15 useful tools for your Windows desktop - most free

Create a faster, more productive Windows environment

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Paint.Net
Download: Paint.Net
Purpose: Image editor
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP (requires .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 or later)
Cost: Free

With dozens of good -- even great -- free image editors around, it's hard to pick one above the others. IrfanView, for example, has tremendous viewing, organizing, and resizing capabilities. GIMP ships with powerful tools and an enormous array of add-ins. FastStone Image Viewer lets you edit full-screen and has a screen capture capability. That doesn't even brush the surface of the Picasa vs. Windows Live Photo Gallery maelstrom -- a religious debate worthy of several volumes.

For powerful, easy-to-use photo editing, with layers, plug-ins, and all sorts of special effects, along with a compact and easily understood interface, I'll stick with Paint.Net. Although it requires Windows' bloated .Net Framework, the program puts all of the editing tools a nonprofessional might reasonably expect into a remarkably intuitive package.

Top free tools for Windows: Paint.Net
Paint.Net's straightforward interface makes it easy to add surprisingly sophisticated touches to your photos.

Autoruns
Download: Autoruns
Purpose: Controls autostarting programs
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Windows Server 2008, 2003
Cost: Free

Programs that run automatically when Windows starts bedevil every Windows consumer, from rank beginner to grizzled veteran. There's one industrial-strength autostart listing tool that knows all, sees all, and lets you do something about it.

If you've never used Autoruns, you're in for somewhat of a shock. Autostarting programs lurk in the most obscure corners of Windows. The Everything tab (shown in the screenshot below) lists every program that starts automatically, in the order in which it is run. Click on the program to see details. Right-click on a program and choose Search Online to look up the program on the Web, using your default browser and search engine.

You can filter out the Microsoft programs and have Autoruns just show you the third-party interlopers: Click Options, Hide Microsoft and Windows Entries. Then click the Refresh icon. You see all the self-running stuff deposited on your machine. Next: LastPass, VLC Media Player

Top free tools for Windows: Autoruns
Autoruns lets you control programs that run automatically each time you start Windows or Internet Explorer.
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