15 useful tools for your Windows desktop - most free

Create a faster, more productive Windows environment

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Download: LastPass
Purpose: Store and retrieve passwords online
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Mac, Linux
Cost: Free for Windows, Mac, Linux; $1 per month for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian

It sounds crazy, right? Store all of your passwords on a website. Meshuggeneh.

I'd been using AI Roboform to manage my passwords for years, until I bumped into this all-in-the-cloud password manager. Like Roboform, LastPass keeps track of your user IDs, passwords, and other settings, and it offers them to you with just a click. But there's a big difference: Roboform stores your passwords on your PC, while LastPass encrypts them, then stores them in the cloud.

LastPass does its AES-256 encrypting and decrypting on your PC, using a master password that you have to provide -- and remember. The data that gets stored in the cloud is encrypted, and without the key (which only you know) the stored passwords can't be broken, unless you know somebody who can crack AES-256 encryption.

[Looking to compare secure password managers? See 4 password managers offer security anytime, anywhere]

LastPass works as a browser add-on for IE, Firefox, or Chrome, so all of your passwords are stored in one place, accessible to any PC you happen to be using, as long as you have the master password.

Top free tools for Windows: LastPass
LastPass lets you save and share your passwords in the cloud, using strong encryption and a master password that only you know.

VLC Media Player
Download: VLC Media Player
Purpose: Media player, including video
Platforms: Windows 7, Vista, XP; Mac, Linux
Cost: Free

Another poster child for open source software, VLC Media Player plays just about anything -- including YouTube Flash FLV files -- with no additional software, no downloads, and no headaches. I use it exclusively for videos.

Unlike other media players (notably the versatile but complex KM Player), VLC sports simple, Spartan controls, built-in codecs for almost every file type imaginable, and a large and vocal online support community. VLC plays Internet streaming media with a click, records played media, converts between file types, and even supports individual frame screenshots.

VLC is well-known for tolerating incomplete or damaged media files. It will even start to play downloaded media before the download's finished. Next: Jaangle, Process Explorer, PicPick

Top free tools for Windows: VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player just works -- media without the hassles.
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