While smartphones and tablets may have the edge on portability, there's still nothing (yet) that beats the raw power, configurability, and wealth of options available to a desktop user. Still, taking advantage of all the power that a desktop can bring takes some learning, a little patience, and a good helping of the right apps to make the most out of your desktop machine. You supply the patience, and we'll help out with a list of apps for new users.
avast! Free Antivirus is a good, free internet security suite to start with. Armed with real-time scanning capabilities, web and email scanning, a behavioral blocker, and a sandbox mode, even the free version of avast! Free Antivirus provides users with a lot of great features. You will eventually need to register the free suite by providing an email address, but that's a small price to pay for what avast brings. With Microsoft Security Essentials recently taking a beating in AV-Test's benchmarks, we'd rather recommend avast for the moment.
Verdict: A free antivirus security suite that provides good coverage for your computer
Editor's Note: If avast! isn't your bag, you could also consider alternatives, such as AVG & Avira's free antivirus suites.
Google's web browser offers an appealing alternative to Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. A minimalist interface, true separation between the browser and the vulnerable parts of a PC, fast load times, and the omnibox combining the address and search bar are among the reasons for Chrome's growing appeal. The Chrome store also features tons of extensions if you want to get more out of the browser. If you're signed in on your Google account, Chrome also features solid cross-device syncing, which allows you to take your desktop browsing session straight to mobile, and vice versa
Verdict: Fast, functional, and free, Google Chrome is an excellent choice for browsing.
Mozilla's Thunderbird is a solid email client, but what really makes it shine is the add-on support it inherited from its cousin, Firefox. With Thunderbird's large library of add-ons, you can customize the program as you see fit, tweaking it to your specific needs and preferences.
Verdict: Taken as stock, it's a solid email client. But once you get busy with add-ons, it's a great, highly customizable program.
Free Download Manager is exactly what it says on the tin: a free download manager that accelerates downloads, enables BitTorrent support, Flash video downloads, and resumes broken downloads. A traffic usage feature offers the ability to adjust your bandwidth use, allowing you to keep some free for browsing the net without interfering with your downloads. FDM also includes actual file management solutions, allowing you to organize downloaded files by type and place them in defined folders once they're on your HDD. FDM is free under the GNU Public License, does its job, and integrates well with many popular internet browsers.
Verdict: A free download manager with file management and acceleration features thrown in? Sign me up!
Secunia's Personal Software Inspector is a free and useful system update manager that focuses on the safety of the software you have installed. PSI scans frequently targeted software, such as browsers, and flags those that are in need of updates or no longer maintained and potentially unsecure. PSI can automatically run some drivers but, for most other programs, you'll be given download links to do the install yourself. Reliable, simple to use, and best of all, free, Secunia PSI is an excellent for the security conscious user.
Verdict: PSI will keep most of your software updated and will patch security leaks, but it won't actively hunt for incoming threats. You'll still need a good AV and firewall, but PSI does add an extra layer of protection.
7-Zip is a free file archiver that lets users archive several files into neat one package for easier sharing via email or flash drive. 7-Zip is similar to popular shareware options like WinRAR or WinZip and packs support for popular archive formats like RAR or ZIP files. A key difference? It's completely free—users will never need to pay money to get rid of regular "buy now" reminders.
Verdict: Utalitarian and free, 7-Zip is a great program for handling archive files.
Microsoft's default Windows Explorer is a decent enough tool for file and folder management, but PC users looking for extra oomph with their file management systems have a wealth of options to choose from. Zabkat's xplorer2 is an excellent alternative to Windows Explorer that also comes as a free 'lite' version. A highly customizable, dual-paned interface makes searching through and moving files a breeze, and it can be set to replace Windows Explorer, so that when you fire up "My Computer" or open a Desktop folder, xplorer2 stands ready to serve. The paid version unlocks even more functionality, but the lite version is certainly no slouch.
Verdict: There are a lot of good file managers/explorers out there and every techie's got their favorite. xplorer2 Lite strikes a good balance between utility and interface, and the fact that you can get most of its functions for free is excellent.