As a Windows user, you have access to countless free applications. Which ones can you trust and which ones are the best?
Consult this list for ideas and discover apps you didn’t know existed. We’re continuously seeking out the best Windows software for all your needs. Most applications recommended here are free, and you can quickly find what you need by browsing the listed programs by category.
Note that some installers pack bloatware, useless adware that’s pre-selected to install. It’s the bane of freeware. Thus, Unchecky should be the very first app from this list you should install because it can help you catch checkboxes that commit you to download and installing bundled apps you do not need.
Antivirus software is a cornerstone in protecting your computer from external attacks. While it should not be your only protection, you must install a single antivirus application only! Installing several antivirus tools on the same computer can potentially cause issues, to the point where they lock your computer up.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender features a dark and straightforward interface with no options overload. The Autopilot mode allows you to “be protected without being bothered.” You get to enjoy the best protection without having to make any decisions yourself. If you want to be completely hands-off with your antivirus protection, Bitdefender should be your #1 choice.
Download: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (Free)
Do you think Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is missing from this list? It remains a popular tool. However, we strongly advise against using MSE. If you are running Windows 8 or up, use Windows Defender instead of MSE and complement it with a third-party antivirus tool.
The following tools complement your antivirus application. While they might have overlapping features, both with your antivirus and each other, you can install one or more of these programs on a single computer.
The popular anti-malware scanner detects and removes worms, trojans, rootkits, rogues, spyware, and any other malware that infected your PC. If you are not interested in the premium version, do nothing after the free trial expires, but remember that you will have to initiate scans manually.
Download: Malwarebytes (Free)
Spybot Search & Destroy
Spybot Search & Destroy’s free version targets spyware only and compliments your main antivirus app. Home and professional versions include antivirus and other advanced features for a small annual fee. Spybot offers an ad-free download via its mirrors.
Download: Spybot Search & Destroy (Free)
Should I Remove It?
A good firewall completes your basic security setup.
ZoneAlarm Free Firewall
ZoneAlarm’s free firewall lets you control the traffic to and from your computer and protects you from malicious attacks. As a bonus, you get 5 GB of free online storage space so that you can create a secure backup of your most important data. You can also install ZoneAlarm’s free antivirus.
The pro firewall includes an advanced firewall, identity protection, online backup for your sensitive files, free updates for 12 months, free customer support, and 30-day money-back guarantee.
Download: ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2019 (Free)
Note: This installer comes packed with Yahoo. Click on customise installer in the respective window so that you can deselect the Yahoo default search engine, new tab, and homepage option.
Did you ever wish you could turn back time to recover your lost files? With the following tools, you need neither a DeLorean nor a flux capacitor; a little luck will do. Just remember not to write any data to the disk you wish to recover files from.
The Recuva wizard can take you through the process of recovering files, or you can manually pick drives to be scanned. Designed for intuitive use by the makers of CCleaner. The professional version also includes virtual hard drive support, automatic updates, and premium customer support.
Download: Recuva (Free)
Probably the most popular tool in this category. Easy to use and thorough, even comes with a hunter mode that will track down and eliminate programs based on icons or shortcuts on your screen.
The pro version supports forced uninstall, bulk uninstall, extended scanning for leftover files, real-time change monitoring with log files, multi-level backup system, print and export a list of installed programs, and lots more.
Download: Revo Uninstaller (Free)
IObit’s Uninstaller sorts all your programs into categories that make it easier to find applications you installed recently, software that takes up much space, or tools you barely ever use. This utility also allows you to quickly get rid of browser toolbars and plugins and Windows apps.
The Pro version can delete bundled programs and plug-ins, uninstall malicious browser extensions, it features adware removal, 1-click updates for installed applications, free technical support, and more.
Download: IObit Uninstaller (Free)
Other tools in this category:
Backup & Sync
When your computer came with Windows 8 or 10, you do not need a fleet of backup tools. The latest versions of Windows come with a built-in Time Machine backup called File History. Furthermore, with OneDrive, you can sync files and folders across devices. It never hurts to have alternative backup solutions, in any case.
Free for non-commercial and home use, this backup tool lets you save your disk clone or image to local and network-based storage media. To speed up regular backups and reduce storage space, you can use differential images. Use backup templates to set up scheduled backups without missing critical files.
The Home version also packs incremental backups to save storage space, rapid delta cloning and restore for fast disk recovery, file and folder backup, backup encryption, ransomware protection, and more.
Download: Macrium Reflect (Free)
Download: Macrium Reflect Home ($69.95 for one license; 30-day free trial)
Open source folder comparison and synchronisation tool optimised for ease of use. Also available for Linux and Mac and as portable Windows app. We thought it was a better sync tool than Microsoft’s SyncToy, which has since been discontinued. Be sure to deselect bloatware during setup.
Download: FreeFileSync (Free)
If nags are a no-go, try the following alternatives:
EaseUS Todo Backup
This is a free backup solution that includes a disaster recovery option. The tool can back up files and folders, create an image of the entire operating system, or clone disks to migrate data. Supports comprehensive full backup, incremental backup, and differential backup.
Download: EaseUS Todo Backup (Free)
PC Maintenance & Security
Third-party applications can impact your system’s performance. They can accumulate temporary files and huge caches, launch with Windows and consume resources in the background while getting outdated over time.
PC maintenance tools can help you keep your computer running smoothly on the software side or analyse issues with your hardware. Also, they can maintain your privacy by removing traces of your PC or online activities.
CCleaner is the PC maintenance gold standard. The award-winning optimisation tool scores high points all around. Clean junk files, make your browsing safer or speed up your startup times. If you have to use its registry cleaner, be sure to back up the registry first.
The Pro version gets you real-time monitoring, scheduled cleaning, automatic updates, and premium support.
Download: CCleaner (Free)
Like CCleaner, Glary Utilities offers comprehensive PC cleaning utility. The free version includes over 20 tools that can fix PC issues and improve performance with one click.
Download: Glary Utilities (Free)
An advanced system information tool for your PC, made by the creators of CCleaner. The free version provides you with an overview of all your system internals, including your operating system, CPU, RAM, motherboard, graphics, storage, optical drives, audio, peripherals, and your network.
The Pro version adds automatic updates and premium support.
Download: Speccy (Free)
Download: Speccy Pro ($19.95)
- CPU-Z is the best app to gather primary CPU, mainboard, memory, and system data. Watch out for bloatware from CPUID when installing PC-Wizard or CPU-Z.
Software Update Monitor, short SUMo, monitors your installed software for available updates and downloads them for you. Be sure to deselect the default homepage setting during installation and click Cancel when prompted for it again! You can also quit the survey.
Download: SUMo (Free)
In addition to the tools above, we also recommend the following:
Google’s minimal design browser that went from zero to hero in record time. Best browser if you are already sold on Google products. Receives frequent automatic updates and supports extensions from the Google Play store.
Download: Chrome (Free)
With more than 6,000 add-ons, Firefox remains the most customizable browser on the market, offering its users more freedom than Chrome ever will. Should you switch from Chrome to Firefox too? The latest Firefox Quantum is faster, more lightweight, and more private than Chrome.
Download: Firefox (Free)
Opera has pioneered new features like tabs or the speed dial. It is working hard to remain the fastest browser on the market. Its latest features are a built-in free VPN and battery saver. Moreover, it supports Chrome extensions. Is it finally time to drop Chrome for Opera?
Download: Opera (Free)
Other notable browsers:
Mozilla’s trusty and easy to use email client. Supports tabs, add-ons, and is also available as a portable app.
Download: Thunderbird (Free)
Microsoft’s ultra-popular cross-platform VoIP application to stay in touch with friends and family. Has reasonable rates for calling mobiles and landlines and attractive subscription packages. To compete with Google Hangouts, Skype now supports group video chats for non-premium accounts.
Download: Skype (Free)
Image Viewers ^
FastStone Image Viewer
All in one image browser, converter, and editor that has never let us down. Supports all major graphics formats, including RAW and other digital camera formats. The makers of FastStone Image Viewer also offer a Capture tool and a Photo Resizer.
Download: FastStone Image Viewer (Free)
Simplistic on the surface, hide advanced features under the hub, yet intuitive and easy to use. Classic image viewer, which you can also apply for simple edits or batch-processing files. Now available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. An extensive plugins library is available separately.
Download: IrfanView (Free)
Cross-platform image viewer, organiser, and converter that comes with a vast selection of filters and supports 500 different formats.
Download: XnView (Free)
Advanced open-source and cross-platform image editor, often touted as free Photoshop alternative. See our review for a quick GIMP walkthrough.
Download: GIMP (Free)
Free image editing tool with an intuitive interface for beginners and comprehensive features for intermediate users. Supports layers, unlimited undo, special effects, power tools, plugins, and when you are stuck, you can rely on a selection of tutorials and an active online community. See our Paint.NET review for more insights.
Download: Paint.NET (Free)
Potential alternatives to GIMP and Paint.NET, with a focus on photo editing:
We also recommend the following image editors:
- Inkscape for professionally editing vector graphics.
- XnConvert for batch processing images.
- RIOT for quickly optimising photos.
A simple tool to create animated GIFs. Use the app as a camera to record a series of image frames, which you can then edit, before turning them into a GIF.
Download: GifCam (Free)
The free open source 3D creation suite supports everything from modelling and animation to video editing and game creation. It has long been the gold standard of 3D imaging tools. Blender (Free)Download:
Advanced cross-platform audio player with the customizable user interface. Supports gapless playback, can rip audio CDs and transcode supported audio formats and is best used with custom keyboard shortcuts.
Download: foobar2000 (Free)
If you have a large media collection, MediaMonkey can help you keep it organised. It manages video and audio files, playlists, and can fill in missing track information automatically.
The Gold version gets you bit-perfect rips, support for customised collections, on-the-fly audio/video conversions, advanced searches and auto-playlists, unlimited MP3 encoding, a sleep timer, and more.
Download: MediaMonkey (Free)
MusicBee is the music manager that turns your computer into a music jukebox. It features auto-tagging, multiple features to optimise the sound quality, can sync your music collection across devices, and even comes in a portable version.
Download: MusicBee (Free)
Streaming music servicecomplete with Facebook integration, iDevice management, and playing music to remote speakers.
Download: Spotify (Free)
Download: Spotify Premium (From 9.99 per month, free trial)
VLC Media Player
Free and cross-platform video player that can play almost any video file. Supports DVDs, CDs, VCDs, and a selection of streaming protocols, including YouTube playlists. It can also rip and transcode videos or record video from your webcam.
Download: VLC Media Player (Free)
Open-source, cross-platform, media converter that can convert video files between many different formats.
Download: HandBrake (Free)
Alternatives to HandBrake:
A cross-platform video transcoder that can read DVDs and Blu-Rays and convert them into free formats. The Blu-Ray feature is a free trial.
Download: MakeMKV (Free)
A high-quality and open-source freeware screen capture utility with support for lossless video output. Perfect for creating screencasts or video tutorials.
Download: CamStudio (Free)
Formerly known as XBMC, KODI is a media centre package for your Home Theater PC (HTPC). It can stream live TV, allowing you to cut the cord on pricey cable TV services.
Download: KODI (Free)
Files & Drives
Copy and move files at maximum speed
Download: TeraCopy (Free)
A free, lightweight and robust FTP client for transferring files to and from the web.
Download: FileZilla (Free)
A feature-packed alternative file manager to Windows File Explorer that uses a dual-pane layout. If all you desire is a file explorer that supports tabs, we recommend Explorer++. For more options, see this article on alternative file explorers.
Download: MultiCommander (Free)
Additional tools in this section:
- 7-Zip, a free archive manager that can extract or compress to ZIP, RAR, and many other archive files.
- Universal Extractor, can decompress and extract files from any type of archive or installer, including ZIP, RAR and EXE files.
- DropIt can automatically sort files based on the file type.
You can never have enough storage space. The advantage of cloud storage is that you can access it from anywhere and as long as the service and your internet are running, you have nothing to worry about. The following are the most popular and reliable options available.
Dropbox is available across platforms and allows you to sync folders and files to the web and other devices connected to your Dropbox account. A great tool to auto-upload photos on your mobile phone. It’s being challenged by Microsoft OneDrive, which offers more storage capacity and potentially better Windows integration.
Download: Dropbox (Free)
The evolution of Google Docs keeps your documents synced between the cloud and your PC.
Download: Google Drive (Free)
Microsoft’s cloud storage solution comes with (now only) 5 GB of space for storing documents and images.
Download: OneDrive (Free)
You do not have to pay for Microsoft Office to get a professional productivity and office suite, one which is open-source and community-supported on top of that.
Download: LibreOffice (Free)
WPS Office Free
Free cross-platform Microsoft Office alternative with a tabbed interface and more reliable support for collaborative features, such as tracking changes and comments. Self-absorbed ads can be a little annoying but are easily ignored.
The Premium version is ad-free and lets you split and merge PDF to Word. The Professional version is a lifetime license with three years of services included.
Download: WPS Office (Free)
A Notepad alternative with tabs and advanced features, useful especially for coders.
Download: Notepad++ (Free)
This is the most lightweight PDF reader. It supports tabs and is packed with keyboard shortcuts. It is also open-source and available as a portable app. Unlike other free PDF readers, it does not feature any editing tools.
Download: Sumatra PDF (Free)
PDFsam, aka PDF, Split and Merge, is a small tool to split, merge, and rotate PDF files any way you like. You can drag-and-drop files onto the tool and mass-edit files. The interface is essential, but the features are advanced.
Download: PDFsam (Free)
- PDFTK Builder is a free graphical interface version of PDFTK to merge, split, decrypt, encrypt, watermark PDF files.
- doPDF can convert over 400 file types to PDF.
Amazon’s Kindle app lets you read and manage your eBook collection from your Windows PC.
Download: Kindle (Free)
Free and open-source eBook manager. Comes with a library to manage your eBooks, can convert eBooks from one format to another, syncs to your reader devices, downloads news from the web and converts it into eBook format functions as an eBook viewer, and can edit eBooks.
Download: calibre (Free)
Powerful virtual desktop manager. Expand your screen with virtual desktops and use them to separate open windows based on tasks. A similar tool is VirtuaWin, a lean desktop manager with a minimalist set of features.
Download: Dexpot (Free)
A cross-platform utility that employs keyboard shortcuts to launch programs and files independently of Windows File Explorer or the Start Menu. If you are looking for a Start Menu alternative, you might also appreciate SyMenu, a portable menu launcher that allows you to organise your applications quickly and easily.
Download: Launchy (Free)
After the demise of Virtual CloneDrive, WinCDEmu has become your best solution to emulate CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. The open-source tool supports ISO, CUE, NRG, MDS/MDF, CCD, and IMG images and can create them via a context menu in Windows Explorer. You can create an unlimited number of virtual drives to mount image files and play them virtually.
By virtualising your discs, you’ll never have to swap discs again. The tool is also ideal if you want to run optical discs on a Windows device that lacks the matching drive.
Download: WinCDEmu (Free)
An open-source and cross-platform BitTorrent client built by volunteers. It’s full-featured, doesn’t bundle adware, and won’t track its users. As a result, it’s lightweight and much more enjoyable to use.
Download: Transmission (Free)
Free and open-source download manager. Allows you to start, stop, and pause your downloads, set bandwidth limitations, and auto-extract archives. Your antivirus may detect it as a threat, but rest assured it’s a false positive. Potentially comes packed with bloatware.
Download: JDownloader (Free)
- Free Download Manager supports HTTP, FTP, and BitTorrent. Can resume broken downloads and you can adjust traffic usage.
VirtualBox is the easiest way to create a virtual machine within Windows. You can install any operating system on your virtual machine and run it like it was a regular program. We have used VirtualBox to run Windows 10 on Linux, and Mac.
Download: VirtualBox (Free)
Alternatively, you can use VMWarePlayer to set up a virtual machine on your computer.
TeamViewer allows you to remote connect to another computer over the internet, either to provide technical as you can get. It’s cross-platform and easy to set up, too.
Download: TeamViewer (Free)
Hiren’s BootCD is one of those apps every techie should carry around. Burn the ISO to a CD or create a bootable USB with Rufus and you’ll always have a digital toolbox with you to fix some common computer issues. Comes with recovery tools, can reset your Windows password, test hardware, compile hardware information, and much more.
Download: Hiren’s BootCD (Free)
Have you tested any of the applications above or have we missed your favourite software?
Let us know! We will improve the list based on our tests and your input.