As a Windows user, you have access to countless free applications. Which ones can you trust and which ones are the best?
Consult this list for ideas and discover apps you didn’t know existed. We’re continuously seeking out the best Windows software, and places to download them, for all your needs. Most applications recommended here are free and you can quickly find what you need by browsing the listed programs by category.
Note that some installers pack bloatware, useless adware that’s pre-selected to install. It’s the bane of freeware. Thus, Unchecky should be the very first app from this list you should install because it can help you catch checkboxes that commit you to downloading and installing bundled apps you don’t need.
Jump Ahead: Antivirus | Audio Tools | Backup and Sync | Browsers | Communication Tools | Defragging | Download Tools | Email Clients | Files Management | File Recovery | File Storage | Image Editors | Image Viewers | Maintenance | Miscellaneous | Optical and Disc Image Tools | PDF Tools | Productivity | Reading | Text Editing | Uninstallers | Video Tools
Antivirus, Malware, and Firewalls
Antivirus software is a cornerstone in protecting your computer from external attacks. While it shouldn’t be your only protection, it’s important that you install a single antivirus application only! Installing several antivirus tools on the same computer can potentially cause issues, to the point where they lock your computer up.
Please see our dedicated guide to a full list of antivirus and security tools you should install to protect your Windows computer.
Advanced cross-platform audio player with customizable user interface. Supports gapless playback, can rip audio CDs and transcode supported audio formats, and is best used with custom keyboard shortcuts.
Download: foobar2000 (Free)
If you have a large media collection, MediaMonkey can help you keep it organized. It manages video and audio files, playlists, and can fill in missing track information automatically.
The Gold version gets you bit-perfect rips, support for customized collections, on-the-fly audio/video conversions, advanced searches and auto-playlists, unlimited MP3 encoding, a sleep timer, and more.
MusicBee is the music manager that turns your computer into a music jukebox. It features auto-tagging, multiple features to optimize the sound quality, can sync your music collection across devices, and even comes in a portable version.
Download: MusicBee (Free)
Streaming music service complete with Facebook integration, iDevice management, and playing music to remote speakers.
Other notable applications in this category:
- AIMP3, a lightweight music library manager and audio player, which rivals foobar2000.
- Audacity, an open source software for recording and editing audio tracks and sounds.
- TagScanner is a multifunction program for organizing and managing your music collection.
- Audacious, an open source audio player for Linux and Windows that conserves system resources. Supports playlists, online streaming, and Winamp classic skins.
- Helium, one tool to manage all your audio needs. Supports cataloging, tagging, playing, and renaming your audio files.
- Tomahawk, a cross-platform social music player that unites your downloads, cloud music storage, radio stations, and streams from various sources into one neat player interface where you can share it with friends. Unfortunately, Tomahawk has not switched to a secure connection, yet.
Backup and Sync
When your computer came with Windows 8 or 10, you don’t need a fleet of backup tools. The latest versions of Windows come with a built-in Time Machine backup called File History. And with OneDrive, you can sync files and folders across devices. It never hurts to have alternative backup solutions though.
Macrium Reflect Free
Free for non-commercial and home use, this backup tool lets you save your disk clone or image to local and network-based storage media. To speed up regular backups and reduce storage space, you can use differential images. Use backup templates to set up scheduled backups without missing key files.
The Home version also packs incremental backups to save storage space, rapid delta cloning and restore for fast disk recovery, file and folder backup, backup encryption, ransomware protection, and more.
Open source folder comparison and synchronization tool optimized for ease of use. Also available for Linux and Mac and as portable Windows app. We thought it was a better sync tool than Microsoft’s SyncToy, which has since been discontinued. Be sure to deselect bloatware during setup.
Download: FreeFileSync (Free)
If nags are a no-go, try the following alternatives:
- FBackup instead comes with similar features as FreeFileSync and supports plugins for typical backups, such as Firefox profiles or IE favorites.
- Cobian Backup comes with similar advanced backup features but hasn’t been updated for a few years.
EaseUS Todo Backup
This is a free backup solution that includes a disaster recovery option. The tool can back up files and folders, create an image of the entire operating system, or clone disks to migrate data. Supports comprehensive full backup, incremental backup, and differential backup.
Download: EaseUS Todo Backup (Free)
- Clonezilla Live, an open source and cross-platform alternative for cloning drives
- DrimeImage XML, a tool to backup drives or partitions and browse and restore images.
More apps in this category:
- SyncBack supports scheduled backups to an FTP server.
- Box, online storage and cross-platform sync solution for business users that offers unlimited storage for three or more users, starting at $45 per month. File transfers are encrypted with high-grade SSL and stored with 256-bit AES encryption.
Google’s minimal design browser that went from zero to hero in record time. Best browser if you’re already sold on Google products. Receives frequent automatic updates and supports extensions from the Google Play store. See our Guide to Google Chrome to find out about custom settings and hacks.
Download: Chrome (Free)
With more than 6,000 add-ons, Firefox remains the most customizable browser on the market, offering its users more freedom than Chrome ever will. Should you switch from Chrome to Firefox too? The latest Firefox Quantum is faster, more lightweight, and more private than Chrome.
Download: Firefox (Free)
Opera has pioneered new features like tabs or the speed dial. It’s working hard to remain the fastest browser on the market. Its latest features are a built-in free VPN and battery saver. Moreover, it supports Chrome extensions. Is it finally time to drop Chrome for Opera?
Download: Opera (Free)
Other notable browsers:
- Maxthon and Maxthon Cloud Browser, your information assistants for browsing in the 21st century.
- Vivaldi, a browser that is more personal and ideal for power users.
Microsoft’s aging cross-platform VoIP application remains a popular tool to stay in touch with friends and family. Skype offers reasonable rates for calling mobiles and landlines and attractive subscription packages. In an effort to compete with Google Hangouts, Skype now supports group video chats for non-premium accounts.
Note that Microsoft retired the classic (desktop) Skype in November 2018. When you download Skype now, it will be the Windows 10 app.
Download: Skype (Free)
If Skype doesn’t cut it anymore, have a look at these Skype alternatives.
Easy-to-use, open source, cross-platform, multi-protocol chat client. Supports all major chat programs, as well as third-party developed plugins.
Download: Pidgin (Free)
Built for gamers, TeamSpeak is a popular VoIP solution that works across a range of desktop and mobile devices.
Download: TeamSpeak (Free)
Tired of Skype, don’t want to pay for TeamSpeak, but need a tool to communicate with your buddies? Give Discord a try. This voice and text chat for gamers is free, secure, and works on your phone, browser, or desktop computer.
Download: Discord (Free)
- Mumble, an open source voice chat software, specifically for gaming.
- OBS Studio by Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) is one of the best tools to live stream your gaming sessions.
Fragmented data can slow your computer down. Defragging restores order on your hard drive. Note that defragging a solid state drive (SSD) can reduce its lifespan.
From the makers of CCleaner comes Defraggler, a portable defragging tool, sporting solid features, paired with a pleasing and intuitive interface. You can benchmark your drive, view a file list and drive map, as well as examine drive health.
An alternative to Defraggler is IObit Smart Defrag, which is easy to set up and runs in the background.
qBittorrent is a free and open source BitTorrent client. It’s generally considered the best uTorrent alternative. Unlike the client it was designed to replace, it’s free from bloatware and ads.
Download: qBittorrent (Free)
An open source and cross-platform BitTorrent client built by volunteers. It’s full-featured, doesn’t bundle adware, and won’t track its users. As a result, it’s lightweight and much more enjoyable to use.
Download: Transmission (Free)
Free and open source download manager. Allows you to start, stop, and pause your downloads, set bandwidth limitations, and auto-extract archives. Your antivirus may detect it as a threat, but rest assured it’s a false positive. Potentially comes packed with bloatware.
Download: JDownloader (Free)
- FlashGet can download videos from various sources, collaborates with your antivirus, and optimizes system resources.
- Free Download Manager supports HTTP, FTP, and BitTorrent. Can resume broken downloads and you can adjust traffic usage.
Mozilla’s trusty and easy to use email client. Supports tabs, add-ons, and is also available as a portable app. And in 2019, Mozilla announced that it will pick up developing Thunderbird again.
Download: Thunderbird (Free)
Copy and move files at maximum speed and pause and resume file transfers. When an issue comes up, TeraCopy won’t terminate a transfer like Windows Explorer does. Instead, it will show you the failed files after the transfer was completed.
Download: TeraCopy (Free)
EaseUS Partition Master
EaseUS Partition Master is an advanced alternative to the built-in Windows partition manager. It supports merging of adjacent partitions, copying partitions and disks, upgrading system disk to a bigger drive, and it can recover deleted or lost partitions from unallocated space.
The Pro version lets you manage dynamic volumes, migrate your operating system to SSD/HDD without reinstallation, supports Windows Storage Spaces, change between MBR and GPT without losing data, and more.
A free, lightweight and robust FTP client for transferring files to and from the web.
Download: FileZilla (Free)
A feature-packed alternative file manager to Windows File Explorer that uses a dual-panel layout. If all you desire is a file explorer that supports tabs, we recommend Explorer++. For more options, see this article on alternative file explorers.
Download: MultiCommander (Free)
Additional tools in this section:
- 7-Zip, a free archive manager that can extract or compress to ZIP, RAR, and many other archive files.
- Universal Extractor, can decompress and extract files from any type of archive or installer, including ZIP, RAR and EXE files.
- DropIt can automatically sort files based on file type.
Did you ever wish you could turn back time to recover your lost files? With the following tools, you need neither a DeLorean nor a flux capacitor, a little luck will do. Just remember not to write any data to the disk you wish to recover files from.
The Recuva wizard can take you through the process of recovering files or you can manually pick drives to be scanned. Designed for intuitive use by the makers of CCleaner. The professional version also includes virtual hard drive support, automatic updates, and premium customer support.
This open source tool is considered one of the best applications for recovering lost partitions or making non-booting disks bootable again. It’s operated through a command prompt window but comes with thorough documentation, which will allow even novices to compile information for recovery by a professional.
Download: TestDisk (Free)
To recover photos from digital camera memory, try TestDisk’s open source companion PhotoRec, which can recover a wide range of accidentally deleted files, including photos.
More recommendable applications in this category:
- Disk Drill (formerly Pandora Recovery), free file recovery software for any type of file, also available as a portable app.
- FreeUndelete will recover files removed from the Recycle Bin.
You can never have enough storage space. The advantage of cloud storage is that you can access it from anywhere and as long as the service and your internet are running, you have nothing to worry about. The following are the most popular and reliable options available.
Dropbox is available across platforms and allows you to sync folders and files to the web and other devices connected to your Dropbox account. Great tool to auto-upload photos from your mobile phone. It’s being challenged by Microsoft OneDrive, which offers more storage capacity and potentially better Windows integration.
Download: Dropbox (Free)
The evolution of Google Docs keeps your documents synced between the cloud and your PC.
Download: Google Drive (Free)
Microsoft’s cloud storage solution comes with (now only) 5 GB of space for storing documents and images.
Download: OneDrive (Free)
Other tools in this section:
- Nextcloud, a free open source tool to build your own, self-hosted cloud storage solution; a community fork of ownCloud.
- MEGA, formerly known as MegaUpload, is a cloud storage and file sharing solution that offers up to 50GB of free storage.
Advanced open-source and cross-platform image editor, often touted as free Photoshop alternative.
Download: GIMP (Free)
Free image editing tool with an intuitive interface for beginners and comprehensive features for intermediate users. Supports layers, unlimited undo, special effects, power tools, plugins, and when you’re stuck you can rely on a selection of tutorials and an active online community.
Download: Paint.NET (Free)
Potential alternatives to GIMP and Paint.NET, with a focus on photo editing:
- PhotoScape supports animated GIFs and RAW to JPG conversion.
- Zoner Photo Studio X lets you remove unwanted objects and create HDR images.
We also recommend the following image editors:
- Inkscape for professionally editing vector graphics.
- XnConvert for batch processing images.
- RIOT for quickly optimizing photos.
A simple tool to create animated GIFs. Use the app like a camera to record a series of image frames, which you can then edit, before turning them into a GIF.
Download: GifCam (Free)
The free open source 3D creation suite supports everything from modeling and animation to video editing and game creation. It has long been the gold standard of 3D imaging tools. Get over its steep learning curve with these Blender tutorials.
Download: Blender (Free)
FastStone Image Viewer
All in one image browser, converter, and editor that has never let us down. Supports all major graphics formats, including RAW and other digital camera formats. The makers of FastStone Image Viewer also offer a Capture tool and a Photo Resizer.
Download: FastStone Image Viewer (Free)
Simplistic on the surface, hides advanced features under the hub, yet intuitive and easy to use. Classic image viewer, which you can also use for simple edits or batch-processing files. Now available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. An extensive plugins library is available separately.
Download: IrfanView (Free)
Cross-platform image viewer, organizer, and converter that comes with a huge selection of filters and supports 500 different formats.
Download: XnView (Free)
Third-party applications can impact your system’s performance. They can accumulate temporary files and huge caches, launch with Windows and consume resources in the background while getting outdated over time.
PC maintenance tools can help you keep your computer running smoothly on the software side or analyze issues with your hardware. In addition, they can maintain your privacy by removing traces of your online or offline activities from your PC.
CCleaner is the PC maintenance gold standard. The award-winning optimization tool scores high points all around. Clean junk files, make your browsing safer, or speed up your startup times. If you absolutely have to use its registry cleaner, be sure to back up the registry first.
The Pro version gets you real-time monitoring, scheduled cleaning, automatic updates, and premium support.
BleachBit is a free and open source tool to clean unnecessary files from your system. And you’re in control! Scroll through the sidebar and check file types for individual browsers (e.g. cache or cookies), system files, and other software that clutters up your hard drive. When you’re ready, click Clean and free up disk space.
Download: BleachBit (Free)
Like CCleaner, Glary Utilities offers comprehensive PC cleaning utility. The free version includes over 20 tools that can fix PC issues and improve performance with one click.
PrivaZer can scan any drive connected to your computer for traces you left while using your computer, including internet cache or cookies, residual deleted files, or useless files. Essentially, it’s a cleanup utility with a focus on your privacy. Available as a desktop and portable application.
Download: PrivaZer (Free)
- BleachBit cleans your PC from junk files and shreds them to prevent recovery. This open source tool is available for Windows and Linux.
- Toolwiz Time Freeze can instantly put your Windows system into a sandbox and protect it from undesired changes.
- Sandboxie, lets you isolate new applications and your browser from Windows, keeping your operating system safe from software-born attacks.
An advanced system information tool for your PC, made by the creators of CCleaner. The free version provides you with an overview of all your system internals, including your operating system, CPU, RAM, motherboard, graphics, storage, optical drives, audio, peripherals, and your network.
The Pro version adds automatic updates and premium support.
- CPU-Z is the best app to gather basic CPU, mainboard, memory, and system data. Watch out for bloatware from CPUID when installing PC-Wizard or CPU-Z.
- Complement with GPU-Z for information about your graphics card.
- Use SpeedFan to monitor PC voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures.
Software Update Monitor, short SUMo, monitors your installed software for available updates and downloads them for you. Be sure to deselect the default homepage setting during installation and click Cancel when prompted for it again! You can also quit the survey.
Download: SUMo (Free)
In addition to the tools above, we also recommend the following:
- WinDirStart visualizes your disk space usage.
- TreeSize can scan your directories to find space hogs and recover hard drive space.
- Process Explorer is an advanced Task Manager from Microsoft.
- d7II is a multi-tool designed for IT professionals from Foolish IT. It automates diagnostics, comes with Windows repair features, and can help you remove malware from infected systems. The tool is available for evaluation before you must commit to a monthly subscription.
This utility helps you prevent eye strain and sleep better by adapting your screen brightness and color saturation to ambient lighting. It also supports scheduling, as shown above.
Download: f.lux (Free)
Classic Shell is more than a Start Menu replacement. Besides adding a customizable Start button and menu, it features tool- and status bars for Windows / File Explorer and Internet Explorer. A great productivity tool to make Windows better.
Download: Classic Shell (Free)
VirtualBox is the easiest way to create a virtual machine within Windows. You can install any operating system on your virtual machine and run it like it was a regular program. We have used VirtualBox to run Windows 10 on Windows, Linux, and Mac. Refer to our VirtualBox guide for more information.
Download: VirtualBox (Free)
TeamViewer allows you to remote-connect to another computer over the internet, either to provide technical assistance or to access files and programs. By far the best free remote desktop connection manager you can get. It’s cross-platform and easy to set up, too.
Download: TeamViewer (Free)
Hiren’s BootCD is one of those apps every techie should carry around. Burn the ISO to a CD or create a bootable USB with Rufus and you’ll always have a digital toolbox with you to fix some common computer issues. Comes with recovery tools, can reset your Windows password, test hardware, compile hardware information, and much more.
Download: Hiren’s BootCD (Free)
Portable and open source password manager with plugin support. Helps you protect your online accounts with strong passwords. The app stores passwords on your computer or USB drive. Cloud-based alternatives to KeePass include Dashlane and SafeInCloud Password Manager.
Download: KeePass (Free)
You may know that deleting a file in Windows doesn’t actually remove it. That’s why it’s possible to recover deleted files. Eraser is an open source utility and portable app that permanently deletes files by overwriting them with random patterns. Best used with hard disk drives since erasing data from a solid state drive can cause damage and other issues.
Download: Eraser (Free)
Optical and Disc Image Tools
Feature rich, yet easy to use burning tool for CDs, DVDs, HD-DVDs, Blu-Rays, ISOs, and bootable discs.
Download: CDBurnerXP (Free)
- ImgBurn, a lightweight CD, DVD; HD-DVD, Blu-Ray burning application.
- DVD Flick specializes in burning DVDs for your DVD player, media center, or home cinema set.
- BurnAware, a free burning software for CDs, DVDs, and Blu-rays.
Simple tool to convert DVDs to AVI or MPEG for backing up your DVDs on your local drive. Includes its own codecs and can re-use codecs installed on your system. If your DVDs turn out too big to be stored locally, try DVDShrink to reduce their size.
Download: bitRipper (Free)
CDex rips audio CDs to MP3 and other formats. Supports a range of encoders and the source code is open.
Download: CDex (Free)
After the demise of Virtual CloneDrive, WinCDEmu has become your best solution to emulate CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. The open-source tool supports ISO, CUE, NRG, MDS/MDF, CCD, and IMG images and can create them via a context menu in Windows Explorer. You can create an unlimited number of virtual drives to mount image files and play them virtually.
By virtualizing your discs, you’ll never have to swap discs again. The tool is also ideal if you want to run optical discs on a Windows device that lacks the matching drive.
Download: WinCDEmu (Free)
This is the most lightweight PDF reader. It supports tabs and is packed with keyboard shortcuts. It’s also open source and available as a portable app. Unlike other free PDF readers, it doesn’t feature any editing tools.
Download: Sumatra PDF (Free)
Read our article on the best PDF readers for Windows for more solutions.
PDFsam, aka PDF Split and Merge, is a small tool to split, merge, and rotate PDF files any way you like. You can drag-and-drop files onto the tool and mass-edit files. The interface is basic, but the features are advanced.
Download: PDFsam (Free)
- PDFTK Builder is a free graphical interface version of PDFTK to merge, split, decrypt, encrypt, watermark PDF files.
- doPDF can convert over 400 file types to PDF.
Powerful virtual desktop manager. Expand your screen with virtual desktops and use them to separate open windows based on tasks. A similar tool is VirtuaWin, a lean desktop manager with a minimalist set of features.
Download: Dexpot (Free)
Ditto is a clipboard manager that allows you to keep a record of your Windows clipboard backed up for later use or sync clipboards across multiple computers. Also available as a portable app. Similar to ClipX and many other clipboard managers.
Download: Ditto (Free)
A cross-platform utility that employs keyboard shortcuts to launch programs and files independently of Windows File Explorer or the Start Menu. If you’re looking for a Start Menu alternative, you might also appreciate SyMenu, a portable menu launcher that allows you to organize your applications quickly and easily.
Download: Launchy (Free)
Other notable applications in this section:
- AutoHotkey enables desktop automation with hotkeys via custom scripts.
- Fences, a tool to organize the icons on your desktop.
- Rainlendar, a stylish and lightweight calendar for the Windows desktop.
- Right Click Enhancer, a tool to edit Windows context menus.
- SendToSendTo helps you customize the Windows Send To menu.
- OneNote, Microsoft’s free and cross-platform note-taking app.
Amazon’s Kindle app lets you read and manage your ebook collection from your Windows PC.
Download: Kindle (Free)
- Icecream Ebook Reader is an immersive ebook reader that supports EPUB, MOBI, FB2, PDF, and other ebook formats.
Free and open-source ebook manager. Comes with a library to manage your ebooks, can convert ebooks from one format to another, syncs to your reader devices, downloads news from the web and converts it into ebook format, functions as an ebook viewer, and can edit ebooks.
Download: calibre (Free)
You don’t have to pay for Microsoft Office to get a professional productivity and office suite, one which is open source and community-supported on top of that.
Download: LibreOffice (Free)
WPS Office Free
Free cross-platform Microsoft Office alternative with a tabbed interface and more reliable support for collaborative features, such as tracking changes and comments. Self-absorbed ads can be a little annoying but are easily ignored.
The Premium version is ad-free and lets you split and merge PDF to Word. The Professional version is a lifetime license with three years of services included.
A Notepad alternative with tabs and advanced features, useful especially for coders.
Download: Notepad++ (Free)
Probably the most popular tool in this category. Easy to use and thorough, even comes with a hunter mode that will track down and eliminate programs based on icons or shortcuts on your screen.
The pro version supports forced uninstall, bulk uninstall, extended scanning for leftover files, real-time change monitoring with log files, multi-level backup system, print and export a list of installed programs, and lots more.
IObit’s Uninstaller sorts all your programs into categories that make it easier to find applications you installed recently, software that takes up a lot of space, or tools you barely ever use. This utility also allows you to quickly get rid of browser toolbars and plugins, and Windows apps.
The Pro version can delete bundled programs and plug-ins, uninstall malicious browser extensions, it features adware removal, 1-click updates for installed programs, free technical support, and more.
Other tools in this category:
- Absolute Uninstaller can fix invalid program entries and supports batch uninstalling.
- Geek Uninstaller is fast and reliable, it comes with a force removal option, and it’s completely portable.
VLC Media Player
Free and cross-platform video player that can play almost any video file. Supports DVDs, CDs, VCDs, and a selection of streaming protocols, including YouTube playlists. It can also rip and transcode videos or record video from your webcam.
Download: VLC Media Player (Free)
- Pot Player, the successor of KMPlayer with a rich set of advanced features.
- Media Player Classic, a lightweight media player with built-in codecs.
- K-Lite Codec Pack offers a selection of four codec packs, from basic to mega. They will outfit your favorite video player with all the codecs it needs to play any video you throw at it.
Open source, cross-platform, media converter that can convert video files between many different formats.
Download: HandBrake (Free)
Alternatives to HandBrake:
- Freemake, a video converter and DVD burner that supports over 200 file types.
A cross-platform video transcoder that can read DVDs and Blu-Rays and convert them into free formats. The Blu-Ray feature is a free trial.
Download: MakeMKV (Free)
A high-quality and open-source freeware screen capture utility with support for lossless video output. Perfect for creating screencasts or video tutorials.
Download: CamStudio (Free)
Download: KODI (Free)
Essential Apps and Software for All PCs
Have you tested any of the applications above or have we missed your favorite software? Let us know! We will improve the list based on our tests and your input. And if you appreciate this list, please share it with your friends and family!
Do you feel spoiled by choice? Start here with the essential applications you must install on your new Windows PC.