10 freeware programs essential for my computing life

Although many of us may experiment with new programs regularly, all of us have a core set of programs that we need to have installed on our computers at all times; …otherwise armageddon proceeds. In this article I am going to share with you 10 freeware programs – out of my bucket of “core” programs – that are essential to my digital life; without them I would – simply put – be lost.

(Note: This list is in no particular order.)

CleanMem is quite possibly the best memory cleaning/optimization program I have even encountered. Not only does it (usually) clear up a good chunk of memory, but it works in such a way that users have no idea CleanMem is running. It does its job – with leaving little to no footprint on your computer –  and gets out. Brilliant program.

Some may disagree with me when I say it, but Firefox is the cream of the crop when it comes to Internet browsers. Needing no introduction thanks to its hard earned fame, Firefox is a package which brings everything to the table: speed, efficiency, addons, security, and aesthetics. Sure Firefox is not the “best” in all categories but it is the best jack-of-all-trades out on the market right now.

Digsby is an instant messaging platform that allows users to integrate different instant messaging services, e-mail checking, and social network usage all in one program. Think of it as the desktop version of Meebo.

When it comes to screenshotting programs, there are tons of (free and commercial) choices people have. Ever since I started using FastStone Capture a couple of years back, I have fallen in love with the program. It is easy to use, feature filled, and has this lovely floating toolbar most other screenshot programs lack. In fact, everyday dotTechies enjoy the fruits of FastStone Capture’s labor – all screenshots on dotTech were taken using the program.

WinSplit Revolution is a program that allows users to easy resize/tile program windows. Although the concept of the program may not sound too flashy, in practical uses this is man’s best friend when doing any sort of work (that involves more than one program window) on the computer. Oh how many times I have counted my blessings for being able to use WinSplit to ease my pain when doing projects such as transferring data from source to spreadsheet.

Windows’ clipboard is possibly one of the worst designed aspects of Windows. Sure the idea of having a clipboard which can be used to copy/cut/paste stuff is nice, but there was a huge lack of hindsight into how there may be a conflict caused by the inability to copy/cut/paste multiple things at once. To help resolve this conflict, many programs have popped up. TenClips is one such program; TenClips gives users the ability to have 10 different clipboards. However, I find myself using TenClips’ ability to post purified text more than making use of all clipboards. In fact, I hardly ever post unpurified text anymore thanks to TenClips.

Most programs, when uninstalled, leave traces – such as registry entries or files – behind on your computer. RevoUninstaller is a program who’s goal is to help you perform “clean” uninstalls by removing leftover traces from uninstalled program; and RevoUninstaller has passed the test of time proving it truly is one of the best – if not the best – clean uninstaller out there. I don’t know what I would do without Revo.

WinPatrol is a nice little “supplement” to your computer’s line of defense. More or less, it is a computer “change” monitor; it monitors your computer for changes to things like file associations, startup programs, etc. and notifies you of the changes, asking you to either allow or disallow the change. It is extremely handy especially for people who install new programs on a regular basis. I can’t count how many times WinPatrol has saved me from programs that try to hijack my homepage.

Anyone that has ever worked with code knows how hard it can be to keep track of everything. Notepad++ is a program that aims to help deal with code in an easier fashion; it color codes code syntax for users. So while it may not be an idle platform to write a program, it makes editing code – such as for a website – very easy. I use it almost on a daily basis.

Once upon a time I used to use WinZip for my archive needs. Then I discovered 7-zip and never looked back. 7-zip is an open source answer to the likes of WinZip and WinRar. 7-zip allows users to work with archives, including .ZIP and .RAR formats, opening them, creating archives, etc. It even has its own .7z archive which far surpassed the likes of .ZIP and .RAR in areas like compression and security.

So you have just read a list of 10 programs I could not live without. I am sure you have some of your own. Feel free to share in the comments below.

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72 comments

  1. Steve

    Faststone Easy Capture is so good I paid for it, and then I bought licenses for two colleagues. I do not believe there is a free version anymore, but it is well worth the $20 if you use it heavily like I do. I own SnagIt but never use it because FastStone is so much quicker and easier. I have used Snap 4 and PicPik and find the same story, Easy Capture is better. If you can still get it for free, go for it.

  2. Allen H

    I use Ditto as a clipboard manager,it stores no end of clips
    Firefox used to be my favourite browser but with the latest version there were many bugs so I have gone over to Google Chrome and their help function sucks

  3. Seamus McSeamus

    It’s very difficult to winnow this down to a list of ten, but here goes:

    7-Zip – Simply the best at what it does.
    Q-Dir – Probably my most used program.
    FastStone – I used PicPick before Ashraf’s review of FastStone.
    Revo Uninstaller
    Extreme Copy – I’m a recent convert from TeraCopy.
    Firefox – Still tops in my book, especially with the memory leak finally fixed.
    Unlocker
    F.lux – Softens the computer screen as the day progresses.
    CleanMem
    iTunes

    I know iTunes is reviled my many users of Apple products, but I don’t have any problems with it. I did on Vista, but no kinks on Seven.

  4. dtc

    One thing I could not do without is DESKPINS………… and it is free !!

    “DeskPins can be used to make any application topmost, that is, to keep it above all other windows. Just grab a pin from the DeskPins icon in the system notification area (a.k.a. taskbar tray) and click on any window. This functionality is identical to the “Always on Top” setting found in some programs. With DeskPins you can add this feature to any program!”

    http://users.forthnet.gr/pat/efotinis/programs/deskpins.html

  5. Dlira

    Good list, but I cannot understand how you can live without a dual pane file manager. Windows Explorer is just not good enough for file management. I have been extremely satisfied with xplorer2lite for several years. But maybe you prefer a file manager that is not free?

  6. -

    proxo
    firefox
    crimson editor
    agent ransack/filelocatorlite
    kerio 2 or comodo
    avira, tho switching to mse (also annoying, but in different ways)
    wget
    irfanview
    7zip
    winmerge
    hostess [HOSTS manager. haven't tried others]
    editpadlite
    metapad
    doublekiller
    vlc
    foobar2000
    kmeleon
    opera
    akelpad
    xnews
    aiconsushi
    nirext
    desksave
    filedate [nir]
    xplorer2lite
    foxit (pdf)reader
    flvplayer
    kmplayer
    regalyzer
    bkren
    hijackthis
    spybot
    regshotuni
    uniextract
    sdp downloader
    erunt
    utorrent
    fsum
    [less frequent...]

  7. pallgone

    Good list. I was using most of those tools back then when I was still on Windows. I’m now using a Tiling Window Manager (xmonad) on GNU/Linux: it rocks. Also I don’t need things like Revouninstaller or AV anymore. Feels good. Before Windows came onto the scene (DOS days) the PC was interesting. With Windows not anymore. GNU/Linux is what has brought the old days back for me. Keep it up!

  8. Samuel

    @Lynton: True. And for the most part I’m wrong then. But I would guess Ashraf was going for completely free programs, in that all the programs above are not stiped down free versions (from what I can tell anyway).

  9. lyn

    I agree with Shenley, I believe “Returnil” is the best program to use to investigate all of the other new programs, so as not to jeopardize my computer. Question is why it was not in your top ten?

  10. Stevie

    @Jyo:

    Although rarely used for this purpose, 7-Zip can also open(view inside) and extract files from the .ISO format. I’ve only found this out not too long ago.

    Can 7-zip reinsert changed, extracted files into an .ISO?

  11. Sunny

    These I value hugely:

    EVERYTHING (I have to thank Ashraf for turning me on to this. It’s brilliantly useful and I can’t be without it. I use it many times a day. It makes file finding on an extensive Hard Drive a mere breeze)

    FileBox Xtender (another great time-saver)

    Q-Dir file manager (speeds up all my ‘explorer’ work. I work in 5 panes simultaneously. No lag. It leaves Windows Explorer in the dust 50 ks back down the road)

    Firefox (Love it tho’ we did have a very rocky relationship for a few years)
    Eraser
    UltraDefrag (has a fantastic help manual; a fine thesis from the developer)
    ImgBurn (has never let me down)
    Axcrypt
    Truecrypt
    Revo
    VLC
    KillCopy
    Gadwin Printscreen
    Izarc

    And thanks to all of you for your offerings, many of which I hope to try in the coming months. A great selection of goodies.

    Kudos to the open source community and other freeware developers who are maintaining the openhanded spirit and generosity of the original world wide web. They are an oasis in a landscape that’s become polluted by commercial interests.

  12. Numsekrummen.dk

    I see some nice programs outthere ^^

    Here My list of “must have” add n’ tools n’ such

    1: Maxthon Browser 2.5 (Free)
    2: Bit Che (Free)
    3: Vuze (Free)
    4: MyDefrag 4.2.9 (Free)
    5: Cleanmem (Free)
    6: PeerBlock 1.0(Free)
    7: WinUtilities Pro (Free)
    8: Zemana Antilogger 1.9 (Free)
    9: Trend Micro Internet Security (Free)
    10: Everest Ultimate Edition 4.6 (Free)
    11: Universal Extractor 1.6 (Free)

    And some of the other “gold” I cant live without:

    GSpot Codec Information Appliance 2.7 (Free)
    InstalledCodec (Free)
    FileTypesMan (Free)
    WinX HD Video Converter Deluxe (Free)
    WinX Blu-ray Decrypter (Free)
    Anvir Task Manager 6.2 (Free)
    Q-Dir (Free)
    Everything (Free)

    All programs is free or from this lovely site :) – Thnx Ashraf

    Cheers \o/
    Numsekrummen.dk

  13. jumbi

    @ Ashraf:
    They did change it as I read somewhere else (I havent installed it after being afraid reading all those articles), but the fear of possibility for other hidden objects remains…

    BTW, great article once again!

  14. .mau.

    I cannot live without Irfanview. Geosetter (www.geosetter.de, EXIF file manipulation) is also quite nice if you make a lot of pictures and you want to add metadata to them, in order to have a possibility to retrieve them.

  15. jumbi

    #Ashraf
    Thanks Ashraf for your input. I know that when you had the review, it wasn’t like that.
    What annoyed me most, is not the installation traps which can easily bypassed, but the hidden option of “Help Digsby conduct research” which has to be disabled from the help-Support Digsby menu!
    This is dangerous practice and one can imagine worse similar features…

    Perhaps, for general use maybe acceptable but for anyone who cares about his data, its very disappointing.

    (I will give trillian a try)

  16. Gioneo

    Didn’t we say ” Essential “…

    Avast (although right know I’m testing the new AVG
    with Zemana)
    WinPatrol
    CCleaner
    Cleanmem
    Firefox
    FormatFactory
    Nero Ultra
    7-zip
    Everest
    Thunderbird

  17. willem

    Winpatrol
    Quotepad (for very quick notes)
    Everything (to find ANYTHING on your computer quickly)
    Microsoft security essentials
    Wordweb (great thesaurus in your taskbar)
    Firefox and all the wonderful productive addons
    Fontpicker (to quickly compare some fonts/texts)
    Microsoft ICE (great panorama stitcher for free)
    BurnAware Home
    Picasa

  18. Joji

    Oh, and Ashraf, thanks for sharing all your favorite apps and programs! I recently installed “CleanMem”, WinSplit Revolution” and “Fast Stone Capture” onto my computer! Great programs! LOVE THEM!

    ~Joji~

  19. Joji

    @Ashraf: Question. Do you have any clue why Digsby would do such an “evil” thing? I mean they have a nice reputation; rated “awesome” on many magazines and websites… and they just had to do that “shady thing” and install tons of cr@p on your computer.

    Well… a similar thing happened to my computer once… when I was installing a trustworthy program, it asked me if I wanted to install “Dealio” toolbar. I thought “ok… sure, why not”. When a was doing computer cleaning during the next 2 weeks, I found Dealio on “REVO uninstaller” and i was… “what is that?” So I’m like “ohh… it’s a toolbar I installed from befor, but how?” Well, anyways I think I installed it when it was packaged with another program installer. So… I did some research on “Dealio” and found out it’s VERY untrustworthy and some peeps say it’s a “virus”. Well… I uninstalled it and now it’s gone. :)

    Now my computer is happy and I have one less thing to worry about. :D

    ~Joji~

  20. Ashraf
    Author/Mr. Boss

    @jumbi: Digsby does have a few annoying aspects yes (those aspects where not there when I wrote up my article on Digsby or else I would have talked about it). However if one is vigilant, can easily get past the initial installation annoyances (you have the option to opt-out of such things), Digsby is great. Of course, there is Trillian Astra for those that don’t like Digsby; it does similar things as Digsby (I don’t know if it has the same installation problems at Digsby though).

  21. delenn13

    I tweeted this to @BilP from @WinPatrol and now he has RT’d it.

    I use some of the stuff you all have listed but my fav is Transmute(it syncs your bookmarks between browsers). Even tho I think I have used IE only ONCE this year so far.

  22. Dr.H

    Revo uninstaller
    KMPlayer
    Firefox
    7-Zip
    Glary utilities
    Malwarebytes
    Avast
    SpywareBlaster
    GIMP
    OpenOffice.org
    Skype
    yahoo messenger
    google earth
    realplayer
    fast image resizer
    zone alarm
    mcafee site advisor
    regeraser
    unlocker

  23. mark

    In intersting article. Nice to see what other people consider their essentials, and what we can replace with freeware.
    Mine are;
    Teracopy
    keyScrambler (or zemana antilogger)
    editpad lite
    Irfanview
    Revo uninstaller
    jv16 powertools
    rainlendar
    KMPlayer
    Izarc
    winamp
    WordNetDT
    Damn nfo viewer
    Firefox (I also have Minefield installed for fast online working)

    Paid essentials:
    Eset security
    Vista Manager
    Stylewriter (professional editor)
    Britannica 2009
    Collins Dict/Thesaurus ( +others)
    Various Encyclopaedia
    Word 2003 ( my editor will not work with OpenOffice)

  24. David Roper

    One more:
    FileNote 1.1

    lives in the right click list.

    Allows me to add a writeup to downloaded files.
    Keeps the same name as the orig file and makes a TXT file with same orig name to contain the notes.

  25. Mr.Dave

    Some of my favorites (sorry, more than 10):

    XnView – image view, screen captures
    Picassa – organizing & finding images
    Anvir Task Manager – monitoring, startups
    VLC Media Player – plays almost anything
    Virtuawin – multiple desktops (AltDesk also good)
    Guitar Codex Plus – scales, chords, tunings
    Everything – extremely FAST way to find files
    Evernote – capture, organize, tag information
    Revo Uninstaller
    SIW – System information for Windows
    Firefox
    Zip Genius – fast & reliable .zip, .rar, others
    Stellarium – fast and powerful stars, planets, etc.
    Team Viewer – control another PC’s desktop

  26. Samuel

    After much thought I realized that no one here has listed thte most important program that they use every day!!!
    For us Windows users it’s Windows Explorer and for those Mac users its Finder!

  27. Slamet

    My hardware is an extremely modest Pentium I 233 Mhz 128 MB RAM running on Win XP. So all the programs must be the most modern yet very, very light on system resources. The lists are:

    Opera 10.51 + Fanboy Adblock
    Orbit Downloader
    CleanMem
    Erunt (so I can disable System Restore)
    CCleaner
    Eusing Registry Cleaner
    Revo Uninstaller
    Starter (to control Win start up & services)
    NTREGOPT
    JKDefrag
    Miranda
    Foobar
    GOM Player
    MagicDisc
    Softmaker Office 2006 Portable (it’s freeware)
    Foxit Reader
    7-Zip

    And yes… no security programs. I only install Avira Personal & Malwarebyte every 3 months to scan my harddisk, then to be uninstalled again. Yes I managed to stay secure without active security: I only depend on OpenDNS and Opera.

  28. WobblyWombat

    Many of my “can’t do without” security/maintenance programs have been covered above and I have FF add-ons like “ReminderFox” that I use everyday, and would need even without the actual FF browser capability.

    A couple goodies that haven’t been mentioned:

    Object Dock and Fences (to help keep my desktop under control – I have a ‘busy’ desktop!)

    ASC and Smart Defrag
    Paint.NET, Picasa, and Faststone Image Viewer (Photo organising and editing)
    VLC
    TeraCopy
    TrueCrypt

  29. jumbi

    aaaaaaaa,

    How did you manage to steal my 10 favorite list?!
    :-)

    I use all of them (except fastone capture which I dont need now), every day and they are my second hand for many years now!
    And I have tried and tested many similar soft to many machines but those are my selected too!

  30. phoenix_rising

    Great list! Great contributions – already checking into some that people have mentioned.

    I’d add to that list:

    PDF-Xchange Viewer
    FormatFactory or iWisoft
    Geswall
    Gigaget
    Macrium
    SpywareBlaster
    and, to keep everything neat on my desktop, RocketDock

  31. Jeanjean

    Lingoes
    Revo Uninstaller
    Format Factory
    SVS (virtualisation of installation)
    Video Cache View
    MWSnap
    RebootSafe
    Photofiltre
    XnView
    SMSwitch (…between screen modes)
    SE-TrayMenu (Launch applications from taskbar)
    Everything
    Photocopier

    … to name but a few of course!

  32. OldElmerFudd

    7-Zip – daily
    Autoruns
    CrapCleaner
    Damn NFO Viewer
    Eraser – daily
    IrfanView – daily
    Netscape>Phoenix>Firebird>Firefox – daily
    Revo Uninstaller
    Screamer Radio
    Tweakui
    Netscape Mail>Thunderbird – daily
    XTree Gold>ZTree Win
    dBpoweramp MC
    Karen’s Replicator
    ERUNT
    EAC
    Wavosaur
    Audacity

    Rats…I know those aren’t the only ones.

    When I give up on a software, it’s either because I found a replacement I prefer, or my needs change. There are plenty of shareware programs that make my work not just easier, but possible.

    Ron Moore

  33. APPitizer

    Here’s my top 10 favourites:

    – Everything
    – Opera
    – Cintanotes
    – Irfanview
    – 7-Zip
    – KMPlayer
    – FileMenuTools
    – Glary Utilities
    – iWisoft Free Video Converter (tks Ashraf for the tip!)
    – MediaMonkey

  34. Krish

    Digsby (Multi protocol chat client)
    Notepad++ (text editor)
    IrfanView (image viewer)
    CCLeaner (Clean temp files and registry junks)
    SnagIt (screen capture) – Not free
    PickPic (color picker, screen ruler and a dozen utilities including an image editor)
    Feed Daemon (Feed reader, sync with Google account)
    Live Writer (For bloging)
    Winrar (Zip utility) – you can use a share ware version
    Ultramon (for Dual monotor) – free version available
    Filezilla (for FTP)

  35. Samuel

    CleanMem: use it and love it, set it to run every 10 mins and it keeps my computer nice and happy (which keeps me happy :D)

    Firefox…next!

    Digsby: Eh, I’m a fan of the WLM interface, my only complaint is not FBChat intergration.

    FastStone Capture: I’ve got either PrintScreen or Windows Snip for that.

    WinSplit Revolution: Sounds interesting, I’ll think about it.

    TenClips: Interesting but I’ll pass.

    RevoUninstaller: I don’t uninstall that much, and when I do I break out the real geek tools (Most from Sysinternals)

    WinPatrol: Between Threatfire and WISE I’ve got that covered.

    Notpad++: Yea…Visual Studio for that.

    7-Zip: I’m doing just fine with the built in Windows ZIP Engine.

    @Ashraf: I see nothing from Sysinternals!

  36. Joji

    My favorite applications are the following (they are a mix of freebies and paid programs):

    -Ashampoo Win Optimizer 6
    -Camtasia Studio 6
    -Ccleaner
    -CleanMem
    -Crave World Clock
    -Glary Utilities
    -Google Chrome
    -Key Scrambler Premium
    -Malwarebyte’s Anti-Malware PRO
    -Puran Defrag
    -Rain Meter
    -REAL Player SP
    -REVO Uninstaller Pro
    -Shape Collage
    -SkyDownloader
    -Switch Sound File Converter
    -Win Utlities
    -Win Utilities
    -Xfire

    I don’t use some of them every single day, but they are are all REALLY good programs. Everyone should try ‘em out! They are all easy to use and fun to use with, and somewhat makes your life easier… some that is.

    ~Joji~

  37. Someguy

    Great Article!

    Here are some of my essentials:

    Google Chrome

    Skype

    Google Talk

    CPU-Z

    WinRaR

    Malwarebytes Anti Malware

    A-Squared Anti Malware

    Sothink SWF Quicker

    ___________________________________

    Though not all of them are free, I really would say they are essential besides Sothink SWF Quicker and CPU-Z but they are still a great pieces of software.