back to article Ten excellent FREE PC apps to brighten your Windows

No matter if you're reinstalling Windows for the 47th time this fortnight or attempting to rid a new machine of bloatware in favour of something that's actually useful, the question remains: what alternative apps exist that don’t involve coughing up for obscene licensing fees? RH Numbers Fortunately there's plenty of …

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    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

      "I got infected with BuyNSave ad(mal)ware just a couple of days back. Using Add/Remove programs to uninstall it only removed it's name from the list off installed programs but MalwareBytes cleaned it right out."

      MalwareBytes is my go to-tool when people give me an infected laptop to deal with. It can't be recommended enough.

      1. jason 7

        Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

        It's good now (it wasn't about 18 months ago..useless in fact) but don't rely on it to clean up a machine using just one scan from it.

        Run a second and many time it will find more stuff. Use two other products and I'll bet they find more that Malwarebytes missed.

        Addd Combofix into the final mix and see what that drags up.

        I see a lot of folks go "I just used Malwarebytes and it fixed it!"

        I bet it didn't.

        1. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

          "It's good now (it wasn't about 18 months ago..useless in fact) but don't rely on it to clean up a machine using just one scan from it."

          I don't know what happened 18 months ago, but I've been using it successfully for a lot longer.

          FTR, I don't simply trust it to do the job - if it was that simple, instead of people bringing their computers to me, I'd just be saying to them "run this program" (pointing them at MalwareBytes) instead of giving up my time.

          I use MalwareBytes as my first line of attack but subsequent scans (both with MalwareBytes and with other software), hitherto, have shown the initial MalwareBytes scans to have successfully found and eliminated the worst, if not all, of the nasties. This is why I call it and use it as "my go to-tool" for the task - nothing else I've tried has been so effective, so early in the task. I praise it because it's earned my respect.

          Having said all that, people seem to have stopped bringing their infected laptops to me, so it's been a while since I last did this.

          I wonder if its because I started telling them how much I should be charging for my time, in a tone of voice that sounds like I'm a bit pissed off (and therefore hinting that I might start doing exactly that)?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

            I've noticed a drop-off in people looking for desktop and laptop repairs in the last few years and I've always charged (hey, my time is precious...). I put it down to increased use of tablets and even phones - when the laptop gunks up with crapware, I suspect it gets shoved in a corner. Think of all those perfectly good pieces of kit crying out for a reimage, a date with www.ninite.com and a session with CCleaner!

            1. VinceH Silver badge

              Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

              "I've noticed a drop-off in people looking for desktop and laptop repairs in the last few years and I've always charged (hey, my time is precious...). I put it down to increased use of tablets and even phones"

              Ah, yes - very good point. I don't know if all of the people who used to bring their computers to me have become tablet surfers, but I do know that some have become rampant iPad users, so that might very possibly be the reason for it.

              So tablets are good for something, then. ;)

              1. Joe 48

                Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

                Does no one still use HiJackThis?

                Its the first thing I run to give me an overview of everything. Got used to spotted irregularities over the years and if unsure the web will analysis the log files for you.

                Then I run MalwareBytes to clean it all up.

            2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

              I've noticed a drop-off in people looking for desktop and laptop repairs in the last few years...

              True. I think it's partly because Windows has got better, and I almost never come across a computer that isn't running up-to-date anti-virus nowadays. 5 years ago people didn't know about the free options like AVG until I told them. Now they've probably at least got MSE/Windows Defender.

              But I take the case of my Mum, who's not at all unique. Last time I had to fix her desktop was June. When I checked, it hadn't been booted since late April. She checks her email daily, but has an iPad. Even for online shopping, she needn't leave the sofa to go the other room and turn on the PC. So she doesn't anymore. It got used so infrequently she's given it away, and got a secondhand Macbook Air.

              I hate using my iPad for anything serious. I like the ability to have multiple tabs, more screen space, and easily cut & paste stuff into lists. And a proper keyboard, so I can type at proper speeds. It might take me a couple of minutes to go to the spare room and fire it up, but it's so much more efficient when I get there.

              However I suspect many people were never efficient on their PCs. Were never comfortable with the interface, and can't touch-type. So the iPad is just as good, maybe even easier, and they can be sat on the sofa.

              Oh and a big thumbs up to Malwarebytes. I run multiple checks on PCs infected with nasties - often using a linux boot disc. So far Malwarebytes has been my first tool used, and none of the other scans have picked anything else. Except for once, when my brother decided not to pay Sky for the boxing, and went to some truly horrible site instead.

              1. Joe 48

                Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

                Never liked AVG. Used to install it on all friends laptops/desktop. But found it would expire after a year and stop updating causing me extra work. MS essentials might not be the best but its very low touch imo and thats perfect for friends kit.

    2. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: MalwareBytes & VLC

      Does it still run rampant over file associations even when told not to? :D

  1. eek the geek

    Surprised there's no mention of CCleaner. Not only does it clean up your drive (you can choose what to clean and what to leave) it also checks your registry for errors, you can disable/delete startup options for windows, internet explorer, firefox and scheduled tasks. It also lets you pick and choose system restore points to delete and has a built in driver wiper.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      I manage a 10+ year old XP machine for my wife (who refuses to upgrade) and CCleaner is what keeps it stumbling along, should definitely be in the top 10

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        gee, your wife sounds like a great catch.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          >>>> gee, your wife sounds like a great catch.

          I hope you are early teens and stupid, and not someone who genuinely found that funny.

      2. MatDey

        You should VM that machine for her...

    2. tony72
      Alert

      Opinions differ on this; personally I would never use tools like CCleaner, and I have seen systems completely trashed by using such tools. They do things that you either don't need to do and don't benefit from, or else can do more safely manually. There are plenty of articles on the dangers of registry cleaners, and on how little good they do, however as that article says, there will always be those who swear by such programs, and say they've never had a problem themselves, so I guess you pays your money and you takes your chances.

      1. janimal

        re: tony72

        As with any tool, they can be misused or misunderstood. There's nothing inherently wrong with CCleaner & other registry cleaning tools. The problem is usually the user.

        That's not to say I haven't borked a couple of dev installations in the past, but through my own fault not the cleaners. Back when I was a windows developer registry cleaners were an essential item when developing COM based software. Yes I remember DLL hell too!

        1. Steven Raith

          Re: re: tony72

          My view of CCCleaner is that it's like giving your average car owner a bluetooth OBDII reader, the Torque app....and an engine crane, socket set and angle grinder.

          You might let your mate Dave loose with it as he's pretty savvy and isn't likely to start trying to pull the engine out and take a deek at the main bearings - not without checking first as to whether it's wise.

          However, Chris, who just gets in his car, sees a crankcase pressure warning and decides that as he has the tools he MUST pull the engine to bits, and won't ask you for help till his engine bay is empty and the block is in one room, and the head in another.

          CCCleaner - best used by those who are cautious, or know what they're doing. Here be dragons. With great power comes gre...oh you get the picture.

          On a related note, I've found Revo Uninstaller quite useful for getting rid of poorly written programs (or where power has failed halfway through an application install etc) - but again, some care needs to be taken.

          Steven R

    3. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Boffin

      >it also checks your registry for errors

      CCleaner is crap, offers nothing msconfig & and regedit cannot do. Besides, it causes more harm than anything else.

      Think I am an idiot ? Well, you might consider reading this blog entry, by a veteran MS dev:

      http://askleo.com/whats_the_best_registry_cleaner

      iiiDON'T USE REGISTRY CLEANERS!!!

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        CCleaner != just a registry cleaner. The registry cleaner is the bit I generally don't use

      2. Purple-Stater

        @Hans 1

        Are you an idiot? Well, get halfway into the article you reference and Leo says "So if you’re going to use a registry cleaner, which one should you use?" and immediately says "CCLEANER".

        CCleaner's REGISTRY cleaner might not offer anything that MSCONFIG and REGEDIT don't, other than doing it all automatically in Less than 1% of the time that doing it with those options would take.

        You also seem to be unaware that CClenaer is more than a registry tool. By far it's most value aspect is the automated cleaning of browser caches, history files, log files, etc. etc. The Registry cleaner is a small bonus on top of that. CCleaner is worth it even if you only use it to uninstall software. You can be done before MS's tools have even finished the first step of trying to figure out what software is installed and provide you a list.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >>>> Surprised there's no mention of CCleaner

      Good call, CCleaner is awesome. Every time I fix a friend or relative's PC that "has gone slow" etc, CC is the first thing I do.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget kids, you can install many of these fine pieces of software quickly and easily using the (also free and incredibly handy) Ninite installer.

  3. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Linux

    file manager

    I have not used Windows for several years but if I had to I would need Total Commander. The free version has the least annoying nag screen in existence. It's a clone of Norton commander, Midnight Commander etc.

    Actually, anything is better than Microsoft's Explorer!

    http://www.ghisler.com/

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: file manager

      The free version of XYplorer is one of the best file managers with a non-DOS interface ;)

      http://www.xyplorer.com/free.php

  4. wolfetone Silver badge

    A Request for Windows 8.1

    Fantastic article, and I know this isn't a request forum, but Christ knows this is starting to piss me right off.

    <rant>

    I've an Asus Transformerbook T100, and I like it. I use it to play Football Manager, and to compose emails and create/read Word Documents that can be easily read or viewed by my clients when I'm out and about and my main laptop isn't practical. I use Office 365 to bridge the emails across this laptop and my Linux laptop/desktop.

    There is absolutely no way (as far as I can see) to link your Office 365 account to your user account on Windows 8.1. I can add the exchange email account to the laptop and it will sync my contact, emails and calendar. But it just won't integrate properly with OneDrive - even though Windows 8.1 has a OneDrive app.

    So, Microsoft or people who can lean on people at Microsoft. Maybe not for Windows 8.1, but definitely for Windows 10/9.x.in.disguise, make it possible to integrate Office 365 with your operating system. I can't be the only one to have this gripe surely?!?!?

    </rant>

    1. Fuzz

      Re: A Request for Windows 8.1

      you have to sign on to windows using your 365 account

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: A Request for Windows 8.1

        I think I tried that and it didn't recognise my 365 account as a windows live account. Which I know it isn't, really, but still.

  5. Frankee Llonnygog

    Just to send a bunch of the above

    A Windows PC without paint.net and notepad++? No thanks. And VLC - I install it on everything user device I own.

  6. John Miles

    Agent Ransack

    One I find invaluable is Agent Ransack for searching local PC - http://www.mythicsoft.com/agentransack

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Agent Ransack

      AR - Indispensable for searching file names and contents. Filelocator Pro (paid for) is better again.

      And for instant search results, locate32 (a file indexer) is right behind it:

      http://sourceforge.net/projects/locate32/

  7. batfastad

    My essentials...

    7zip, Notepad++, VLC, Irfanview and SumatraPDF

  8. Alister Silver badge

    Ten excellent FREE PC apps to brighten your Windows

    Blimey, I feel like I've fallen back through time and I'm reading a PC mag from the mid-nineties...

    1. Richard 81

      An article like this is always nice from time to time. The free AV tools people used to suggest are now bloated pieces of junk (I'm looking at you AVG), so pointing out the alternatives to those who haven't been following the trends is always helpful.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That's because this is a helpful post likely to make you feel more positive. Most Reg articles have the opposite effect...

  9. Fuzz

    VLC

    Why does everyone love VLC so much, I've always found it to be resource hungry and buggy. I've always preferred MPC-HC

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: VLC

      > Why does everyone love VLC so much, I've always found it to be resource hungry and buggy.

      I at least have not found it to be resource hungry and buggy. Don't know about loving it, but since VLC generally plays any type of media I throw at it, and is free, I tend to install it on any computer I use for any period of time.

      1. T_o_u_f_ma_n

        Re: VLC

        I used to swear by VLC on Windows (and I still use it on Android) but it no longer works straight out of the box for me on some rather common formats (Wave for audio, .MP4 for video). Other players handle the files without the audio/video desync or the constant stutter so I've leaned towards MPC-HD and MediaMonkey/Foobar2000 for my needs. I'm not 100% sure what changed or whether I somehow borked my install (and subsequent updates) but I had to abandon VLC as my single goto software for all things audio/video...

    2. Paul Shirley

      Re: VLC

      I dislike the ui enough to not use vlc as my default player but it's essential for the the times mpc decides it can't play a file. In my experience mpc is at least 10x more bug ridden than vlc and has extremely poor handling of file errors and sucks more cpu. I really need to man up and drop it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: VLC

        > I dislike the ui enough to not use vlc as my default player

        VLC has quite a large collection of alternative skins available; if you don't like the default UI there are plenty of alternatives to choose from.

    3. tony72

      Re: VLC

      +1 for MPC-HC. I usually have a copy of VLC installed as well, but it's a player (/streaming server/converter) of last-resort. VLC has always been way behind on hardware-accelerated decoding, so lots of battery suckage on your ultrabook or tablet, and it's behind in other ways as well, but it has its uses.

      1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        "VLC has always been way behind on hardware-accelerated decoding..."

        That's ok, my Laptop is well behind the hardware acceleration bleeding edge.

        Vlc has been my goto for media files for a good 10 years now, through 3 laptops (current one has done 4 years so far and is way down my spending list - at least until Halflife 3 gets released!)

        Icon because the keyboard is coffee stained.

      2. tony72

        Re: VLC

        To whoever gave that a thumbs down, I do hope you know that until about four years ago, VLC didn't even support hardware-accelerated decoding at all, and in most of the time since it did get support, it was partial, and in some cases actually ended up with little net benefit in CPU usage. The latest version still defaults to having hardware-accelerated decoding disabled, at least on windows, and there appears to be no support for it in Raspbian. This may all be due to the cross-platform nature of VLC, but the comment about VLC's support for hardware-accelerated decoding is very much factual.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: VLC

      I've always preferred MPC-HC

      I'll second that. I just wish there was a *nix version.

    5. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: VLC

      VLC is not just a video player/streamer ... you record top notch movies of your desktop - stuff I do with ffmpeg on Linux .. and it can convert <anything>2<anything_else>.

      The ui is terrible, however, I have not encountered a bugged vlc in years ... the only bug that affected me saw it crash when I searched in a playlist and that was years ago. I do not use it daily, though ...

    6. Ketlan

      Re: VLC

      'Why does everyone love VLC so much,'

      Thank God someone has had the balls to say that at last. Hate VLC, love MPC via the K-Lite Codec Pack.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: VLC

        I generally use the KMPlayer. Also free, also with built-in codecs, also plays absolutely anything I care to throw at it, but it was the first player I saw at the time that was able to easily load and display .srt subtitles over a DVD being played (for a language the DVD itself lacked subtitles for, obviously). I could conceivably have done something similar mucking around with external filters and overlays, but in my view the ole' DLL hell was cushy heaven compared to those...

        1. batfastad

          Re: VLC

          MPC-HC is great as well. I ran that on my HTPC, until that became OpenELEC. And ran it on my laptop, until that became Linux.

          But the fact you don't have to dig out some codec pack always makes VLC a good bet for computers that come under the "family tech support" contract I seem to have signed up to.

  10. Ledswinger Silver badge

    Eraser + SSD

    Previously I've used this, and been happy with it (I don't bother with 35 over-writes, mind you, three at most is going to do the job). But I'm not sure that it'll work with increasingly common SSDs. My guess is that the firmware of the SSD will translate over-write requests, and Eraser will be burning through the limited write cycles of some cells (and the SSD subsequently needing to erase even more blocks) without necessarily hitting the intended data.

    TRIM should erase most deleted data, but it's not going to touch deleted data if some of the block is still in use?

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge

      Re: Eraser + SSD

      Most SSD manufacturers have a "toolbox" software available which can do the ATA Secure Erase command. The procedure takes just seconds and doesn't affect the SSD life. Your BIOS may also contain a Secure Erase option.

      Microsoft has included the cipher.exe CLI utility since Windows 2000 and it can write zeros to all unused/deleted portions and that's been good enough for me when I'm retiring or re-using drives.

    2. toughluck

      Re: Eraser + SSD

      Depending on the implementation and controller, TRIM will destroy any meaningful way to restore the data from an SSD.

      If the disk uses encryption and/or compression, TRIM will prevent any restore of the data since it also drops all pointers to how the data is arranged, how it is compressed or what encryption key is used.

      And theoretical methods to restore data from magnetic drives are unusable on SSDs, the cells of which deteriorate/degrade much quicker than magnetic domains on a hard disk. Even if you were able to recreate the bits, you've no idea what they represent, if the data is encrypted or compressed and you have no way to rearrange it.

      As for the Gutmann method, Wikipedia has an excellent article about it, and Gutmann himself says it best -- 35 passes was never needed for any drive. The first and last four passes are with random data, and there are RLL (two methods) and MFM-specific passes. MFM "needs" 18 passes at most, (1,7)RLL "needs" 26.

      In case of modern PRML disks, these MFM- or RLL-specific passes do nothing special and are completely unnecessary.

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