This is Part 2 of our Top 5 Programs article. If you would like to start from the beginning, read “Our Top 5 Programs – Part 1“.
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It’s a common misconception, at least where I live, that Windows comes packed with Microsoft Office, an antivirus program, Google Chrome, PDF readers, WinRAR and everything else. In fact, this misunderstanding has often led to irate customers claiming malpractice on my part, at least until I’ve been able to soothe their troubled brows with some viable alternatives.
For my customers
There are some weeks when I’ve needed to install clean versions of Windows at least five or six times and at this stage of the game , I’m only talking about Windows 7. Following the completion of the main Windows install, Service Pack 1 update (which I keep handy for both x86 and x64 versions and is applicable for any language) and relevant device drivers, I head over to Ninite which has become pretty much indispensable to me for installing multiple programs all at once.
Now, it’s a moot point as to which programs to choose, but because the majority of my customers wouldn’t know a PDF from a plank of wood, I generally install the most commonly required programs just to give them good functionality and compatibility with their daily habits.For example, many are going to receive documents in PDF or DOC formats, and often attachments as MP3 or MP4, and they will definitely need an antivirus program, so here’s an example of what I would typically install for a customer, unless otherwise instructed.
I choose Chrome because most believe it comes pre-installed with Windows anyway, VLC because it supports practically every audio and video format known to man, 7Zip because it doesn’t have a trial period and does exactly what it’s supposed to do and Microsoft Security Essentials because it’s completely unobtrusive and is much more efficient than many people give it credit for. I also install Foxit Reader for PDF files because it’s lightweight unlike Adobe Reader, and LibreOffice 5.1.3 which supports most Microsoft Office formats such as DOCX and XLSX. I’ve tried it and it works brilliantly.
The beauty of Ninite is its simplicity. Just select the programs you want to install as per the above diagram, click Get Your Ninite which downloads a small executable and Ninite scurries away, finds the most up-to-date versions and installs them one after the other in no more than a few minutes. Frankly, what could be simpler?
Clearly, I could install many more programs such as Skype, Dropbox, Steam and others, but I generally tell the customers what I’ve installed and chat with them to get an idea of what they want anyway, so it’s rather amusing when many of my customers believe that Facebook and Twitter need to be installed as well in order to use them, but this may be due to the fact that they are actual apps on cell phones anyway as we all know.
My personal use
Along with the programs mentioned above that I install for customers, I usually get Ninite to install the following.
Since my machines are predominantly gaming machines and I’m a hardware freak, I always install HWiNFO, GPU related programs such as Geforce Experience and numerous other small programs for tweaking GPU clock and memory settings. Over the last twelve months I’ve installed Windows 10 from scratch around four or five times on my own machines as a result of new SSDs or Windows 10 failing for one reason or another, so having Ninite available to help out with this chore is a major boon.
In short, with my customers’ computers, I tend to install the bare minimum unless there’s something extra they need, or indeed have actual legal copies of programs they want me to install. As for my own PCs, it’s a similar picture but more personalised.
I have over 100 third-party programs installed on my computer, plus a few utilities that run without installation. With my next computer, I will focus on running many of my programs as portable programs. That is, running them without executing the installer that weaves the application into the heart of the system or adds thousands of entries into the Windows registry.
My short list of must-have programs is not very short, but for the sake of this article, I’ll narrow it down to the top of my long short-list, which starts with Firefox.
My browser is what I spend the most time with, and there is simply no browser that offers more useability, flexibility or productivity than Firefox. It is the standard by which all other browsers are measured. Other browsers may offer one or two unique features, but, for me, Firefox does the heavy lifting. Long live Firefox!
Anti-virus programs are considered a must-have, right? Truth is, I haven’t seen a virus or malware alert of any kind on my computer in 10 years or more. If you keep your operating system and software updated and don’t do the careless, stupid things that let a virus in, your chance of getting one on your computer is actually pretty small. But why take chances, right?
As a precaution, I have used Avira Antivirus Free (for non-commercial use) for the past 10+years. It has always ranked at or near the top in computer virus protection. It tends to have a smaller footprint on the system than many other antivirus programs. That, to me, is an important consideration. If you don’t let the installation routine load all the other junk that comes with the suite, Avira is fast, lightweight and top notch. Avoiding all the other elements of the suite requires that you pay close attention to the installation process. Say NO to the Avira firewall and various other “protections” that you may not need. Less is more, in my view.
IrfanView is a very fast, compact and innovative freeware (for non-commercial use) graphic viewer for Windows. I’m always doing things with pictures and graphics. The native Windows graphics viewer and editor are weak and limited. IrfanView is far more capable and has many useful features, including it’s screen capture features. It far exceeds the usefulness of the native Windows picture viewer, and is a must-have on all my computers.
HostsMan (and it’s accompanying HostServer) is another must-have program on my computers. It is a small utility for managing the HOSTS file. I don’t subscribe to the use of Ad Blocker programs. Instead, I use my HOSTS file to block risky or abusive sites and servers. While the HOSTS file blocking technique leaves a lot to be desired, it is a very effective method of protecting my computer from thousands (currently, 20,000+) of risky and abusive places on the Web. You can learn more about HOSTS file blocking on this page at mvps.org.
Note that many antivirus apps, including Avira, protect the HOSTS file from manipulation. This has to be temporarily disabled to change or update the HOSTS file with HostsMan.
For my final must-have program, it was a toss up between Libre Office and WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office). Both are free and very capable office suites for those who don’t want to pay the price for Microsoft’s Office suite.
Libre Office is more robust and heavy duty. But WPS Office Free is also very capable, and has a lighter footprint, in terms of disk space and registry code. I use both and haven’t decided on a favorite yet. So, they both get a thumbs-up from me. Let me know in the comments section below if you have tried these office suites and what your impression is.
One of the things I do, after installing Windows and its updates and drivers, is spend some time installing all those utilities and applications that I can’t seem to live without. These aren’t needs so much as they are wants.
Here’s a short list of my top choices to make Windows life easier… in no particular order:
Firefox Web Browser
I might be one of those people since there is nothing at the moment that could sway me from using Firefox as my main browser. There are certain add-ons that I can’t seem to do without, either– and I can’t find them for other browsers that work in the way I like, so there ya go… Firefox it is.
7Zip Archive Manager
All of the computer users in the world will at some point find themselves in the position of having to open an archived file. 7Zip is my archiver of choice mainly because of its flexibility, speed and the diversity of archives it can manage. Hands down, in my opinion, it is one of the best archivers around.
Here’s the link to the Official 7Zip Site.
MalwareBytes AntiMalware (MBAM)
All of us need an extra layer of protection in this dangerous environment we call the Internet. MBAM fits the bill as an option to run manual scans for security issues your Anti-Virus (AV) program may have missed. MBAM also has the reputation of being able to remove many types of malware where other applications fail– even commercial AV programs aren’t always so successful.
MBAM is available as both a free and a paid-for version. The “Pro” version can run in the background at the same time as your installed AV program, which is an unusual case.
Here’s the link to the Official MalwareBytes Site.
LastPass Password Manager
All of us these days need all the security we can lay our hands on. A viable password manager is one of those tools. LastPass is my password manager of choice. I won’t go into it all here but there are many reasons I believe in LastPass’s security measures. I like the LastPass plugin for the Firefox browser and that is how I use it.
Here is the link to the Official LastPass Site.
PDF-XChange Viewer – PDF Reader
PDF-XChange Viewer is a free, portable PDF reader that surpasses the Adobe version by leaps and bounds. The real beauty is that, if you decide you don’t like it for any reason, you can simply delete the directory where you installed it and it’s gone. Really!
Here’s the link to PDF-XChange Viewer at MajorGeeks.
CCleaner – System Maintenance
I don’t normally recommend system “cleaners”. Most “cleaners” on the Internet will muck up your system, especially when used by the uninitiated. Another very real downside is that many sites that offer these so-called miracle workers are doing nothing short of pushing malware upon the ignorant, inattentive and gullible masses. CCleaner is an exception.
CCleaner is generally safe to use and does a great job of eliminating unnecessary cruft from your system’s hard drives and registry.
Note: Always make backups before running one of these types of programs. They are powerful and can really mess things up if you don’t pay attention.
If you must use a system cleaner, then CCleaner is the one I recommend.
Here is the link to the Official CCleaner Piriform Site.
Acronis – Backup System
Speaking of backups, Acronis is my program of choice and it gets installed on every computer I own. A proper image of your system is your only true protection against data loss, no matter the cause.
Check out their offerings at the Acronis Web Site.
None of the these utilities/programs are needed, with the exception of a good backup solution, to run a Windows system; they are simply nice to have around.
Everybody has his or her own particular favorite programs they just can’t be without, sort of a desert island list of must have software. When I am setting up a new system for myself, these are the programs I will install first, not in any particular order.
*I’m omitting antivirus software from the equation simply because it’s obvious.
As with many users, my first download is always a third party browser. I’ve never been an Internet Explorer fan and, although I’ve tried other third party browsers, including Chrome, Firefox has been my long time favorite and, despite its plummeting market share, remains so to this day. Not sure how I’m going to feel after the extensions/add-ons become Chromified though, I might have to start looking elsewhere.
A must have for me, Sandboxie has been a part of my systems for years and something I would not and could not be without. A boost for the defenses, Sandboxie employs an isolated virtual environment to help keep the system malware and trouble free. So many useful applications for Sandboxie, it, or something like it, should be mandatory on all systems.
Aomei Backupper Standard
One of the first things I do after I’ve installed all my favorite programs and set up the system just how I like it, is create a full system image which is then stored in perpetuity as a baseline image I can utilize in place of a fresh install. I favor Aomei Backupper Standard because the free edition provides all the features I need, it’s very simple to use and, most importantly, it’s never let me down.
Windows Live Essentials
I can give no logical reasons but I’ve never liked web-based email and always preferred using a locally installed client. I’ve stuck with Microsoft’s email client, from Outlook Express through to Windows Live Mail. Again, no logical reason except the devil I know. Windows Live Essentials is actually a pretty decent software package, especially for free, and I’ll usually install Movie Maker and Live Writer too, although not necessarily straight away.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Anti-Exploit (free editions)
A good second opinion malware scanner/remover is essential in my book and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware fits the bill nicely. I also install Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit free as a second layer of defense, it’s lightweight and plays nice with antivirus software. The level of protection is not as comprehensive as in the Premium edition but it shields all popular browsers as well as Java, which is adequate for my purposes.
PDF has long been the default independent document format so some sort of PDF viewer is pretty much essential. I am not a fan of Microsoft’s new PDF viewer app (Windows 10) so I’ll continue to use what I believe is the best PDF viewer available, PDF-XChange Viewer. It’s free, comes with basic editing features, has a portable version, and renders 100% accuracy and clarity every time.
An archive tool would probably not make many users’ lists but I’m finding more and more downloads these days are using alternative compression formats to the Windows supported zip format. There are, of course, several very good free archive tools available but I really like Bandizip because it’s so easy to use plus a portable version is available too… which is always a plus in my book.
I could go on and on but they are probably the most important programs for me to install early on, plus I’m guessing I’ve already outstayed my welcome.
Ah, that new computer smell. It wafts from the just opened box and fills the room… OK, snap out of it, Dave! It’s time to get to work, which is why you bought the computer anyway.
A new computer is a blank canvas and of little use, other than a quick game of minesweeper or visit to Facebook, without some additions. After the usually monotonous tasks like choosing a cute username, setting a double super secret password, and choosing a wacky desktop wallpaper it’s time to install those additions – and by additions I mean the programs you count on for your daily productivity.
So, what are my essential programs? Here are the top 5 programs I install, and why, in order of importance.
Eset Smart Security
Security first and Eset Smart Security is one of the best in my book with consistently high ratings in virus tests and a small footprint. Antivirus, Firewall, SPAM filter, and stolen computer protection in one effective light package. I’ve been a fan of their security products for some time and you can’t go wrong with Eset.
The second thing I install is Roboform. I like strong passwords. I use a unique password for every site. I have a 30 second memory. Do you see the conundrum? Solution = Roboform! All joking aside I do use very strong passwords and Roboform provides an easy to manage, safe, and secure place to store them along with strong WiFi passwords, software activation keys, and other text based information I may need to setup, or use, the computer. Roboform is my key to the kingdom, and once installed I have access to everything I’ll need to connect to the internet, install software, and
Server 2012 Connector
This one will probably be unfamiliar to most, so I’ll explain. DCT Central Command (at a secret undisclosed location) runs on Server 2012 R2 Essentials, which is a Windows based server operating system very similar to those used at most places of business. This server performs automated daily backups of all connected computers, centralized control and configuration of connected computers, a central location for file storage, and manages our off site data backups – needless to say it’s pretty important to the operation of DCT. The Connector software must be installed on each client computer to allow communications with the server and manage the daily automated backups. You can never have enough backups!
This is pretty self explanatory, but in my “day job” office documents fly around the work-o-sphere at a level that boggles the mind. Don’t even get me started on email – Exchange, IMAP, and ActiveSync are words known by modern science to cause migraine headaches!
FTP and HTML
File Transfer Protocol and HyperText Markup Language are cornerstones of the internet as we know it, and any website owner worth his salt will have their preferred programs for dealing with each. For HTML I use Adobe’s Dreamweaver which is a pretty good WYSIWYG HTML editor with an FTP client built-in. FTP is a method of transfering files to, and from, a remote server and for general FTP access and a backup for the DCT files I also install FileZilla.
You’re probably thinking I’ve gone over the deep end and I’m stuffing Silly Putty or Play Dough into my computer! Putty is an actual program – honest – and one I use almost daily to interact with the super secret DCT server (also at an undisclosed location) over SSH, which is short for Secure Shell. The command prompt on your computer is also known as a shell and is generally the preferred method to interact with Linux based servers – especially remotely. Shell access to a server allows full control of all the server functions so secure access is important. Basically Putty is a program that allows a secure connection to the command prompt on a remote server.
OK, I included 7. I really couldn’t help myself, and while there are many (MANY) other programs I install on a PC these are the ones I must install to get anything done. The others, well they’re nice to have – icing on the cake, if you will – but they can generally wait until after the dust has settled.
I thought you might be interested in meeting everyone who helps Dave’s Computer Tips keep on ticking, and bring you plain-English, easy-to-understand explanations of how to use your computer and keep it running smoothly.
Your Turn! We are all eager to hear what software is your favorite and a must-have on your computer system. Don’t forget to take a look at Our Top 5 Programs – Part 1.