Essential Windows Software
This page was created in 2009 and some of the info may be dated.
People often ask me what is the best or my favorite software to use for various tasks and functions in Windows. I have often come across various links on digg.com that claim to list the best and most essential software for Windows, yet I find they are often missing a few programs and often do not explain very well why you would want to use the programs. Therefor, I have decided to make this page to address those issues, and because every one of those lists is simply opinion based, and this one is no different.
Browsing the Web
I would be lost browsing the web without Firefox and the well over 20 add-ons that I use for it (how about never seeing advertisements on the web?). Firefox is incredibly customizable with a multitude of free add-ons for just about any use imaginable and it's incredibly secure as well. If you are more concerned with speed and ease of use rather than customization, Google Chrome is an excellent choice.
Downloading Stuff (music, movies, etc.)
What should you use to download music and movies off the internet? The obvious choice is uTorrent, arguably the best and most popular BitTorrent client available, it's also extremely lightweight and fairly easy to use, yet still loaded with advanced options for the power user. If you're new to downloading torrents, one good site to start with would be isohunt.
For just about everyone, I recommend VLC, as it's built in codec's play just about any type of video, and it's also incredibly fast, as it's the only player that I can use to watch videos on my ancient laptop, as every other player has been too slow. My personal choice is Media Player Classic, using the ffdshow codec, and also if you have surround sound, the AC3Filter. MPC is also fairly easy to use, yet I find it offers more control. For example, the ratio altering buttons come in very handy for downloaded YouTube videos and movies where the aspect ratio is incorrect.
Listening to Music
It's my experience that people are often pretty attached to their current music player. I have tried a number of other programs and still always come back to Winamp, as everything is exactly where I need/remember it being, even if it is not essentially the "best" program out there to use. Regardless of what music player you use, if you are a fan of lyrics, I recommend the add-on MiniLyrics, as it will display the lyrics for just about any song and even scroll them along as the song plays, pretty sweet.
Office Programs (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.)
You do not need Microsoft Office at all. Instead, get the awesome free alternative, OpenOffice. You can still open and save standard windows .doc files with this program as well as several formats from other office programs.
Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware
For anti-virus, I prefer the free edition of Avast, as it has been doing it's job like it is supposed to. Likewise, for anti-malware, that is protecting against spyware and the like, I recommend the full version of Malwarebytes. The paid version has real-time protection and you can find a torrent of the latest version by searching online.
These programs are for dealing with those compressed files that you download that end in extensions such as ".rar" and ".zip." If you just learned something from reading that and/or you want the most basic and efficient program, I recommend 7Zip, as it's also simple and free to use. My personal choice is WinRAR, as it has some more advanced options, can create .rar files, and I've been using it since forever, however, it is shareware, so you will have to pay for it (find a torrent) or suffer with the nag screens.
For the most basic program that still has tonnes of options and tweaks, I recommend ImgBurn, it is only 2.12MB after installation. My personal choice is Nero 7, it's a good cross between ease of use and advanced features, and still not too bulky in size (174MB download) when compared to many dvd burning packages.
Searching Your Computer
Yes, you can already search your computer with the windows default search engine. However, I strongly recommend the Everything search engine. It pre-caches the locations of all the files and folders on your hard drives, and search results come up instantly as you type in your request, it's like an "instant google search" for your computer. Set up a hot-key in the options, and you can locate anything on your computer as fast as you can press the hot-key and type in part of the name of the file or folder.
Windows does have it's own way to copy and move files, however, there is no way to pause the transfer, and if something goes wrong during a large transfer, you are pretty much screwed and have to start over or figure out what files still need to be copied. TeraCopy solves these problems as well as adds some speed to the file transfers.
Volume control? Yes. Not everyone has a multimedia keyboard with volume buttons, and even if you do, you may find this method easier. I use VolumeTouch, as regardless of what program you are running at the time, all you need to do is hold Shift+Control and press the up and down arrows or the mouse wheel to change the volume level. It is surprisingly useful. For those who want a less bulky alternative with the ability to change what keys effect the volume, I recommend Volumouse.
A Better Task Manager
This one is mainly aimed towards power users. Windows does have it's own built in task manager, yet it is extremely limited in the information that it provides. Process Explorer is an amazing replacement that I have running 24/7 in my systray, as the icon alone lets you know how much of your CPU is being used at the time, as without it, it is similar to driving in a car and having no idea of how fast you are moving, if at all. Process Explorer is always the first place I look whenever there is an issue with PC performance, as it provides much more information than Task Manager does, and without it, I would have likely not been able to troubleshoot some PCs.