The 20 (Mostly Free) Downloads You Can't Do Without
You likely have plenty of software on your PC. But do you have the right software?
Any well-equipped system needs a basic software suite, a collection of tools that can keep your machine in working order and help it take care of everyday tasks--as well as some not-so-ordinary tasks. Since such software doesn't ship with your PC, for the most part, you'll have to accumulate it over time.
Which programs should you get? We've put together a suite of 20 must-have applications--the tools that will allow you to get the most out of your PC. We've included a wide variety of software, from security utilities to system cleaners to graphics tools. We've mixed some all-time favorites with some apps that you've probably never heard of. They all have one thing in common: You need them. Now. So read on and start downloading.
First, here's a look at software that can help your PC run in tip-top shape, including a Registry cleaner, a system optimizer, and more.
If you need to clean and optimize your machine, improve your privacy and security, or do other similar tasks, you'll want this program. It's free, it's simple to use, and it'll make your computer run much better.
Its cleanup and repair tools include a Registry cleaner, a disk cleaner, and a shortcut fixer that corrects shortcut errors on your Desktop or Start menu. Among its optimization tools are a startup manager and a very good context-menu manager for editing the menu that appears when you right-click a file.
You also get a file shredder, encryption tools, a utility for cleaning up your Internet traces...the list goes on. For anyone who wants to take control of their PC and doesn't want to pay even a penny, this is a great program to get.
Download Glary Utilities
Like it or not, your PC is full of junk. And no matter how hard you try to keep the junk off, it accumulates over time. This must-have does a great job of cleaning everything out. It clears your browser cache, temporary files folder, browser history, Windows log files, hot-fix uninstallers, and temporary files from third-party applications. The app offers a lot more, too, including a Registry cleaner and an uninstaller. Considering that it's free, it's hard to beat.
As good as CCleaner is, there's something it doesn't do: Track down "craplets" and kill them. Craplets are useless programs and trial versions that come installed on many new PCs, or that piggyback onto other downloads and install themselves on your computer. The result: a clogged hard disk, and a slower system.
That's where this free must-have comes in. It looks for dozens of craplets, finds them, and eliminates them.
The program's list of targets is long, and it includes the craplets most commonly preinstalled on PCs, such as QuickBooks Trial, Dell Search Assistant, Wild Tangent Games, a variety of Norton and Symantec trialware, and Yahoo Toolbar. Be sure to see the full list.
Download PC De-Crapifier
This great free utility does a thorough analysis of your hardware and system setup and then creates a profile that shows you everything you have. The profile is a Web page living on your machine that you can save or print out--or better yet, both.
In the profile, you'll find all you could ever need to know about your PC: the processor type and speed, including the primary and secondary cache sizes; the size and type of hard drive, including the total space and free space; the names of all the Windows user accounts; your RAM setup, including the serial numbers of the RAM modules; and your motherboard manufacturer and serial number. And that's just a start. You can use all of this material for troubleshooting, for technical support, for planning upgrades, or for anything else that requires a system rundown.
Download Belarc Advisor
Glary Registry Repair
Use your PC long enough, and you'll have problems with your Registry. Invalid entries, software that doesn't clean up the Registry after it uninstalls, invalid paths and file associations, obsolete entries--the list of Registry problems can be endless, and they'll slow down your PC, cause system crashes, and generally muck up things.
You'll never be able to track down the problems yourself, so grab this freebie, which scans the Registry and fixes issues fast. You can choose which changes to accept and which to ignore. The program creates an Undo file, too, so you can revert to your previous version of the Registry if complications occur.
General Windows Tools
Windows comes with assorted built-in applets and tools, such as the Clipboard and Notepad, but these tools barely do the tasks they're intended to do. As you'll see with these must-haves, though, there are plenty of ways to improve on what ships with Windows.
Windows comes with basic file-zipping features, but it leaves much to be desired. Every PC toolbox needs a good compression program that can compress and extract files and create archives. No doubt you've heard of for-pay compression programs such as WinZip and WinRAR, but you may not know about the free jZip, which offers everything you want from an archiving and compression program but doesn't cost a dime.
It handles popular archive formats such as Zip, RAR, 7z, TAR, and GZip, and gives you high compression ratios to save the most disk space possible. It's exceptionally easy to use, yet it offers great flexibility, such as including subfolders when you archive, splitting archives, and encrypting archives. You also have a half-dozen compression levels to choose from, depending on how small you want archives to be and how quickly you want to compress them.
NoteTab Light and NoteTab Pro
Is there a piece of software more useless than Notepad? It can't even do something as basic as open more than one document at a time. Replace it with either the free NoteTab Light or the shareware NoteTab Pro, which are everything that Notepad isn't. The free version opens multiple documents, handles large files, includes autocorrect features, lets you save text clips for later reuse, offers different fonts, permits macros, and plenty more.
If that isn't enough for you, move up to the Pro version ($30), which includes multiple levels of undo, offers a spelling checker and thesaurus, and allows you to bookmark documents, among other capabilities. It has a slew of features for programmers, as well. For anyone who edits HTML, it's ideal, as it includes a variety of useful HTML tools.
Download NoteTab Light
Clipmate Clipboard Extender
One of Windows' most basic features is the lowly Clipboard, which is nothing more than a temporary waystation for clips. That's where ClipMate comes in: It lets you save clips of all kinds so that you can reuse them--for example, boilerplate text you use time and time again, or software registration codes that you'll need handy for reinstallation.
Not only will the program save clips for you, but you can organize them into groups as well. You can combine individual clips into larger ones, edit clips, and preview clips, too. Also useful is the tool's ability to handle any kind of clip, including graphics.
We have the 30-day trial version in our Downloads library. The software costs $35.
Download Clipmate Clipboard Extender (trial version)
Here's the best utility for capturing a screen shot in Windows or any application. Though plenty of screen-capture programs exist, none come close to what this one does. It will capture live windows, your entire desktop, portions of your screen, menus, scrolling Web pages, and short videos. You can even capture menus only. And it outputs in many formats, as well as directly to a printer.
It also offers great tools for enhancing and annotating screen captures, including adding special effects such as sharpening and embossing, and inserting borders and watermarks. It's the program I use for all the screen captures I take for PC World and for my books.
We have the 30-day trial version in our Downloads library. The software costs $40.
Download SnagIt (trial version)
If you ever use graphics for almost any reason, you need this program. It's small, it's fast, it's free, and it does its work better than any competitor can. What more can I say?
IrfanView's main task is to display graphics files, and it does a superb job. You can view just about any file format you can imagine, and show it lightning fast. It can also display thumbnails, present your files as slide shows, and play multimedia files. Given that it's a file viewer, the program also has a surprising number of graphics editing tools, including effects and cropping. And if you need to convert files from one format to another, it can't be beat; it's particularly effective at batch-converting large groups of files.
To use a PC is to live online. To get the most out of your Internet experience, check out these must-haves.
FTP (file transfer protocol), one of the earliest protocols on the Internet, still lives. If you want to send large files, e-mail won't cut it, because so many ISPs limit the size of file attachments. And if you have a Web site, you typically must upload your files to it via FTP.
AceFTP is a very good, free, simple-to-use FTP client, and it'll handle pretty much any basic file-transfer job. Creating new connections and sites is easy, and browsing local and remote directories is a breeze. The program has a log for tracking your file-transfer activity. Also useful is the tabbed interface, which lets you maintain multiple FTP sessions on multiple servers.
Download Accelerator Plus
If you're reading this article, you're a downloader. And if you're a downloader, this program--which manages every aspect of the download process--will make your life much easier. It can do multiple downloads simultaneously, and it can turn individual download sessions on and off. The program accelerates your downloads in two ways, by downloading from the fastest servers and by establishing multiple connections to servers.
The utility can resume downloads if you lose your connection. It offers plenty more, as well, such as a feature that lets you limit the amount of bandwidth for downloads. Most convenient: It integrates with your browser, so when you initiate a download as you do normally, by clicking a link, this program springs into action.
Download Accelerator Plus
Despite what you might have heard, file sharing is alive and well. These days, it's done via the very efficient BitTorrent protocol. But while the BitTorrent protocol is effective and popular, the BitTorrent client leaves much to be desired.
Instead, grab BitZip, an excellent freebie that uses the protocol to download files. It does everything you need, including managing your downloads, halting and resuming them, and getting recommendations from other users about what files to download. You can also find lots of information about each file before downloading it, such as where you're downloading it from.
CoffeeCup HTML Editor
If you create Web pages, you need a good HTML editor, and this program fits the bill. It's suitable for hard-core coders who want to create and edit code directly, but also for people who want a WYSIWIG, graphical interface. An all-in-one program, it lets you design, code, preview, and publish your pages.
CoffeeCup has plenty of features for both novices and advanced users, including templates and sample code, and a slew of widgets such as prebuilt calendars. You also get multiple tabs for working on several projects at once, and a visual editing tool that lets you easily place graphics onto a page, directly from your PC.
Note: Advertisements are parked along the top of the free version, and the program asks you to sign up for various added services. If you register for $50, they'll disappear.
Download CoffeeCup HTML Editor (trial version)
Instant messaging programs aren't only for kids and teens--they've made their way into the mainstream as well. They have one problem, however: They don't communicate with one another. If you want to exchange messages with people on AIM, MSN, Yahoo, and other IM services, you have to use multiple programs.
Or you could instead use this freebie, a universal instant messenger that communicates with all of those networks. It does a lot more, too, including letting you share files, pictures, and music with others, as well as place audio and video calls.
Security software may be the ultimate must-have: You always need to keep your PC safe from hackers, crackers, and malware makers. The following programs can help ensure that your computer is secure.
One of the most critical applications for your PC is a good antivirus program. Most PCs ship with some kind of antivirus trialware, such as McAfee or Symantec, but after your trial period you must pay...and pay...and pay, as antivirus software typically requires an annual fee.
Not so with Avast. It's free for personal and home use, and unlike big commercial programs, it won't bog down your PC by taking too much RAM or system resources. Despite its lean build, it protects your computer as the bigger programs do. It offers live virus protection to stop your machine from being infected in the first place, virus scanning and virus killing, and various protections against e-mail viruses, Web-borne viruses, and other threats.
Download Avast Anti-Virus
Ad-Aware 2007 Free
This longtime favorite spyware killer recently underwent a face-lift, so if you're using an older version, be sure to upgrade. And if you haven't used it before, consider it a must-have. After all, not only does it kill spyware, but it's free as well.
It's exceptionally easy to use, and lets you customize spyware scans as well as schedule them. When the program reports what it finds, you can tell it to kill the potential infections, put them into quarantine, or ignore them. The new interface is much slicker-looking and easier to use than earlier versions.
This program lacks just one thing: real-time spyware protection. For that, you'll need another antispyware utility--the next must-have below.
Download Ad-Aware 2007 Free
Spyware is so noxious and so hard to detect that you should use more than one antispyware app. Windows Defender is a very good choice for a second layer of security. It's free, it does a nice job of finding and killing spyware, and, unlike Ad-Aware, it offers real-time protection.
It also has some extras, such as tools for monitoring all the software and processes currently running on your PC, and for stopping programs from running on startup if you decide you don't need them.
Download Windows Defender
Outpost Firewall Pro
This is the best firewall you've never heard about. It's rated by the Moutsec.com firewall-testing site as one of the most effective you can get. Unlike the Windows XP firewall, it blocks dangerous outbound traffic as well as inbound traffic. It also guards against the leaking of personal information from your PC.
Outpost Firewall Pro offers features not found in many competitors. For example, it can block banner ads on the Internet, as well as block ActiveX controls, scripts, applets, and other potentially dangerous content. It also provides real-time spyware protection. The program contains prebuilt profiles for many applications, too, so it knows how to handle their Internet access.
We have a 30-day trial version in our Downloads library. A one-year license, which includes updates and support, is $40.
Download Outpost Firewall Pro (trial version)
You've probably never heard of this oddly named antivirus software, but that's no reason not to give it a try. It provides real-time protection against viruses, scans and disinfects your system, and takes up little RAM and processor time in comparison with the big packages from Symantec and McAfee.
The program can integrate into Outlook and Outlook Express to protect your e-mail against malware, and it scans for spyware and adware in addition to viruses. One nice touch: It performs all of those scans at once, whereas some other tools require multiple scans. The utility also gives you plenty of control over how to handle potential infections, including moving them to quarantine and deleting them.
Our download link below will take you to the developer's site, where you can obtain the software to try it out for 30 days. A full one-year subscription is $40.