Top 35 free apps for Windows 10

From backup to productivity tools, here’s the best of the best for Windows 10. Sometimes good things come in free packages.

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Keep tabs on your hard drive with WinDirStat

Where does all the drive space go? Pick up a free copy of WinDirStat, and find out, quickly and accurately. You can use the File Explorer-style view at the top to navigate among your most ponderous folders, or you can click on individual files in the decidedly more colorful "tree map" usage pane.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #11 - WinDirStat [Windows Directory Statistics] Bernhard Seifert / Oliver Schneider

Delete files directly from WinDirStat, or fire up File Explorer to delete from a more traditional point of view.

Free, open source, fast, bulletproof. Nothing to install. Meaningful Help info. What more could you ask for?

You can get it from Ninite.

Windows Defender keeps on ticking

There are several free-for-personal-use antivirus products worthy of your attention: Avast Free, Avira Free, AVG Free and Bitdefender Free are the best-known. (Avast now owns AVG.) All of them except Bitdefender are available on Ninite.

I don't recommend any of them. Why? Your antivirus product watches everything you do. Some — perhaps all — of the free antivirus packages track your activity, and the vendor sells your history to advertisers. AVG admitted as much in late 2015, and Avast's privacy policy has come under fire. They're all suspect. Instead, I use Windows 10's built-in Defender.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #12 - Windows Defender Microsoft

I use Windows 10 all the time, so I've resigned myself to the fact that Microsoft snoops on my computer from boot-up to shut-down — and maybe other times, too. (Hello, Cortana!) Windows Defender isn't going to tell Microsoft much more than it already knows and it may not come out on top of all the antivirus benchmarks. But it won't bug me about paying for an upgrade or hijack my browser's search engine. The others may.

Defender's a better-the-devil-ye-ken choice.

Double-check for infections with Malwarebytes

No doubt you already have an antivirus program. As mentioned in the previous slide, I use Windows Defender, which comes baked into Windows 10, but there are many good alternatives.

Malwarebytes is different. The free-for-personal-use version is designed to be run manually; I run mine once a week. Malwarebytes picks up all sorts of creepy crawlies that get past AV programs, and it's surprisingly adept at running even if your machine is already infected.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #13 - Malwarebytes Malwarebytes

When combined with the support on the Malwarebytes forum, Malwarebytes is the ultimate fallback for infected systems — whether you know they're infected or not.

You can get it from Ninite.

Get a better browser — Chrome or Firefox, or both, or Opera or...

Microsoft wants you to use its new Edge browser. For some, Edge may be all you need. For most, Edge doesn't fill the bill. If you've grown accustomed to the more advanced features in other browsers, Edge won't be an adequate substitute.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #14 Better browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Opera Google / Mozilla / Opera Software

Your main options:

  • Opera, long the top underdog in the browser wars, has pioneered several features not previously seen in competitive browsers, including pop-up blocking, private browsing, and native ad blocking. It's now available on Windows, OS X, and Linux.
  • Firefox is an excellent choice if you don't want to send your browsing history to the folks at Google. Coupled with a search engine like DuckDuckGo or Startpage, which don't track anything, you minimize your trackable presence on the web. I use Firefox all the time.
  • Chrome is my browser of choice. In spite of its snooping ways, it has the best collection of extensions, easiest operation, and best integration with Google Apps in the biz. On the downside, if you open a bunch of tabs, it sure sucks up a lot of cycles.

Whatever you do, don't run Internet Explorer. Microsoft has put it out to pasture. So should you.

Pick 'n' choose on Ninite.

Password management for Windows and more: LastPass

I use LastPass religiously, in all my browsers, on all my computers: Windows, Android, iOS, ChromeOS, Mac, you name it.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #15 - LastPass LogMeIn, Inc.

LastPass keeps track of your user IDs, passwords, and other settings; stores them in the cloud; and offers them to you with a click. LastPass does its one-way salted AES-256 encrypting and decrypting on your PC, using a master password you have to remember. The data that gets stored in the cloud is encrypted, and without the key the stored passwords can't be broken, unless you know somebody who can crack AES-256 encryption.

In addition to installing the LastPass browser extension for all of my browsers, I use the UWP/Windows Store version (screenshot) on my Windows 10 machines. Why? It's much easier to edit entries with the UWP/Windows Store version than with the odd click-here-then-there editing interface inside browsers.

Free online storage with Dropbox

If you're using Win10 for anything more than a doorstop, you're no doubt familiar with cloud storage. I prefer the desktop version of Dropbox, which integrates into File Manager. (The UWP/Windows Store version, at this point, isn't worth the bother.)

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #16 - Dropbox Dropbox

Everybody and his brother wants to offer you free cloud storage these days. They're gambling that you'll get hooked on the service, and later pay to stay. I've never gone over my limit with any of the services — Dropbox (2GB free for personal use, unlimited business use for $12.50 per user per month), Microsoft's OneDrive (5GB free for personal use, many other options), Google Drive (15GB free for personal use), Mega (50GB free), Box (10GB free)— and I use them all, in various ways.

Thumbnail comparison:

  • Dropbox syncs with your computer remarkably well; for all intents, it works exactly like a File Manager folder (see screenshot), with solid security, easy operation, amazing reliability, and integration with many programs (including Office).
  • The current version of OneDrive has all sorts of implementation and interface problems, reliability is a major concern, and Microsoft has already reneged on storage promises.
  • Google Drive space gets swallowed up by saved Gmail attachments, but the tools are best of breed. I use Google Drive for photos (see my later recommendation).
  • Mega is excellent, supersecure, somewhat limited in features, but is getting better.
  • Box rates as the sine qua non of corporate storage, but it's limited for freeloaders.

You can get the Dropbox desktop app from Ninite.

Better mail and calendar with Gmail

Like you, I spent years struggling with PC-based email: Outlook, in multitudinous versions; Outlook Express (which isn't anything like Outlook itself); Windows Mail; Windows Live Mail; Thunderbird. I can't recall how many months I've lost hassling with files, settings, quirks, and bugs.

Bah! If you haven't moved your mail to the cloud, it's time to take a look. You have to jump through a few hoops, but it's relatively easy to keep your email address (me@myaddress.com) and push everything through Gmail — and nobody will know the difference. All of the email services are free for personal use, and come attached to more expensive packages (GSuite, Outlook 365, among others) for organizations. As of early 2018, Google no longer snoops on the contents of messages to offer up customized ads — although there continue to be questions about third-party app access to mail.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #17 - Gmail Google

Flipping to online email will add years to your life. The only question is which service to use. The front-runners, Gmail and Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) have pros and cons, with features in one showing up in the other sooner or later. Both have so many capabilities that nobody uses more than a tiny fraction. There's no clear winner.

Personally, I use Gmail — and have done so for years — because it's better organized (which is a simple way to say that I'm used to it); it does a better job of trapping spam headed my way, separating "Important" messages from "Everything else" simplifies cleanup; and the tabs help occasionally. Microsoft counters by saying they have inbox organization by custom categories, there are time-based rules, and Outlook.com makes it easy to connect to Skype, Twitter, Google, and LinkedIn.

Log on to gmail.com from any computer.

Free Office productivity with Office Online

While the titans rage for paid online "office productivity" packages, those seeking free-for-personal-use productivity programs have two excellent choices from those same two titans.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #18 - Office Online Microsoft

Office Online is so good, you'll be hard-pressed to find features in the paid programs that aren't available online for free. Google's G Suite works well, too, but Office Online's features and rock-solid compatibility with desktop Office programs run way out ahead of the competition. Both run inside your favorite web browser.

The big trick? You have to understand there is a free Office Online, it's remarkably fully featured, and you don't need to sign up for a free trial of anything (although you need a free Microsoft account). To get started, go to the Office home page, avoid the temptation to sign up for an Office 365 free trial at the top, and look further down for the free online apps.

Store, retrieve and manage your photos with Google Photos

If you are a professional photographer, need fancy touch-up tools and extremely high-definition archival storage, or have to set up paid downloading services, you need a more capable option. But for almost everybody, Google Photos is a category killer. There's rarely been a program, of any kind, with such broad appeal.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #19 - Google Photos Google

There's free unlimited storage, although pictures are limited to 16 megapixels and video to 1080p (the program will automatically squeeze bigger pictures, or you can pay for Google Drive storage space for the biggies). Yes, free. Unlimited. Apps for iOS, Android, and all the major browsers on any platform. You can set Google Photos to automatically upload pics from your phone or Wi-Fi-enabled camera. Once they're on Google's servers, you can get at them from anywhere with your Google ID and password.

Google Photos automatically analyzes every picture. Face recognition is built in (though it can be turned off). The organization and analytical capabilities are breathtaking: "All the pictures of me holding a beer glass" or "Every picture we took of the pyramids." Photos even offers to create montages, panoramas, storylines, or "animations" of similar pictures taken in succession. Of course, Google keeps track of everything you post and uses the info to serve ads, but that's the price you pay.

Play music or videos without the nagging — use VLC Media Player

Another poster child for open source software, VLC Media Player plays nearly anything — including YouTube Flash FLV files — with no additional software, no downloads, no headaches. I use it exclusively for videos, but I only use the desktop version. The UWP/Windows Store version, at this point, has all sorts of problems.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #20 - VLC Media Player VideoLAN

Unlike other media players, 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.

Tired of the sell, sell, sell in Win10's built-in Groove Music or Movies & TV? Can't get your oddball files to play in Win10's apps? Take a look at VLC.

VLC is well-known for tolerating incomplete or damaged media files. It will even start to play downloaded media before the download's finished. The desktop version is available via Ninite.

Organize your music and videos with Foobar 2000

If you look at Foobar2000 on its face, you won't see much: a player that doesn't meet the standards of VLC Media Player and a clunky interface. But underneath the surface, a whole geeky world unfolds: heavy-duty metadata editing tools; batch and command-line processing; user-programmable functions; a huge collection of plugins.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #21- Foobar2000 Peter Pawłowski

There's even a Title Formatting feature with an associated database-style Query Syntax. It's a programmer's music organizer.

Foobar has a Universal Windows app called Foobar 2000 Mobile. You might want to try it, but don't be surprised if it doesn't have many of the options you'd like.

You can get the regular Windows app on Ninite.

Get to your music, videos, and photos anywhere with Plex Media Server

Plex is the answer to all sorts of problems I've had forever with using a Windows network to store movies, music, and recorded TV. I use it with a Roku on my TVs. I use it on my Chromebooks, iPads, even my Android phone. In short, any computer I have around the house can tap into my movie, TV, or music collection. I can even get at those media files from anyplace with an internet connection.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #22 - Plex Media Server Plex, Inc.

If that sounds like magic, it is. And it's getting better all the time.

Setting up and running Plex is an absolute breeze. Download the Plex program (the server) and install it on your PC (Windows, MacOS, Linux, some NAS servers). Point it to your media files. Then you can watch or listen to all your shows/music on the computer that's acting as the server. But — here's the magic — you can install a Plex player program on your tablets, phones, game boxes like an Xbox or PlayStation, and as long as they're attached to the same network as the server, you get immediate access to all of the media. It's like falling off a log.

There's more. Roku picks up the Plex channel immediately. Apple TV, same thing. Some TVs now have Plex built-in. And you can connect to Plex remotely from anywhere in the world, any browser you like, using a simple password. It works better than any networking system I've ever used.

Best of all, it's free, although the mobile apps cost a few dollars. Add syncing to mobile devices and storage in the cloud, and it'll cost you $5 a year for Plex Pass.

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