There is a handful of small and usually free applications that can make your computera whole lot safer, faster, and more productive. The following is a brief overview of some of the most useful applications. Majority of them are free, while a few require a small fee. I separated all these programs into five major groups: Multimedia, Networking, Productivity, Security, and System.
Multimedia: graphics, video, and audio applications. These include picture viewers, media players, video file splitters and joiners, encoders and codecs, etc.
Networking: downloading and mirroring applications, FTP and remote desktop clients, network monitors and optimizers.
Productivity: file converters, button clickers, macro recorders, emulators, virtual machines, etc.
Security: anti-virus, spyware and trojan removers, process security monitors.
System: CPU and memory optimization tools, OS setting tweakers, log monitors, hard drive partitioning, defragmenting, and formatting tools, and many more.
NOTE: if the primary link is broken, use the Alternate link. This will use Google’s "feeling lucky" feature to get you to right site (in most cases anyway).
IrfanView – hands-down best graphics viewer for Windows. This file can view and convert multiple graphics, video and audio formats. It supports image rotation, resizing, contrast and brightness changes, sharpening and many more filters. Get it, install it, use it. Freeware. (Alternate link)
Bit-Defender – in my experience this is easily the best anti-virus for Windows and Linux systems. Uses very little system resources, highly-configurable, virus definitions are updated daily. In the past BitDefender detected viruses on my PC that all other scanners have missed. Free trial version is available. (Alternate link)
CA Anti-Virus – one of the best anti-virus applications. More thorough and faster than Norton and McAfee tools. Uses little system resources. Free trial version available. Around $50 regular price. (Alternate link)
xp-AntiSpy – the reason for so many spyware detection tools is the fact that Windows is full of holes and not all spyware removal tools detect all types of spyware. If one misses something, the other will pick it up. xp-AntiSpy should be used together with Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D, and SpywareBlaster. Freeware. (Alternate link)
Zappit! – a system cleaner utility that allows you to clean temporary files, registry, and to take control over the applications that start with your computer. Very useful when used with care. Freeware. ( “_blank” href=”http://www.google.com/search?q=zappit!%20system%20cleaner&btnI=I%E2%80%99m+Feeling+Lucky”>Alternate link)
WinRAR – like WinZIP, only better. WinRAR will open your regular ZIP files and a host of other archive formats you never even heard about. TAR and RAR compression formats are more efficient than ZIP. The resulting files are smaller. Shareware, $30. (Alternate link)
PartitionMagic – one of the best hard drive partitioning applications ever created for Windows. PartitionMagic was originally written by PowerQuest. It is now owned by Norton, so hurry up and get it before Norton screws it up. Commercial software, $80. (Alternate link)
HDDLife – most people learn about a failed hard drive from a clicking and scratching sounds coming from their computers. By that time the hard drive is already dead and all of your important files are gone. HDDLife application works with your hard drive to analyze its health. You will know ahead of time if your hard drive is going to fail. Shareware, $30. (Alternate link)
Crap Cleaner – an excellent computer cleanup utility that gets rid of temporary files and dead registry entries that slow down your PC. Just keep in mind that it’s always a good idea to backup your hard drive before you start deleting lots of files. Freeware. (Alternate link)
CloneSpy – if you are in habit of downloading lots of stuff from the Net, you are bound to end up with many duplicate files all over your hard drive. This utility will help you find the dupes and deal with them. Freeware. (Alternate link)
Acronis True Image – one of the best data backup and hard drive copying program for Windows. Better than Norton Ghost. True Image allows you to backup files, directories, partitions, and entire hard drives. Just keep in mind the first thing you do after you ran your first backup: run your first restore to make sure everything is working as expected. Commercial application, $80. (Alternate link)
WinBar – this is a relatively old utility originally written for Windows 95 but it works fine on XP. WinBar shows you CPU load, memory utilization, uptime, IP address, upload and download rates and statistics, and lots of other useful information about the status of your PC. This is the first piece of software I install on a new PC. Don’t know why, but I find myself uncomfortable using a PC without WinBAR running. Freeware. (Alternate link)
CacheMan – a memory management utility for Windows. CacheMan recovers wasted RAM, helps to avoid crashes and does a few other things you wish Windows did. Shareware. Certainly worth the $10. (Alternate link)
Automatic Wallpaper Changer – this utility runs in your taskbar and changes wallpaper for your desktop every so often. Just create a folder, fill it up with your favourite wallpaper images, and tell Automatic Wallpaper Changer to show you new wallpaper image every couple of hours. It’s fun and it’s freeware. (Alternate link)