10 Essential Freeware You Would Install on New PC


desktop pcHere’s the scenario; you just setup a brand new PC, the only thing installed is the bare bones operating system.

Here’s the question; what are the first ten freeware products you would choose to install?

To start the ball rolling, here are my 10 essential freeware choices:

#1 Anti-Virus – Avast

avast-logoThis is pretty much a no brainer, except for Windows 8 of course which already includes Microsoft’s Anti-Virus solution. You won’t want to be connected to the net and downloading software without some sort of protection installed. I’ve been a long time Avast fan but I must admit to being a little disillusioned with it of late. The protection is still top notch but the registration process is involving more and more complications, plus I don’t like the way program updates also include a button for the commercial version… too easy to inadvertently make the wrong selection. I have been toying with the idea of trying out the new AVG but haven’t as yet, so I guess I’ll stick with the devil I know… Avast.

#2 Browser – Firefox

firefox logoBrowser choices are purely subjective. I’ve tried them all, and still tend to stick with Firefox. Firefox is like an old friend, familiar and comfortable. Plus, there are a lot of add-ons which I could probably live without but prefer not to. ‘Speed’ is not critical for me, whether a browser opens in 1 second or 4 seconds, I can’t see that it really matters that much. Apparently, the next version of Firefox is set to mimic Chrome’s minimal interface… I hope not. I would much prefer for Firefox to retain its own character/individuality rather than follow a trend.


#3 Office Suite – LibreOffice

libreofficeSeveral really good products to choose from here but I’d opt for one of the open source suites, Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice. LibreOffice is actually an off shoot of the original OpenOffice which was discontinued following Oracle’s acquisition of Sun MicroSystems in 2010. I have a slight leaning toward LibreOffice, the development team does not have any commercial affiliations that I am ware of and the suite is being actively and vigorously developed. So, Libre Office it is.

#4 Windows Live Essentials

windows logoSome may say I am cheating by including a suite of applications as one item. I guess they could have a point, but is it so different to selecting an office suite which also includes a number of different applications? There are several very good applications included in the Windows Live Essentials collection, I habitually use Windows Live Mail and Windows Live Writer, and occasionally use Movie Maker. So, I hope you’ll indulge me and allow this inclusion to pass. 🙂

#5 PDF Viewer – PDF-XChange Viewer

pdf-x-viewerNow that PDF is well established as the main digital document format, a PDF viewer has become an essential item. I have been a long time user of Sumatra PDF, it’s very small, portable, and renders PDFs nicely.

However, I recently changed over to PDF-XChange Viewer. It’s a little bigger, still portable, and renders PDFs near perfectly. PDF-XChange Viewer also provides a few nice extra features, including OCR options…  well worth the additional disk space.

#6 Extra Protection – Sandboxie

sandboxieTime to boost security with a great little program that should be a mandatory installation on all computers… Sandboxie. Sandboxie provides users with a simple yet effective virtual environment. Whether surfing the net, downloading software, running applications, all can be done safely and securely from within Sandboxie. If you happen to encounter malware along the way, simply empty the sandbox and everything is gone, including any nasties.


#7 Media Player – GOM Media Player

gom playerWindows Media Player is fine but it doesn’t support anywhere enough codecs, and doesn’t provide adequate user controls. I am not a fan of codec packs so prefer to install a media player with sufficient codecs already built-in. I’m torn between Gom Media Player and VLC Media Player. I’ve used both and they are excellent media players. VLC is currently my default player and I am quite happy with its performance but, I am getting a little tired of all the constant updates, seems to be a new version released every couple of months. So, I think I might change and give GOM another go.

#8 Dictionary/Thesaurus – WordWeb

wordwebThis is purely a personal choice and somewhat work related. As always, I’m looking for something simple yet effective, and I prefer the convenience of local rather than online. WordWeb is, for me anyway, an absolute must have. It meets all the criteria and then some. WordWeb is effective across the board, wherever you are typing or reading text if you want to check the meaning of a word or phrase, WordWeb’s dictionary/thesaurus is always just one click away.

#9 Backup – Macrium Reflect

macriumTwo distinct categories here to choose from; file and folder backup or image backup. I much prefer the latter. Some freeware backup applications do include both methods but my favorite, Macrium Reflect, does not. I have always maintained a separate partition for personal data which I back up manually, by simply dragging and dropping from folders on the data partition to an external drive. Critical data I will also back up to DVD. Imaging has the distinct advantage of providing a method to restore a corrupt or non-bootable system back to a working state… disaster recovery. When it comes to selection, reliability and trust are the critical ingredients. Macrium Reflect fits the bill.

#10 Maintenance – PrivaZer

privazerI am a neatness freak and can’t abide unnecessary clutter. Although, anyone who saw my computer desk would probably disagree. It’s just a personal trait but I like to keep my system as clean as possible. CCleaner has always been one of the first applications I would normally install but these days I am a huge PrivaZer fan. Some say that disk cleanup tools are a waste of time, maybe they are right but my experience working with clientele’s machines tells me otherwise. I have revitalized many a “slow” machine by simply utilizing one of these tools to clean up accumulated detritus. I recall on one machine, CCleaner removed more than 20GB of unnecessary clutter. Right now, PrivaZer is my go to cleanup tool.

Let’s recap and condense my list into a more concise format:

  1. Avast
  2. Firefox
  3. Libre Office
  4. Windows Live Essentials
  5. PDF-XChange Viewer
  6. Sandboxie
  7. GOM Media Player
  8. WordWeb
  9. Macrium Reflect
  10. PrivaZer

Of course, there are 101 other worthy contenders;  Skype, WinPatrol, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Faststone Image Viewer, Irfanview, and on and on. Choices are generally dictated by individual interests or needs, they may be work or hobby related, but in the end what we are looking for are those 10 freeware products which you consider most essential to getting started with a brand new PC.

Feel free to submit your own list via the comments system. Keep it brief, and no links please.

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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

23 Comments

  1. Here’s my list (just installed on a fresh Windows 8.1 setup…)

    Avast! anti-virus
    CCleaner
    Google Chrome
    LibreOffice
    Faststone Image Viewer
    Greenshot screen capture program
    Mozilla Firefox
    7-Zip
    VLC media player
    Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware/SuperAntispyware free version

    I know it’s 11 but I always install both anti-malware programs to have on hand (just in case…)

      • It’s really quite simple James: Use a different computer, one that is connected to the net, a friend’s or family member’s computer perhaps. Download the executable and transfer it to USB flash drive. Connect the flash drive to the computer in question and run the executable… done!

      • If your not connected to the internet then technically your not going to be able to download any viruses and as such you won’t need protection

  2. I had a look at PrivaZer. Got as far as the point where it determined which cookies to keep and which to delete. The ones the smart option selected to keep were mostly ones I wanted to delete and most of the ones I wanted to keep were on the delete list along with a couple of hundred others that belonged there. Couldn’t be bothered spending all the time to do completely manually someting in that software that I could do without the software and exited and deleted PrivaZor at that point – so don’t know if it is any better at any of the rest of the cleanups – there didn’t appear to be an option to keep all cookies which would have got me past that step.

    • Hey Steve,

      I do admit that PrivaZer’s own smart selection of cookies is not terribly effective. However, using “Manual Mode” is really no different to the system utilized by CCleaner… once you select which cookies to keep, that info then becomes persistent throughout subsequent cleans. So, you only need to go through the process once. Except, of course, if/when you need to add any new cookies to the keep list.

      Oh, and the cookies are listed in alphabetical order so it shouldn’t be too much of a chore to scroll through and select those you wish to retain. Actually, you’ve given me an idea for an article… “How to manually select which cookies to keep in PrivaZer”… stay tuned!

      Thanks for your input,
      Cheers… Jim

  3. Thanks for that nice list.
    I always put Notepad++ on a new setup as well because it has tabs for multiple files and I think there is a portable version out there as well.

  4. Jim,
    I want to clean my new machine of all addware etc and using a free program called decrapifier. After that I want to load a free virus/malware program so when I connect it to the internet for the first time I would already have some protection running. How can I load such a program while not being connected to the net? Some programs like decrapifier have mobile editions that can be loaded to a flash drive from a PC in the net and then use the flash drive to load the program on the new one not connected to the net. Please help. I was going to load Windows essentilas which does have a mobile edition but it was recently posted by “ask Bob” that it was not recommended and even Windows admitted that it was only a very basic program that needed others added to fully protect the PC.

    • Hi James,

      You do not need a “mobile” version of security software to install from USB flash drive. Simply download the program’s executable (setup file) via a friend’s or family member’s computer which is connected to the net. Transfer the downloaded file to USB flash drive. Then, connect the flash drive to your new computer and run the executable. Or alternatively; connect the USB flash drive to the new computer, copy the downloaded file from the flash dive to a folder on the new computer and then run the executable.

      There has been a lot of conjecture over what Microsoft is supposed to have said about its Security Essentials anti-virus program, I would tend to take it all with a grain of salt. That said, there are several good alternatives available; Avast Free, AVG Free, or Panda Free if you’d prefer a cloud based solution.

      I have been using Avast Free myself and am more than happy with its protection although, I’ve recently been thinking about giving the new AVG a try, it is receiving very favorable reviews across the board. Panda also does quite well in AV tests as well as receiving largely favorable reviews. In the end, it’s a personal choice, you really can’t go wrong with any of those three.

      Cheers… Jim

  5. hmm…
    1. anti malware = i’ll go with Avast free (another Emsisoft Anti Malware free is good for on demand scan, or Emsisoft Emergency Kit free )
    2. firewall = Emsisoft Online Armor free
    3. 7-zip
    4. K-Lite codec pack
    5. winamp 2.9 ( i like it simple and small 🙂 )
    6. sumatra pdf
    7. palemoon
    8. puran utilities
    9. ccleaner &/ privazer
    10. fast stone image viewer
    11. snapashot (simple – small – portable screen capture)
    yup, i think that’s enough for a start 😀

  6. I only have 5 must have free programs:
    1. Truecrypt because I like to keep all my sensitive financial files etc. on an encrypted partition
    2. SyncBack Free from 2BrightSparks, which I use to backup (mirror) all my personal files from my PC to my 2 portable drives. I couldn’t live without this one!
    3. CCleaner
    4. Foxit PDF Reader because I prefer it to Acrobat Reader.
    5. MediaMonkey as I much prefer its interface to that of Windows Media Player and it makes renaming and organising your music files so much easier than WMP too!

    I always used to install 7-zip but as Windows 7 Home Premium seems to be able to open zip files without a 3rd party app, I no longer use 7-zip unless I am working on a computer that does not have that capability.

    Also, although it isn’t that good, I sometimes install Microsoft Security Essentials, as a stop-gap if I do not have a current subscription to Norton. Yes, I know most of you will probably shriek Norton-never! but I like the 2012 performance pack one because of its integrated password manager, which I find works better than LastPass.

    I don’t see the point in using a 3rd party app to create system images, when Windows can do this every time you run/schedule backups?

    I will probably add Sandboxie or some other free virtual drive tool to my list, as soon as I’ve gotten round to trying one!

  7. One free app I haven’t seen mentioned is Revo Uninstaller. I always put this on my computers for removing all traces of unwanted software, programs, crapware.

    • No doubting Revo Uninstaller is a very good software Cindy. The fact that it hasn’t been mentioned previously is most likely because we are talking specifically about setting up a brand new PC, which is more about installing software than uninstalling.

      Another contributing factor may well be that Revo free does not support 64-bit systems/applications, only the commercial version does. Considering the growing number of 64-bit users out there, this does let Revo down rather badly.

      Cheers… Jim

  8. Instead of the bulkier LibreOffice or OpenOffice, what about the smaller Softmaker FreeOffice from Germany. You get Textmaker, which can work with word docs and convert to Pdf format, plus Planmaker and Softmaker Presentations. If you are concerned about system-hungry and hard-drive hogging apps, then this one could be the answer. My whole family has been using it for months, no problems or shortcomings so far.

  9. It depends on what you do with your computer, but if I put it down to tools that are most useful and that I install on all PCs/laptops period would be the following: Malwarebytes, VLC Media Player, imgburn, 7zip, firefox or chrome. (Another handy tool is recuva handy if someone deletes something they shouldn’t though I would not install this in all computers only if needed) There are more but these should be standard on all computers. Personally I have tried CCleaner and I understand why people use it but I personally just use disk cleanup, and so far I have never ever seen cleaning up the registry making much difference in the performance on any computer then while CCleaner does a good job there is always the risk of it deleting an entry it shouldn’t and technically before each clean you should back up the registry its just unnecessary hassle. The next most important thing a user should do if they have bought a new pc from a shop (not custom built) is uninstall all the crap included such as trial antivirus and then finally run msconfig and remove all unnecessary start up programs.

  10. Thank you so very much! Your article was exactly what I was looking for when I Googled “Bare essentials needed when setting up a comp for the first time”! Ten minutes later, I had all the info I needed. Thanks again!

  11. How about Irfranview have been using for many years it is a very fast photo viewer also scans form a scanner.

    Quick & always updated.

    Freeware & always clean.