Here is a list of useful software I usually install whenever I do a fresh Windows (XP) install. Most of them are free or have free versions available, while others do not.
- ClamWin – The free, open source ClamAV antivirus port for Windows. It doesn’t have a real time scanner, but who needs one, anyways? Very lightweight and doesn’t get in your way at all.
- Cygwin – Linux environment for Windows. Among other things like the GNU toolchain, provides Bash, a far more powerful command shell than the Windows Command Prompt.
- TweakUI XP Powertoy – Essential tool for customizing Windows. After installation, the first thing I do is disable autoplay for all drives (thus removing the risk of being infected by usb drive malware), registering the multimedia key for opening Winamp and configuring Internet Explorer so typing “g <search string>” in the address bar will search google for the search string. I’ll post about it later.
- Windows Defender – Microsoft answer for the increasing malware wave on the internet. Doesn’t detect everything, but is free to use and is light on system resources. Even malware authors says it ain’t too bad, so it’s surely worth a try.
- Spybot – Search & Destroy – Third party option for protection agains malware/adware. But I usually leave the TeaTimer (realtime scanner) option disabled.
- Microsoft Bootvis – Formerly offered on Microsoft’s Website, BootVis is a “is a performance tracing and visualization tool” for helping “identify performance issues for boot/resume timing“. Some says it cannot speed up startup time, but it definitely does for me. All you have to do is install it then click on the “Optimize” button and wait while it does its magic.
- Macrium Reflect Free – The best backup solution I’ve ever seem. Its worth paying for the full version, but the free one does just as well – it creates images of your entire disk or entire partitions in less than 5 minutes, copying either only the used sectors or making a bitwise copy of your drive, has backup verification, can create Linux or Windows based rescue CDs, backups even your MBR and backups directly from Windows, without needing to reboot using a bootable CD.
The only regret I have is missing its full version for free when it was available through GiveAwayOfTheDay back in June.
- WinDirStat – Creates a map of your harddrive so you can see exacly how your disk space is being used. Very useful to discover why your 250GB HD has only 1.7GB free.
- 7-Zip – Archiver (file compressor) with one of the best compression rates out there. Can employ ultra compression at the cost of extra amounts of memory and processor time, but its normal compression is just fine. Plus it is open-source and free, unlike WinRAR.
- Opera – The Fastest Browser on Earth! Has integrated email, chat, BitTorrent support and is incredibly fast! Has other cool features like mouse gestures, popup blocking and password manager already built in. Definitively my browser of choice, be it in Windows, Linux, mobile phones, game consoles, televisions or fridges.
- Google Chrome – Because its always good to keep an alternative browser to your alternative browser lying around.
- Free Download Manager – FDM is a download manager and BitTorrent client and also the only download application you’ll ever need. Opera is good, but I don’t like having to leave my browser open just to download some files.
TrueCrypt – Opensource software for transparent, on-the-fly, realtime encryption. Can hide entire drives and even boot partitions making them completely invisible if you don’t know how to reach them.
- Update: TrueCrypt was discontinued back in 2014 and has subsequently not been maintained. A number of security flaws have been uncovered and as a result we are reaching out to people to highlight a list of alternatives. Please see this page for more details and for a list of alternatives for TrueCrypt.
- Winamp – Winamp has been my player of choice since 1997 on Windows. The AVS plugin is just fantastic, and together with DFX for Winamp and NowPlaying (for Live Messenger) it is a complete, feature rich and the sexiest player ever to sit docked on the top of my screen.
Better yet is enabling the AVS video overlay (so you can see it on your TV) and set it to change your desktop to the overlay color. Its an amazing effect. But of course, if you own a Geforce card, only if it is a model prior to the 8000 series, if your Windows is prior to Vista and your video driver is old, because NVIDIA, in its infinite wisdom, has completely disabled video overlay on TV for its newer cards and drivers, AFAIK.
- Media Player Classic – I like Windows Media Player, but whenever it gets in my way its always good to have this alternative around. Plus it just works with my WinLIRC remote out-of-the-box.
- ffdshow – The One decoder to rule them all. FFdshow decodes nearly everything, video and audio, from mp3 to AAC, mpeg to XVid. Has support for subtitles, postprocessing filters and more. You don’t have to install bloated codec packs which will just mess your system anymore.
- QuickTime Alternative – The DirectShow filter for watching QuickTime movies without QuickTime. God bless the authors of QuickTime Alternative and of the Real Alternative below for keeping us away of all the bundled crap that comes with the two original players.
- Real Alternative – The DirectShow filter for watching Real Media videos without Real Player. Just like with QuickTime Alternative, you can view your videos on your player of choice, be it Windows Media Player or Media Player Classic. You just have to register the extensions with your choosen player the first time you open your media.
- CDBurnerXP – After many years using Nero, and considering the bloatware is has become, I’ve ditched it in favour of this simpler, cheaper, free as in beer alternative and have not looked back ever since.
- Microsoft Virtual PC – A must have if you like to test neat, cutting edge or just unknown dangerous stuff without risking compromise your main system, or if you need to make tedious testing with different operating systems all in one computer. In my opinion, better than VMWare.
- .NET Reflector – Apparently, the free software from Lutz Roeder which enables us to peek into CLR assemblies and browse its source code was sold to Red Gate. I can only hope this excellent tool continues as a freeware for us developers.
- CADSoft Eagle – The Easily Applicable Graphical Layout Editor, or EAGLE for short, is a very complete circuit designer and layout editor, a must have for the electronics hobbyist. The freeware version is enough for most people, but the full version is very worth paying too.
- Proton DE – The Proton Development Suite for PICBASIC programming (BASIC for Microchip’s PICmicros®).
- WinPic800 – The programmer software which just worked™ with my Tait’s Style Parallel Port Battery-Powered Microchip PICmicro® programmer.
- Google Talk – To chat and keep track of new mail.
- Adobe Reader – The Standard Portable Document Format Reader. For some time I ditched Adobe Reader in favour of Foxit as it was becoming completely unusable due to the giant memory footprint and “resource hungryness” of its previous versions. But since it’s last version, it has improved a lot, so I’m giving it another try.
- WinLIRC – Control your PC using your any infrared remove control. I’d post about how to craft your receiver but there are many good tutorials available on the internet. I may post about mine later in the future.
The funny thing is, albeit this was originally a Linux program, I’ve never got it to work under Linux, even if it works great on Windows.