You just bought a new laptop, built a new desktop PC, or are simply clean installing on a new solid state drive, good for you! Gotta love the taste of a fresh new machine, but now you have to get back to productivity zen by recovering your files and installing programs.
Not sure which ones? Well, let us help. We’ve compiled a list of essential programs to get you started. From security utilities to productivity tools, and many suggestions for the areas in between, with a special emphasis in great free software you can download right away.
Windows 10 offers Edge which is a serviceable browser and Apple loves to promote Safari, and there’s nothing wrong with either, but more often than not we find power users favoring Chrome or Firefox over the stock browsers.
Chrome is the top choice for Android users, as you can natively sync across devices. Firefox used to lag behind as of late and its mobile support is comparatively poor, but it recently received a big revamp and is arguably every bit as good desktop browser as Chrome.
If you’re up for a little experimentation, there are two Chromium-based browsers we like a lot. Opera remains a slick and feature rich browser. The integrated clutter-free speed dial feature should be a must on every browser, also adding a VPN and ad blocker which you can activate for those times when you need them.
Same goes for Vivaldi, our second alternative browser choice (developed by the original makers of Opera). It’s not every bit as polished as others, but that’s by design as Vivaldi is meant to be customized and offer many power user friendly features as stock options.
Cloud storage is a must-have in your toolbox. There is nothing more convenient than securely accessing data from any place or device, and having that data sync across devices. Backing up and restoring information has never been smoother either, and even though there’s a huge array of options we’ve long been spoiled by Dropbox’s ease of use. A free account on Dropbox only gets you 2GB but you can earn up to 18GB via referrals and a few other tricks.
Major alternatives include Google Drive and Microsoft’s own OneDrive, which is integrated into Windows 10. Apple also favors and integrates iCloud on all Macs and iDevices, however in our experience neither of those is as smooth to work with than Dropbox for storing documents, searching, sharing and syncing across platforms.
We do like to use Google syncing and Apple’s integration for backing up smartphone profiles and data (and of course, free unlimited photo and video storage in Google Photos!) but for desktop and productivity use, Dropbox is the service to beat in our book.
Information is power but having the right information at the right time is even more important. For video calls Skype used to be the best platform by far, but that competitive advantage has been diminished as mobile focused competitors have surged. For desktop use Skype is still pretty good, but if you want to go cross-platform Skype apps tend to be sluggish. Viber, Google Hangouts and Facetime (Mac only) are good alternatives.
It’s always fun to stay in touch with family and friends, but if you need workgroup collaboration then you’re better off using Slack, Spark or Hipchat — one of those are the most likely candidates your workplace will be using. And if you’re interested in having all your different communication services in one place you can try Franz.
If you know what you’re doing, both Windows and macOS come with decent security out of the box. Common sense should be enough for power users, while the average user may want to add another layer of protection that won’t turn into a burden for your system.
Malwarebytes is the first tool you should consider. A veteran specializing in preventing malware and rootkits attacks, it’s great and free for personal use. There’s also VirusTotal.com which you can use to scan downloaded files for threats before you open them.
For gaming we have to recommend Steam first and foremost. Valve’s killer gaming platform does an awesome job at being a one-stop shop for most PC gaming. It’s a great hub and gaming communication platform, also known for its sales. Do note however that certain franchises are absent from Steam, namely games from the likes of EA, Ubi, and Blizzard. So here are download shortcuts for Origin, Uplay and GOG Galaxy. Also, League of Legends.
For watching your favorite movies there’s VLC Player. If you just want to press play and go, VLC has that going for it. But it’s also a powerful player with support for subtitle synchronisation, video filters, and equalization, should you need that.
To be fair, Windows 10’s built in player works well and supports a variety of formats, too. Last time we checked it saves you battery when playing movies on a laptop, so we certainly wouldn’t discard it. On Macs we also like to use MPV and Movist, although the latter is not free.
It’s not uncommon for your PC to become a hub to stream movies or serve as an HTPC. If you are looking for more than a player, something that offers streaming and can organize your library there is Plex and Kodi.
Unless you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem, music streaming is synonymous with Spotify, so you can download that here. YouTube is another great place to discover music, not just for the latest releases but finding old live performances of your favorite artists. Just use your favorite browser for that.
Microsoft Office remains the king of office productivity and some are not having as hard a time justifying a subscription to Office 365 if you need it for work and if you’ll take advantage of most of the apps and included perks like 1TB of OneDrive storage.
Now, as you are likely aware, free alternatives abound here. Mac users get iWork out of the box, which is a great way to get started on a documents, spreadsheet or presentation. On the Windows side, some of our writers swear by LibreOffice, while others simply hate it. The open source office suite offers all the basics (and then some) but at zero cost. Same goes for WPS Office Free. Google Docs is the default choice for browser-based office apps, sharing and collaboration.
For simple note-taking there’s OneNote, which Microsoft now offers as a free cross-platform, cloud connected app.
For screenshot grabbing, annotation and sharing, we use Monosnap. If you need an actual image editing tool, the best free stuff includes GIMP, Paint.net and Inkscape, but otherwise you will have to pay for a more robust option. Adobe applications are top notch and professional, but there are other high quality alternatives like Corel PaintShop Pro 2018 and Pixelmator.
Teamviewer is the default choice for cross-platform remote control and desktop sharing. It’s also a pretty good tool to have handy should you need to transfer very large files that are impractical to add to your cloud storage.
F.lux is a nifty little app that shifts the color of your computer’s display to adapt to the time of day and become easier on your eyes. If you like to work at night, F.lux is a godsend.
CCleaner provides the easiest way to clean your PC of temporary and otherwise potentially unwanted files with a few clicks.
Backing up all the ever-important family photos and videos on Google Photos is easier using the upload tool.
For the geogeek Google Earth is always cool to have loaded and ready.
Not Needed Anymore?
Also, there’s stuff we used to install but we normally don’t anymore: third-party antivirus, PDF readers, print to PDF utilities (OS support this natively), download managers, zipping utilities, software firewalls, WinAMP,
Of course, there’s still use for many of these, but we no longer install them right away unless and until they’re needed.
Is this list missing something? Tell us about your own app suggestions and recommendations.