8 Better Alternatives To Common Windows Apps

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There is no doubt, Microsoft is going to dominate the operating system market through Windows 7. Who knows where we will be after that. At that point we will likely be looking at some type of open source product, such as Ubuntu?  Maybe even we’ll move to our smart phone(s) full time?

Whatever the case, the Windows operating system still holds dominance on the market. With dominance though, comes much feedback and much modification from the users.

No matter how much you like a certain feature of Windows, there is always someone out there modifying it some way or another. This not only includes some of the integrated features of Windows, such as the Start Menu or Windows Explorer, but also individual applications, such as Notepad and MS Paint.

I have put together a list of the some of the best Windows apps and feature replacements that I could come up with.

1. Vista Start Menu (Start Menu Alternative)

As confusing as the name is, Vista Start Menu not only gets you a Vista-like Start Menu in Windows XP, but also enhances and improves the Start Menu Interface in Windows Vista.

It adds the ability to tab items, quick access to shutdown options, zoom capabilities and simple shortcuts to search on both the local PC and Google.

Windows XP Start Menu Alternative

Other Alternatives:

* JetStart
* Open Menu+

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2. Replace Windows Taskbar with RocketDock

Rocketdock is a Windows taskbar replacement with a Mac-like feel. It’s essentially a combination of the quick launch toolbar, the taskbar and desktop widgets, all rolled into one. It looks incredibly futuristic, it has a very smooth feel, and it doesn’t eat up a lot of resources.

Other Alternatives:

* Moby Dock
* Object Dock

3. ExploreXP – Windows Explorer Replacement

ExplorerXP is a free file manager replacement for Windows Explorer. We’ve previously written about Windows Explorer alternatives in the past, but I have found ExplorerXP to be a much more stripped down version of some of its competitors, while still giving you everything you need at the same time.

It has built in tab ability, folder sizes, quick access to My Computer, Recycle Bin, My Docs, Desktop, multi rename tool, all running on just 410KB of size.

If you are looking to upgrade Windows Explorer with many must-have add-ons, while continuing to use many of its built-in capability, this is the freeware to get.

windows explorer replacement

Other Alternatives:

* Explorer2 Lite
* Q-Dir
* XPlorer
* FreeCommander
* A43
* UltraExplorer

4. Process Explorer – Task Manager Alternative

Process Explorer from Sysinternals is a great Windows task manager alternative to get an in-depth look at all of the running processes on your computer, including where individual executables are located, search capabilities for individual DLLs, plus a much more detailed look at system resources, and where they are being allocated.

task manager alternative

Other Alternatives:

* What’s Running
* Task Manager Extension 2.1
* MKN TaskExplorer

5. Notepad++ : Wordpad / Notepad Replacement

Notepad++ is a much more comprehensive, in-depth textpad editor, with built-in tab ability for multiple documents, drag and drop support, color print capability, zooming, auto completion, bookmarking, and even macros. It’s not your typical plain ole’ Windows notepad or wordpad. It’s built for code writers and programmers, but used and available to all. Overall, it’s a great Notepad replacement for Windows.

wordpad notepad replacement

Other Alternatives:

* Notepad2
* Programmer’s Notepad
* PSPad
* MetaPad
* DocPad
* TED Notepad
* AkelPad

6. Defraggler – Faster Replacement for Windows Defragmenter

Defragmenting your hard drive has become an essential part of keeping your computer running at an optimal speed, and keeping your hard drive in tip top shape. It essentially takes all of the separated files on your hard disk, and pieces them back together so that everything just runs smoother.

Windows, for as far back as I can remember, has always had some type of defrag utility. The problem is that it’s never been that good. Fortunately with time, comes faster computers, smarter programmers and a much better interface. Defraggler appears to have all of this rolled into one. It is incredibly easy to use and understand. It has an incredibly nice interface and most important, it’s incredibly fast.

fast windows defragmenter

Other Alternatives:

* Auslogics
* Contig
* PageDefrag
* Five Programs To Defragment Your PC.

7. LogMeIn Free – Windows Remote Desktop Alternative

I was amazed when a co-worker referred me to this website, a couple of years ago. The incredible speed, security and capability sold me from day one. The LogMeIn Free version lacks printing and file transfers, but if you are simply trying to access your home or work computer without ever having to touch a firewall, LogMeIn is the best way to go. From all indications, it sounds like it’s the best free alternative to ‘GoToMyPC’ as well.

windows remote desktop alternatives

Other Alternatives:

* UltraVNC
* TightVNC
* CrossLoop

8. Replace Paint with Gimp

Gimp is quickly becoming a strong competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop. It comes bundled with a very similar interface, it has many of the same features as Adobe’s massive product, and it has plenty of tutorials via YouTube or blogs, to go along with it.

As far as a replacement for Microsoft’s Paint, I don’t think it even falls into the same category. However, it is free, and can easily become a full-time replacement for Paint. Keep your eye out for future MakeUseOf tutorials, in regards to Gimp. We had a few Gimp tips already.

Other Alternatives:
* Paint.NET
* PhotoFiltre

As you can see, there are plenty of alternative options out there for many facets of Microsoft Windows. I didn’t dive into the most obvious of items, such as Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, but I gave a fairly in depth breakdown of many of the free replacment apps available for many different versions of Windows, but specifically for XP and Vista.

Do you have additional suggestions for alternatives? Do you have more items you’d like to see replaced in Windows? Please leave your feedback!

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61 Comments - Write a Comment



Why is kessels.com/JkDefrag not mentioned?

T.J. Mininday

I know there is going to a lot of alternatives probably not mentioned. I tried come up with as many as I could find.


There is a lot of misperception about defragging, eg if you have Vista than the built in, automatic utility works as good as any replacement.



I use the Vista Start Menu (in XP) and I wouldn’t want to live without it. GIMP is also a great photo editor. I tried Notepad++ a while back and didn’t care for it.


same here



on your rocketdock screenshot, what is that weather docklet? I can’t find one like that.

Scott R.

Erm… that looks an awful lot like ObjectDock to me, not RocketDock. (Which would explain why Rob can’t find the weather docklet, which comes default with OD.)

It’s also kind of cute that you call GIMP a strong competitor to Photoshop and an MS Paint replacement in the same post. Hehe.

T.J. Mininday

I’m glad you pointed this out Rob. I am now discovering while I was deciding what dock to choose, RocketDock vs. ObjectDock, I put in the ObjectDock Screenshot for the RocketDock section.

The screenshot is actually ObjectDock.


Rocketdock’s effect seems more smooth to me… <_<



IMO Paint.net is better than The GIMP as far as replacing Paint goes as PDN has a very similar UI.

T.J. Mininday

Yeah, I’m not a big Photoshop/Gimp/PDN guy. I just know that it seems like Gimp is talked about more often.

Dmytro Lapshyn

If I may suggest a kind of a bottom line:

* Paint .NET is a free and more powerful replacement for MS Paint for creating raster graphics
* GIMP is a free, but less powerful alternative to Photoshop for photo retouching, collages and similar image processing tasks. GIMP, I believe, is still powerful enough for most amateur tasks.
* InkScape is a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator for drawing vector graphics. An ability to export graphics as XAML makes it attractive to amateur or open-source WPF or Silverlight developers.

Scott M.

While GIMP may be technically less powerful than Photoshop (although it has many features and plug-ins that Photoshop does not), it is unbelievably powerful for free software. It is useful for far, far more than just photo retouching, etc. Look up GIMP tutorials, and you will see just a hint of what can be done with it.

I have used GIMP for nearly ten years now. It is one of the first things I (re-)download when I get a new computer. As a Web developer on a budget, I wouldn’t dream of being without it.

Now InkScape on the other hand, is far too buggy to use as a replacement for Illustrator, although InkScape is much more user-friendly.



I am not a themes guy which eats lot of system resources ,I use classic start menu .Mininday you forgotten to include most important alternate to Msconfig Autoruns which not only removes startup entries but also very useful in removing suspicious entries in registry relating to viruses .



Paint.NET > Paint

EditPadLite > Notepad / Wordpad :)

– Reelix



microsoft mesh is a good alternative to logmein free with the added benefits of file synchronization between machines.


Curious why Teamviewer didn’t make that list. Has everything logmein free has and more. Logmein seems to have a slight performance lead, but Teamviewer has way more features for free99 :)



9. Chrome or Firefox or Maxthon – Internet Explorer.
10. Miranda or Pidgin – Windows Messenger / Live Messenger.
11. WinAMP and Media Player Classic – Windows Media Player.
12. ImgBurn – Whatever crap is in your current Windows.



Have tried a good few Notepad replacements (both freeware and payware) and Notepad++ is easily my favourite.
I suppose it’s all down to individual requirements and preferences but as a general and as a programming replacement it’s second to none.


Ajay Pathak

notepadd++ is really good application other applications never tried so can’t say any thing about theam



ProcessExplorer is the way to go. Google for it, and you’ll see its on Microsoft’s Technet. It helps so much when determining where resources are leaked to, or what’s got a lock on a file.

And I agree with GIMP too. Anything GNU gets automatic points in my book, but it is very powerful, and I’ve never needed anything more than it can provide.

Defragging is overrated. With today’s fast drives, disk seek times are rarely (but occasionally) the bottleneck in a system.

For remote desktop, Ultra VNC is the way to go. I run it on all of my servers and computers, and at work we have a complex setup of 10 sorting machines that can all be controlled from anywhere in the world. (Yes, after thick VPN security).

And finally, text editor? I can’t believe PSPad wasn’t mentioned on here. Again, this is our standard at work, but after I experienced it there, it has become my new standard at home as well. It’s quick and lightweight, and has syntax/highlight support for all the common programming languages, as well as support for user-defined highlighters. Even has built in diff (side-by-side comparison) as well as a hex editor! What more do you need?

As for the browser war? Honestly, I can’t stop using Google Chrome :-)

T.J. Mininday

Thanks for the awesome feedback. These are the types of comments I was looking for.



Windows 95 was the first Windows with built-in defrag that I remember. Before that I think we all used Norton Utilities from the command prompt.


Dwayne Samuels

Yeah! 3rd party apps ROCK! lol, i love em’



These all seem fine.

But just fine. My MacBook had all of this, but better, and more.

Once you go Mac, you never go back.


^^lol…fanboyz…not to enable this sort of post, but I’d like to here your side by side comparison of these apps to the -native- mac equivalent.

Good luck!


I had a mac once, it was cute.


Myo Kyaw Htun

7 or 8 Apps? I saw you guy put 8 apps and the title said ‘7 Better Alternatives …’ .



Thanks from all of us at CrossLoop for the mention, TJ – we have always had good reviews in the past by you guys!
Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions…..



Interesting post. I’ll be sure to check some of these out.



I’m surprised in the LogMeIn alternatives, you don’t put up Techinline (techinline.com) Unlike the free LogMeIn, it allows for files to be transferred and is a much simpler setup than LogMeIn because it doesn’t even require any installation to take place.


Techline is not free and the paid LogMeIn services offer much more functionality.


T.J. Mininday

I’ve had the post updated appropriately. The screenshot previously was in fact ObjectDock, and there are 8 alternatives not seven. Thanks for the feedback everybody!



Paint.NET is waaay better than GIMP so I’d rather you had *it* up there.

Alek Davis

It depends on what you want to do. One limitation of Paint.NET is that it does not allow saving text layers, at least I could not figure out how to do this. GIMP does not have this problem.


I’m really looking forward to the 4.0 release of Paint.NET. Re-editable text and custom brushes are features I really look forward to.

I just hate how PDN isn’t portable. I’d love to carry it in my portable hard drive (WD MyPassport)


Morgan Barrett

Im new to this website I found this article on STUMBLE UPON and I thought I would leave a comment

Gimp NO WAY…
…PAINT.NET rules you can get it at getpaint.net

Rocket Dock NO WAY…
…OBJECT DOCK rules you can get it at stardock.com/products/objectdock

P.S. Stumble Upon RULES!!!!

P.P.S. Internet Explore NO WAY MOZZILA FIREFOX Yes get it at mozilla-europe.org/en/firefox

P.P.P.S Windows Media Player NO WAY VLC PLAYER Yes get it at videolan.org/vlc



My notepad replacement has been EditPad Lite for years:


But I don’t code with it.


Windows Guy

Nice share. You could make it a perfect list by adding Office 2007 and MSN



In reference to LogMeIn, I looked into them for my company; their enterprise products are impressive, but definitely not free. The free version works fine if you only need assisted access (someone on the other end to ‘click’ you in), and, in that respect, I found Crossloop to be just as effective, and easier to walk a ‘newbie’ through.

Otherwise, if you are setting up a client to automate getting in with a password, UltraVNC is slim and GUI-less enough to have almost no complications. I’ve also had a good experience with GBridge; I like its VPN approach and use it to access my home files all the time.



What I have found to be the case is that what comes with an operating system is the baseline. Especially true of proprietary OSes. The subject being alternatives in Windows. Not all are free, For E-mail try Thunderbird or Incredimail.com For Internet search utility Copernic.com Perfect Disk (defragment). For a number of good free tools freshdevices.com is my choice. Openoffice.com is a solid staple as well. I prefer Firefox 3.xx as an internet browser.



Well done. Excellent post. Rocketdock is working very well for me.



Dont forget Ashampoo’s Magic Defrag. It automatically defrags your drives when the processor and disk activity is idle. You never have to run anything, it just does it for you. No, it’s not free, but it’s a good product.



Gorsh! Why dont Microsoft use these apps…



Good list, its true that windows inbuilt defrag is not so good, its ver. 1.0 of Diskeeper actually (way too old).
Wonder why firefox, open office and thunderbird is not mentioned..!!


Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice probably are not mentioned because anyone who likes to explore the internet and play around with various software knows about these programs. Even I do.


kırma eleme

Very useful list. I using defraggler and Notepad++.


Atlas IT

Nice list. I agree with most. Particularly LogMeIn Free. The consulting firm i currently work with uses it for over 800 computers and it’s great for remote desktop access over the web without the need for firewall changes. The interface lets you group the computers and label them whatever you like.

I think that defragmentation is actually less of a concern today than it used to be because drive fragmentation occurs less often. With these mega-drives and people only browsing the Internet, there is plenty of room for Windows to contiguously store large amounts of data without a great deal of fragmentation. Maybe twice a year it’s needed anymore and using the commandline ‘defrag’ scheduled through a batch has been working for me, but I’m not against new things so I’ll try some of these out and see if there’s any kind of improvement.

T.J. Mininday

Wow, I can’t imagine getting that installed on that many PCs, but I’m sure it’s well worth the work. I know I love it.



I use Ubuntu – so already use Gimp, gnome-do menu (far better than Vista menu), and never worry about defragmenting the new NTFS filesystem.



An alternative to logmein is teamviewer.com, its made by the developers at uvnc i think. I have used it loads of times with complete n00bs (family, co-workers etc…) very good, not too bad on speed too



Very Good Collection.I have discussed in brief in my Blog to make your Windows Xp Appearance Totally different from others,

Top 10 Ways to Tweak your Windows Xp



Well, considering that I hadn’t defragged my HDD for several weeks, I decided to give #6 (Defraggler) a shot. And there is just one word for what I felt. DISAPPOINTMENT!
Defraggler does not do a job any better than the standard Windows XP defragger AND takes about 10x as long. I would never recommend this. Worse still I would WARN people because this App WASTES time as if it were as readily available as water.

If you want a seriously better defragger than the windows solution get JKDefrag. Its FASTER and HAS MORE FEATURES!

And just to illustrate:
I ran a defrag with Defraggler on a 500GB Sata2 HDD (7200rpm/16MB) and after analysis it said there were a mere 10GB fragmented. I started at 8PM and its now 12:15AM AND ITS STILL NOT FINISHED! It actually says that it only is at 66% now. IT’S REDICULOUS!

Rest of the rig:
AMD X2 3800+ @3Ghz
2GB DDR @500Mhz

Stay away from that app!



just wanted to say that Defraggler is by far one of the best defrag tools ive ever used; ive never once seen any kind of improvement after using the windows built in one, and i think i started that back in the windows 98, this one blows the built in one away – thanks for the rest of the list!



For a Notepad replacement, I’ve been using TextPad for years (http://www.textpad.com). It’s great for coding, system configuration, just about everything. It has tabbed files, custom file types, color coding, clip libraries and a lot of extensions, though some of them are rather old.




I clicked the link above for X-Plorer, and when I clicked their download link, AVG immediately detected a virus and moved it to the vault.



I would vote for Textpad as a replacement if you want to open exceptionally large text files.
We had an application that would create log files up to 1 GB in size. You can’t open them in notepad, wordpad, word, etc, regardless of how much RAM or processing power you have.



GIMP is a great replace for Paint (actually GIMP is a image processor while Paint is for drawing).
Notepad++ is so awesome that I bet it is already on every designers’ computer.



Great list of tools here for. I have just replaced vista as a whole with Linux.




Just wanted to point out that the free version of Logmein does not need ‘assisted access’ once installed. It will run in the background and allow you access to the machine remotely with zero intervention from the end user. I use it all the time for my family, personal and some work machines.

Teamviewer is a good option for both assisted access like Crossloop, or unattended access. Like Logmein it just takes the correct setup…both good in my opinion, but currently Logmein has better performance.

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