Top free and essential Windows software

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Chrome
replaces Internet Explorer

Chrome

Mozilla Firefox is the undisputed champion of browsers and so there’s no point in putting it on this list. However, Google have recently released their own take on a browser and, in my opinion, have managed to create a browser that – for me – ticks all the boxes; it combines a minimalistic design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer and easier. Not to mention the sleek design features. I have been using it instead of Firefox since it’s beta phase and I love it. There’s not many plugins out yet, but I haven’t needed to use any of my Firefox plugins since I installed it. It’s perfect.

7-Zip
replaces WinZip

7-Zip

WinZip just doesn’t cut it any more, it supports a limited amount of compression types, eats system resources and isn’t free. Whereas 7-Zip on the other hand supports everything WinZip and WinRAR does with a few extras: 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2, TAR, ARJ, CAB, CHM, CPIO, DEB, DMG, HFS, ISO, LZH, LZMA, MSI, NSIS, RAR, RPM, UDF, WIM, XAR and Z. It also has a powerful file manager, localisations for 74 languages, strong AES-256 encryption in 7z and ZIP formats as well as up to 10% better compression ratio to that of WinZip (for ZIP files). Definitely one of the best compression utilities around.

µTorrent
replaces torrent software

µTorrent

µTorrent is the world’s most popular BitTorrent client; it’s another application that’s lightweight and fast. It runs perfectly as a background process because it uses minimal system resources – typically about 6MB – and the application itself is a single executable file no bigger than 250KB. If you’re a torrent freak then µTorrent is definitely for you.

CCleaner
replaces Disk Cleanup

CCleaner

CCleaner makes it easier to clean-up your system, it allows you to securely remove temporary internet files, history and cookies (of most browsers), Explorer MRUs, system temporary files, memory dumps, Windows log files. It also cleans third-party application temporary files (including Adobe, Microsoft Office, Sun Java and 7-Zip). It can also be used to delete missing DLL links, unused file extensions, obsolete software and MUI cache from your registry. It’s designed to make Windows startup/shutdown faster and reclaim some of the disk space that is taken up by temporary files.

Defraggler
replaces Disk Defragmenter

Defraggler

Defraggler is another program, like CCleaner, that replaces the normal Windows tool for a faster and more feature-rich third-party tool. Defraggler differs from other file defrag tools by enabling you to quickly and simply defrag the files you want to, without having to process the whole drive. It also allows you to defrag freespace as well as files; so that new files are written towards the end of the drive and not all over the place – which helps to prevent future fragmentation as well. The defragmenter included with Windows misses files that are fragmented on large drives if the overall status of the drive is not fragmented. I have 3 drives at present, all of which I know are fragmented and yet Windows said only one of them was fragmented whereas Defraggler told me that all 3 have fragmented files. Defraggler is definitely a must-have for drive management.

AVG Anti-Virus Free
replaces anti-virus software

AVG Anti-Virus

AVG Anti-Virus is the best anti-virus program I have found to date. Norton was once my favourite, but it’s not free and hogs system resources. AVG on the other hand is lightweight and runs in the background, silently scanning files as they are opened and closed. It also has built-in anti-spyware, e-mail scanner and link scanner capability to improve the chances of catching viruses.

Ad-Aware
replaces anti-spyware software

Ad-Aware

I have used Ad-Aware has been my favourite anti-spyware program ever since I started using one, simply because it’s effective, has an excellent reputation and – best of all – it’s free. It was also one of the first applications to be built solely to find and remove spyware/adware, so it’s no surprise that it’s good at what it does. The only problem is the fact that real-time protection, plugins and automatic updates have been disabled in the free version of Ad-Aware and so forces you to use it as a secondary privacy tool – which is why AVG and Spybot – Search & Destroy are also on this list.

Spybot – Search & Destroy
replaces privacy software

Spybot - Search & Destroy

Spybot – Search & Destroy is another anti-adware program that checks your system against a comprehensive database of adware and other system invaders. Scan results now appear arranged by groups in a tree, and a sliding panel lets you instantly view information about a selected item to help you decide whether to kill it or not. The Immunize feature blocks a whole load of uninvited crap before it reaches your computer. Other useful tools, including Secure Shredder, complement the program’s basic functionality for completely destroying files. Hosts File blocks adware servers from your computer, and System Startup lets you review which programs load when you start your computer.

Pidgin
replaces instant messaging software

Pidgin

Pidgin is another third-party instant messaging application that lets you access multiple IM networks from one window, including Google Talk and MySpaceIM as well as lesser-known protocols such as Jabber and Gadu-Gadu. It’s feature-packed with customizable emoticons, file transfers, multiperson chats as well as a special Buddy Pounce feature that enables you to perform a specific action when a certain contact signs on or off. The only thing it lacks is video conferencing, but remains a highly recommended and extensible text-only messaging application.

TeraCopy
replaces file management

TeraCopy

TeraCopy is a compact program designed to copy and move files at the maximum possible speed, it replaces the Windows file management (moving, copying, deleting etc.) and provides you with a faster, more efficient and feature-rich replacement. It uses dynamically adjusted buffers to reduce seek times and enable faster file copying. File transfers can be paused and resumed at any time and shows an interactive list of files that have been copied, will be copied or have failed to be copied and allows you to recopy and skip only selected files.

FileZilla
replaces FTP client

FileZilla

FTP clients are probably one of the hardest things to find. I used SmartFTP for ages until they decided that they were going to force everyone to pay for the damn thing. I was hunting around for a good few months for free FTP clients and have only recently found this one; FileZilla. The straightforward interface, caching of directories, multiple uploads and downloads and low memory usage makes FileZilla one of the best FTP clients around.

Songbird
replaces Windows Media Player

Songbird

Songbird is a Mozilla-powered media player; it is very similar to iTunes but doesn’t have all the unwanted junk (such as Bonjour, iTunesHelper and iPodService). Because it’s powered by Mozilla it has add-ons and skins as well, which are a must-have because the basic program isn’t feature-packed. Many of the iTunes features – such as minimize to tray, media flow and album array-view – can all be enabled on Songbird with the use of add-ons. And if you really want, there are even skins that enable you to make Songbird look like iTunes. It’s only just been released and so things are just getting up to speed, but as it stands it’s the perfect replacement for Windows Media Player and iTunes.

Spotify
replaces music streaming service

Songbird

Spotify offers you legal and free access to a huge library of music. All you need to do is create an account and download the streaming music player. Currently it does not allow you to import your own music, but you really don’t need to. Just search from millions of tracks and stream it directly from the web, no need to download. You can even create your own playlists of any music you find on Spotify. Obviously, you can’t download from it but for an on-the-fly music player, it’s really good. Planning music for parties is no longer a problem, just let your guests search for what they want while it’s playing, and add it to the play queue. It’s pretty new, but it seems to be off to a very good start, I’d recommend it for all you music enthusiasts out there.

PeerGuardian
replaces blacklist software

PeerGuardian

PeerGuardian is a premier IP blocker for Windows, with features such as support for multiple lists, list editing, automatic updates and blocking of TCP, UDP and ICMP, PeerGuardian is the safest and easiest way to protect your privacy on peer-to-peer sites and applications. It can be set to download a multitude of blacklists, from advertising and spyware to government and educational IP addresses, and if that doesn’t take your fancy, you can even create your own. It’s definitely a must-have if you are planning on using peer-to-peer

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