Here are twelve of my most used free applications and utilities (in no particular order). By the way, I am not including browsers or security suites because I use a variety of these heavy-duty applications.
Everybody encounters compressed files and needs an archive manager. I find the native Windows feature to be too limited and slow and have used 7-Zip for years. It is also Gizmo’s choice for Best Free File Archiver and is reviewed here. For some tips on using 7-Zip go to this link. Some people have reported permission problems with 7-Zip 64-bit when using Windows 8.x, 64-bit but I had no trouble with the installation from the download link at http://www.7-zip.org/download.html.
2. VLC Media Player
I don’t use multimedia as much as many video and music fans might nor do I need an editor but like almost everybody I need a media player now and then. VLC comes with a lot of codecs and is much more versatile than Windows Media Player. I can play most formats, including RealMedia and QuickTime. A good review can be found here.
3. IrfanView image viewer and basic editor
This is yet another basic utility that I prefer to one that Windows provides. The IrfanView image viewer and basic editor has been around since Windows 95 but is constantly updated. Photography and graphics experts will want something more powerful but, if you just want to be able to view a large number of different graphics formats or do basic editing like resizing and cropping, IrfanView is hard to beat. Average PC users will find it easy to use and will not get buried in the complexities of more advanced programs. It also comes with a lot of plug-ins. I put a lot of images on the Internet and IrfanViews’s “Save for Web” plug-in is very useful for reducing the size of image files. Gizmo’s has a review at this link.
4. Notepad++ text and code editor
Almost anybody will want to use a text editor at some time and there are a lot of them. Plain old Notepad will do for the simplest tasks but I need something with more features and Notepad++ is an old workhorse for me. I use it in a lot of ways, including editing HTML and other code. It has many features and a number of plug-ins. The developer’s site is at this link.
5. DropBox file synchronizer and backup
Using the cloud to back up or synchronize files is all the rage and there are many services. DropBox was early in the game and is the one I got started with. I still like it. It’s fast and it lets me synchronize across multiple platforms. One thing I don’t do is upload sensitive information. I also don’t need huge amounts of storage since I don’t upload videos or music. Windows 8 users may prefer Microsoft OneDrive but I am sticking with DropBox. The developer’s link is here. Gizmo’s has a review of DropBox on mobile platforms in this article.
6. Malwarebytes anti-malware
This is not my first line of defense against malware but it provides a quick and convenient way to run an additional check of the many files that I download. It puts an entry in the right-click context menu for a quick scan of a file. It is also a favorite of many of Gizmo’s readers. The developer’s site is at this link.
7. Belarc Advisor system information utility
One thing that many people overlook is the need to have a record of what is on their system. Belarc Advisor creates a file that lists a variety of information about your hardware and software, including the product codes. I run it on every new computer and print the file it generates. I then periodically update it. The developers link is here.
8. “Send To Toys”
One feature of Windows that I use constantly is the “Send to” entry in the right-click context menu. A long-time favorite of mine is the utility “Send To Toys” that allows you to augment the “Send to” menu in powerful ways. The description of how to use this highly useful program is here. This utility saves me a lot of time.
9. Ditto clipboard manager
I am constantly copying text, URLs, code, and what-have-you for use elsewhere. That means I must have a clipboard manager that can store and manage multiple clips. I use Ditto constantly. It is a top pick at Gizmo’s and is reviewed here. I prefer this download site but it is sometimes busy.
10. LastPass password manager
Like many PC users, I use a lot of sites and services that require a log in with a password. Complex and different passwords for different sites are an absolute requirement these days and I suspect that only people with total recall can get along without a password manager. My favorite is LastPass. It works on multiple platforms and has served me well. LastPass is a top pick from Gizmo’s and a review can be found here. There is also an article here.
11. PDF-XChange PDF viewer
PDF documents are so ubiquitous that you have to have a PDF reader but here I deviate from listing an app that I have been using for a long time. Over the years I have tried a succession of PDF readers, beginning with Adobe. But Adobe became so bloated and such a security hazard that I ditched it and used Foxit for a while. Then Foxit started trying to foist unwanted components on users so I then tried Sumatra for bare-bones reading with no editing capability. However, the more fully featured PDF-XChange viewer is more versatile and is now my choice. It is a top pick at Gizmo’s and a review can be found here.
12. CCleaner system cleaner
Finding this well-known program on the list will be no surprise to Gizmo’s readers – it is a very popular way to keep a system tidy. I confess that I don’t use CCleaner that often any more but it is still standard on all my systems. It is a top pick at Gizmo’s and a review is here.