It’s a fuzzy feeling when you unbox that brand new desktop or laptop and consider how fast and responsive of an experience you’re about to be in for. If you’re not careful, that fuzzy feeling could quickly turn into anxiety and annoyance once you get things up and running. When you purchase a new computer, treat it like a new car. Take care of it and give it no more or less than what it needs. You don’t want to be too hard on it. Is there really a need for you to download six different media players? None of that!
There are a lot of things to get right into downloading when you’re setting up your new system, but I feel like there are a dozen tools that come far before everything else. If you consider buying a new PC, or you’ve just purchased one, go down this list and let me make your job easier on you.
I’m sure this comes as no surprise. The only thing you’re going to be wanting to use Internet Explorer for is to navigate to the download page for Google Chrome.
There are a lot of running jokes in regards to Internet Explorer users, but that’s not what it’s about. Google Chrome is simply the best browser available today, considering the big picture. It’s secure, updated regularly, includes many third-party extensions to enhance its features, and is considered the standard. When a developer builds a new website, they take into account that you’ll probably be using Chrome when you give it a visit. Using an obscure browser like RockMelt or Maxthon could come with some consequences, for that reason.
I was late to Chrome and remained loyal to Firefox until a year ago. When I made the switch, the difference in browser performance was as obvious as it could be. Google Chrome is the browser you should be using if you’re running Windows.
Does everyone really need Dropbox? Ask yourself, “Do I go places? Do I move between devices often? Do I need a simple way to share files? Do I use a PC for both work and home?” If you answered yes to any number of those, as the average person should, Dropbox can benefit you.
There are a whole mess of Dropbox alternatives, but it’s the most popular and some might say the best Windows software of its kind for a reason. You’re given an extremely generous amount of storage to synchronize your data to. While Dropbox does offer more extensive paid plans, most won’t need to look into that. I’ve got a paid subscription, but then again I’ve got 10GB of music, 25GB in ROMs, 30GB in portable applications, and… yeah.
Look at Dropbox in the same light as I do: it’s almost like having a flash drive in the cloud. By installing and syncing Dropbox on a new PC, I’m adding about 100GB of data to that computer with zero effort. This includes many soft-installed applications that my new computer is inheriting without the stress on my startup or registry. There are so many uses and tricks to Dropbox that it’d be more difficult to find a reason not to install it.
Find me someone who doesn’t like music. I’ll be impressed. Spotify doubles as one of the easiest ways to stream music for free and a great solution to managing your personal music collection.
If you’ve been an internet freak for years like I have, you remember the times when we had to use a P2P client to download MP3s (legally, that is), and then we’d get to listen to them in Winamp, or whatever media player was popular at the time. Spotify has changed everything.
With Spotify, it takes seconds to search through a huge database of music. With a click, you’re listening. Yes, Spotify has a commercial here and there. Yes, Spotify doesn’t offer a lot of underground and hard-to-find tunes. Spotify does have have what the typical listener wants though, and that’s easy access to new and popular music without forgetting to provide us with what is needed to manage our own music.
Evernote, Spotify, and Dropbox round out my holy trinity of non-browser applications. These three may be the most useful pieces of software that don’t come pre-installed on a Windows system.
If you’re a student, come on. You don’t need to ask why the world’s most popular note-taking application (available on practically every platform imaginable) is worth your time. An elephant never forgets, and neither does a good student who practices note-taking using a tool as useful as this.
I’m not a student, though. I work from home. I want to remember things. I need a place, other than good ol’ Notepad, to write down things that are important to me. It’s almost an added bonus that Evernote completely synchronizes all of this critical data to a web interface, mobile application, and more. Ahead of these alternative platforms though, the desktop application is the truest and most useful experience with Evernote.
Put simply, Evernote is the best way to record data. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking notes freehand or clipping them from the web using their browser extension. We all want to keep and remember pieces of text, and Evernote makes that easier than any application ever has.
OpenOffice deserves a spot on this list simply because of how extensive and complete this bundle of software is. It’s a suite of six different applications: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math, and Base.
OpenOffice literally eliminates the need to even look in the direction of Microsoft Office. There’s no need to pay for any alternative software when, in my opinion, OpenOffice does it so much better (with no associated cost). It’s also open source.
OpenOffice Writer is probably the most notable application in the suite, which is OpenOffice’s equivalent to Microsoft Word. Writer is perfect for doing what I do. It’s also great for exporting PDFs, editing web pages through its WYSIWYG editor, and more. If you need something similar to Microsoft Excel, Calc is perfect for that. Calc actually boasts many more features than Excel, and is the much better solution if you’re working with graphed data.
It would be naive to assume that all of you are going to download nothing but installer-packed applications. Everyone needs a way to handle archives, and 7-Zip is the best way to do just that.
WinZip and WinRAR used to control this area. By default, Windows now includes a way to extract ZIP archives. Other popular file extensions, like RAR, are still left unassociated. This is where 7-Zip comes in.
It’s just simple. Handle archives with 7-Zip and extraction will take you a matter of seconds. It’s free, easy to use, and extremely lightweight. Anything with those qualities that is going to enable you to download more necessary software is completely worth getting.
Security is a very big deal. Recently, Microsoft has taken up the responsibility of securing their own OS in real-time by including Microsoft Security Essentials in Windows 8. This is a big step, but it’s not enough. When you monitor your system using the universal standard, you’re ignoring that the creators of malicious material know that. They’re finding ways around it. Malwarebytes is the best fallback available.
Microsoft Security Essentials is considered to be a security suite while Malwarebytes focuses on eliminating system malware. The free version of Malwarebytes does not offer real-time protection, and frankly that’s a good thing. If you’re a responsible user, there’s no need to bog down on system resources like that. Run a scan every week and you’ll be protected nicely.
Malwarebytes has one of the most trusted names in PC security and I’ve used it for years. You should, too.
IrfanView is advertised as an image editor, but it’s more than that. I find IrfanView’s most useful purpose to be viewing media files. No other program does it better.
If you have a folder full of images that you’re trying to browse through and quickly edit by hand, IrfanView is great for that. The slideshow and immediate scrolling that IrfanView offers is something that isn’t replicated in many image editors.
IrfanView can also view video files and scroll through sound files. It’s really easy to resize, rename, optimize, scan, print, and completely batch process files using this editor and viewer. It’s a no-nonsense application that I’ve been using for years, and it’s incredibly easy to get comfortable with. IrfanView should definitely be your default handler for image files.
Piriform puts out fantastic software, and CCleaner is probably their most recognized.
CCleaner is the express lane for keeping your system neat and clean. You can always use Windows-provided tools to go in and clean out the junk files on your hard drive, or use your browser to clear temporary files or cookies, but CCleaner does so much more. CCleaner allows you to clean through files are difficult to find and access manually. Third-party applications like Firefox, Photoshop, Evernote, Notepad++, Audacity, Adobe Air, and more can have their slates wiped clean.
Windows cleaning options are very extensive, allowing you to clear your clipboard, swipe temporary files, clean memory dumps, drop your recent documents and thumbnail cache, and a lot more.
CCleaner is a quality-of-life software that can clean up the messes that we often make of our own PCs.
I’m aware that not everyone plays games. Consider it, though. You have free time in front of your PC. You’re never too old to enjoy games. Give it a try. Should you, Steam is the place to be.
Steam is beloved amongst PC gamers. Spotify is to music as Steam is to games. Steam often comes across as this complex and intimidating software and community to get comfortable with, but it’s incredibly simple. All Steam does is provide a platform where you can find, buy, download, and manage your games from a single interface. You’ll no longer have to worry about sketchy third-party sites, and you’ll have everything in one centralized location.
Another misconception is that Steam is just a store. It doesn’t offer free games. Well, it does. Not only that, but you can add your non-Steam games to the Steam library and launch them from the Steam interface. It’s like a desktop for your games, and it’s made gaming a lot easier and more efficient for me.
Don’t even go as far as to consider using something like Windows Media Player over VLC.
While it is an overall media player, and I find Spotify the best solution to managing your music, VLC is a must-have for those of you who are constantly watching videos or movies online.
VLC gives you every technical aspect of a media player that you’ll need. It’s rather minimalist, yet still manages to come packed with every feature you’d ever want. You’ll never have to go hunting around the web for codecs or compatibility information. You just download VLC, open any video file, and watch. It’s that easy.
I’m awful with graphics and handling images and I’ll be the first to admit it. That being said, I definitely recommend Paint.NET because it makes manipulating image files as easy as can be.
Paint.NET offers every feature you could want in an image editor without overwhelming a newbie like me. It has support for layers, special effects, and an impressive variety of different tools, brushes, and more.
You don’t have to be an expert with images or some Photoshop guru to get started with using Paint.NET, either. The website features a very helpful community and offers plenty of simple tutorials that can get you started. You can learn how to use Paint.NET in an hour, it’s not difficult. Advanced users can see this as a free alternative to Photoshop while those who need it for simpler reasons can view it as a more effective version of Microsoft Paint. Either way, this is a piece of software worth having.
That’s my list! I hope it can help you because remembering to cover all areas of what you’re going to need can be a little stressful. You don’t want too much, but it’s never good having too little. Manage your applications wisely and you’ll be able to retain that new PC feeling for a long time.
In closing, I’ll leave one final tip: use Ninite. Ninite will allow you to quickly and easily bundle together an installer for multiple applications all at once. Many, if not all, of the applications listed here are included over at Ninite. It’s a good way to save time and ensure that you’re getting your downloads from the right place.
There are many applications that could be included here. I’ve tried to keep this list narrowed to just 12. Let me know what you guys think of this group of software in the comments below!