If you run a Windows computer you know there is a lot of software out there for it. The problem though? You find that great new program and then *bzzzt* they want you to pay for it. So I compiled my list of recommended free software tools and utilities that I use on my own computer. I’ve been compiling it in my head for well… about 20 years so I figured it was about time I wrote and shared them with you. Note: All opinions are of my own. I have ran across them throughout the years of building, using, and supporting computers. All the utilities mentioned are technically free. If you notice an (affiliate link) next to it? It is because they offer a premium version of the software that opens up additional functionality. I will get a commission if you decide to make a purchase using the link.
The first thing you should do is make sure to install a quality Anti-Virus onto your system. Below are some that I have used and my personal favorite Avast. Notice no mention of Norton or McAffe? Besides the fact that they cost money? They tend to be ‘bloatware’ and have harmed more computers than helped in some cases.
- Avast Free! (referral link) – Personally I love Avast. It is a free anti-virus that does what I need to in the background without eating all of my resources. There are others of course but this is my personal preference. If you want additional protection like email scanning, safe web browsing and spyware protection? It’s going to cost you. There is a way around from having to pay though! If you refer enough people you can end up getting a year for free!
- AVG – Before Avast I used AVG. And I really do like it still. I just noticed for someone like me who watches all of his resources? It was a bit ‘heavy’ on the computer while scanning. It does a great job protecting your computer too though!
- Zone Alarm – If you want even more protection for free? Than Zone Alarm is it. It is not only an antivirus. It’s a software firewall that will block just about everything you can think of 🙂 The only issue I have with it? It’s too restrictive and you will have to troubleshoot it first if something doesn’t work right. I already have a home router – which is ‘good enough’ as long as you’re using good browsing habIt’s!
It’s out there. Hiding within ads, websites, or your email. Spyware and Malware is always trying to find a way onto your computer. From that annoying toolbar, to a cookie that wants to track a bit too much info. So you’ll want to not only get rid of them but be a bit proactive and install a tool that will help prevent it from happening.
- Malwarebytes (affiliate link) – In the past I used to run a ton of different malware/spyware utilities – now I just run this . Although this isn’t technically a “free” application it is THE application to use for malware/spyware/trojan detection. It also has a few other utilities like File Assassin which will easily let you delete any file currently locked in Windows. You can at least try it free for 30 days then uninstall it – especially if you think your pc has been infected. Protect up to 3 PCs with NEW Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium!
- Spybot S&D – I use this tool when nothing else seems to work. If something is really stuck in the system this is the tool to use. Just be careful as you can accidentally delete files that are required for your computer to run correctly.
- Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool – This free tool from Microsoft will help you get rid of the nastier malware/spyware bugs that could infect your computer. I would just bookmark the link and hope you never have to use it.
Even though Windows comes with It’s own internal firewall. And you should already own a quality home router, some people just want that added security of a more robust software firewall. These are the ones I recommend if you feel the need to have that extra security.
- Ashampoo – This is a free robust software firewall that will not only help keep the bad guys from getting in, but will tell you what software is trying to call out as well.
- Zone Alarm – This is one of the oldest out there. It does the same as Ashampoo does. The only thing I don’t like about it? Sometimes it locks down things a big too much
These are some nifty free tools that I couldn’t find a category by themselves. Rainmeter isn’t a “must have”. It’s more like a cool geek toy only because it will display information most people don’t really care about seeing 🙂 The first utilities though are really good to have for your computer. They help keep things clean and updated.
- Ninite.com – My brother actually turned me on to this site and it has been a huge time saver! Ninite.com is truly the all-in-one search and download I have been looking for on the web! It is a completely free utility for downloading and installing all of those common applications (many of which I am listing here) I use. What is even better than that? If you run the Ninite installer at a later time? It will automatically detect and update the software for you. So why is this most awesome tool free for us? They are trying to pimp their other paid services of course!
- Slimware Utilities – With this free tool it will scan your computer and figure out if any of your drivers are out of date. I’m usually pretty vigilant about this – but it managed to find one or two that I missed. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of searching for updates? Then this is a great free tool to use.
- CCleaner – Crap Cleaner is a must for getting rid of temp files, cookies, cache and other stuff that you don’t need to keep on your computer. It also has a registry scanner to go through and check for anything that isn’t needed. Since the registry is the ‘library of all instructions’ for Windows? It’s important to keep it clean in order for your computer to keep running in tip top shape! I’ve since switched over to:
- Glary Utilities – This is another great utility like CCleaner. You do have the ability to get the “Pro” version to unlock some of the features. For most the ‘1 Click Maintenance’ will be just fine for clearing temp files, scanning for registry issues, and malware.
- Rainmeter I’m a stat junkie. I love monitoring resources, watching the activity jump around, monitoring temperatures of my CPU/Video Card, and seeing what my computer is doing. So after my latest install I went hunting on the web and ran across this again.
- SpeedFan – This little utility will let you know how your internal hardware is behaving. From temps, to fan RPM and more. It’s a nifty little tool for those who like to see what is going on.
- FileZilla – This is a great free FTP program. Do you really need this? Well if you work with any type of website? Then odds are yes you will need it. Otherwise? Most likely you can skip it.
- Handbrake – This video converter will allow you do things like backup your DVD collection to your computer. Or if you require a different format to be able to play your video? It will re-render it for you in whatever that format is. It is a great little tool and entirely free.
- Audacity – If you do any type of sound recording? This is my favorite free software to use to be able to edit it.
File Compression Utilities
If you’ve ever used the built in Windows zip utility. It’s well… garbage. My personal favorite has always been WinRar due to it’s simple format and the fact it does compression really well. Sure it’s a “freemium” app and I recommend you go and pay for it to support them. Otherwise you can always use Win7Zip which is an entirely free app instead.
- WinRar – For me this is the “King” of all archiving programs – I have been using it for years for all of my zipping needs. It is shareware you can keep using it after the 30 day trial by clicking off the reminder to register it. (Although it is worth paying for it to keep supporting them!)
- Win7Zip – You might prefer using this instead. The only thing it won’t be able to open? Rar files of course 🙂 Otherwise it is a great free compression utility.
- WinZip – This is technically shareware as you will receive a message that you should purchase it after 30 days. You don’t have to purchase it though. Just deal with the nag messages. Of course you could always just stick with:
- Notepad ++ – I’ll never use notepad.exe again! This piece of freeware is fantastic if you are needing a free tool to work on websites/coding with. Couple that and it’s tabbed interface and tons of options I can’t go back to notepad.
- Sublime Text – Although now days I’m doing a bit more with WordPress, I was recommended I try using this advanced editor. Although technically not “Free” as you will have to eventually pay for it. It’s well worth the price if you are getting into web development.
- Gimp – This open source graphics editor is 100% free. And you can even make it a bit more Photoshop-ish you can read this Lifehacker article on how to do it.
- Paint.net – This is another free graphics tool for editing or creating images. I’ve never had much luck with using it. I’m just not a graphics guy.
- Pixlr – I recently found this one. It is a “Photoshop” like editor that runs entirely through your browser! So you don’t need to install anything.
- Adobe Creative Suite 2 – Although it is extremely outdated and might not even run on your current computer? You can get the older version of Photoshop for free from Adobe.
- VLC Player – You can play just about any movie/video format out there with this player. It is a very small download and you and skin it!
- AIMP3 – This has become my new favorite MP3 player. With it’s different skins and functional playlist. It can handle even my 60 gig music library I have on this computer.
- Spotify – I really like this streaming music service. So it’s a must have now. I’ve used others and I keep coming back to Spotify for my streaming music needs.
- WinAmp – Who doesn’t remember kicking the llama’s ass? You can go to their website and still do it! It’s here more for posterity (pun intended) more than anything. Update: Appears they are going through a re-design so who knows maybe the llama is going to make a big comeback?
- footbar2000 – This is a pretty stripped down MP3 player. If you want something that is lightweight and plays music? Then this is the one to get.
Productivity Tools If you can’t afford to purchase that Microsoft license for their Office program? Well, I don’t blame you it’s expensive! So what can you do instead if you need to do Office type stuff? Well there are a few options that are free below:
- Open Office – They have really improved this program throughout the years. I run it on any computer that has Linux installed. The good news is it is available for Windows as well. It has your basic word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and more.
- AbiWord – If you just need a free word processor that has that look and feel of it’s Microsoft counterpart? Then AbiWord is for you. And yes, it is entirely free!
If you’re an Internet Explorer user – that is fine you can just skip right along to the next one. But if you’re like the rest of the internet you will want to download a free third party browser for your Windows Install. I bounce between a love/hate relationship with Firefox and Chrome. So I don’t really have a preference for either. My suggestion is install both and figure out which one you like better.
- Firefox – I have been a longtime fan of Firefox. It is free (which is always great) and I liked the interface, speed, customizations, plugins etc. I could get for it. But with the latest releases I have started to fall out of love with it. It’s built in developer tools are quite helpful. Especially it’s responsive design window so you can see how a website will behave and look in different smartphone/tablet resolutions.
- Chrome – And then there is Chrome. I have since started using Chrome. I have a love/hate relationship with it. When everything is working? it’s fantastic. When I have 40 tabs and a dozen or so extensions? It can really hurt performance. It’s more of a personal problem I know. I love it’s developer tools as I can use them a bit more easily then what Firefox offers. Plus I can pop the code inspector into it’s own window. That and the Chrome Task Manager helps me keeps a tab on things – like errant memory issues.
- Safari – I’m definitely not a fan of Apple. But you can get this browser for Windows. It is fast! Though I just can’t use it on a day to day basis. I fire it up whenever I need to look how websites are going to look cross platform. I do like that it has it’s own built in ability for doing Truetype font smoothing too.
- Opera – There was a time when I was a big fan of Opera. Then after Chrome was released I never took another look at it. It’s still a decent free browser though.
Feedly – This web based RSS reader is awesome. Although not technically “software” if you want to stay on top of your favorite websites (like this one!) you can subscribe to the RSS Feed then apply it to Feedly. With it’s different options for layouts it will help you keep up with your favorite websites as well as look great doing it!
I’m going through older articles and whew this has aged like milk. I definitely have stopped using a lot of these. Especially Safari and even to some extent Chrome. I’m going to leave this article alone for now. Maybe one day I’ll go through and prune it a bit. Be aware there are affiliate links on this article and I’m not even sure if they work. I will be going through and removing most of these after I go through and fix a lot of other stuff on the site.
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