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First (free) programs to install for Windows

Must have software for new Windows machines

For every new computer I buy or setup for someone else, I spend some time remembering all the software I regularly use in Windows. Here is a collection of my favorite programs. Most are completely free. Be aware when you install them, that it is common for software publishers to include other bundled software from which they earn some money. If you do not want to install these additional programs, make sure to pay attention to all the screens during the installation process.

First things first! Should I upgrade to Windows 10? Probably!

Microsoft released Windows 10 as a free upgrade for many Windows users in July 2015.

If you are running XP, Windows 7, or Windows 8 and your computer meets the minimum requirements, then Windows 10 is probably a great choice for you.

Hold off if you have older or weird devices as that is likely the last part to catch up (updated device drivers).

I have upgraded a netbook that originally had XP as well as a Windows 8.1 laptop that shipped with Windows 7 and a Windows 8.1 tablet. I have had no issues with any of these devices and pretty much any app or program that run in Windows 8.1 will run in Windows 10.

I am still waiting to update my machine that acts as a home server and my primary work computer (the one I am using now), but I am going to give it some time and will probably upgrade that machine as well.

Here are a few reviews of Windows 10

The basics

Malware and virus prevention software

If your machine doesn’t include anti-malware or anti-virus software, or if it includes a demo version, a great first install is Windows Security Essentials. It is free and works for Windows Vista, Windows 7. Windows 8 and Windows 10 both include Microsoft Defender. Make sure to uninstall any anti-virus program before trying a new one.

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Cleaning your PC and maintaining the registry

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CCleaner is a wonderful free program that I have installed on all my Windows machines. It works in all versions of Windows from XP to Windows 10 and there is also a version for OS X. It includes both a registry, and a file scanner that looks for things like local cache, temporary files, and registry settings that can be cleared. This can be especially useful if you install and uninstall software often.

Notepad replacement

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Notepad++ is a multiple tab based text editor with options for programming. It is far more robust than the basic notepad included with Windows machines.

Playing Video and Audio files

Windows includes a pretty good media player, Windows Media Player, but sometimes it doesn’t play everything. VLC is a great program that pretty much plays all the video and audio formats you will encounter. There is also a “Metro” version for Windows 8 and 10.

Web browsers

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Microsoft has made some massive improvements in Internet Explorer 9-11 (included with Windows 8), and Edge is a good option in Windows 10, but they still lack the plugin and extensions offered by Mozilla’sFirefox and Google’s Chrome. It is also a good idea to have a spare browser on hand in case something goes wonky with your main browser. One nice feature is that both Chrome and Firefox offer Android versions of their browsers that can sync bookmarks, passwords, and other user data.

Screen capture

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Windows 7, 8, and 10 all include theSnipping Tool application, but as anEvernote user, I have come to enjoy using Skitch. It offers a basic screen capture function and has additional annotation features. If you use Evernote, it allows you to sync those images to your account but you can also save them locally.

Remote System Access

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While the Pro and Ultimate versions of Windows do include a Remote Desktop protocol server, the less expensive versions do not and the price difference is pretty significant. TightVNC is a free option that is available for non-commercial use. It includes both a server and client version. The server allows you to connect to your PC from another computer, while the client allows your machine to connect to other PCs. There are client programs that allow you to connect to your computer not only from another Windows computer, but from pretty much any operating system including Android, iOS, Linux, and OS X. TeamViewer can also be a good option.

Music, images, and media

Winamp is no longer updated nor supported by AOL and you can probably find a way to playback most of your content using Windows Media Player (WMP), but it is reliable and doesn’t use much system resources. So it can be helpful if you just want to listen to music and WMP or VLC are just not cutting it.

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Plex media server is a good option as a home upnp server as well as a solution for streaming you home media to a mobile device on the go. The remote streaming requires the premium service, but the server itself is free and does a great job of finding useful metadata for your movies, TV, and music.

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Paint.net is a pretty great and useful graphics editing program. It may not be as straighforward to user as Photoshop, for being free it really does most of the things I usually need a graphics program to do.

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Network

utorrent is a great BitTorrent client that is cross-platform. Whether you are downloading Linux distributions or some rare 1960 British TV show, it fits the bill. Make sure to read each install option or you might end up with bundled software installed.

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Opera is a wonderful standards-compliant and cross-platform browser. Good to have in your browser toolbox for trouble shooting and a super option if you are on a slow network connection.

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Filezilla is a utility for FTP, SFTP, and other file transfer. Use this to update your website via SFTP/FTP or to download content from FTP servers.

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PuTTY is an Telnet/SSH client. Use it to connect to remote computers (Linux, FreeBSD, OS X, etc.).

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Tools and utilities

Password are a problem for most people, but Lastpass will let you keep all of your passwords locked down, manages your passwords, can generate new ones, and provides a feature to audit your existing passwords as well. You will need to pay to use the mobile app, but the website service is free.

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7-zip has more features than the compression included with Windows and has support for more archive types then native Windows as well as better handling of archive files.

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Malware Bytes is a good tool to use to help track down potential malware on your computer. Good to use on a regular basis so the internet cruft doesn’t accumulate!

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Documents

I use a few programs for formatted document editing (anything not a plain text file).

Google Drive is great for collaboration and to backup your files and photos. There is a limit to the drive space for free accounts, but you can pay for more space.

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Libre Office is based on Open Office and is a great alternative to Microsoft Office. It also has better chart and graphing functions than Google Drive and is cross-platform.

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You can use the free version of Evernote to organize and tag your thoughts, projects, recipes, images, voice notes, hand written notes and more. It is actually a service that is hard to describe until you start using it. I love it and pay for the premium version which bypasses the monthly upload quota of the free plan.

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Journal tool

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I used a paid service for years to keep a journal. That site, ohlife.com closed in 2014 and I went a year without a good replacement. I recently found the app and service Journey and it meets my journal needs rather well and even ads some features that Ohlife lacked.

There is a web version, Chrome app, iOS, and Android versions and it used your Google Drive account to store the entries.

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