15 useful tools for your Windows desktop - most free

Create a faster, more productive Windows environment

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Recuva
Download: Recuva
Purpose: File undelete
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Windows Server 2008, 2003
Cost: Free

File undelete has been a mainstay of the PC utility market since the days of DOS. As far as I'm concerned, there's never been a tool that performs file undelete better than Recuva (pronounced "recover"). It's fast, thorough, and free.

When you throw out the Windows Recycle Bin trash, the files aren't destroyed; rather, the space they occupy is earmarked for new data. Undelete routines scan the flotsam and jetsam, then put the pieces back together. As long as you haven't added new data to a drive, undelete (almost) always works; even if you've added data, there's a good chance you can get most of the deleted stuff back.

Recuva's repertoire goes beyond Windows. Use it to undelete data on a USB drive (see screenshot below), a camera's memory card, or even an MP3 player. It's certainly the most important PC utility a camera owner can have.

Warning: The installer offers to install the Yahoo toolbar. Oy.

Top free tools for Windows: Recuva
Recuva uses a red-yellow-green light metaphor to indicate your chances of fully recovering deleted files.

7Zip
Download: 7Zip
Purpose: Multitalented (un)zipper
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Windows Server 2008, 2003; available in 64-bit
Cost: Free

Another venerable Windows utility, 7Zip still rates as a must-have, even though Windows supports the ZIP format natively.

Why? Because some people of the Apple persuasion will send you RAR files from time to time, and 7Zip is the fast, easy, completely free way to handle them.

7Zip also creates self-extracting EXE files, which can come in handy (although heaven help you if you ever try to email one -- most email scanners won't let an EXE file through), and it supports AES-256 bit encryption. The interface rates as clunky by modern standards (see screenshot below), but it gets the job done with ZIP, RAR, CAB, ARJ, TAR, 7z, and many lesser-known formats. It even lets you extract files from ISO CD images.

A poster boy for the open source community, 7Zip goes in easily, never nags, and wouldn't dream of dropping an unwanted toolbar on your system. Call it enlightened.

Top free tools for Windows: 7Zip
7Zip makes it easy to work with RAR files, one of the few compressed formats (other than ZIP) that's still widely used.

Wiseval Photophant
Download: Wiseval Photophant
Purpose: Image resizer/converter
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Windows Server 2008, 2003
Cost: Free

While there are many photo resizers floating around, there's one I come back to again and again. Wiseval Photophant handles batch resizing, format conversions, watermarking, and renaming with just a couple of clicks.

If you want to resize or rename one photo at a time, you have many options; for example, the free version of VSO Image Resizer works well. But if you want to change a bunch of picture files, Photophant's the way to go.

You can choose from one of the predefined sizes (800 by 600, 1,024 by 768, and many more) or set up your own custom size; convert between JPG, PNG, BMP, GIF, and TIFF formats with compression techniques that you specify; rename as a group ("Four Generations_" turns into "Four Generations_1", "Four Generations_2," and so on); and add a watermark in the location and with the opacity that suits you.

The altered pictures go into a different folder from the original, so nothing gets munged. It's fast, high quality, and amazingly easy to use. Next: Duplicate File Finder, Revo Uninstaller

Top free tools for Windows: Wiseval Photophant
Photophant excels at resizing and format conversions of groups of photos, with extensive options.
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