Must have software for your Microsoft Windows computer

Windows Logo

Microsoft Windows is my operating system of choice, for many reasons. One of the best reasons is because of the wide array of software available for it. I’ve been a Windows user since Windows 3.1, before that I used MS DOS.

Despite the many criticisms levied against the Windows operating system (many completely unfounded, many are very true) it is an excellent OS for casual users, home users, business users, gamers, software developers, graphics artists, etcetera, etcetera. Unfortunately most of the point is lost if you don’t know what software to install.

This is my personal list of must have software for your Microsoft Windows computer. When I set up a new computer every item on this list gets installed, and I can do everything that I want to do. This list is valid for Windows XP, Vista or 7.

Internet applications

Firefox Logo

Mozilla Firefox (web browser)

www.mozilla.com/firefox/

In my humble opinion Firefox is still the best web browser available, for numerous reasons. It is a hugely popular and well supported browser, backed by a huge community of users and developers. The Mozilla team works very hard indeed to keep this browser updated with the latest technology and security.

Second choice: Google Chrome / Third choice: Opera

Thunderbird Logo

Mozilla Thunderbird (email client)

www.mozillamessaging.com/thunderbird/

Personally, I think the days of desktop email software are coming to an end, email web applications are getting better and better and don’t tie your mails to a single computer. However that system really only works well if you have to monitor one or two email addresses. Since I have several email accounts that I need to monitor I need an email reader that shows them all.

Thunderbird does this quite well. It’s not as smooth and refined as I would like, but it is still the best for this purpose, even when compared to commercial software like Outlook.

Second choice: Microsoft Outlook

Trillian Logo

Trillian Astra (instant messeger)

Trillian from Cerulean Studios was the original all-in-one instant messaging software. It is powerful and flexible, but it has some quirks. Luckily Cerulean has a record of being a great company and the community for Trillian is excellent. I find it to be the best instant messenger client available.

Update: Trillian 5 requires a pay subscription or it spams ads in your conversations. I am dropping this from my list. Trillian 4 is still good but unmaintained. I’m looking for a better IM client now.

Second choice: Pidgin

FileZilla Logo

FileZilla (FTP and SFTP client)

filezilla-project.org

I finally made the switch to FileZilla a couple years back when I needed a competent SFTP client and haven’t looked back. Nothing beats good old WS_FTP for pure simplicity and ease-of-use, but FileZilla has it beat by far once you need to use secure FTP.

Second choice: WS_FTP

PuTTY Logo

PuTTY (SSH terminal client)

www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~sgtatham/putty/

The one and only shell client worth mentioning. It is hardly user-friendly, but if you need to use an SSH terminal there is no better choice. It is old, but very powerful and has a nice set of support utilities that enhance it even further.

mIRC Logo

mIRC (IRC client)

www.mirc.com

Yes, people still use IRC, and if you are one of those people then you already have mIRC installed. Listed because it is the obligatory IRC client.

µTorrent Logo

µTorrent (torrent client)

www.utorrent.com

If you use torrents, then µTorrent is the software you should be using. It is by far the most advanced torrent software available and has every feature you could want. It also happens to be the lightest and fastest.

Dropbox Logo Small

Dropbox

www.dropbox.com

File synchronization and sharing over the internet, it’s a simple idea, but for some reason Dropbox is the only one that seems to have gotten it right. I love this simple little tool. The free version is limited to 2GB (3GB with viral marking game) but I have yet to even come close to that limit.

Multimedia software

CCCP MPC Logo

CCCP w/ Media Player Classic Home Cinema (video player)

www.cccp-project.net

No, this isn’t some bolshevik plot, it’s the end all be all of video playback, Media Player Classic (MPC) with the Combined Community Codec Pack (CCCP). This one sleek little package includes everything you need to play (almost) any video file. I haven’t found one file in the last 3 years that MPC w/ CCCP can’t play. It has excellent support for just about every codec you’ll find, great support for subtitles, powerful rendering options and playback tweaks that can fix videos that got screwed up somewhere.

Second choice: VLC

Foobar2000 Logo

foobar2000 (audio player)

www.foobar2000.org

I have grown to love foobar, but I will say it is not for everyone. Foobar2000 is a slimmed down audio player with a minimalistic interface. The lack of feature clutter makes it more powerful to me. But it is missing things that most normal people will want, like library sorting. If you want a more feature rich audio player then I have to recommend MediaMonkey, which I also love.

I use foobar2000 for my FLAC collection and MediaMonkey for my MP3 collection.

Alternate choice: MediaMonkey

Photoshop Logo

Adobe Photoshop (image editor)

www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/

The one and only. Adobe Photoshop is the only image editor you should be using if you can help it or consider yourself at all professional. There have been many attempts made by other companies to compete with this juggernaut, but they have all failed because Adobe just keeps making this product better and better.

Second choice: Paint.NET

Software development tools

Visual Studio Logo

Visual Studio 2010

www.microsoft.com/visualstudio

If you intend to do any kind of Windows software development then Visual Studio is pretty much your only option. But just because it is hopelessly proprietary does not mean it’s bad, in fact Visual Studio is the single best IDE I have ever used for anything, and at this point I’ve used just about every popular IDE ever made.

Microsoft Visual Studio is so fluid, so intuitive, and so advanced that it simply sets the bar that all other IDEs have been have been hopelessly trying to reach. Once you get the rhythm, VS development is a real pleasure that nothing else can match.

phpDesigner Logo

phpDesigner

www.mpsoftware.dk/phpdesigner.php

I was so happy to find a PHP IDE that doesn’t suck. I had basically given up all hope of finding a decent (non-Java) PHP development tool. Then I discovered phpDesigner from MPSoftware and I suddenly found new faith in man kind.

This is an excellent IDE that almost compares with Visual Studio. It is smooth, fast and pretty intuitive. It has a primitive version of intellisense which isn’t terrible (unlike Aptana/failbeans/etc), and has reasonably smart formatting. There is some room for improvement but it blows all other PHP IDEs out of the water. Reasonably priced too.

XAMPP Logo

XAMPP

www.apachefriends.org/en/xampp.html

WAMP stack in a box with a simple Windows interface. I use this as a simple PHP/MySQL development environment and it does a magnificent job at it. Simply install and go, there is little to no configuration necessary to get a running dev server. Now I wouldn’t recommend it as a production server because server administration is supposed to be complicated (make the admin think about the config), however for a Windows/Apache/MySQL/PHP development environment, nothing competes with it’s simplicity.

Text tools

Notepad++ Logo

Notepad++ (text editor)

notepad-plus-plus.org

The single greatest text editor ever made, in my humble opinion. Notepad++ is aptly named for having all of the features of notepad, plus more, plus more than that. It has integrated code highlighting for just about every language ever made, collapsible code blocks, smart formatting, encoding selection, macros and support for custom plugins. It has an amazing feature set, lots of customizations and is extremely fast and stable.

The only features I’ve ever missed from Notepad++ is support for #region tags and the ability to open gigabyte files.

WinMerge Logo

WinMerge (text diff and merge)

winmerge.org

WinMerge is the best text diff and merge software I’ve found yet. It’s difference mapping is amazing and very smart. I can tell when lines have moved in the document and even when pieces of text have moved within a line. The merge feature is very intuitive and easy to use.

Alternate choice: WinDiff

System protection and maintenance software

NOD32 Llogo

NOD32 Antivirus (anti-virus software)

www.eset.com

In my opinion NOD32 is the best anti-virus software available, period. It is fast, reliable and takes a fraction of the memory that other AV software require. The virus definitions are updated regularly and it’s web/email scanning is excellent. The combination of fast and extremely low miss rate make NOD32 a great choice for AV software.

MyDefrag Logo

MyDefrag (defragmenter)

www.mydefrag.com

Windows XP had a great defragmenter included with it. It wasn’t particularly feature rich, but it worked great and didn’t require any additional software. Unfortunately Microsoft ditched that app in Vista and it will never return. The defrag tool included with Windows Vista and Windows 7 is frankly terrible. It doesn’t give you any idea of how far it has progressed or what it is doing.

So, lets replace it with something that is actually good, MyDefrag. This utility gives you a lot more than just defragmenting file, it optimizes the data on the drive. Moving the the data to the outside of the disc where the rotational velocity is higher and transfer rates are fastest and sorting files on the disc. Suffice it to say that this is a very advanced defrag tool, and you should be using it.

Be sure to disable the default defrag tool (a scheduled item in Vista/7) because it will un-optimize the disc.

CCleaner Logo

CCleaner (drive cleaner)

www.piriform.com

CCleaner (a.k.a. Crap Cleaner) is a hugely helpful tool for deleting all of the crap that you don’t need. It will clear out all of the regular crap that builds up in Windows as well as the crap that builds up in various applications that you may have installed. It has an excellent registry cleaner that will clear all of the crap registry entries that build up over time. And it give’s you tools for even more advanced maintenance.

KeePass Logo

KeePass (secure password storage)

keepass.info

Secure passwords are too important to let your your brain create and store them, you will end up creating weak passwords and reusing passwords. That is where KeePass comes in to play. KeePass is a very secure password storage system and it has a very powerful password generator. I use it create and store all of my passwords. Just make sure to keep a backup of your database somewhere.

TrueCrypt Logo

TrueCrypt (encryption)

www.truecrypt.org

Encryption, the right way, TrueCrypt is an incredibly powerful and well thought out data encryption utility. Is can encrypt individual files, folders, virtual drives and even whole hard drives. It can use several different encryption algorithms and even layered combination of those encryption algorithms.

Miscellaneous

Microsoft Office Logo

Microsoft Office 2010 (word processing & spreadsheets)

office.microsoft.com

The standard business productivity suite, Microsoft Office is something everyone involved with any kind of business simply must have. Documents, spreadsheets, presentations and email. Some people say OpenOffice is just as good, but that simply isn’t true. While it’s close it lacks complete compatibility with the Microsoft proprietary formats. If you need to be able to share documents with people who use Microsoft Office then you need MS Office.

After all, Microsoft Office apps are really good at what they do. Excel spreadsheets and Word documents are powerful, easy to create and can look really good if you know how to do some layout. They print very well and integrate with Windows.

7zip Logo

7Zip (archiving and compression)

www.7-zip.org

The free file archiving software. At this point all of the popular zip file tools are pretty much at the same level as far as features, file compatibility and interface, so just use the free one. WinRAR has an old clunky interface, but is still quite good. And of course WinZIP is still the stalwart in the industry, but aside from the nicer interface doesn’t have any features to set it apart from the rest.

Alternate choice: WinRAR

Rainmeter Logo

Rainmeter (resource monitor)

rainmeter.net

This software has almost nothing to do with rain, although it can display the weather. Rainmeter is an awesome system monitor and feed consuming piece of software. It has support for skins (of which there have been countless masses created) and is extremely customizable. I run a very minimalistic resource monitor setup on all of my systems. It gives me at-a-glance status of CPU, RAM, network traffic, drive utilization and system uptime.

Input Director Logo

Input Director (software KVM)

www.inputdirector.com

For those of us who have multiple (Windows) computers at our desk Input Director is the single greatest app ever made. It allows you to move your mouse across to the next computer and completely interface with it, without the need for a second keyboard and mouse. This tool gives you amazing multitasking power.

Second choice: Synergy

Process Explorer Logo

Process Explorer

technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb896653.aspx

You will probably never have a need for this tool, but the one time that you do need it Process Explorer is the only tool that will work. Process Explorer is part of the Windows Sysinternals suite from Microsoft and gives you detailed information about the various processes running on your computer.

Core Temp Logo

Core Temp

www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/

If you want to check the temperature of your CPU outside of the BIOS you will need a temperature probe or Core Temp. Well there are actually several software options, but I prefer Core Temp because it is the most compatible (even working on my old FX-51) and seems to have the most accurate guesses about Tj.Max (the rarely disclosed max temp processors report against).

Update: Be sure to download the standalone version! The normal installer uses the InstallIQ software, which is so well known as being used for adware that NOD32 will flag the file.

Am I missing anything?

This is my personal software list, and it’s ever changing. But maybe I’m forgetting something important.

What’s on your must-have software list?

By:
Updated: Jul 25th, 2012

Comments

  1. cran

    I am a happy windows user, and also quite like Vista but I echo the disappointment with the defrag tool included. I would have loved to retain the graphic display and also miss having some useful features which other defraggers seem to have, especially ability to defrag in low free space and run in the background non conflicting with other programs.

  2. This is a very good list thanks! A few of these I haven’t tried however 7-Zip, Notepad++, CCleaner, Filezilla, Firefox, Dropbox and XAMPP are among my most used Apps.
    On your advice I’ll be giving MyDefrag a go right now.

  3. Daniel Powell

    Nice list, there’s a few on there I have not tried but plan to now.

    Here’s some other things I usually have installed:

    Process Monitor for troubleshooting 3rd party apps.

    TextCrawler is a really good freeware regular expression find and replace tool.

    IrfanView is a very lightweight image viewer and batch editor/converter and can make slideshows. I use this instead of waiting for PhotoShop to open if I just need to convert/crop/resize a file.

    CutePDF for printing to PDF on systems that do not have Acrobat Pro.

  4. Ian

    Thanks for this. A couple on this list I didn’t have.

  5. I’d add Launchy to this list. It’s a keystroker launcher, and makes a lot of sense using it if you’re still using XP (se7en has a built-in launcher, just hit the Windows key), saving you the time to search for some app.

  6. Gary

    Very helpful list. Though I disagree with the mIRC opinion, I use IRC pretty much 24/7 and XChat is the way to go on that front

  7. Foxit PDF Reader. Good alternative to adobe.

  8. Brian

    My recommendation for a diff/merge tool is Araxis. I’ve unfortunately had to deal with lots of hairy integrations and Araxis has been the best at dealing with them by far. Also integrates nicely with P4Win.

  9. Excellent tips! Thanks guys. I’m testing out TextCrawler, XChat and Araxis right now.

  10. Chris

    Love your blog, and this post. One that I’ve really loved for a while now is Fences.

    http://www.stardock.com/products/fences/downloads.asp

  11. T.Terlemez

    Very good list and share, thanks.

  12. KeePass – Password Manager,
    GomPlayer – Movie Player,
    TeraCopy – Seems to be good file transfer manager,
    CesarFTP – Tiny, easy to control FTP Server,
    ACDSee – Photo Manager,
    Blend – WPF and Silverlight developer tool, SketchFlow creation.

  13. In my opinion, best browser is Opera, it is not very light, but so powerful !

  14. Taylor

    Check out the “Sublime Text” text editor. It’s a beauty!

  15. Danny

    Microsoft Visual Studio may be good for #C/Silverlight/.Net development, but for C/C++ development it’s downright *horrible*. It barely supports C89 (a 20+ year old standard) and there’s little chance of ever seeing C99 supported (much of which is just headers ffs).

    C++ support isn’t much better. VS2008 finally added support for C++ 2003 but VS2010 has issues with C++0x.

    The code editor is glitchy as hell with whole blocks of code occasionally disappearing. Intellisense is next to useless as is code navigation (the Goto Deceleration/Definition functions often fail to find symbols a few lines above).

    There are issues with nmake randomly issuing warnings about incompatible flags that don’t exist.

    Version control support is non-existent with the exception of VSS which should be considered dangerous.

    There is no undo within the IDE itself so accidently re-arranging the project tree cannot be undone. And tabbed/floating panel system is seriously glitchy.

    And have you seen the project settings dialogs? What a nightmare.

    The only decent things are the solid project management and the debugger (when it works).

  16. I would also include Cygwin or the Windows ports of ‘find’ and ‘grep’. I also use Tortoise but have recently started learning git, which comes with an environment that looks to be built on Ming.

  17. @penge

    Recently started using KeePass myself. That is the best password manager I have ever seen. Stupidly strong unique passwords for every login, it’s unnecessary, but so awesome.

    @JBENOIT

    I’ve tried to hop on the opera bandwagon a couple times over the years, but it just lacks the extensibility I need. Lack of developer tools, lack of extensions and lack of customizations. It’s reasonably fast and secure, but I’ll stick with Firefox.

    @Taylor

    Wow, I’ve never even heard of Sublime Text. I’m trying it out now and so far it is awesome. It’s not as… free, as Notepad++ and I have become very accustomed to the NP++ features, shortcuts and interface. But I’ll give this one a shot, first impression is very good.

    @Danny

    Haha, you’re right of course. I haven’t done any real C++ development in years, but I did completely give up on VS when I last tried, mostly because of the API to be honest. MFC made me cry every time I tried to do even simple tasks.

    On the topic of source control in Visual Studio, yeah, VSS can’t be compared to real cvs systems, but it’s hyper-simplicity does have its place, and that place is not enterprise code development. The latest Visual Studio for enterprise uses Team Foundation Server for versioning. It has many more features (such as, oh… real branches, finally), but it is slower. I haven’t done too much with it so far. It is simple for developers to work in, but slower and totally integrated into the environment. I can’t really say that I like it or I hate it, yet.

    For .NET development, VS2010 is the IDE that every other IDE wants to be. Development is so smooth and efficient. But I will admit that at this point everything about VS has been designed around improving the .NET developers’ experience.

    @Atlscrog

    Cygwin, that’s a name I haven’t heard in years, other than a co-worker randomly mentioning it just this morning. My response was “1998 called, they want their linux emulator back” :) I don’t do much command line stuff on my Windows desktops. Windows search still sucks, but has gotten better. And for grep I use PowerGrep, not free but my company has a bazillion licenses for it.

  18. @ Steven Brenner

    LOL

  19. This is a very good list

    FileZilla is good, but I’ve found it can conflict with other installed apps. So, I started using the FireFtp FF extension, and really like it.

    Since it is just a browser extension, I can get it installed wherever I am; even in IT shops with over zealous sys-admins.

    http://fireftp.mozdev.org/

  20. adil

    veery good list :D, thanks!

  21. ToddZilla

    This is a good list, however might want to add a couple:

    PS Pad a full feature FreeWareText Editor
    http://www.pspad.com/en/download.php

    KeePass Password Manager
    I like this program as you can keep the executable on a USB stick with the password database
    http://keepass.info/download.html

    Eclipse J2EE Development Environment
    http://www.eclipse.org/downloads/

  22. ToddZilla

    Ooops forgot Cobian Backup, this is a great freeware backup tool
    http://www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/cobianbackup.htm

  23. Kevin

    Although it is in its infancy, Clementine (http://www.clementine-player.org/) is a good media player, with some very nice features planned for down the road. Anyone who liked Amarok 1.4 will appreciate what Clementine is bringing to Windows.

  24. Alexander

    Winscp – secure ftp/ssh client.

    PHPStorm – amazing PHP editor – it costs 50$, but very useful, especially for refactoring your code.

  25. If you are in need of an excellent Windows HEX editor that can edit both disk files and memory and can open a file of any size and edit it immediately then check out WINHEX.

    http://winhex.com/

    I have opened files larger than 200GB with this program.

  26. So it is 2013 and back in 2010-2008 I had pretty similar list to yours.

    Now Chrome rules and I always used WinSCP/Lastpass instead.
    Upgraded to Sublime Text Editor once E-Text Editor was abandoned.
    Plus need some VirtualBox action as I always deployed to Gentoo so dev env was always Gentoo edited via SMB in Windows lands.

    I am envious of a couple of useful dev tools in OS X land from riothq.com, though they are mostly convenience rather than necessary. Same result is achievable on other platforms with a different workflow and tools to support.

    Curious to see how your list looks now ;)

    My trusty 4 year old XPS13 is being retired in a couple of weeks for a shiny new XPS15 with a 3200×1800 screen. Complements my dual 2560×1600 30″ Dell screens on my desktop.

  27. Daniel

    winscp is many times better than filezilla

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