Note: This article was originally published in 2010.
All the freeware mentioned support all versions of Windows including Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.
1. Browsers: It is fair to say that for majority of PC users, surfing the internet is the only major use for their PC. So, it would have been unfair to begin this list with any other category. Although, Windows comes with Internet Explorer, it would not be totally wrong to say that IE is no more than an average web browser. So an alternative web browser is an absolute necessity. Coming to the point, there are two major contenders for inclusion in this category. So, I was unsure which one to choose. So I decided to include them both. (I have intentionally not numbered the browsers)
a. Mozilla Firefox: Mozilla is not totally wrong to say that the Firefox Web browser is the faster, more secure, and fully customizable way to browse the web. Firefox is one of the most complete browsers available. It is considered to be the first browser to challenge Internet Explorer's dominance. One of the good things about Firefox is that it keeps up with the needs of time. Firefox wins the race with other browsers in terms of available themes, plugins, and security. Overall, Firefox is a must have browser on your PC.
2. Media Player: If we check our hard drives, one thing which most of us will find on them is media. To play that media, we need a media player. So a media player is important for most PC users. One can say that Windows comes with Windows Media Player, so why is another media player needed? To them, I say that Windows Media Player does not have the ability to play all the media formats unless you install the necessary codecs. So, a media player which comes with almost all codecs installed is needed. There is one such media player available. It is VideoLAN's free offering, VLC Media Player.
VLC Media Player: VLC Media Player is an open source, multi-platform media player that comes with almost all of the codecs required to play all different types of media on your PC. So you do not have to worry about installing codecs to play your files. Moreover, the best part about VLC media player is that due to it being open source, it is available for installing on almost any operating system. All this combined with stability, performance, ability to convert and cut videos make VLC Media Player an absolute essential software.
3. Image Viewer: Well most of us like to take images, and most of us like to edit them as well. This leads to a large amount of images in different formats. The inbuilt image viewer in Windows is not all that bad but the problem arises when we try to open files of different formats. Imagine this situation, you have a great collection of images which are of different formats. Now you invite your friends to show those images. But you have one problem, Windows Image Viewer is not opening the images as they are of unsupported formats. What do you do? Well you install Irfan View with plugins.
Irfan View: Irfan View is developed by Irfan Skiljan, a student at the University of Vienna in 1996. Irfan View is one of the most popular image viewer worldwide. Irfan View gets downloaded over 1 million times each month. Irfan View has a light interface, is fast in opening images and can open virtually every type of image image file possible. It can open Flash files and serve as a media player that can play video and audio files. That is not all, Irfan View can also be used to do minor image editing.
Some of its features are:
Slide show, batch conversion, Acquiring from a TWAIN source, Batch acquire or scan, adding text to photos, converting to greyscale, enhancing colours and even capturing screen shots. Honestly, that is not even 5 % of what Irfan View is capable of. All this at a tremendously small size make Irfan View a must have essential.
Irfan View Plugins can add further functionality to this already great software.
4. Security: This could well be the most important category of this article. Security of a PC is the most important thing in the cyber world now. There was a time when this was not essential but those were the good old days. Now one cannot even think of browsing the web without having an anti virus or anti spyware installed. Big organizations and corporate companies spend millions for securing their network but you don't have to. There are some free tools which do the job equally well without costing you a penny. (To read a full article on securing your PC, visit How to Improve your Cyber Security.)
There were many options to include in this category. So I decided to include the most popular one which is presumably AVG Free Edition.
AVG Free Edition: AVG is a popular antivirus with a slick interface having the ability to detect viruses and spywares. It receives updates frequently and is light on resources. Some of its key features are Automatic Update Functionality, Resident Shield, Email Scanner, free lifetime database updates for home users, Anti Spyware, Anti Virus, AVG toolbar and Search Scan. All these premium features are available free of cost in AVG making it a must have free anti virus/spyware for your PC.
5. Office Suite: An office suite has become an absolute necessity these days. We use it to create text documents,presentations, making tables, graphs, recording data, managing schedules, creating spreadsheets and workbooks. A full fledged Office Suite like Microsoft Office will cost you no less than 200 USD (Rs. 16000). That is too high a price for any user. So what should one do? Well, use the Open Office Suite instead.
Open Office Suite: Open Office Suite is an open source, multi lingual, multi platform project developed by Sun Micro systems. Among all the Office Suites available, Open Office is considered to be the only worthy competitor to Microsoft Office. It is fast, available in many languages, works on most operating systems, stores all data in an international open standard format, reads and writes files from other common office packages (including PDF files) and the best of all, is free of charge for any purpose (commercial or private).
These freeware will definitely help you to make your PC more usable. Although there are many more free software for Windows that are worthwhile, these 5 are an absolute must for a freeware dominated Windows PC.