Linux Windows

8 Better Alternatives to Common Windows Apps

T.J. Mininday 07-12-2008

There is no doubt, Microsoft is going to dominate the operating system market through Windows 7. Who knows where we will be after that. At that point we will likely be looking at some type of open source product, such as Ubuntu?  Maybe even we’ll move to our smart phone(s) full time?


Whatever the case, the Windows operating system still holds dominance on the market. With dominance though, comes much feedback and much modification from the users.

No matter how much you like a certain feature of Windows, there is always someone out there modifying it some way or another. This not only includes some of the integrated features of Windows, such as the Start Menu or Windows Explorer 7 Windows Explorer Addons for Power Users Read More , but also individual applications, such as Notepad The 6 Best Windows Notepad Alternatives Windows Notepad is too simple, but Microsoft Office is overkill? If you're looking for a Notepad replacement, here are the leading alternatives. One will be perfect for you. Read More and MS Paint 10 Free Image Editing Programs for your PC Read More .

I have put together a list of the some of the best Windows apps and feature replacements that I could come up with.

1. Vista Start Menu (Start Menu Alternative)

As confusing as the name is, Vista Start Menu not only gets you a Vista-like Start Menu in Windows XP, but also enhances and improves the Start Menu Interface in Windows Vista.

It adds the ability to tab items, quick access to shutdown options, zoom capabilities and simple shortcuts to search on both the local PC and Google.


Windows XP Start Menu Alternative

Other Alternatives:

* JetStart
* Open Menu+

2. Replace Windows Taskbar with RocketDock

Rocketdock is a Windows taskbar replacement with a Mac-like feel. It’s essentially a combination of the quick launch toolbar, the taskbar and desktop widgets, all rolled into one. It looks incredibly futuristic, it has a very smooth feel, and it doesn’t eat up a lot of resources.


8 Better Alternatives to Common Windows Apps rocketdock2

Other Alternatives:

* Moby Dock
* Object Dock

3. ExploreXP – Windows Explorer Replacement

ExplorerXP is a free file manager replacement for Windows Explorer. We’ve previously written about Windows Explorer alternatives Replace Windows Explorer With A More Powerful Alternative Read More in the past, but I have found ExplorerXP to be a much more stripped down version of some of its competitors, while still giving you everything you need at the same time.


It has built in tab ability, folder sizes, quick access to My Computer, Recycle Bin, My Docs, Desktop, multi rename tool, all running on just 410KB of size.

If you are looking to upgrade Windows Explorer with many must-have add-ons, while continuing to use many of its built-in capability, this is the freeware to get.

windows explorer replacement

Other Alternatives:


* Explorer2 Lite
* Q-Dir
* XPlorer
* FreeCommander
* A43
* UltraExplorer

4. Process Explorer – Task Manager Alternative

Process Explorer from Sysinternals is a great Windows task manager alternative to get an in-depth look at all of the running processes on your computer, including where individual executables are located, search capabilities for individual DLLs, plus a much more detailed look at system resources, and where they are being allocated.

task manager alternative

Other Alternatives:

* What’s Running
* Task Manager Extension 2.1
* MKN TaskExplorer

5. Notepad++ : Wordpad / Notepad Replacement

Notepad++ is a much more comprehensive, in-depth textpad editor, with built-in tab ability for multiple documents, drag and drop support, color print capability, zooming, auto completion, bookmarking, and even macros. It’s not your typical plain ole’ Windows notepad or wordpad. It’s built for code writers and programmers, but used and available to all. Overall, it’s a great Notepad replacement for Windows.

wordpad notepad replacement

Other Alternatives:

* Notepad2
* Programmer’s Notepad
* PSPad
* MetaPad
* DocPad
* TED Notepad
* AkelPad

6. Defraggler – Faster Replacement for Windows Defragmenter

Defragmenting your hard drive has become an essential part of keeping your computer running at an optimal speed, and keeping your hard drive in tip top shape. It essentially takes all of the separated files on your hard disk, and pieces them back together so that everything just runs smoother.

Windows, for as far back as I can remember, has always had some type of defrag utility. The problem is that it’s never been that good. Fortunately with time, comes faster computers, smarter programmers and a much better interface. Defraggler appears to have all of this rolled into one. It is incredibly easy to use and understand. It has an incredibly nice interface and most important, it’s incredibly fast.

fast windows defragmenter

Other Alternatives:

* Auslogics
* Contig
* PageDefrag

7. LogMeIn Free – Windows Remote Desktop Alternative

I was amazed when a co-worker referred me to this website, a couple of years ago. The incredible speed, security and capability sold me from day one. The LogMeIn Free version lacks printing and file transfers, but if you are simply trying to access your home or work computer without ever having to touch a firewall, LogMeIn is the best way to go. From all indications, it sounds like it’s the best free alternative to ‘GoToMyPC’ as well.

windows remote desktop alternatives

Other Alternatives:

* UltraVNC
* TightVNC
* CrossLoop

8. Replace Paint with Gimp

Gimp is quickly becoming a strong competitor to Adobe’s Photoshop. It comes bundled with a very similar interface, it has many of the same features as Adobe’s massive product, and it has plenty of tutorials via YouTube or blogs, to go along with it.

As far as a replacement for Microsoft’s Paint, I don’t think it even falls into the same category. However, it is free, and can easily become a full-time replacement for Paint. Keep your eye out for future MakeUseOf tutorials, in regards to Gimp. We had a few Gimp tips already.

8 Better Alternatives to Common Windows Apps gimp interface

Other Alternatives:
* Paint.NET
* PhotoFiltre

As you can see, there are plenty of alternative options out there for many facets of Microsoft Windows. I didn’t dive into the most obvious of items, such as Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer, but I gave a fairly in depth breakdown of many of the free replacment apps available for many different versions of Windows, but specifically for XP and Vista.

Do you have additional suggestions for alternatives? Do you have more items you’d like to see replaced in Windows? Please leave your feedback!

Related topics: Defragmentation, Notepad, Remote Access, Remote Desktop, Start Menu, Windows Explorer, Windows Taskbar.

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  1. Kevin Peterson
    November 1, 2019 at 11:50 am

    In addition to Logmein as a Windows Remote Desktop Alternative, you can also use or have a look at tools liek R-HUB remote support, Splashtop, Teamviewer etc.

  2. Nicbot
    November 13, 2009 at 5:47 pm


    Just wanted to point out that the free version of Logmein does not need 'assisted access' once installed. It will run in the background and allow you access to the machine remotely with zero intervention from the end user. I use it all the time for my family, personal and some work machines.

    Teamviewer is a good option for both assisted access like Crossloop, or unattended access. Like Logmein it just takes the correct setup...both good in my opinion, but currently Logmein has better performance.

  3. Tracy
    July 23, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Great list of tools here for. I have just replaced vista as a whole with Linux.

  4. Phaoloo
    July 22, 2009 at 8:56 am

    GIMP is a great replace for Paint (actually GIMP is a image processor while Paint is for drawing).
    Notepad++ is so awesome that I bet it is already on every designers' computer.

  5. Stanica
    June 1, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    I would vote for Textpad as a replacement if you want to open exceptionally large text files.
    We had an application that would create log files up to 1 GB in size. You can't open them in notepad, wordpad, word, etc, regardless of how much RAM or processing power you have.

  6. tunghoy
    February 18, 2009 at 9:01 am


    I clicked the link above for X-Plorer, and when I clicked their download link, AVG immediately detected a virus and moved it to the vault.

  7. tunghoy
    February 18, 2009 at 8:28 am

    For a Notepad replacement, I've been using TextPad for years ( It's great for coding, system configuration, just about everything. It has tabbed files, custom file types, color coding, clip libraries and a lot of extensions, though some of them are rather old.

  8. Diamond
    January 23, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    just wanted to say that Defraggler is by far one of the best defrag tools ive ever used; ive never once seen any kind of improvement after using the windows built in one, and i think i started that back in the windows 98, this one blows the built in one away - thanks for the rest of the list!

  9. Darkstriker
    January 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Well, considering that I hadn't defragged my HDD for several weeks, I decided to give #6 (Defraggler) a shot. And there is just one word for what I felt. DISAPPOINTMENT!
    Defraggler does not do a job any better than the standard Windows XP defragger AND takes about 10x as long. I would never recommend this. Worse still I would WARN people because this App WASTES time as if it were as readily available as water.

    If you want a seriously better defragger than the windows solution get JKDefrag. Its FASTER and HAS MORE FEATURES!

    And just to illustrate:
    I ran a defrag with Defraggler on a 500GB Sata2 HDD (7200rpm/16MB) and after analysis it said there were a mere 10GB fragmented. I started at 8PM and its now 12:15AM AND ITS STILL NOT FINISHED! It actually says that it only is at 66% now. IT'S REDICULOUS!

    Rest of the rig:
    AMD X2 3800+ @3Ghz
    2GB DDR @500Mhz

    Stay away from that app!

  10. Praveen
    January 10, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Very Good Collection.I have discussed in brief in my Blog to make your Windows Xp Appearance Totally different from others,

    Top 10 Ways to Tweak your Windows Xp

  11. zer0
    January 2, 2009 at 3:06 am

    An alternative to logmein is, its made by the developers at uvnc i think. I have used it loads of times with complete n00bs (family, co-workers etc...) very good, not too bad on speed too

  12. Ben
    December 20, 2008 at 1:54 am

    I use Ubuntu - so already use Gimp, gnome-do menu (far better than Vista menu), and never worry about defragmenting the new NTFS filesystem.

  13. Atlas IT
    December 19, 2008 at 11:17 am

    Nice list. I agree with most. Particularly LogMeIn Free. The consulting firm i currently work with uses it for over 800 computers and it's great for remote desktop access over the web without the need for firewall changes. The interface lets you group the computers and label them whatever you like.

    I think that defragmentation is actually less of a concern today than it used to be because drive fragmentation occurs less often. With these mega-drives and people only browsing the Internet, there is plenty of room for Windows to contiguously store large amounts of data without a great deal of fragmentation. Maybe twice a year it's needed anymore and using the commandline 'defrag' scheduled through a batch has been working for me, but I'm not against new things so I'll try some of these out and see if there's any kind of improvement.

    • T.J. Mininday
      December 23, 2008 at 1:50 pm

      Wow, I can't imagine getting that installed on that many PCs, but I'm sure it's well worth the work. I know I love it.

  14. kırma eleme
    December 18, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Very useful list. I using defraggler and Notepad++.

  15. thenetguruz
    December 17, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Good list, its true that windows inbuilt defrag is not so good, its ver. 1.0 of Diskeeper actually (way too old).
    Wonder why firefox, open office and thunderbird is not mentioned..!!

    • Operanut
      September 17, 2009 at 5:26 am

      Firefox, Thunderbird and OpenOffice probably are not mentioned because anyone who likes to explore the internet and play around with various software knows about these programs. Even I do.

  16. sarv007
    December 17, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Gorsh! Why dont Microsoft use these apps...

  17. Adam
    December 16, 2008 at 6:31 am

    Dont forget Ashampoo's Magic Defrag. It automatically defrags your drives when the processor and disk activity is idle. You never have to run anything, it just does it for you. No, it's not free, but it's a good product.

  18. confusion
    December 15, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    Well done. Excellent post. Rocketdock is working very well for me.

  19. John
    December 13, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    What I have found to be the case is that what comes with an operating system is the baseline. Especially true of proprietary OSes. The subject being alternatives in Windows. Not all are free, For E-mail try Thunderbird or For Internet search utility Perfect Disk (defragment). For a number of good free tools is my choice. is a solid staple as well. I prefer Firefox 3.xx as an internet browser.

  20. Lee
    December 12, 2008 at 11:37 am

    In reference to LogMeIn, I looked into them for my company; their enterprise products are impressive, but definitely not free. The free version works fine if you only need assisted access (someone on the other end to 'click' you in), and, in that respect, I found Crossloop to be just as effective, and easier to walk a 'newbie' through.

    Otherwise, if you are setting up a client to automate getting in with a password, UltraVNC is slim and GUI-less enough to have almost no complications. I've also had a good experience with GBridge; I like its VPN approach and use it to access my home files all the time.

  21. Windows Guy
    December 12, 2008 at 11:14 am

    Nice share. You could make it a perfect list by adding Office 2007 and MSN

  22. dmc
    December 11, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    My notepad replacement has been EditPad Lite for years:

    But I don't code with it.

  23. Morgan Barrett
    December 11, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Im new to this website I found this article on STUMBLE UPON and I thought I would leave a comment

    Gimp NO WAY...
    ...PAINT.NET rules you can get it at

    Rocket Dock NO WAY...
    ...OBJECT DOCK rules you can get it at

    P.S. Stumble Upon RULES!!!!

    P.P.S. Internet Explore NO WAY MOZZILA FIREFOX Yes get it at

    P.P.P.S Windows Media Player NO WAY VLC PLAYER Yes get it at

  24. John
    December 9, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Paint.NET is waaay better than GIMP so I'd rather you had *it* up there.

    • Alek Davis
      December 11, 2008 at 12:46 am

      It depends on what you want to do. One limitation of Paint.NET is that it does not allow saving text layers, at least I could not figure out how to do this. GIMP does not have this problem.

      • Khanxay
        December 11, 2008 at 7:20 am

        I'm really looking forward to the 4.0 release of Paint.NET. Re-editable text and custom brushes are features I really look forward to.

        I just hate how PDN isn't portable. I'd love to carry it in my portable hard drive (WD MyPassport)

  25. T.J. Mininday
    December 9, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I've had the post updated appropriately. The screenshot previously was in fact ObjectDock, and there are 8 alternatives not seven. Thanks for the feedback everybody!

  26. Daniel
    December 9, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I'm surprised in the LogMeIn alternatives, you don't put up Techinline ( Unlike the free LogMeIn, it allows for files to be transferred and is a much simpler setup than LogMeIn because it doesn't even require any installation to take place.

    • Nicbot
      December 9, 2008 at 2:12 pm

      Techline is not free and the paid LogMeIn services offer much more functionality.

  27. Olafur
    December 9, 2008 at 4:49 am

    Interesting post. I'll be sure to check some of these out.

  28. Mrinal
    December 9, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Thanks from all of us at CrossLoop for the mention, TJ - we have always had good reviews in the past by you guys!
    Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.....

  29. Myo Kyaw Htun
    December 8, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    7 or 8 Apps? I saw you guy put 8 apps and the title said '7 Better Alternatives ...' .

  30. ManOfMacs
    December 8, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    These all seem fine.

    But just fine. My MacBook had all of this, but better, and more.

    Once you go Mac, you never go back.

    • Nicbot
      December 8, 2008 at 8:05 pm

      ^^lol...fanboyz...not to enable this sort of post, but I'd like to here your side by side comparison of these apps to the -native- mac equivalent.

      Good luck!

    • Kane
      December 22, 2008 at 8:06 pm

      I had a mac once, it was cute.

  31. Dwayne Samuels
    December 8, 2008 at 10:04 am

    Yeah! 3rd party apps ROCK! lol, i love em'

  32. Steve
    December 8, 2008 at 9:38 am

    Windows 95 was the first Windows with built-in defrag that I remember. Before that I think we all used Norton Utilities from the command prompt.

  33. Jonathon
    December 8, 2008 at 7:55 am

    ProcessExplorer is the way to go. Google for it, and you'll see its on Microsoft's Technet. It helps so much when determining where resources are leaked to, or what's got a lock on a file.

    And I agree with GIMP too. Anything GNU gets automatic points in my book, but it is very powerful, and I've never needed anything more than it can provide.

    Defragging is overrated. With today's fast drives, disk seek times are rarely (but occasionally) the bottleneck in a system.

    For remote desktop, Ultra VNC is the way to go. I run it on all of my servers and computers, and at work we have a complex setup of 10 sorting machines that can all be controlled from anywhere in the world. (Yes, after thick VPN security).

    And finally, text editor? I can't believe PSPad wasn't mentioned on here. Again, this is our standard at work, but after I experienced it there, it has become my new standard at home as well. It's quick and lightweight, and has syntax/highlight support for all the common programming languages, as well as support for user-defined highlighters. Even has built in diff (side-by-side comparison) as well as a hex editor! What more do you need?

    As for the browser war? Honestly, I can't stop using Google Chrome :-)

    • T.J. Mininday
      December 8, 2008 at 2:00 pm

      Thanks for the awesome feedback. These are the types of comments I was looking for.

  34. Ajay Pathak
    December 8, 2008 at 7:42 am

    notepadd++ is really good application other applications never tried so can't say any thing about theam

  35. steve
    December 8, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Have tried a good few Notepad replacements (both freeware and payware) and Notepad++ is easily my favourite.
    I suppose it's all down to individual requirements and preferences but as a general and as a programming replacement it's second to none.

  36. Ronnie
    December 8, 2008 at 2:50 am

    9. Chrome or Firefox or Maxthon - Internet Explorer.
    10. Miranda or Pidgin - Windows Messenger / Live Messenger.
    11. WinAMP and Media Player Classic - Windows Media Player.
    12. ImgBurn - Whatever crap is in your current Windows.

  37. brendon
    December 8, 2008 at 2:12 am

    microsoft mesh is a good alternative to logmein free with the added benefits of file synchronization between machines.

    • Nicbot
      December 8, 2008 at 12:00 pm

      Curious why Teamviewer didn't make that list. Has everything logmein free has and more. Logmein seems to have a slight performance lead, but Teamviewer has way more features for free99 :)

  38. Reelix
    December 8, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Paint.NET > Paint

    EditPadLite > Notepad / Wordpad :)

    - Reelix

  39. venkat
    December 8, 2008 at 12:44 am

    I am not a themes guy which eats lot of system resources ,I use classic start menu .Mininday you forgotten to include most important alternate to Msconfig Autoruns which not only removes startup entries but also very useful in removing suspicious entries in registry relating to viruses .

  40. Khanxay
    December 7, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    IMO is better than The GIMP as far as replacing Paint goes as PDN has a very similar UI.

    • T.J. Mininday
      December 7, 2008 at 7:33 pm

      Yeah, I'm not a big Photoshop/Gimp/PDN guy. I just know that it seems like Gimp is talked about more often.

      • Dmytro Lapshyn
        December 8, 2008 at 5:41 am

        If I may suggest a kind of a bottom line:

        * Paint .NET is a free and more powerful replacement for MS Paint for creating raster graphics
        * GIMP is a free, but less powerful alternative to Photoshop for photo retouching, collages and similar image processing tasks. GIMP, I believe, is still powerful enough for most amateur tasks.
        * InkScape is a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator for drawing vector graphics. An ability to export graphics as XAML makes it attractive to amateur or open-source WPF or Silverlight developers.

        • Scott M.
          December 8, 2008 at 12:39 pm

          While GIMP may be technically less powerful than Photoshop (although it has many features and plug-ins that Photoshop does not), it is unbelievably powerful for free software. It is useful for far, far more than just photo retouching, etc. Look up GIMP tutorials, and you will see just a hint of what can be done with it.

          I have used GIMP for nearly ten years now. It is one of the first things I (re-)download when I get a new computer. As a Web developer on a budget, I wouldn't dream of being without it.

          Now InkScape on the other hand, is far too buggy to use as a replacement for Illustrator, although InkScape is much more user-friendly.

  41. rob
    December 7, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    on your rocketdock screenshot, what is that weather docklet? I can't find one like that.

    • Scott R.
      December 7, 2008 at 7:39 pm

      Erm... that looks an awful lot like ObjectDock to me, not RocketDock. (Which would explain why Rob can't find the weather docklet, which comes default with OD.)

      It's also kind of cute that you call GIMP a strong competitor to Photoshop and an MS Paint replacement in the same post. Hehe.

    • T.J. Mininday
      December 7, 2008 at 7:47 pm

      I'm glad you pointed this out Rob. I am now discovering while I was deciding what dock to choose, RocketDock vs. ObjectDock, I put in the ObjectDock Screenshot for the RocketDock section.

      The screenshot is actually ObjectDock.

      • aoi_sora9x
        December 7, 2008 at 8:34 pm

        Rocketdock's effect seems more smooth to me... <_<

  42. Aaron
    December 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    I use the Vista Start Menu (in XP) and I wouldn't want to live without it. GIMP is also a great photo editor. I tried Notepad++ a while back and didn't care for it.

    • PS4Guru
      December 19, 2008 at 3:12 am

      same here

  43. Steve
    December 7, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    Why is not mentioned?

    • T.J. Mininday
      December 7, 2008 at 7:32 pm

      I know there is going to a lot of alternatives probably not mentioned. I tried come up with as many as I could find.

      • Josh
        December 7, 2008 at 11:59 pm

        There is a lot of misperception about defragging, eg if you have Vista than the built in, automatic utility works as good as any replacement.

    • Tsudohnimh
      December 16, 2008 at 1:16 am

      I agree. JKDefrag is the best defrag available. It is efficient, effective, and extremely fast. [Broken URL Removed]

      If you want an easy installer you can download it from my tools page.

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