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Just your luck: for some reason – maybe a virus infection, maybe a corrupted hard drive – you had to reinstall your operating system. In the process, you lost all of your data and your favorite programs and now you’re left with a blank slate. Instead of fretting over the situation, consider this an opportunity to start off on the right foot.

Here are the essential apps that will take care of 99% of your computer activity and, best of all, they’re available for free.

Anti-Malware: Malwarebytes


Malware and virus infections can be a pain in the neck. Best fcase scenario, they’ll slow your computer down to a crawl and make daily computer use a frustrating experience. Worst case scenario, they’ll steal your passwords and other sensitive data, making your life a living hell. Malwarebytes is the best free malware cleaner Stop & Delete Spyware With Malwarebytes for Windows Stop & Delete Spyware With Malwarebytes for Windows Read More I’ve ever used, and it will serve you well, guaranteed.

Anti-Virus: Ad-Aware Free


Malwarebytes might be useful after you contract a malware infection, but Ad-Aware Free is the best free tool for preventing an infection in the first place. Think of Ad-Aware Free as the vaccine while Malwarebytes is the treatment – you need both, so don’t skimp out. There are plenty of strong anti-virus programs that will get the job done, but I’m privy to this one. If you don’t like it, I’d also recommend AVG Free.


Browser: Pale Moon


Your choice of Internet browser is probably the most important choice for a newly installed operating system. If you’re on the Internet as much as I am, then your browser will shape and mold much of your computer experience, and dealing with a frustrating browser will really soil your days.

This one ultimately comes down to personal preference. The big name browsers are all packed with great features and some of those features may be more important to you than they are to me, and vice versa.  For quick reference, those browsers are Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. My personal favorite, Pale Moon, is a fork of Firefox.

Compression: 7-Zip


Over 20 years after the release of the ZIP file format, we’re still using it. We’re also using other compression formats like RAR and now 7Z, which was pioneered by the 7-Zip compression program. I love 7-Zip because it’s small, lightweight, and versatile enough to handle all major compression formats, plus it won our file compression method comparison test What’s The Best File Compression Method? MakeUseOf Tests Zip, RAR & More What’s The Best File Compression Method? MakeUseOf Tests Zip, RAR & More File compression is an important and common task users frequently ask of their computers. Reducing a file’s size makes it easier to email or place on a flash drive. It also reduces bandwidth usage and... Read More .

Documents: Libre Office


No computer would be complete without an office suite. Students need it for their assignments and office workers need it for their paper-pushing. Even if you are neither of those, a word  processor will come in handy when you need to draft resumes and letters while spreadsheets are useful for budgeting and general organization. There’s no reason to overlook an office suite.

For your most basic needs, Google Docs might suffice, but Libre Office is a great free alternative to the usual Microsoft Office. Read our Libre Office overview LibreOffice - A Free Office Suite For Windows, Linux & Mac LibreOffice - A Free Office Suite For Windows, Linux & Mac Read More for a better idea of what it offers.

PDF Reader: Sumatra


Adobe has a well-earned reputation for producing slow, security-hole-ridden software products that often require frequent updates – sometimes as often as daily. That’s why I avoid using Adobe Reader, and so should you. Instead, I recommend using Sumatra PDF, which is an open source reader that not only reads PDF, but also XPS, CBR, EPUB, and MOBI formats.

It’s fast, lightweight, and more secure than most readers, which makes it one of the best PDF readers for Windows The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows The 6 Best PDF Readers For Windows Most people don’t stop to think about the PDF reader they install – they just install Adobe Reader. Adobe's PDF Reader isn’t the only option, though – there are quite a few high-quality, free PDF... Read More .

Storage: Dropbox


If you aren’t careful, there are some dangers in using cloud storage, but as long as you take the proper precautions, cloud storage can be tremendously helpful for organization, extra space, and file backups. Nowadays, there are a number of cloud storage services that you can choose from, but Dropbox remains ever popular. For those of you who are new to cloud storage, we have a Dropbox guide to get you started The Unofficial Guide To Dropbox The Unofficial Guide To Dropbox There's more to Dropbox than you might think: you can use it for file sharing, backing up your data, syncing files between computers and even remotely control your computer. Read More .

SugarSync is a great alternative (read our SugarSync review SugarSync: The Most Well-Rounded Free File Backup & Syncing Service SugarSync: The Most Well-Rounded Free File Backup & Syncing Service File backup is not a new conversation or topic by any means. If you search Google for “file backup” you will likely be overwhelmed by services and articles on the topic. It is a vast... Read More ) as are Google Drive and SkyDrive. Check out our cloud storage comparison The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More to see which one fits best for you.

Utility: Everything, TeraCopy, WinDirStat


These three tools are miscellaneous utility tools that will make it more convenient for you to manage your computer files. Everything is a lightning-fast search tool 7 Awesome Alternatives To Windows Search 7 Awesome Alternatives To Windows Search Although there are some things you can do to improve searching using the Windows Search - and the search application seems to be much more improved in Windows 7 - there are some excellent alternatives... Read More that will find any file on your computer in under a second. TeraCopy is a powerful file transfer 4 Ways to Copy Files Faster in Windows 4 Ways to Copy Files Faster in Windows The Windows file copy dialog could be better. It's slow and prone to errors. We'll show you shortcuts and other faster ways to copy your files in Windows. Read More utility. WinDirStat is a tool that scans your disks and shows you statistics on file space usage Visualize your Hard Drive Usage with WinDirStat Visualize your Hard Drive Usage with WinDirStat Read More . These three are absolute must-haves, if you ask me.

Video: Media Player Classic – Home Cinema


Finally, no computer would be complete without a proper video player. If you like the default Windows Media Player, feel free to stick with it, but you should know that there are much better alternatives out there like Media Player Classic – Home Cinema.

It’s fast, lightweight, handles practically all video formats out of the box, and packed with wonderful features. Of all the free media players on Windows, I consider MPC-HC to be the best.


Next time you need to reformat your drive or reinstall Windows, these are the essential apps you should install right away. In the realm of free software, all of the programs listed here are widely considered to be best of class and most have made it to our Best Windows Software page. They’ve never let me down and you would do well to make use of them, too.

What other essential programs do you think should be installed on a brand new Windows setup? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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