There are a handful of Windows apps that flat-out improve the way you work on a PC. Without them, you would be hard pressed to do certain things. Things like opening a .7z file archive or watching a .mkv video file. See our list of programs and applications you should not live without.
You’ll eventually run into the need for a file compression program, whether to open an archive someone sent you or to make sending a batch of big files easier. To that end, 7-Zip is one of the most popular file compression tools available supporting its own 7z archive format in addition to most other popular file extensions.
A free open source program, 7-Zip beats out nearly all other file archival tools when it comes to compression speed and compression volume. It features a graphical user interface, command line interface, and Windows shell integration. And unlike WinRAR or WinZip, you won’t constantly be nagged by reminders to buy the software.
GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP)
Microsoft Paint is a terribly underpowered choice for image editing and Adobe Photoshop isn’t exactly budget-friendly, especially for non-creative types. GIMP is a good middle ground for its price (free and open source) while also having many of the features you can find in Photoshop. Unlike other free image editors such as Paint.NET, you don’t need to hunt down essential third party plugins.
Many of the keyboard shortcuts and functions in GIMP won’t be the same as Photoshop, so you will need to take some time to retrain old habits. But the core features found in Photoshop, such as layers, brushes, and paths are also in GIMP. Professionals are beginning to accept GIMP as a free alternative to Photoshop as it has much of what they need without the cost.
VideoLAN Media Player
Users have disliked Windows Media Player for years now—with good reason. Criticism for the program includes its inability to play a large number of file types, its clunky interface, and inefficient use of system resources. Also, the new Windows 10 media player does not support DVD playback, so you’ll need VLC for that.
VideoLAN’s VLC Media Player is the most popular alternative with plenty of features and support for third party plugins, themes, and codecs. In addition, it is free and open source with beta updates released nearly nightly. Best of all, it can play optical media such as DVD and Blu-ray for free.
By default monitors emit a bright white/blue light. During the day and under bright office lights, that isn’t a problem. But if you use your computer in a dark environment, your monitor’s harsh white/blue light can cause eye strain and difficulty sleeping. When you look at the monitor in the dark you ideally want a softer yellow/orange light—like an incandescent soft white light bulb.
f.lux allows you to adjust your computer’s color temperature independently of the monitor so you can get those warmer color temperatures. Instead of a bright white/blue light, your monitor can glow a softer yellow/orange. With f.lux, you can customize the time your monitor switches color temperatures and how gradually it does so. Anyone that uses their computer at night in a dark room should have f.lux installed.
One thing Windows has never truly gotten right was support for multiple monitor configurations. By default, Windows gives you one taskbar for all monitors, making it difficult to keep track of open windows across all displays.
Display Fusion enables you to manage each monitor with a separate taskbar and the ability to customize each monitor’s wallpaper. So if you have an internet browse window open on one monitor, the taskbar icon for it will only appear on that monitor and not others. It also lets you span and snap windows to the edges of a monitor. If you have multiple monitors, the per-monitor taskbar functionality alone should give you enough reason to purchase the tool.
Price: $29.99, with a free trial
CCleaner optimizes your computer’s performance by removing temporary and leftover files from programs that you’ve uninstalled. After you uninstall a program, its files and registry entries are sometimes left behind. Over time and after many program uninstallations, these holdovers can slow down your computer. It also manages your cookies, allowing you to delete them for specific sites.
While it isn’t an antivirus program, it will help keep your computer’s performance from being bogged down by old files. Plus, you can speed up boot times by choosing which programs you want and don’t want to run at startup.
Price: Free, with paid options
Sublime Text 2
The stock notepad program provided by Windows is decent enough for basic text, but falls short when it comes to editing code or HTML. Enter Sublime Text 2. It doubles as a text editor and code editor with many more features than Notepad and supports tabbed editing.
It looks graphically better than many other free text editors out there, with its customizable color schemes a la Dreamweaver. Want a dark background with different colors for code? Just download a theme. It makes working with code much easier and allows you to ditch WYSIWYG HTML editors—provided you’re comfortable with code.
Price: $70, with an unlimited free evaluation period
You shouldn’t be without an antivirus program as relying on Windows Defender alone is not a good idea. Amongst all the paid and free solutions available, AVG AntiVirus has some of the best review scores and can be had for free. In a recent comparison, PC Mag gave its Editor’s Choice award to AVG citing its high scores from their own and independent tests.
Price: Free, with a paid Pro version