I recently clean installed Windows XP on my laptop, and this meant that
I had to re-install all the essential software that I use. It also
presented an opportunity to write a posting about how you can outfit
your computer with all the essential (and non-essential) software you
need using strictly 100% freeware and/or open source titles.This
posting could have been titled any of the following:
- How to never use a paid program again (aside from Windows).
- 53 essential freeware programs that can take care of the majority of your computing needs.
I am writing this from the perspective of myself clean-installing
Windows and re-installing all the software I find to be essential
afterwards. This post took a long time to write, please Digg and/or
Stumble it ;).
Pre-installation: before reformatting my hard drive, I used the following programs:
1. Gparted Live CD:
one of the easiest ways to preserve your data when you want to wipe
your system clean is to create a secondary partition and move all of
your data into it. Gparted Live CD is a fantastic program that can
create and manage partitions and hold its own alongside any program of
its kind, paid or otherwise.
2. Unstoppable Copier:
I used this program to copy any of the data and files on the primary
partition (C:) to the secondary partition. Unstoppable copier makes the
process of moving large numbers of files easy because you can set it up
and leave and be certain that the copying process will not be
interrupted by pointless Windows dialogs such as “are you sure you want
to move the read only file xxx” or any other possible prompts of this
3. Amic Email Backup:
can backup all of my Outlook email to the secondary partition ahead of
the drive formatting (it can backup email from numerous programs except
Thunderbird; if you use Thunderbird use Mozbackup). For another freeware alternative try EZ Email Backup.
I used this one to back up all my current drivers. DriverMax will
backup all of your drivers locally and can optionally restore them for
you. Although I have my manufacturer’s CD with all of the original
drivers (and anyway they are all on the internet), I used DriveMax just
in case; if it were the case that I am unable to locate a driver for
any device after re-installing XP, I figure I could always go back to
the drivers backup that I made with DriverMax and find it.
used this program to keep a record of all the product keys for the
Microsoft products that are on my system, including Windows XP and
Office. Made a printout of this info and saved it on the secondary
partition for later use. I found that unlike some other similar
programs, this one doesn’t make antivirus/antispyware programs act up
and react adversely to it.
Installation: re-installed Windows XP on the
re-formatted primary partition. Used the CD that came with my laptop to
install all the proper drivers without hitch. If you have drivers
issues try to find the drivers you need on the internet and, if not
100% successful, use the ones from the DriverMax backup
(#4 above). Once Windows was installed I did a Windows update (actually
several, since it kept doing partial updates and restarting), then
installed the Microsoft .NET framework and the latest Java RTE).
Post installation: now the fun begins.
6. PC Decrapifier:
if you install Windows from a CD image disk provided with your computer
then it is highly likely that it comes pre-loaded with all manner of
junk software that the computer maker wants to foist on you. PC
Decrapifier will batch-uninstall many of these for you; be careful,
however, to check the list so as not to uninstall something you might
want something you actually want.
7. DriveImage XML:
used this program to create an image of my freshly clean installed hard
drive. (A hard drive image is a backup of the drive as-is with
everything in it; performing such a backup means that I can quickly
revert to my clean install of Windows in the future simply by restoring
the image). There’s a number of reasons why I like this program (a) it
can split the image file into several files, allowing you to save an
image that is larger than 4 gigs onto a hard drive that uses the FAT
filesystem rather than NTFS; it features ’Volume Locking’ which
contributes towards ensuring that your created images are error free,
and it is featured on boot CDs such as BartCD, which means I can boot into it and restore the primary partition.
everybody needs a good launcher, and Launchy is my favorite. Pressing a
hotkey will prompt a dialog to appear whereby you can type in the first
few letters of the name of the program that you want in order to launch
it. Launchy will index your start menu and program files folders by
default so that it will know all the programs available on your
computer (you can define other folders for it to index as well). If you
would like alternatives to this one checkout Key Launch and the very powerful Keybreeze.
9. AVG Antivirus:
the reason this is the my free antivirus of choice is (a) it is very
light on the system’s resources, (b) it does a simply excellent job,and
(c) it supports email scan, which is something that I need (and which
is why I use AVG rather than the excellent AntiVir). Secondary choice: Antivir. Third choice: Avast.
10. Spyware Terminator: provides
very good real-time protection against spyware/malware. For system
scans it also integrates the open source ClamAV virus killer, which it
also auto updates. Overall this program provides a very good free
antispyware solution. Note that it will attempt to install a “Web
Security Guard” toolbar in the setup which I typically disable (I do
not like toolbars installed in my browser thank you very much).
11. Comodo Firewall: this
is not only an excellent free firewall, this program is a PC Magazine
Editor’s choice and is possibly the best personal firewall out there,
free or paid. According to Matousec.com’s latest firewall ratings, Comodo gets the highest overall firewall
score as well as the highest anti-leak protection (these results as of
the date of this writing Oct 20, 2007). (Thanks go to reader DevZero
for mentioning this in the comments section of my Comodo Firewall
this powerful Windows tweaking tool from Microsoft is one of the best
out there, IMHO. In general I do not like to have any of my data stored
in the primary (C:) partition, and I use this program to switch many of
Windows’ special folders (i.e. My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, My
Favorites, and the Desktop itself) from their default locations to a
new location on the secondary partition. Having no data on the primary
partition means that I can create images of my hard drive with DriveImage XML
(#7 above) and restore them at will at any point without having to
worry about lost data. Later I will also change the default data
storage locations for all programs that I use so that they are on the
secondary partition as well. More interesting tweaks that TweakUI
does that I should mention: customizing the placesbar in the windows
open/save dialog and increasing the number of folder customizations
that Windows would remember.
13. OpenOffice: a
world class office productivity suite and Microsoft Office replacement.
OpenOffice can read and write MS Office 2003 documents in DOC (Word
2003) ,PPT (Powerpoint 2003) and XLS (Excel 2003) formats, and can also
output documents in PDF format. Note that some MS Office documents that
employ VBA Macro scripts may not be fully compatible with OpenOffice.
(Ok, I have a confession to make: I actually install MS Office 2003 and
2007 both on my machine rather than OpenOffice, because (a) I need to
use Outlook for work, (b) because most of my Excel work is done with
VBA script, and (c) the licenses are paid for by my work). For the
average user and for the purposes of this article, however, OpenOffice
would be my free productivity suite of choice.
14. Forcevision Image Viewer:
this is a very competent and straightforward free image viewer. Image
viewing programs tend to be either (a) simple lightweight programs with
few features but get the basic job done, (b) mid-level image viewers
that have a good range of image editing options and features, some of
which can do image format conversions (c) larger programs that have a
comprehensive set of features and are typically extendible by plugins,
and typically include the ability to read/write all manner of image
formats including obscure ones. And although I know many people swear
by Irfranview and Xnview,
which would belong to category (c) in this case, for myself I prefer a
mid-level program that I find can handle 99% of my image viewing needs,
and Forcevision is the one I use. (Another good alternative: Faststone Image Viewer).
15. JZip: my current compression/zip utility of choice. Based on the 7 Zip
open source archiver, JZip Can handle a good number of formats, has
excellent compression ratio and speed as well as context menu
integration. Other options that are good in this category are TugZip, IZArc, and ALzip
(this last one might come as a surprise to some readers, but I actually
used the new beta version for a few months and liked it).
16. CDBurnerXP 4:
is the free program I use to burn CDs and DVDs; it is a full featured
CD/DVD burning program that can burn audio CDs, copy CDs/DVDs,
burn/convert ISOs images, and handle a large variety of formats
(including Double layer DVDs, Blu-Ray and HD-DVDs). My second program
of choice would be InfraRecorder, which provides most of these functions as well.
17. JKDefrag GUI:
this is the graphical user interface for JKDefrag a hard disk
defragmentation program. There are 3 reasons why you should use this
program (a) JKDefrag has recently been tested and found to be the best
amongst x different defragmentation programs, free and paid, (b) it
provides the option to install itself as a screen saver, which will
kick-off the defragmentation process whenever your computer is idle and
goes into screensaver mode, and (c) it is fast and delivers excellent
performance (see this blog for an interesting comparison of free and commercial defraggers, where JKDefrag was deemed the best freeware defrag program)..
18. Folder Size:
this free Windows Explorer extension provides a “Folder Size” column in
Windows explorer’s ’Detail’ view that shows the size of both files and
folders (Windows shows the size of files but not that of folders). My
second choice for a for a free program that does this would be “Aurionix FileUsage“; the latter offers more columns but requires .NET and therefore much more resources than Folder Size does.
a fantastic IM client that supports multiple messaging protocols
including AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, XMPP, ICQ, IRC, SILC, SIP/SIMPLE, Novell
GroupWise, Lotus Sametime, Bonjour, Zephyr, MySpaceIM, Gadu-Gadu, and
QQ. It enables you to access all of your instant messaging accounts for
the above networks
simultaneously in the same client. You can use it to communicate
individually with other people or to create chat rooms where multiple
people interact simultaneously. Pidgin has been improved continuously
and it is my favorite IM client (they finally implemented minimizing to
tray which was inexplicably lacking forever). My second choice in this
category: Miranda IM, which also has matured greatly, or try Meebo,
which performs this function but is a web service that you can use from
anywhere rather than a program that you install locally.
20. Google Toolbar:
this is the only toolbar that I install. Google Toolbar provides a
quick searchbox your browser’s toolbar, but it also provides the
ability to fill simple forms, quickly translate pages, and spell check
your text that you enter in internet forms. See this posting for a
description of how to do that.
a fantastic hard drive cleaner that can rid your system of temp files,
internet traces such as your surfing history, cookies, logfiles, cached
files and other unused files from your computer. Installer comes with
Yahoo toolbar included, so be careful to uncheck that during the
installation process so it doesn’t install on your computer. Also
includes a registry cleaner.
22. Shock Sticker:
a really nice desktop ’sticky notes’ program that provides rich text
editing and minimizing notes to floating icon (which is why I like it).
This is my favortie desktop notes program, although Stickies, another similar program, is also extremely good and has more features.
I really like to differentiate my folders with different colors and/or
icons. FolderICO installs an entry into the Windows context menu that
does this, but it also saves the changed icons within the folders such
that the changed icon is preserved if, say, the folder is accessed on a
network from another computer from a different operating system (or
after a Windows re-install).
if you work with icons you will love this one. It enables you not just
to extract icon resources from files, but to do the opposite (save
individual icons into libraries) which most like-programs do not. Very
an excellent password manager (for Internet Explorer only) that can
store, encrypt, and fill in passwords and logins into forms for you.
For another excellent program that performs a similar function check
26. Picasa: an excellent program from Google
that can help manage your picture libraries as well as share/upload
them online. Provides many picture enhancement functions, and is also a
very nice viewer to boot.
27. Faststone Capture: a
really powerful image capture program that is extremely easy to use and
has a built in editor for adding annotations and image manipulations.
Unfortunately this program has recently become shareware but you can
still download and use the last freeware version (5.3). Check out Screenshot Captor
for another excellent screenshot capture program. If you know another
excellent screenshot capture program please mention it in the comments
(I’d like to try something new).
28. GOM Media Player: a
fantastic player that plays DVDs as well as video formats, including
Real Media, Quicktime, DivX, Xvid and FLV. Whats is really nice about
this program is that it is self-contained and uses all internal codecs
(meaning that in most cases it will not install codecs on your system).
If, however, it encounters a video file that it cannot play it will
automatically download it for you.
I chose this one over my other favorite, VLC media player,
because it handles FLV videos better (allows you to jump to the middle
of an FLV video, which the current version of VLC does not). It also
has a nicer look and feel, IMHO, esp. when playing DVDs.
Also check out CodecInstaller,
an excellent program that can identify, download, and install the
codecs needed to play any media file (regardless of the player you are
29. Quintessential Media Player: supports
most audio formats. It is simultaneously (a) a very nice player, (b) a
competent tag editor, (c) a CD ripper with CDDB database support, and
(d) and audio formats converter. Also features an equalizer,
visualizations, and skins and is extendable through plugins. One of the
nicer abilities is autotagging, which it does through digital
thumbprinting and CDDB. (Note: album art is supported through a plugin, or use the cool CD Art Display).
another excellent program that also provides CD ripping, mp3 tag
management, downloading of album art, audio format conversion,
visualizations, skins, and equalizer, etc. Mediamonkey is vastly
extendible though plugins and has a large community following.
30. MP3Tag: a
fantastic MP3 tag/metadata manager that can download album art from
Amazon and save it into the audio file itself. I’ve used a number of
similar programs but like this one most because of it’s straightforward
interface and user experience. Try The Godfather for
another free alternative (note that the audio players mentioned in #29
above also provide MP3 tag management, which might be sufficient for
most people’s needs).
31. MusicBrainz Picard: use
this program if your audio files have incomplete and or missing tags.
Picard uses sophisticated digital fingerprinting to compare audio files
to the community-created MusicBrainz database. It employs a different
technology than Quintessential Media Player (#29 above) and can in the
most cases auto-tag audio files that have no tags whatever.
32. Exact Audio Copy: an
audio CD ripper that reads audio CDs “almost perfectly” (i.e. produces
very high quality MP3s), connects to CDDB/Freedb to get track
information, and supports a handful of audio file formats. Another
favorite of mine that does the same thing is BonkEnc.
(Note that the audio players mentioned in #29 above also provide
competent audio CD ripping). If you are looking for an excellent audio
file converter try Any Audio Converter which supports most audio formats as well as FLV and can demux audio from video files.
33. MP3gain: this
program can analyze a group of MP3s and determine the average volume
for each, and then raise and/or lower the volume of the files in order
to “normalize” them (such that volume differences that might occur when
one song transitions to another largely disappear). The cool thing is
that it does this without re-encoding the files and its intervention is
reversible. Another program that has this same function: MP3Trim.
34. Unlocker: this
small memory resident program will pop-up whenever you encounter a file
that is locked by a process or another program which prevents you from
deleting or moving it. Once you install and use this you will start to
consider it a must have program. (Also see this related post).
35. Orbit Downloader: is
an excellent download manager that has the unique ability to download
streaming media (audio and video, as well as flash SWF) from video
sharing and other sites. Another excellent download manager: FlashGet.
36. WinSCP: if
you need an FTP client WinSCP is an excellent program that supports FTP
and SFTP (as well as the legacy SCP), allows for secure transfers, and
features dual pane file-manager like functionalities (such as sorting
and comparing directories). It also allows for session saving (i.e. a
bookmarking functionality), with the option to create entries in the
Windows’ send-to menu for uploading files straight from Windows.
another competent, free program that is constantly improving and
supports FTP, SFTP, and FTPS. If you want a very nice program that
integrates FTP support into explorer through the Windows’ right-click
context menu check out RightLoad.
37. Local Website Archive: is
a program that saves individual webpages locally on your hard drive,
including pictures and formatting, and allows for later viewing even if
offline. What’s cool about this one is that it saves websites in the
original HTML format and therefore allows you to reference the local
URL of the saved webpage in your notes program or other applications.
Another alternative that I used for a long time until I found Local
Website Archive: Evernote.
38. Flashnote: a
quick and handy scratch-pad that pops-up when you press a hotkey and
disappears back into the background again when you minimize it (or
press the hotkey again). You can store multiple notes in it and quickly
retrieve them when needed (its not a full-fledged notes program, but
nonetheless has become a must install on my machine).
39. Revo Uninstaller: my
uninstaller of choice, Revo Uninstaller will uninstall a program and
then look for any files and/or registry entries that were left behind
by the program’s uninstaller (and does a beautiful job at that). Be
carful to look at the entries that it identifies for deletion
post-uninstall, as it will sometimes list registry entries and/or files
that should not be removed. Revo also provides a slew of other tools
such as a startup manager and hard drive cleaner.
Another nice uninstaller which I used previously is ZSoft Uninstaller;
this one will not uninstall programs as thoroughly as Revo does, but on
the other hand will not erroneously remove registry entries or files
that should be left alone.
40. BitTyrant: this
is the free torrent client that I’ve been using for some time. What it
is is a modified version of Azureus that, controversially, picks and
chooses peers to allocate bandwidth to such that those who are
providing more bandwidth for downloaded files receive more of your own
bandwidth (which is why it is sometimes called the ’selfish’ bittorent
client). It is claimed that this can result in up to 70% faster
downloads, but the reason this is controversial is that peers with
lower connection speeds or are not sharing files may be overlooked by this program (read more about it here). Other excellent free torrent clients: uTorrent, Azureus.
41. Starter: a
small, no-install program which does a fantastic job managing the
programs that start with Windows. (I’ve tried many, and this is the one
I like the most). Note that Revo Uninstaller (#39 above) provides a
built in startup programs manager as well.
42. Send To Toys: use
this program to add any folder to the explorer “send to” menu, which
allows you to quickly copy or move any file to your favorite or most
43. Returnil: a system
virtualization program that allows you to surf dangerous sites and/or
install and test software or implement any desired changes then restart
your system to get it back to the state it was before said changes.
44. SysTrayMeter: a
small program that shows your processor usage and free memory in the
system tray. Invaluable if you like to keep an eye on your available
resources, and very useful in troubleshooting a problematic or slow
45. SweepRAM: a
tiny, no-install RAM optimizer that frees system RAM by allowing
applications all the RAM that they need, but no more (i.e. does not
deprive programs from RAM). Use it to free RAM whenever your available
memory plummets and/or your system becomes sluggish.
46. VSO Image Resizer: installs
an entry in the Windows right-click context menu that enables image
resizing and format conversions on-the-fly. One of the nicer things
about this software is the ability to create custom image profiles that
you can save in order to access them quickly at any later point.
Another program which I also used for a long time: Easy Thumbnails.
47. Photoscape: is
an all-in-one image management and manipulation suite that includes an
image editor, a screen capture program, image formats conversions, an
image viewer, GIF animation editor, mass image renamer, page creator,
as well as a handful of other functions. While it does most of these
functions competently, what I like about this program is its ability to
combine and/or overlay images and easily add annotations. If you have
to use a lot of images in presentations (as I do for work) you will
find this program a great help.
48. PDF-XChange Viewer:
a very nice PDF reader that allows for form filling as well as
annotation and adding notes. The only thing I would change about this
program is the icon it displays for PDF files (but that can be done
with a program like Icon Phile).
50. HobComment: this
will add a “file/folder comments” in Windows details view, and a
right-click “add comment” extension in Windows explorer (the latter
only for NTFS partitions). The end result is a very easy way to add
comments to files and folders that can be displayed in the Windows
51. I.Mage: I
use this image editing program as a replacement to Windows’ “Paint”
program; it’s simple and straightforward and sufficient for my
occasional image manipulation needs. If you need a more powerful
Photoshop-replacement freeware bitmap editor try Gimpshop or Paint.net (both excellent programs).
an explorer extension that adds user-defined favorites folders (and
recent folders) to Windows’ open/save dialogs. A favorite of mine that
I always have on my machine.
can snap any area of the screen (or simply load an image) and provide
instant (and excellent) optical character recognition. This one might
be a little out of place for an article that advocates using only free
software because it needs a library installed with MS Office, whereas I
list OpenOffice (#13 above) as the MS Office alternative. Still, I use
this program a lot and find it to be a must-install, which is why I
decided to list it.
Create Disk Image: now that I have my system decked
out with all the software that I use, I create another image with
DriveImage XML so that I have 2 images; one that contains Windows XP
clean installed with drivers, and one with all the software that I use.
Should I need to for any reason I can quickly and easily revet back to
any one of these setups.
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