majorgeeks.com

BigBlueMarble
BigBlueMarble

Though only the first 30 days are free, those 30 days give you access to the full version of jv16 Power Tools 2006. (There's a 2007, but this one has a proven track record of excellence). This one easy-to-use kit allowed me to transform a doorstop back into a stable student desktop PC. It took all of three hours out of my 30-day trial.

scorpion_saga
scorpion_saga

Essential? Where did you come up with that? Most of these apps are cheesy versions of programs that are not free.

SKDTech
SKDTech

I agree with some of the previous posts regarding what is essential, generally i would place utilities that every user needs in todays world at the top such as anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware. I currently use: Comodo Firewall Pro Avast Antivirus Spybot S&D I also use Comodo Anti-Virus on my laptop but would recommend against it for most home users as it can be quite an administrative headache when combined with Comodo Firewall for the inexperienced user, otherwise it works just fine. Other than that I would say that the list contains a few items I intend to put to use in my own home environment now that i know of them.

javagirl_77
javagirl_77

Nice list, I'm happy with most of these apps.

bcherry
bcherry

I didn't see Irfanview on anyone's list?

CultOfTech
CultOfTech

So how come nobody here has even mentioned Belarc Advisor yet? Its new version allows you to automatically check for updates & d/l the same in the background. Also, what about Advanced WindowsCare V2 Personal? Edit - just remembered yet another great "freeware" that I'd term "essential" - McAfee's SiteAdvisor.

ddthesm
ddthesm

K-Lite mega pack??? That thing is overkill & just about killed an older system of mine with everything it installs. Here's something much less bulky, works for just about anything: http://www.cccp-project.net/ , another you should add on there is VLC Media Player.

trjc1
trjc1

I'd like to add WinSCP, Spybot, and Spyware Blaster to the list.

info
info

avg antispyware (free edition) windows advancedcare V2 personal miss out 8,9 and 10 on the list.

MetalFR0
MetalFR0

I would agree w/ others that GIMP is the way to go, even if it's more bloated than Fastone - it's just a more well-rounded piece of software. Also, I would caution against AVG. It's a good piece of AV software, but honestly ClamWin has come a long way. In addition, you can run it from a USB drive, making troubleshooting an offending PC much easier & more convenient. I will agree w/ the K-Lite Codec Pack (though I usually use the MegaCodec pack myself), as it's a good set of codecs to install & utilize when you're looking to ensure your PC will play as many formats as possible.

whitfield
whitfield

I would like to add the following...... 1) MiniMinder [www.vellosoft.com] - Keeps all my Birthdays and other dates and reminds me each day. 2)Stickies [www.zhornsoft.co.uk] - electronic Post-It Notes. 3)WordWeb [wordweb.info]- Fantastic look-up Dictionary. 4) AllChar [allchar.zwolnet.com] - Gives you lots of Keyboard control. 5) DeskPins [users.forthnet.gr/pat/efotinis/] - Lets you "pin" a window to stay on top. These really work for me!! Ian Whitfield Pretoria South Africa

Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)
Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)

Here is a list of applications many consider as essential applications, and I have loaded these onto pretty much every computer I have ever built. 1) AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic 6?? (Go to http://www.overclockers.com/articles1260/ to find out why) 2) AdAware SE I AdAware has alway been a reliable and lightweight spyware/malware scanner, but 2007 still has too many issues with it, so stick with SE... 3) Spybot S&D Having AdAware is all well and good, but you should also carry a heavyhitter, and there's none better in the free spyware scanners than Spybot S&D. not recommended for regular use, as "tea-timer" slows down the system like nothing on earth, but if you leave it on there and run once every, say, 4 times you run AdAware, you'll probarbly be surprised at the results that AdAware misses. 4) CCleaner some people recommend not putting this onto novices computers, but I disagree. Instruct them on exactly how to simply update and remove only the basic results. It's either that or teach them how to remove rubbish this programs takes care of themselves instead of automatically. I have lost count of times where computer issues have been things such as 700-800mb Temp internet files slowing the computer to all hell. Simple solution, CCleaner. 5)Adobe Acrobat Reader Come on people, how hard is it to keep the installer and put it on any computer that comes your way?!? 6)PrimoPDF I haven't personally had any problems ever with "CutePDF", but I've had complaints about it before, as well as some dodgy reviews. Primo is one of the most highly recommended online... 7) VLC VLC Media Player is one of the most powerful free multi-format media players available for the simple reason that: They don't worry about crappy visual themes or any such junk, no advertising, no hidden quirks or catches. It's very basic, easy to use and I have never had a problem with it... 8)iTunes Pretty well goes without saying. The iPod is the dominant portable media item on the market, with over 80% of sales in it's catergory going to it alone. iTunes makes it easy to import, organise, mix and redistribute your usic, and it's pretty well going to be copatible anywhere. 9) Quicktime Again, people, keep the installer, take the bother off your customer. Little kindnesses like that can mean a lot. You get one customer who knows a bit and expects to have to install all that kinda rubbish, starts up their computer, and sees "Hey, Hang on, he/she did it FOR me!" and they'll spread the word. 10) OpenOffice With the compatibility modes built into it, this 150MB odd FREE office suite really can't be overlooked... PLUS Java is installed with OpenOffice, so it kinda covers Two apps...

israelflores
israelflores

Don't Forget The GIMP! I teach computers at a public school and instead of buying Photoshop for about 200 computers, I use The GIMP. It work better than Photoshop in my opinion.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't know K-Lite specifically but I'd say the codecs are going to depend on the patents involved. They won't legally be able to release the patented information related to .mp3 though they may be able to provide the binary code that dicifers .mp3. Is your mandate to use only open source, only freely open source or only legal software which works on open source platforms be itself open or cosed source? I'd say if you go with Mandriva, Suse or Canonical where a deal with the patent holders has been made; there shouldn't be a legal issue by including them. The fee for Mandriva Powerpack includes the license for the patent questionable software; same as Windows fees including license costs for patents not held by Microsoft (.mp3 and DVD there also). What is it that your company does which requiers consumer multimedia codecs?

dleippe
dleippe

I like MS's Tweak UI for XP. I can disable the Autoplay function on any drive letter or letters. It can easily change AutoLogon preferences. Also, the Windows Uninstaller Tool is sometimes the tool of last resorts to get rid of some corrupt programs.

dleippe
dleippe

Yes add Irfan. Did you know it is both an audio and video player in addition to being a nice quick photoviewer with a few editing tools thrown in to boot. It does a great job of batch renaming and converting, plus it will resample.

OneTwoMany
OneTwoMany

There's quite a bevy of AV software out there, odd that you tried them all personally. Or are you the blogger you quoted? I use AVG Free because of the reasons listed in the article you quoted. Maybe the reason it works so well on my machine is because I installed it on a clean system. But even when I test my systems abilities by clicking on things I shouldn't - nothing has gotten by my defenses yet. But I've seen AVG updated multiple times a day during heavy viral days (according to 2minutewarning.com) so I have to disagree with your blogger's experience. Which if the screenshot is any indication dates back to October 2007. AVG Free 7.5.516 is the newest version and it looks very different from the version he reviewed. Even before I chose AVG Free though, 99% of all malware is prevented from accessing vital resources on my computer by Spybot-SD Resident (aka TeaTimer). I encourage people to try things out themselves though. The blogger quoted neglected to state which malware and other detections (specifically) were delayed or overlooked by AVG Free. So based on personal experience I'm skeptical. Although you'll notice it still made their Top list and has top reviews from OTHER reviewers. :)

dleippe
dleippe

What about Secunia? Foxit is good FolderSize (not for Vista) XP_Remove_Hotfix_Backup(Doug Knox) IE7 Tweak, etc.

john
john

I've been using this software for sometime now and have had great success (by lack of issues on a computer I judge success) but I'd like to know what you all think of it. Any comments? How about other recommendations on registry cleaners?

OneTwoMany
OneTwoMany

Why specifically would you warn someone against AVG if you know it's a good piece of AV software? I run the free version (I have my own reasons for not running the full suite but that's personal preference). It does work great. Details please against the free AV only version of AVG. Thanks.

steven.quinn
steven.quinn

Nope, sorry but Foxit Reader is smaller, faster, better. Agree with most of the other stuff though!

stuart.steedman
stuart.steedman

I've been using VLC for quite a while, but recently had some error with it that wouldn't go away. Luckily I went looking and found an even better video player called GOM. Like VLC, it doesn't do an automatic upgrade check and take ages to load (cough! Winamp, Windows Media Player, Real Player). GOM has some cool features like adding similar files to the playlist and immediately playing the next one as soon as the first finishes.

officerbill
officerbill

most of the apps on your list are pretty much installer preferences (I prefer PDFill over PrimoPDF), but ITunes and Quicktime should be avoided. Once they are on your system the INSIST on running in the background and phoning home. Unless you're going to be watching movies from ITunes Quicktime is pretty much useless and is almost impossible to permanently keep from running. ITunes is the same way. It isn't that good of a media player, has to keep the services running and keeps trying to become your default player. In fact I bought XPlay http://www.mediafour.com/products/xplay/ so I could keep ITunes & Quicktime off of my system. PS Acrobat reader is pretty much required, but if you've discovered a way to permanently disable the autoupdate let me know

daspyda
daspyda

WinAmp Flash Firefox Thunderbird ZoneAlarm CDBurnerXP

brian.mills
brian.mills

The GIMP is great as long as you can find your way around. I never can find anything when I'm working in it. Photoshop's a little easier for me, plus if I get stuck my wife's much better with it than I am and she can tell me how to do whatever it is I'm trying to do. Of course my wife's a professional graphic designer and took whole classes on Photoshop in college. If you've never used Photoshop, then I guess it wouldn't make a difference which one you start using, learning curve-wise. I may have to install GIMPShop and see if I do any better with it...

curtfj
curtfj

After my free year of Norton ran out I tried avg, clamAV and a couple of others, finally avast. I ran the initial boot scan and the virus alerts lit up like slot machine that just hit triple 7's. This must be a BIG misstake or maybe I just picked them up while downloading this piece of crap!!! I almost uninstalled it when it wanted to put half of my hard drive (of course it was the porn half!) in its virus chest. Seriously though, it found a lot of scary stuff and not newly acquired stuff either, I found it on my back-up disks and a hard drive I pulled during my Norton days. Go with avast. KMPlayer hands down, the best media player. It has built in codec that will play virtually ANYTHING!!! Many do some of what it does but this one can do it all. (See for yourself - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_media_players ) It's many settings choices make it harder to get the hang of but well worth the effort. BUT, my all-star pick, even though it?s not in a mainstream category of software?s, Windows Unattended CD Creator 1.0.2 is my pick. It lets you create a user-customized Windows Unattended installation disk, real easy to use. Lets you slipstream updates, programs, drivers, cd-key, everything. I just found this gem a few weeks ago and ... I know there are others, and I tried most them. I soon realized I was missing whatever the necessary attributes were (an MIT degree? Heavy LSD use?) to guide me through the maze of countless steps, mind numbing help files and finally therapy only to end up with something that looked like a cd but turned out to be a coaster. SO... in 3 words, Windows Unattended CD Creator 1.0.2 is EASY, EASY, And Easy! Finally, to the others that mentioned Putty, will that work as a software version of a KVM switch? If not, can anyone recommend one that is simple to setup? Thank you in advance.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

The only thing that I'd add would be ZoneAlarm.

mark.young
mark.young

I would like add JEdit - For Text editing XnView - Great Picture Viewer/Sorter/Slideshow Maker ZipGenuis - A Free real Alternative to Winzip And last Wireshark - Ever wanted to know what was happening on your network - Protcol Anaylser

brian.mills
brian.mills

I carry Putty around on my flash drive, and I install it on any Windows machine I plan to use on any sort of consistent basis. My only problem with Winamp is that it doesn't connect to DAAP shares, so i can't use it for playing music off of my Firefly music server.

emanuel.matos
emanuel.matos

I just need to make sure that installing it in a corporate environment won't result in a lawsuit down the road by the owner of one of the codecs... If it is free, then let them be clear about the source of where they got their codecs or include a licence agreement that indicates that the codecs are freely available for use in a corporate environment.

LeonaOJ
LeonaOJ

Previously, I tried the free downlaod and found it quite sufficient. I actually bought the latest vs and a few liscenses,loaded it on clients computer. So far has been no problem. I really think it depends on how involved u really are in the process. It is not rocket science that we need a few good measures to cover it all. (Adware,spyware,malicious code)You need to take the time to setup your preferences on all these applications...not just load it and hope that it does a detailed job for you. If you want xtra mileage,You have to get involved, free doesn't neccesarily mean bad.It just means that you also have to know what your trying to allow and block.Today, you better have more than one option.

wayoutinva
wayoutinva

Is that some web page developers automatically assume you have reader installed and apparently call for it directly if they have pdf's on their website. While using foxit, I had a couple of websites, and the helpdesk software i was using at the time simply refuse to open pdf's while running foxit. I had to re-install reader to open them...other than that it is a nice small reader

f.chapman
f.chapman

Foxit V1 was a total reasource hog. Version 2 has memory leaks and URLs are unclickable! Pretty poor. Also it dosen't support all the features of Acrobat (which, by the way, you can stop 'calling home' in the config) Foxit *might* be good one day...

Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)
Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)

I went and had a look for GOM Media Player, and I like it. I will still be sticking with VLC for the time being, but I'm going to investigate and test GOM a bit more and, well, who knows... Thanks for the heads up on that m8

dleippe
dleippe

I use SystemSuite as my main Security tool, not free but inexpensive. SS includes many usefull maintenance tools that were created by Ontrack. The anti virus and anti spyware products are from TrendMicro, the firewall is Sygate. I really like this firewall. It is very easy to disable any program that tries to call home. I have all Adobe auto updates disabled, as well as all other updaters, except for security updates. I can manually update any program when I want. I have Windows AutoUpdates off as well. I use the Windows updater built into SystemSuite. It gets me to the same Microsoft page, but when I want to go there. The firewall shows all programs that want to call home, even WGA. It is so easy to block or unblock any of the nuisance programs that are trying to connect. If you don't like SystemSuites anti virus or anti spyware products they can easily be disabled and you can use some other av product. But keep the program for the tools.

dleippe
dleippe

I install SystemSuite by V-com for a nice batch of tools that includes TrendMicro for antispyware and antivirus, and Sygate for the firewall. The Sygate firewall lets me block any program that I don't want auto updating or calling home. When the autoupdate function of the antivirusspyware subscription runs out, then everything continues to work. Then you have to manually download the patterns. One tool is a really solid registry cleaner. I always install this program or run a live CD version on a new computer that I am building for someone else. Also, for a free video player and photo editor, Irfanview is great. It will play your audio or video as well as edit photos.

Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)
Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)

I agree that iTunes and Quicktime are a pain-in-the-@$$, but as (By 3rd party study) Quicktime native formats are still in control of over 40% of online media content, it's going to be downloaded by the customer at one point or another for a video-clip on one favourite site or another. iTunes is also in a situation of market supremisy, which is why I install it. Don't get me wrong, I agree whole-heartedly that they aren't the best option, I just install them as a little extra effort so the customer doesn't: A) have to install it themselves later, or, B) Complain and make me install it for them 'cos they don't know how. =D

Daniel.Muzrall
Daniel.Muzrall

I've used Photoshop, GIMP, and GIMPShop. Since my first experience was with Photoshop, I tend to prefer GIMPshop to GIMP. Haven't had any problems with it, and they've done a great job of matching up toolbars.

Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)
Capt. Karl C. Helo Agathon (BSG-2003)

Just tell me, 'cos I'm curious, what possible use does the average user have for programs like Putty, Filezilla or Wireshark?!? Are we or are we not talking about free programs to put on EVERY new/repaired/upgraded computer?!? For certain situations, I agree, but not for EVERY one...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

For direct links, the way around it is to right-click and select "Open using" in the dialog box. This doesn't work, of course, when javascript is involved and no alternate link is provided. In those cases, I just leave.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's over 6 times the size of Foxit. I just need to open them, not analyze them! :)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I've never had a problem with Foxit and internal links in a document. As for unclickable links, I've disallowed active links outside web pages anyway; if I want to visit the link, I just highlight, ^C, Alt-Tab to FF, Alt-D, ^V, Alt-Enter. The only features I really need in a pdf reader are open and browse. Edit: forgot to add that I had not noticed Foxit using resources in amounts even close to what Adobe Reader uses...just my $.02.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I used VNC for years with cross platform support being a big part of that but I'm a huge fan of ssh/X these days. If your on a Windows machine, install VMware or some such thing, build a little Linux based OS workstation with a VM then just use ssh to run command line or start X gui programs. The X programs will open on your local display for interaction but keep all processing running on the remote machine. If your using a nonWindows OS then X is probably what your using already so just SSH over without the VM setup. The down side, a Windows user needs drive space to store the VM and has to actually use it. The up side, no extra port open for VNC and your using the natural method rather than a reinvented wheel (unless you need to see the full desktop but that's just pretty background and icons really). I do like Putty for a quick SSH into a server from a Windows machine but as you indicate, your not going to get X forwarding support from it. You can through a local X server on your machine beside Putty but even then, the setup isn't too strait forward.