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Software is the backbone of any computer installation. Whether you’ve just purchased a new PC or reinstalled Windows, the first thing you’ll do is likely install all sorts of useful programs. While there are dozens of amazing Windows programs The Best Windows Software The Best Windows Software Windows is swimming in a sea of free applications. Which ones can you trust and which ones are the best? If you're unsure or need to solve a specific task, consult this list. Read More , knowing which tools are essential makes setting up a new installation easy.

In no particular order, let’s step through twelve Windows apps everyone should install right away, along with alternatives for each category.

1. Internet Browser: Google Chrome

Our top pick in this category is Google Chrome. It’s still super-speedy, includes little conveniences like instantly searching Google for an image, and hosts a great library of extensions. Throw in cross-platform syncing that lets you open your desktop tabs on your phone and vice-versa, and you’ve got a fantastic browser for all purposes.

Chrome isn’t without its faults, however. Plenty of people dislike Chrome, but the good news is that you have plenty of other fantastic browsers to choose from. Firefox lets you customize everything, Opera is criminally underrated, and lesser-known contenders like Maxthon Nitro are worth a look, too.

Meanwhile, Microsoft Edge doesn’t deserve a place as your default browser yet.


2. Cloud Storage: Dropbox

Once a novelty, storing information in “the cloud” has become an everyday occurrence. Dropbox is the cloud app you should install. The 2 GB of free storage isn’t much, though you can increase that by referring friends and other small tasks. Dropbox offers an app for every major device so you can take your files anywhere.

It’s also super easy to share files with others, and the service sports a great interface on the web and desktop. Whether you use it for backup, as a cloud flash drive, or for setting up shared folders with others, you can’t go wrong with Dropbox.

You can take advantage of alternative cloud services in conjunction with Dropbox to get more free space and separate your files. Google Drive (our guide) offers an impressive 15 GB for free, and you can upgrade to 100 GB for only $2 per month. OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud software, comes installed on Windows 8 and 10, and while Microsoft cut the free storage significantly, OneDrive remains a solid choice, too. Whichever you choose, make sure you read our tips on using cloud storage creatively or in ways you might not have thought of.

3. Music Streaming: Spotify

Years ago, listening to music on your desktop meant painstakingly importing and organizing a collection of MP3s. No longer; music streaming services eliminate the need for buying individual albums physically or digitally.

There are several music streaming services in the market, but we recommend Spotify. Its ad-supported free plan lets you listen to as much music as you like, and the $10 Premium upgrade is definitely worth it for avid listeners. Spotify also has a dedicated Windows app (and a great web app), while Apple Music requires the bloated iTunes and Google Play Music is web-only.

If you’re invested in Apple or Google’s ecosystems, check out Apple Music or Google Play Music, respectively. Both are similar to Spotify Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? While there are lots of music streaming services around, there are three major ones that stand out above the others: Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. But which is best? Read More , so a totally different service like Napster might suit you better. Don’t even bother with SoundCloud Go We Tried SoundCloud Go So You Don't Have To We Tried SoundCloud Go So You Don't Have To SoundCloud Go is a new premium music streaming service designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, but is it worth paying for? Read More , though.

4. Office Suite: LibreOffice

Chances are, you’ll need a tool that lets you work with documents, spreadsheets, and presentations at some point. You might think that paying for the latest version of Microsoft Office is the only way to do this, but that’s far from the truth 6 Ways You Can Use Microsoft Office Without Paying For It 6 Ways You Can Use Microsoft Office Without Paying For It Read More .

No Windows user should be without LibreOffice. It’s a completely free and powerful office suite that includes alternatives to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and more. Once you get used to a few small aesthetic differences from MS Office, you’ll be flying through your work with LibreOffice.

Note that OpenOffice, a popular alternative, is basically a dead program at this point, so you shouldn’t use that one. If you don’t want to use LibreOffice, try FreeOffice or WPS Office. For those who can’t get by without Microsoft Office, look into Office 365. It offers a much better deal than buying Office 2016 on its own 5 Good Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy Office 2016 5 Good Reasons Why You Should NOT Buy Office 2016 Should you buy the standalone package version of Office 2016? We present our case why we think you shouldn't and show you what you can do instead. Read More , including a terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage.

5. Image Editor: Paint.NET

Whether you want to try your hand at image manipulation, need a way to blur sensitive info from photos, or want to recolor/retouch old photos, everyone should have an image editing program installed. You probably think of Photoshop as the gold standard for this, but there are plenty of free tools that are more accessible for the average user.

Paint.NET is our top choice. It’s far more powerful than Microsoft Paint, but doesn’t overwhelm you with all sorts of confusing icons and choices. You can easily blur out parts of an image, auto-level photos to make them look better, and add text and shapes to your pictures in just a few clicks. Plenty of plugins allow you to expand its functionality, too.

If you find Paint.NET too basic, GIMP is a more advanced solution. For more choices, have a look at the best photo editing programs for novices.

6. Security: Panda Free Antivirus

While you can take steps to protect your PC without an antivirus program, it’s smart to keep one installed. There’s plenty of debate about which antivirus is the best, and no tool is perfect. However, some rise above the rest.

For most users, we recommend Panda Free Antivirus. It’s a cloud-based solution, so it doesn’t bog down your system resources. Setup is quick and easy, and if you want to set up scheduled scans or exceptions, you can. People who just want a set-and-forget solution, though, won’t even have to touch Panda once it’s set up.

After you’ve installed it, take a minute to disable the promotional ads. You can do this by opening the app, clicking the three-bar menu at the top-right, and choosing Settings. Under the General tab, scroll down and uncheck Show Panda news, and you won’t hear from Panda unless there’s a problem.

If you don’t like Panda, check out Avira Free Antivirus or 360 Total Security. We used to advise against using Microsoft Security Essentials, but the revamped Windows Defender got a big boost in Windows 10 4 Reasons to Use Windows Defender in Windows 10 4 Reasons to Use Windows Defender in Windows 10 In the past, Windows Defender was overshadowed by other options, but now it's quite a contender. Here are a few reasons why you should consider dropping your security suite in favor of Windows Defender. Read More , so it’s worth a try if you don’t like any other options.

Further, in this category, we recommend a blended solution What Security Software Should You Be Using in Windows 10? What Security Software Should You Be Using in Windows 10? Despite being bundled with its own security tool, Windows 10 needs additional software to keep your data secure and make your online experiences safe. But which security software should you choose for WIndows 10? Read More . In addition to your normal antivirus app, you should keep a copy of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free installed for occasional deep scans.

7. Media Player: VLC

With YouTube’s popularity, you probably do most of your video viewing in a web browser. However, you should still keep a solid player around on your desktop for when you need to play media files locally.

For this task, nothing beats VLC Media Player. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of media players, capable of playing nearly every format imaginable. Whether you need to play videos recorded on your ancient cell phone or in some weird format you’ve never heard of before, VLC will get the job done. It’s also capable of playing audio, along with all sorts of other tricks.

You might not break it out often, but give VLC a download and save yourself the hassle of messing with video codecs or using the awfully insecure QuickTime.

If you don’t like VLC, there are several other awesome media players The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows The Top 5 Free Media Players for Windows Strong media player apps always rise to the top and it's not important which one you use. The best media player for you is the one you most enjoy using. We suggest the following... Read More to choose from.

8. PC Cleaning / Management: CCleaner

Over time, Windows builds up cruft and useless files that take up space. There’s only one tool you need in this category to keep your system lean and clean. CCleaner is our favorite disk cleaner and the foundation to a clean Windows 10 system The Best Way to Clean Windows 10: A Step-by-Step Guide The Best Way to Clean Windows 10: A Step-by-Step Guide If your Windows 10 PC needs cleaning, here are the tools and a step-by-step process to get it squeaky clean again. Read More , but it packs so many more useful features inside its toolkit.

Aside from cleaning the caches of all kinds of software, CCleaner lets you easily disable startup programs, find which files are taking up the most space, clean up your messy context menu, and create a quick text file of all installed programs.

You should stay away from the useless Registry cleaner, but everything else CCleaner offers is top-notch.

9. Screenshots: ShareX

Screenshots are useful for everything from recording funny moments to having a record of information, so you need a better tool for the job. Windows’ basic Snipping Tool for grabbing screenshots, however, only provides a barebones feature set.

You won’t find a better free screenshot tool than ShareX. With tons of capture methods, a powerful built-in editor based on Greenshot, automated steps after you take a screenshot, and extra tools like a color grabber and ruler, ShareX has an impressive feature set for no cost.

We recently compared the best screenshot tools for Windows The Best Tools to Grab Screenshots in Windows The Best Tools to Grab Screenshots in Windows Are you often taking screenshots? Upgrade your tool to one that meets your needs. We put several free tools to the test and present the best ones for ease of use, editing, and sharing screenshots. Read More if you prefer something a bit slimmer. Though we missed ShareX, it deserves the #1 spot as it supersedes Greenshot in features and options. Whichever you choose, read our guide on taking the perfect screenshot How to Take the Perfect Screenshot in Windows How to Take the Perfect Screenshot in Windows The best way to take a screenshot depends on the version of Windows you're on. We show you the subtle differences, give troubleshooting tips, and reveal the best keyboard shortcuts and tools. Read More to become a master.

10. Backup: CrashPlan

The default Windows backup solutions The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide The Ultimate Windows 10 Data Backup Guide Windows 10 makes data backups effortless. We have summarized every native backup, restore, recovery, and repair option we could find on Windows 10. Use our simple tips and never despair over lost data again! Read More aren’t great. Since you don’t want to lose your precious data, it’s essential to use a backup service 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More .

It’s worth paying for a backup app, but if you want to go free, we like CrashPlan. It lets you back up your computer to an external drive, another computer on your network, or a friend’s computer over the internet for free. You can configure multiple backup locations and everything runs without your monitoring. With the premium plan, you can also back up to CrashPlan’s servers for maximum protection.

If CrashPlan doesn’t fit your needs, have a look at some of the other great backup software The Best Backup Software for Windows The Best Backup Software for Windows Your data is fragile – it only takes one small accident to lose everything. The more backups you make, the better. Here we present the best free backup software for Windows. Read More . Backblaze is a great alternative if you don’t mind paying; it backs up everything so you don’t have to pick individual folders.

11. File Compression and Extraction: PeaZip

Windows includes native support for some zipped files, but anything beyond the basics requires a more powerful tool. While these aren’t super exciting, they’re important for working with any kind of archived files you might encounter.

PeaZip is a great choice for your compression and extraction needs. It’s much more attractive and user-friendly than its competition, and includes useful features like repairing damaged archives and converting their file formats.

For an alternative to PeaZip, check out the other top compression tools The Top 3 File Compression & Extraction Softwares The Top 3 File Compression & Extraction Softwares Need to compress a large file? There's no shortage of file compression and archiving apps for Windows. But which file zipper is best for you? Here are our three top picks. Read More .

12. Messaging: Franz

Chances are that you use at least one messaging service to stay in touch with your friends during the day. With so many options to choose from, there’s no way we could pick the best messaging service, because it all depends on what your friends use. So, why not pick all of them?

Franz is our pick for the best messaging app on Windows. It lets you add accounts from dozens of popular messaging services, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, GroupMe, Hangouts, Discord, and many more.

Franz simply adds a new tab for every service you use, letting you keep up with every group in one window. It’s easier on battery than using browser windows for these apps, and you can close it when it’s time to focus.

Check out more awesome messaging apps if Franz doesn’t support your favorites. If you primarily use older services like AIM and MSN Messenger, Pidgin is the app for you.

Odds and Ends: Five Other Awesome Tools

As a bonus, there are five other programs we think everyone should install. These don’t fit into any of the above categories, so we’ll mention them briefly here.

  • Unchecky automatically watches checkboxes during software installation and makes sure you don’t install any “recommended” junk. Everyone misses these sometimes, so it helps to have a second set of eyes.
  • Ditto Clipboard Manager increases the usefulness of the Windows clipboard many times over. With it, you can keep dozens of copied entries close at hand and search through your clipboard history.
  • F.lux automatically filters blue light from your PC’s screen when the sun goes down, allowing you to continue working at night without a blinding light in your face.

  • Everything provides near-instant search to your entire Windows system. If you need to locate a file and the default search isn’t doing the job, Everything can find it.
  • TreeSize Free allows you to quickly analyze your hard drive usage and see which folders are taking up the most space.

Which Tools Are Essential for Everyone?

Now you know which apps to install right away on a new computer — and they’re all free! If you don’t prefer one of our favorites, you’ll find a suitable alternative without much trouble. We think most users will get plenty of use out of these programs.

Now that you’ve got a solid selection of great software, make sure you remove bloatware How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 Windows 10 comes with several pre-installed apps that take up space on your device and aren't easy to remove. Sounds like bloatware, doesn't it? We show you how to remove these apps. Read More for an optimized system!

Which software do you think is a must-have right away? Share your favorite software, or alternatives to the above, by leaving a comment!

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