This is a list of recommended free programs you should download to your new Windows computer. If I recommend a program that is not free, I show the price.
- Programs I consider essential are highlighted thus.
- Zone Alarm – a firewall that you use to control which of your programs you allow to access the internet. Also blocks incoming intrusions from the internet.
- AVG Antivirus – a popular antivirus program. AVG became bloated in version 8, so if you want something leaner, try Avira.
- Ad-Aware – searches your hard disk for rogue files that could present a security issue.
- Skype – free or cheap telephone calls. You will need a mic and speakers.
- Windows Live Messenger – instant message and talk to friends. Alternatively, use Pidgin, Trillian or Gaim.
- Google Talk – instant message and talk to friends.
- Express Talk – SIP telephone program for making VOIP calls (and get a free SIP account and UK telephone number with Sipgate).
- Google Docs – your documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. The great new alternative to Microsoft Office and Open Office.
- Adobe Reader – for viewing PDF's (formerly known as Adobe Acrobat). Reader does not enable you to create PDFs, for that I recommend Primo PDF. More info below.
Web / Email
- Firefox – excellent web browser (faster and more secure than Internet Explorer).
- Flash Player – essential plugin for your browser.
- Shockwave Player – sometimes a required plugin for websites.
- Mozilla Thunderbird – email client (excellent alternative to Outlook and Outlook Express).
- Java – Java 2 Runtime Environment is required for some websites.
- SharpReader – decent, easy-to-use RSS reader.
Music / Video
- iTunes – for listening to MP3s and ripping CDs (comes bundled with QuickTime for watching movies).
- VideoLAN – a cross-platform media player that supports a large number of multimedia formats, without the need for additional codecs.
- Real Alternative – for playing Real movies and listening to streaming audio/video over the internet (the BBC website uses the Real format). Real Alternative is an advert-free, simple program unlike the full version of Real Player (which is clunky, slow and resource heavy).
- DivX Player – for playing movies and DVDs (like Real, Windows Media Player and QuickTime – except it is better and comes with a codec often required for watching movies on your computer).
- iPod Update – latest firmware updates and software for your iPod. (Try Outpod and Ephpod for other iPod music management).
- MediaMonkey – has tools to organise and clean up your MP3 files and meta tags (you could also try TagScanner).
- Audacity – record and edit sound files.
- Picasa – the free photo management and editing program from Google. Also lets you easily publish photos for free on the web.
- Izarc – for zipping/unzipping files (like WinZip, but free).
- Plaxo – synchronises your contacts so that they are up-to-date on all your computers and also online (also see the LinkedIn toolbar).
- Panorama Factory – does a great job of stitching together sequential photos to create a panorama ($30 approx).
- Google Earth – zoom in and out of the entire world.
- Portable Apps – if you have a big USB stick, you might like to load on these portable applications so that you can use your favourite apps wherever you are. They are stand-alone versions and do not need to be installed on the host computer.
- Bulk Rename Utility – for renaming lots of files in one go.
- Free Download Manager – speeds up file downloads by breaking them into pieces.
- PSTCompactor – for compressing large Outlook PSTs (always stay under 2GB!). Free trial, then $24.95.
- DefaultMail – makes switching between email clients very easy.
- MozBackup – the best tool for backing up your Firefox and Thunderbird settings, profiles, email etc.
- Shup or ScreenPrint 32– excellent free tools to take screenshots of your computer. Shup can also edit them and upload them.
- Primo PDF – Free program that enables you to create a PDF from a webpage, text document, spreadsheet, etc by choosing "Print" and selecting the Primo PDF printer.
- WirelessKeyView – Free program to recover lost wireless network keys.
- GetDataBack – A program to recover lost data from hard disks and USB drives. My friend Robin has used this program to successfully recover lost data from USB sticks.
Web Developer tools
- Graphics – Adobe Photoshop ($649).
- Coding – Aptana (free for basic version), NVU (free), Dreamweaver ($399), Edit Plus (shareware).
- Animation – Flash ($699).
- Xenu Link Sleuth – excellent link checker.
- FileZilla – very good free FTP program.
- Icon Sushi – for creating favicons.
- Domain Name Analyzer – checks multiple domains in one go and gives status including DNS.
- PuTTY – command line and SSH login for server admin.
- WinHTTrack – for making copies of entire websites.
- WinSCP – for secure access to server files.
- Lunarmedia Clock – nice simple analogue clock.
- BBC Climate Change Screensaver – uses your computer to process climate change predictions in a huge international experiment.
- SereneScreen Marine Aquarium – realistic fishtank, very cool, $20.