Roundup: 15 Must-Have Free Software Programs for Your PC

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Over the last three years, the writers here at MakeUseOf have profiled thousands of software apps on the website. With all these thousands being presented to you, it’s hard to decide which apps to use and which ones to discard. To make it easier for you, we have managed to compile a list of the top 15 absolute must-have tools for everyday tasks.

[Update: Check out our newly published The Best Of Windows Software that lists apps below and more.]

15-programs

These are the essential programs that we recommend you install and keep on your arsenal.

    1. Firefox / Chrome (Web Browser)
    2. AVG Anti-Virus (Anti-virus Software)
    3. Auslogics Disk Defrag (Disk Defragmenter)
    4. Glary Utilities (System Maintenance)
    5. Malwarebytes (Spyware Removal)
    6. IZArc (Universal Archiver / Extractor)
    7. Google Picasa Software (Photo Management)
    8. doPDF (PDF Printer)
    9. Memento (Post-It Notes)
    10. xVideoServiceThief (YouTube Video Downloader)
    11. Mozy (Backup)
    12. Digsby (Multi-protocol Instant Messenger)
    13. VLC Media Player (Video Player)
    14. Foobar2000 (Music Player)
    15. ImgBurn (CD / DVD Image Burner)
    16-20. Plus 5 Bonus Programs

1. Firefox / Chrome (Web Browser)

Both Firefox and Google Chrome are excellent browsers. They are both fast, user-friendly and known to be secure. So, which one do you choose? The rule of thumb here is that you should use Firefox if you’re looking to add additional features (i.e. ad blocker, password manager, video downloader, page translator etc.) to your browser.

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must-have software

You can see all add-ons for Firefox at https://addons.mozilla.org/. There are extensions for Google Chrome as well, but the choice is rather limited. See, 10 Cool Extensions for Google Chrome.

2. AVG Anti-Virus (Anti-virus Software)

AVG Free Anti-Virus is the most popular free anti-virus software in the world. It’s also the most downloaded software program according to Download.com.

free software recommendations

Most of the MakeUseOf authors use AVG and we highly recommend it to others. It’s easy to use, consumes a relatively small amount of system resources and auto-updates itself with virus definitions on a daily basis. Install it once and it will keep your system secure without your intervention.

For those of you who frequently shop online and do regular online banking, AVG recommends AVG Internet Security. While it’s not free, it does offer complete Internet Protection that will keep you safe even from advanced online threats.

best free software

Download AVG Free

(Platform: Windows only)

3. Auslogics Disk Defrag (Disk Defragmenter)

Auslogics Disk Defrag is a must-have free PC maintenance tool that was designed to cure system sluggishness and prevent crashes caused by disk fragmentation. Windows already comes with its own disk-defragmenter but Auslogics Disk Defrag is considerably faster and much more efficient.

It’s extremely simple to use, does not require any analysis phase and is faster than most of the other disk defragmentation software.

While there are several other free disk defragmenters, Auslogics seems to be the defragmenter of choice according to the poll results on MakeUseOf, Lifehacker and mega tech sites like CNET.

Download Auslogics Disk Defrag

(Platform: Windows only)

4. Glary Utilities (System Maintenance)

Glary Utilities is a free system maintenance tool for protecting, cleaning, repairing, and speeding up your PC. It comes with a one-click maintenance option that automatically runs all optimizations and repair jobs with a click of a button.

But the best thing about Glary Utilities is that it integrates over 15 other useful tools that nearly every computer user is likely to make use of. These are:

– Uninstall Manager
– Startup Manager
– Memory Optimizer
– Context Menu Manager
– Registry Defrag Tool
– Track Eraser
– File Shredder
– File Undelete
– File Encrypt/Decrypt Tool
– Disk Space Usage Analysis
– Duplicate File Finder
– Empty Folder Finder
– File Splitter and Joiner

Highly recommended!

Please note, it’s highly recommended that you create a System Restore point when using system maintenance tools like Glary Utilities. This is a precaution to ensure that you can always revert your PC to an earlier state in case something goes wrong unexpectedly.

Note: During the installation process make sure to uncheck the Ask Search toolbar.

Download Glary Utilities

(Platform: Windows only)

5. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Spyware Removal)

[update: In the original list we recommended the Spyware 360 as a primary tool for fighting spyware. But then we found out that Security 360 was actually using the definition library of Malwarebytes.]

Malwarebytes currently ranks among the top 10 most downloaded software on Download.com. It’s a very simple tool that does an important job, that is protecting your computer from spyware, hijackers, keyloggers and other kind of malicious craplets.

What makes Malwarebytes standout from the pack is its huge library of threats to protect against. That’s exactly what it makes so effective when it comes to detecting spyware that other spyware scanners miss. This same library made the earlier recommended Security 360 a powerful tool.

Malwarebytes may not be as feature-laden as say Spybot Search and Destroy (another good spyware removal tool), which has a ridiculous number of tools, but it is a very lightweight alternative with good spyware coverage.

There are both free and premium versions. The only difference between the two is real time protection. With real-time protection, Malwarebytes will alert you about the spyware before it’s even able to install itself on your system.

Download MalwareBytes

(Platform: Windows only)

6. IZArc (Universal Archiver / Extractor)

One archive utility to rule them all. This archiver suppots both popular (ZIP, RAR, ACE, 7-ZIP, TAR etc.) and less popular (IMG, ACE, TZ, GZ, TAZ etc.) archive formats.

Basically this unpacker/archiver gives you everything you get with other popular archivers (ex. Winzip, Winrar etc.) but with additional features and support for a huge number of archive formats. It can decompress archived folders in over 40 formats.

7-ZIP, A, ACE, ARC, ARJ, B64, BH, BIN, BZ2, BZA, C2D, CDI, CAB, CPIO, DEB, ENC, GCA, GZ, GZA, HA, IMG, ISO, JAR, LHA, LIB, LZH, MBF, MDF, MIM, NRG, PAK, PDI, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR, TAZ, TBZ, TGZ, TZ, UUE, WAR, XXE, YZ1, Z, ZIP, ZOO

That is to say, it supports pretty much every format you’re likely to come across.

There is something else, you can also use the IZArc utility to open CD image files like ISO, BIN, CDI and NRG. Do you know of any other free archiver that can do that?

Note: When installing IZArc make sure to uncheck the “recommended” option to install PalTalk.

Download IZArc

(Platform: Windows only)

7. Google Picasa Software (Photo Management)

Picasa automatically finds all the photos on your PC, wherever they are, and organizes them in seconds. It’s an excellent photo manager, editor and viewer for your computer.

With Picasa not only you can nicely organize your photos but also fix common problems (i.e. red eyes), add cool effects and even browse photos by people in them. Yes, it includes face recognition!

Plus one really cool thing about it is that regardless of changes you make to your photos on Picasa the original version of each photo always preserved.

Features include:

– create video slideshows and photo collages from your photos.
– organize photos based on the people in them.
– browse photos by folders, albums, people.
– geotag your photos on Google Maps.
– one-click fixes for common problems like red-eye, color, and lighting.
– 12 cool effects to make your best photos look even better.

You can find out more about Picasa by watching this Youtube video. The Google team compiled a getting started guide for Picasa. Highly recommended for new users.

Download: http://picasa.google.com/

(Platform: Windows / Mac / Linux)

8. doPDF (PDF Printer)

Almost everyone once in a while needs to convert documents to PDF. The doPDF is the easiest tool that does exactly that. It installs a virtual printer on your computer that you can select using the print option from any program on Windows.

Whenever you need to convert a web page, Word document, Excel spreadsheet, photo or pretty much anything else to a PDF file just go to the print option in your program and select doPDF from the ‘Printer’ drop-down menu.

You can set the resolution to anything from 72 dpi to 2400 dpi, and the “printed” files are text searchable.

Download doPDF

(Platform: Windows only)

9. Memento (Post-It Notes)

Chances are you have never heard about this program before. Memento is a simple bare-bones post-it notes program for your desktop. It’s better than anything else out there because it’s extremely simple and yet a very effective tool.

Whether you want a program to keep track of your tasks or quick note taking, Memento can help. It’s very intuitive to use and consumes very few system resources. Highly recommended!

It’s an excellent program – and I’ve compared many other free ones! I have been using this for the last 5 years and recommend it to everyone. The very first MakeUseOf article was about this app :-).

It’s also easily transferable from one PC to another, it saves all your notes in Memento.notes file that is stored in the My Documents folder.

Features:

– double click memento icon on the taskbar to create a note
– show/hide notes on the desktop
– keep notes expanded or closed
– notes always remain on top of other windows
– position notes anywhere you like
– instant autosave
– notes are resizable
– randomly makes each note a new color
– make notes transparent

Download Memento Notes

(Platform: Windows only)

10. xVideoServiceThief (YouTube Video Downloader)

Almost everyone is on Youtube these days. And the fact that Youtube has more searches than Yahoo is good indication of this. The only issue with Youtube is that there is no option to download videos so that you can watch them on your computer, PSP, iPhone, mobile phone, iPod etc.

Fortunately there are lots of free software for that, and my favorite is xVideoServiceThief. Apart from downloading videos, it can automatically convert the downloaded video file to another format.

xVideoServiceThief can convert videos to several formats, including AVI, MOV, MPEG, DIVX, MP4 and several others.

Moreover, xVideoServiceThief works with other sites as well, not only Youtube. It can also download videos from Yahoo Video, Google Videos, Metacafe, Dailymotion, CollegeHumor etc.

Download xVideoServiceThief

(Platform: Windows / Mac / Linux)

11. Mozy (Backup)

Backups are very important! Here on MakeUseOf we have published dozens of articles explaining why you should always keep a fresh backup of important data. And Mozy is the perfect program for that. It’s an online backup and recovery service that allows you to select files and folders on your computer and safely back them up online.

It’s fully automated, just set it once and it will do the backups without bothering you again. What’s even better, whenever you make changes to individual documents or files within selected folders, your changes will be replicated on your backup copy as well. So your backup always stays up-to-date.

In the case of file corruption, accidental deletion or hardware failure, you may easily restore your backed up files from the web to the original computer or any another computer, be it a Windows or Mac.

Mozy offers both free and premium accounts (only $4.95/month). The only difference between those two is that free account comes only with 2GBs of storage space. It should be more than enough for backing up important files and documents. On the other hand, if you want to backup your music library, photos, videos or maybe an entire drive then we recommend signing up for a premium account.

(Note: Discount for MakeUseOf users. When signing up for premium account use ‘ MAKEUSEOF’ (all caps) promo code to get 10% off.)

Download Mozy (Free up to 2 GBs)
Download Mozy (Unlimited)

(Platform: Windows / Mac)

12. Digsby (Multi-protocol Instant Messenger)

If you chat on a regular basis and are active on social networks then this is a must-have program for you. There is so much this app does that it’s hard to explain it all in a few lines. Firstly, it’s a universal instant messenger that allows you to chat with your friends on MSN, Yahoo, AIM, Google Talk, Facebook, Myspace, ICQ and Jabber, all from a single messenger.

Secondly, it allows you to read and reply to your emails. That’s right folks, whether you have a Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail account you can receive and reply to emails all from Digsby’s slick interface. Currently Disgby works with Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, AOL/AIM Mail, POP Email, IMAP Mail accounts.

And that’s not all, you may also monitor alerts and set status message notifications for Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and LinkedIN accounts. Pretty cool, huh!

Other less important but still noteworthy features include:

– chat history (with search option)
– file transfer history to keep a log of sent/received files
– a widget for site owners to chat with visitors

(Note: Pay close attention when installing Digsby on your computer and make sure to deselect (selected on default) the additional components you don’t need. Plus, once the app is installed go to the preferences window and disable Digsby research.)

Download Digsby

(Platform: Windows / Mac / Linux)

13. VLC Media Player (Video Player)

With over 67 million downloads so far and roughly 7 downloads per second it’s one of the most popular video players around.

VLC is a highly portable multimedia player supporting most audio and video formats and can play pretty much any video files you throw at it, including physical media like DVDs. Plus it doesn’t need any external codec, program or codec pack to work.<

The VLC can be used both by beginners as well as expert users for working with video files.

The player can also play Youtube videos, convert video files, play subtitles, etc.

Download VLC Player

14. Foobar2000 (Music Player)

The foobar2000 is an advanced audio player for Windows and supports pretty much all popular audio formats. This is an audio player of choice for many audiophiles (the reader polls on MakeUseOf and Lifehacker confirm that). But what’s in it for you? Well, leaving aside its rich feature set, there are two things that make it stand out from the crowd.

First, when it comes to the appearance of the player, it’s HIGHLY customizable. There is NO OTHER audio player out there that can be customized as much. The Foobar2000 lets you change everything starting from buttons, layout, background colors, menus to visualization details.

But the best thing about this gem, it needs very little of your system resources when compared to Windows Media Player, iTunes or Winamp.

The Foobar2000 has also plug-ins for iPod support and things like lyrics and album art. There is also a portable version if you prefer to carry it on your thumbdrive.

Download Foobar2000

(Platform: Windows only)

15. ImgBurn (CD / DVD Image Burner)

There are many reasons we need a simple, fast way to burn disks. ImgBurn is a CD/DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-ray burning application that is fast, lightweight, and completely free.

With ImgBurn you can:

– backup your data or media files to DVD.
– backup your DVD movies to your PC.
– create Audio CDs from any music files such as MP3, WAV.
– create a duplicate copy of any DVD or music CD
– create video discs (DVD / HD DVD / Blu-ray) playable in your DVD player

ImgBurn supports a variety of image formats and almost all types of discs, so you don’t need to look any further for your disc burning needs. There is also a portable version that you can carry with you on your USB drive. For additional details see the MakeUseOf ImgBurn review here.

(Platform: Windows / Linux)

Download ImgBurn

BONUS (+ 5 programs)

16. Revo – Free powerful uninstaller for Windows. It can uninstall programs that you are not able to remove using Windows’ default program manager.

17. OpenOffice – Free alternative to Microsoft Office. Though requires some adjustments to program settings before it can fully replace the Microsoft Office.

18. Foxit – This one is basically a lightweight replacement to Adobe PDF reader. With Foxit you may launch PDF documents as fast as notepad files.

19. Spyware Terminator – A compliment to the above mentioned Malwarebytes. It’s not as comprehensive but comes with real-time malware detection and fast daily scans.

20. Portable Apps – A huge collection of free programs that you can carry on your USB thumbdrive. The suite includes several of the above apps, plus many more. Carry your favorite computer programs along with all of your bookmarks, settings, email and more with you where ever you go. Use them on any Windows computer without leaving any personal data behind.

So there you go, the top 15 that you should have on your system and use on a frequent basis. Since everyone is different with different needs, you will probably disagree with us on some of these choices. If so, head on down to the comments section below and let us know which apps you would put in their place and why.

If you like this article, please spread it around and share it with your friends. It took us us a while to get it done and test all the apps thoroughly.

[Update: Check out our newly published The Best Of Windows Software that lists apps below and more.]

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Comments (127)
  • lury

    vlc – lol? it’s a joke.

    • Lookcrabs

      @lury: Why is vlc a joke? It’s portable, you don’t need to install other codecs or anything to play most files, it works for the three major Operating systems(linux, osx, and windows), and it comes with a very nice set of features.

      @aibek: I like the list. It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s needs as everyone needs something different. If I were to make a list:

      1.) firefox portable with flash, downthemall!, greasemonkey, weboftrust, adblockplus. Opera is nice but firefox is extensible. Opera blows firefox out of the water in terms of speed (not memory).

      2.) universal extractor (http://legroom.net/software/uniextract) don’t knock it ’till you try it. It’s portable. It handles everything izark does plus installers in exe or msi format.

      3.) System handywork: sysinternals + xp/2003 admin toolkits all from microsoft:(procexplorer, procmon, desktops): ever have that problem where you try to eject a usb drive but it says it’s in use. find the handle with procexplorer. How about the problem where a window pops up but task manager doesn’t have it listed as an active program and only shows you the task list? Procexplorer has the answer by clicking the target and dragging it onto the window. Great.

      4.) Office/productivity suite: Gmail, Google docs, google calendar. Why install applications if you don’t have to? This is the top apps list though so if google doesn’t count: openoffice + thunderbird (enigmail, spamato, and lightning extensions)

      5.) media player: vlc – I don’t understand how anyone can touch this. It’s portable, it doesn’t need codecs, and it’s loaded with features (including a media server and file conversion)
      handbreak is a nice gui for vlc file conversion (flash videos too!)

      6.) defrag: defraggler or mydefrag (it’s portable and you can script around it)

      7.) virtualbox (Run any os within your os. need to test something for a friend? need to do something secret? need to run an OSX tool while in windows or visa versa?) Best part: turn most back-ups into virtual images that you can take and boot anywhere!

      8.)Antivirus – avira, cureit, or eset online scanner. I’m not a fan of real-time anything on my pc but if you’re forgetful or just not familiar enough: avira is the way to go. The “can not update” and once a day pop up issues can be fixed.

      9.) Antimalware – O.K. so this is a HUGE category: rootkits, spyware, malware, addware ETC. for such a huge topic one tool doesn’t cut it. Malwarebytes is great but it doesn’t catch everything
      what about:
      superantispyware free – catches things malwarebytes doesn’t
      spybot S&D – old standard
      a2 antimalware – bloat but tests very well (top 3 on some sites)
      icesword – able to kill things the task manager can’t
      combofix – if for nothing else other than it installs the recovery console for you.
      10.) graphic editing – ifranview/pixlr for quick things, gimp/inkscape for big things. If you don’t need to install an app why bother?

      11.) online storage – skydrive. 25Gb of free storage. Mount’s like a drive in windows explorer. Can’t
      beat that.

      12.) IM//social – I really like digsby’s polish but what about meebo? It’s online so you don’t have to install anything? If you’re looking for small and fast why not miranda?

      13.) images (cd burning etc) – daemon tools lite + imgburn. Mount existing images with daemon tools then create // burn images with imgburn. Can’t beat that.

      14.) backup — ntbackup or “backup and restore center”. W7 and vista can backup to a vhd for free! no need to install anything!

      Bonus —

      ubuntu linux within windows – http://portableubuntu.demonccc.com.ar/en/media
      spare browser? How about a spare OS?

      (linux over windows anyday)

      Just my two cents.
      Sorry for grammar and spelling. I’m lazy and illiterate.
      Hope this helps.

  • NotAVG

    AVGG!!! really_=? please that antivirus dont pass the major test!!!, Try Avira, Avast or MSE!!!.

  • Jon Peltier

    AVG has become somewhat piggish in the last version or two. I’m testing Avira and Avast on my daughters’ computers.

    If you want to control your PDF output in MS Office with VBA, PDFCreator is the best.

  • Max

    How’s the recently released TUNE UP UTILITIES 2010? I’ve read that it has been revamped from its previous version and quite a few new apps were introduced.

    Tune Up 2010 & Glary Utilities, which one is better?

  • Ragingmelon

    For those of you that would rather get a program that only has a free version, like me, I’d recommend COMODO over AVG, which comes with both an anti-virus and firewall.

    I guess it also scores points to be at the top of the list at http://www.matousec.com/projects/proactive-security-challenge/results.php

    Insult me all you want for relying on a benchmarking test score, but in my opinion it can’t all just be invalid information.

    • Ragingmelon

      I take back what I said… (Apparently, there is a Pro version :/)

      Despite that, I find it pretty good.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.