45 Best Free Windows Apps
Sometimes, the best things in life are free, and that's especially true in the software world. Between the explosion of freeware for the desktop and open source programs, there's a whole world of excellent free apps out there. Here are our favorite free downloads for Windows users, whether you're running Windows 8, Windows 7 or XP.
Avira Free AntiVirus 2015
Recommending a good free antivirus program is always going to be contentious, with a strong field of free, feature-packed options. That said, we like Avira Free AntiVirus 2015 for its consistently solid antivirus capabilities. Avira covers the basics with on-demand and real-time virus scanning, as well as anti-adware and anti-spyware features. New to Avira is a cloud-based real time scanner that can forward suspicious files to compare with known and emerging threats, increasing defenses against potential zero-day viruses.
MusicBee is a free and extremely feature-packed music player that can make life easier for the everyday listener and power user alike. MusicBee supports a variety of formats, from the ubiquitous MP3 to more unusual ones such as OGG, FLAC and APE. The app also sports solid library management, with tag and metadata editing, as well as support for synching devices such as iPods and Android phones. In addition, MusicBee also sports a variety of themes, customization options, plugin support and advanced audio features.
Ultimate Windows Tweaker
Ultimate Windows Tweaker (Windows 8) is a neat little piece of freeware from The Windows Club that allows users to apply an incredible variety of tweaks to the Windows interface. UWT starts by displaying a wealth of system data to the user, while offering options to tweak the Taskbar, File Explorer, as well as Internet Explorer, performance and security related tweaks. An older version also exists designed for Windows 7 and Vista users looking to customize their system. Make sure to create a system restore point before going all out with tweaking, in case you accidentally bork your system.
Valve's Steam is a gaming digital distribution juggernaut, serving as an all-in-one games marketplace, discovery engine and launcher utility. You can buy games from Steam's massive selection of triple-A releases, classic titles and indie gaming gems, and download directly into your machine, complete with automatic updating and built-in screenshot tools. Steam's infamous seasonal sales and wealth of social features such as messaging, trading, and gifting make it a great addition to any PC gamer's desktop suite.
An easy-to-use standalone screen capture and image editing tool by Evernote, Skitch allows users to quickly edit and annotate screen caps, and then save or share them online. Skitch's emphasis is clearly on ease of use, with a clean, simple interface; the toolbar on the left side of the app puts all your editing tools within easy reach. Images can be saved locally, uploaded to Evernote, or shared to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Rainmeter is a free desktop customization tool for Windows that allows users to add "skins", compact applets that float on top of the desktop, much like Microsoft's old Windows gadgets. Rainmeter skins can provide a whole range of functions, from RSS readers, system resource use, battery life, email, and weather forecasts. A rich online community has developed a wealth of Rainmeter skins and themes that you can apply to your desktop, and the program itself also allows you to create your own.
Comodo Backup is a free and thorough backup tool that provides both scheduled and on-demand backups with a variety of settings and options. Users can set Comodo Backup to create full, incremental, or differential backups, with a smart profile mode that lets you categorize and selectively target photos, documents, music and videos for backup. The program is packed with a variety of features, such as support for Volume Shadow Copy, various levels of data encryption, backup versioning, as well as the option to backup to Comodo's own cloud storage.
Ninite is a great way to batch-install and update some of the best free software available online. Users log into the Ninite website and choose from a checklist of popular software, from browsers, media players, image editing tools and more. Once done, Ninite generates an executable file that functions as a download and installation manager which then runs through your entire list of programs and then installs them hassle-free to your drive or updates them when necessary. Ninite installs to the default location, downloading from the official site of each publisher, while avoiding bundled crapware.
Razer Game Booster
While Razer is best known for its high-end gaming peripherals, it also provides a host of free software of use to gamers, such as Razer Game Booster, a system optimization and game management tool designed to maximize your system resources for the demands of gameplay. The Boost tool can selectively shut down unnecessary processes and programs, while a Tweak utility applies a series of easy system tweaks. Selective defrag tools let you defrag a game's file folders, and additionally, Game Booster comes with an FPS meter, screenshot manager, and game launcher.
FastStone Image Viewer
FastStone Image Viewer is a fast and resource-light image browser that comes with a host of editing and conversion tools. An explorer style interface makes navigating, managing, and tagging your image collection a simple affair, with support for a variety of image formats as well as RAW data from a selection of digital camera brands. Editing tools let you crop, resize, and apply numerous corrections and operations to clean up your photographs. FastStone is still in constant development, and new features are being continuously added and tweaked.
DAEMON Tools Lite
Tired of popping your installer and movie DVDs in and out of your optical drives again and again? With DAEMON Tools Lite, you can rip your optical discs into .ISO image files, which you can then store in your hard drive to mount into virtual drives in your system. The program supports up to four simultaneous virtual drives, and can mount a variety of image file formats such as .BIN and .CUE, as well as create .ISO, .MDF and .MDX image files.
Evernote is a powerful note-taking and Web-clipping tool that allows users to save and sync text, images, audio and video clips and even entire webpages into notebooks that they can access across a broad range of devices. The desktop application in particular works great as a control center for your Evernote experience, as it's loaded with numerous search, tagging and organizational tools for viewing and organizing your content into a comprehensible whole and synching across your computers and devices.
Piriform's CCleaner is an excellent maintenance utility. It clears the contents of your Web browser's cache, history and temporary internet files. Plus, the program clears the Recycle Bin and registry. Simple, free and powerful, CCleaner is a great tool that should be in your maintenance toolkit if not part of your daily browsing habits.
A powerful, portable uninstall utility, IOBit Uninstaller is a must-download. This app is designed to uninstall programs and search for widowed files and registry entries, even without installation monitoring. IOBit Uninstaller allows you to classify programs by install date, as toolbars, etc, making it easy to track down a particular program. Additionally, this tool's portable nature lets you keep it on a USB drive so you can take it with you anywhere.
Thanks to a marketing push by Google and genuinely useful functionality, Chrome has made its mark on a market long dominated by the David and Goliath of browsers. 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 a rich library of extensions and apps are among the reasons for Chrome's growing appeal. Google continuous to add standout features, such as excellent synching between the PC and mobile versions, and the introduction of Chrome packaged apps.
Secunia's Personal Software Inspector is a free system update manager that focuses on the safety of any software you have installed. PSI scans software that are frequent targets of attack and flags those that are in need of updates or no longer maintained and potentially unsecure. PSI can automatically run some driver and Windows updates 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 update management tool for the security conscious user.
Speccy is a light and functional system information tool brought to you by Piriform, the same team behind CCleaner and Defraggler. This nimble monitor quickly brings up system information on your OS, manufacturer and models of your CPU, motherboard, GPU and hard disks, and other technical details. Collapsible views let you be as detailed as you want to be when hunting down specific information like CPU temp or disk drive SMART information.
Recuva is a free data recovery tool by Piriform, the same company behind the excellent CCleaner and Defraggler utilities. Recuva is a free and user-friendly tool for recovering deleted files, Recycle Bin content and deleted emails, as well as damaged or formatted hard drives. A quick start wizard allows you to perform simple file recoveries quickly, while a more powerful 'Deep Scan' is available for more thorough or troublesome operations.
A lean, mean, little bittorrent client, qBittorrent has sort of flown under the radar, which is a disservice to this fast and resource efficient client. Bandwidth limiting, torrent queuing, prioritizing, selective content download, a torrent creation tool, remote access and a built-in torrent search tool for of a number of torrent sites are among the many features of qBitTorrent. A clean, crapware-free installer, along with a free and open source nature, allow qBitTorrent to dethrone µTorrent as our favorite torrent client.
While GIMP aims to be a free, professional-level image editor, Paint.NET takes the other extreme, aiming for a light and extremely user-friendly tool inspired by the default Paint application included in Microsoft Windows. For a 3.5MB install that features layer editing, blurring, red-eye removal and tabbed image editing, Paint.NET certainly punches above its weight class. This lightweight but powerful image editing and retouching tool is great for everyday editing and won't cost you a cent.
LastPass is a browser-based password manager that works on most browsers. After creating a LastPass account, this service begins to "listen in" on your activity, offering to save any usernames and passwords that you input into the LastPass Vault. The tool will remember everything so that it can auto-fill your credentials the next time you visit a site or service. Passwords and forms can be managed in the Vault, and you can import data from other popular managers such as RoboForm. You can even sync your passwords across different computers using your LastPass account and a master password.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free is a solid anti-malware scanner that is fast, thorough, and easy to use. While the free version is mainly an on-demand scanner, regular runs of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free combined with a good antivirus/Internet security suite and good surfing habits should keep you fairly safe. Sadly, there's no portable version, so you may want to pick another utility for cleaning up someone else's system.
Everything is a compact and extremely fast file search program that is incredibly quick at finding files and folders by name. A minimal resource footprint and really quick indexing make for a neat and reliable file and folder search tool. The downside? Everything can only search NTFS formatted disks, which is going to be a turn-off for some users. It also won't do things like search file contents or tags or perform metadata searches. Still, for basic filename or folder search, Everything is a great tool.
XBMC is a free, open-source, one-stop media center for your desktop or home theater PC that allows you to play, organize, and stream music, DVDs, video files, photos, and more. Excellent file compatibility and playback, a very configurable and skinnable interface, a solid media library management system, and an active community continuously pushing development make XBMC a great all-around media center for your desktop or HTPC.
Looking to do some advanced photo editing and digital painting, but can't justify the expense of Adobe Photoshop? Try GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. A free, open-source graphics editing software packed with the ability to edit on layers and masks, GIMP offers a powerful set of editing and manipulation tools for amateur and budding pros alike. Plugins and scripting support allow for automation of repetitive tasks and the ability to work with animation.
Mozilla's Thunderbird is a solid email client, but what really makes it shine is something it inherited from its cousin (Mozilla's Firefox): add-on support. With Thunderbird's large library of add-ons, you can do everything from integrate with your Google Calendar to manage a SQLite database on your computer. Taken as stock, it's a solid email client. But once you get busy with add-ons, such as Thunderbird Conversations (threaded mail), Send Later, or TorBirdy, you'll begin to have an inkling of what this customizable mail client can offer.
PDF-XChange Viewer is a free and fast PDF viewer that also comes with a host of annotation and markup features, as well as OCR support, document search, and more. Fast and light without suffering in performance, this is a great PDF viewer, with numerous extra features that are great for getting a little more utility out of the program
Here's a free file archiver that lets users combine several files into one for easier sharing via email or that trusty flash drive. 7-Zip is similar to popular shareware options like WinRAR or WinZip with support for popular archive formats like RAR or ZIP files. The key difference? It's completely free—users will never need to pay money to get rid of regular "buy now" reminders.
Few other PC applications are as important as an office suite, and LibreOffice provides what you need for free. Type out that financial report, crunch the numbers in a spreadsheet, and build a presentation that summarizes your ideas into key points. As for those switching from Microsoft Office, Libre supports all Office files, even documents created with the 2011 version.
It's the Web browser that broke Microsoft's virtual monopoly on the browser market, back in the day. Mozilla Firefox made the glaring issues with older versions of Internet Explorer that much more obvious. It also made secure, multi-tabbed browsing the interface of choice for power-users. But what really "sold" Firefox (like Chrome, it's a free download) for a large number of users was its extensions, the add-ons that allow so much more functionality beyond simple Web surfing.
VLC Media Player
Only a few other media players have the userbase of VLC. The open-source media player runs light and fast, and can load almost any kind of video and audio that's out there. VLC also has numerous features for advanced users, including an option that boosts the audio track of low-volume movies, various video rendering and playback options, and tools that power users can use to customize their experience.
As utilities go, this one's pretty simple. Need to burn image files right on a CD or DVD? ImgBurn is perfect for the job. The program can also build images from files on a PC for burning at a later stage.
Freemake Video Converter
Freemake Video Converter supports hundreds of video formats and converts movies so they can played on devices like the iPad and phones running earlier versions of the Android OS. Freemake's utility also helps users download movies straight from popular online video sites like YouTube and Vimeo.
Here's a text editor that renders competing applications obsolete with its support for practically any programming language or text format out there. Notepad++ helps designers and programmers alike by automatically color-coding and indenting text for clarity. The editor can also work with plugins that add related functionality, such as FTP access for easy editing of HTML files
As a PC moves files around, gaps inevitably form between the chunks that represent the data stored in these files. This can slow down your hard disk, as its reader heads jumps all over the place to load files. Defraggler is defragmentation software that reorganizes files so that their chunks are in sequential order, ensuring that the hard disk can read faster and with less wear-and-tear. Do remember not to defrag your SSDs and USB drives though, as it's unnecessary and can reduce hardware life span.
EaseUS Partition Master Home
EaseUS goes beyond the basic partitioning that Windows offers. Even the free home version can recover lost or deleted data, copy entire partitions or run a disk surface test to locate any physical flaws with a hard disk. This program is best for those who want to reorganize how files are divided on their drive or free up space to install a second OS, like Linux.
Hardcore users know that the keyboard is always faster than the mouse, and making everything accessible through the former allows for improved productivity. Once set up, Launchy users can start other programs, open documents or folders, and even search for files without clicking on the Start Menu or launching Windows Explorer. The program runs from a text box pop-up, which can be summoned at any time through a preset shortcut key combo.
Free Download Manager
Internet service providers are more reliable than ever, but it's inevitable that something will go wrong with your online connection just when you need a little stability. Free Download Manager is something of an insurance policy against Murphy's Law. It makes sure interrupted downloads continue right from where they left off instead of starting from scratch. Free Download Manager also speeds up downloads and maximizes bandwidth by splitting files into several segments that are downloaded at the same time. For other handy Download Managers, check out this article.
A VoIP juggernaut even before being integrated into Microsoft's software empire, Skype is one of the most popular VoIP apps around, and for good reason. Audio and video calls to other Skype users are free, with calls to landlines and international numbers available for a nominal fee, and the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) client features a robust chat functionality as well as broad support on a wide variety of computers and smartphones.
Virtualization software allows for the use of different operating systems at the same time without having to reboot. This is a great tool for users who need to run applications written for Mac OS X on their Windows 7 PC, for example. VirtualBox offers free virtualization for any x86 or AMD64/Intel64 computer (or practically any desktop or laptop computer available on the consumer market). It supports not only the two aforementioned OSes, but Vista, XP, 2000, Linux, and many more.