Essential Addons for Windows

Category: Windows

Microsoft Windows gets the job done when it comes to providing all of the essential elements of an operating system. It manages memory, stores and organizes your files, makes it easy to launch programs, and connects you to the Internet. But there are a bunch of free addons that I consider essential for users who want to do more than play Solitaire. Here's my list...

Free Addons and Utilities for Windows

If you're like me, every time you get a new computer, or you re-install Windows from scratch, the work of adding your favorite extras begins all over again. Some are just for fun, some I consider essential productivity aids, and some are must-have security tools. Here are the software tools that I make sure are available on every Windows computer I manage, and some that I recommend for specific types of users. (This is a two-part series. See also: Essential Addons for Windows - Part Deux.)

SECURITY: If you run Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, there is no anti-virus protection included. Some PC vendors will install a trial version of the Norton or McAfee Internet security suites, but those expire after a few months, and you're left with outdated or non-existent protection. Fortunately, there are plenty of free internet security software tools you can download. See my article Free Anti-Virus Programs to find download links for AVG, Avira and other excellent alternatives to the expensive commercial products.

Essential Windows Addons

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware is a supplementary tool that I recommend for ALL versions of Windows. Use it occasionally to scan for malware that may have snuck past your first line of defense.

OFFICE TOOLS: In the distant past, Microsoft gave away a product called Microsoft Works, which was a pared-down version of their popular Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). It worked, but wasn't always compatible with Office, and lacked some important features. Wordpad is newer, but similarly crippled. More recently, they've included a trial version of Office on new Windows computers. It had an expiration date, after which you had to pay to unlock the program. They also have experimented with ad-supported versions of Office that don't expire, but instead show ads on the side of the screen. And currently, they're pushing everyone to use Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office for which you must pay a monthly fee.

But there's no need to put up with crippled software, expiration dates, or monthly "software rental" fees. See Alternatives to Microsoft Office for some low-cost and even totally free office software that does everything you want, and is file-compatible with the Microsoft equivalents.

On a related note, I use a text editor many times daily. When creating or editing plain text files, the power and bulk of a word processor is not necessary. But Notepad, the built-in Windows tool, is just a little smarter than a stone tablet. That's why I use NoteTab, a replacement for Notepad that does a lot more. It can open multiple files, has a variety of text searching and formatting options, and can use macros to automate repetitive tasks. NoteTab Light is free, and there are paid versions with additional powerful features.

MULTIMEDIA TOOLS: Microsoft Paint is okay for drawing lines, shapes and squiggles. You can even splash on some text with various fonts and colors. But perhaps the most useful feature is its Eraser. Fortunately, there are some free graphics and photo editing tools with features that rival even the expensive commercial options like Adobe Photoshop. Check out GIMP, IrfanView and other alternatives in Free Alternatives to Adobe Photoshop.

Similarly, the free Audacity software blows Sound Recorder out of the water. You can use it record audio, convert one audio format to another, make your own ringtones, record phone calls, and even Convert Vinyl Records to CD or MP3.

I'm just getting started really, but I don't want to overwhelm you with too many updates all at once. See also: Essential Addons for Windows - Part Deux with tips on productivity, security, maintaining and customizing Windows, fixing common problems, and more.

For now, feel free to share YOUR favorite tools that don't come in the Windows box. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Essential Addons for Windows"

Posted by:

Ken Mitchell
30 Sep 2013

I like the open-source "Notepad++" as a replacement for Notepad. It allows you to have multiple documents open in separate tabs, and if you do any work with HTML or XML, there are some nice formatting options available.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

Bob, I use avast! Internet Security, Malwarebytes Pro, Clary Utilities Pro and CCleaner Pro on my machine. I used the FREE versions, for all of those programs, for years. It was this year, that I finally decided to "upgrade" and get the Pro versions.

Why, did I get the Pro versions? I wanted to be able to schedule their actions regularly, without me having to manually do them. It has definitely saved me time and energy. Plus, all of these programs, automatically "update", routinely ... Which is nice. :)

However, everyone of these programs, when I used the FREE versions ... Kept my computer safe and clean. Did I get an occasional "infection?" Yes, but, it was caught and safely put into the Virus Chest, so that it didn't do any damage to my computer and it's setup. For me, all of the programs are tried and true. :)

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

What I found on windows 8 was how different everything was. I had windows xp and went to a new computer and was totally baffled. I searched the net and found a program called "classic shell" that puts the old start menu back on the computer and now I can use windows 8 just as easy as xp was.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013


I will be sure to check these out.

You have mentioned one of my favorite 4 letter words in the article, "free". It's not that I am real cheap. I have paid for software I will get allot of use from or that has a value I think is worth paying for. So I am just frugal.

I will be sure to check these out.

I have found my best use of MS Note Pad is to strip formatting from text copied from other programs. I have tried clearing formatting using the 'clear formatting' function in Word but it doesn't always work. Pasting into Note Pad and then copying it from Note Pad has never failed in stripping formatting. Note Pad might be dumb as stone but sometimes all you want is stone.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

Malwarebytes is now allowing some adware that pays them $ to not be in their database. SuperAntiSpyware is much better.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Oh, please... don't spread manure like this around here. If you have a credible source for such a claim post it here.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
30 Sep 2013

I have several "must have" utilities which I always add onto a new computer (either for myself or for a relative or friend): - This is a free utility which acts as a virtual printer which you can select instead of a physical printer. Instead of printing to a piece of paper, it "prints" a PDF file which you can then save to your hard drive. I use it all the time.

Wingrab 1.50.09 (the latest version, as far as I know). This screen-shot utility is far superior to Window's "print screen" function. Unfortunately this freeware is no longer supported. Fortunately if you Google it you can still find locations on the web where its is down-loadable. Again, it is very convenient and I use it all the time.

procexp.exe from Microsoft. When you are having computer problems, especially suspected virus infections, the Task Manager is not particularly informative or helpful. Process Explorer provides much more useful data on what your computer is doing, and allows you to more easily kill tasks which are harmful or are slowing things down.

Without going into a lot of details, here is a non-inclusive list of other utilities and programs which I routinely add on to a new Windows computer: AVG Free Antivirus, CCleaner, Malwarebytes' Antimalware, Firefox browser, Chrome browser, Logmein (free version), Truecrypt, Hexedit, Winsplit, Ken Ward's Zipper, LibreOffice, BeyondCompare, MailStore (for backing up my emails from Gmail to my hard drive).

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

I didn't find among graphic viewers another free tool - XnView (and nex generation XnViewMP) from It's multiplatform tool that can do almost anything you need with your pictures. For batch processing or convertion their have additional progrrams at their site.

Also, Bob, I'm surprised you didn't mention in yours Multimedia section anything about Video. Yes, there is an original Windows Media Player, that requires to install and update a ton of codecs. Instead I use free VLC player from It has its own codec pack and can play virtually any mediafile or disc. But for music files I use another free program - XMPlay from With plugins it can play any audiofile (like FLAC). Since I substitute original Windows multimedia subsistem completely I prefer N family of Windows. This breed is for EU since they have legal requirement to allow a user to choose his or her own multimedia tool and don't include any player at all. "The N editions of Windows allow you to choose your own media player and software required to manage and play CDs, DVDs, and other digital media files." - from Microsoft site. In case of preinstalled Windows here, in the US, you have no choice, but keep this worthless bunch of software at your disk.

Also I bet there are some partially Apple guys here, who have iPod, iPad or iPhone, but Windows at their computers. I have an old 5th generation iPod and instead of monstrous and sh*tty (sorry guys, but it's true) use SharePod from to maintain it. I use version 3 that's completely free, but now I see they also sell it, so I'm not sure if it still has all necessary functions for free. Anyway it is around 5 Mb size and worth to try this one or other free alternative.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

Hey bob this is a dum question but where can I get that fish wallpaper

Posted by:

Lady Adellandra
30 Sep 2013

I have several free programs I use that I consider not only essential but important.

Adobe Reader
VLC for videos and music
Google Products: Chrome, Drive, etc
Browser Chrome
Box, Dropbox, SkyDrive (integrated in Win 8.1)
Avast! has always been my favorite antivirus
7z (alternative to WinZip that even replaces WinRAR)

I could go on, but that's what I always package in my SkyDrive for those times I have to start over.

Posted by:

John OM
30 Sep 2013

Great article and follow up comments.

Another free program is DOSBox.
It lets you run 16-bit programs under Win8 and Win7. I have some utility programs I don't want to give up, and one game, and this keeps them alive for a few more years.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2013

I use Microsoft Essentials and never have a problem. In addition, I periodically use a variety of programs to keep my PC clean; i.e Malware Bites, CC Cleans, etc.

Posted by:

01 Oct 2013

The most used app for me revo uninstaller.

Posted by:

01 Oct 2013

Bob, We have two older laptops around the house that still use Windows 7. I have Microsoft Internet Security Essentials on both of them. It was a free download from MS. Works just great and does not slow down the PC like Norton or McAfee did back during the period when I used those products. We use the free version with the new name that came with Win 8 on my new laptop and on our desktop. Then I have MalWareBytes on all of them which I run about once per month. I can't remember having any infections for years.

Posted by:

01 Oct 2013

I would like the facility to record phone calls, but am not interested in Sound otherwise. I have looked at the Audacity features on their site and there is no mention of recording phone calls. Is it easy and does it require any hardware?


Posted by:

01 Oct 2013

Thanks, Bob, for your work & the articles. I've enjoyed your humor. I have always enjoyed the internet for one thing: you can always get good, free, advice that helps you learn how to use applications which expand the use of the computer.

I have found Microsoft's "OneNote" to be a vastly versatile program for Capturing articles, such as yours, and filing them in an internal filing system of "Notebooks" to which everyone can relate. It can copy text and pictures with the article. The pictures can be downloaded and saved as a .gif or .jpg file. The downside of OneNote is some of it's formatting options, but these are minor compared to its overall capability. I'm using the 2007 version. I understand Microsoft made the program mesh better with its other Office applications in the 2013 version.

Posted by:

12 Oct 2013

As always very informative article.

I am sharing some tools I use.
Active presenter, fo screen recording.
AMP Font viewer, for viewing fonts.
ANy audio converter.
ANy video converter.
InfraRecorder, for CD/DVD ISO image/Copying burning solution.
Revo Uninstaller.
yED graphic editor, to generate high-quality diagrams.
Core Temp, to monitor processor temperature and other vital information.
SpeedFan to monitors voltages, fan speeds and temperatures in computers.
Picture to Color, for populating colors in a picture.
Inkscape, graphics editor scalable Vector Graphics.
GIMP, Image Manipulation Program.
ShiftN, permits correction of converging lines.
Wenovo PNG PSD Viewer for PNG/PSD file viewing.
Luminance HDR for making HDR photos.
Fusion for HDR photos.
jKiwi, for makevoer and hairystyle.
Folder size, analyze hard drives and display the file sizes and folder sizes.
FreshDiagnose, a utility to analyze and benchmark your computer system.
Minimem, a memory optimization tools.
Exif Pilo, for Eixf data.
TagScanne, for tag editing.
MediaInfo, display of technical and tag data for video and audio files.
DKRuler, Horizontal, vertical and translucent ruler for computer.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Essential Addons for Windows (Posted: 30 Sep 2013)
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