What is great and useful windows 7 software?
August 24, 2011 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm a new windows user. Recommend awesome software for me to try.

I've been using a series of hand-me-down mac laptops for basically my entire life and now I've got a new man-killer HP laptop running Windows 7 and I need to reorient the way I do things. Rather than waiting for a few months of word-of-mouth advice on how to fill up my blank hard drive, I though I'd just AskMeFi.

* What is software that helps you work more efficiently in day to day tasks. (quicksilver/launchbar replacements for example).

• What is the software that is the best in its field at what it does. (Best messenger/email client/PDF/sound mixer/party thrower)

• What is the application that did something you never thought you needed, but now can't live without?

• What is something totally awesome?

I'm mostly looking for freeware stuff, but if something is completely great I'd consider throwing some money at it. I know the obvious follow-up question is "well what do you want to do", but it's a brand new world and I'd consider anything if you've got a favorite for it.
posted by Winnemac to Computers & Internet (28 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
What is the application that did something you never thought you needed, but now can't live without?
Texter: Powerful text replacement tool. I use it to easily insert custom email signatures in gmail, to add special characters (such as ™), etc. Just be sure to turn off its universal autocorrect feature, which causes all kinds of annoyance.
posted by maxim0512 at 3:52 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you do any text editing (e.g., HTML, other software development, etc.), I can't recommend the free Notepad++ highly enough.
posted by maxim0512 at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

DialogDevil -- for getting rid of excessive nag popups.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:55 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

PDF stuff:
SumatraPDF for lightweight PDF viewing that doesn't take 10 seconds to startup, and isn't as vulnerable to the millions of Reader exploits.
PDFCreator for printing to PDF. Disable the bundled toolbar after installation (boo, hiss for bundleware).
PDFtk, the windows command-line PDF Toolkit, which can slice and dice PDFs however you want.
VLC Video Player, will play any weird format under the sun in a simple interface. Also does conversion, recording, and streaming of video.
Compressed Files:
7-Zip handles almost any compressed file type, and integrates into Windows Explorer in an intuitive way.
posted by benzenedream at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Everything on this list is freeware, possibly also FOSS.

Text editor: Notepad++

Audi/video player: VLC, handles pretty much everything you throw at it.

Browser: Opera

FTP client: Filezilla

Torrents: uTorrent

Backup: Cobian Backup

Security: MS Security Essentials, Malware Bytes Anti-Malware, Eraser, Sandboxie. I've stopped using 3rd party firewalls because frankly they suck.

Utilities: some apps by Sysinternals is a must, e.g. Autostart Program Viewer, Process Explorer, TCP viewer. I also use WinDirStat for see what's hogging the disk space. InfraRecorder is great for burning CDs. 7-zip is mandatory for handling compressed archives.

I've stopped using launchers because win7 built-in feature is ok enough, but previously I used Executor. Very powerful, very customizable.

I use PDF Creator to create PDFs from any application that supports printing. I use PDFFill PDF tools when I need to manipulate pdf docs. PicPick is my current screenshot app.

Sooner or later someone will recommend AutoHotKey when you need to code a script. Let's just say it's a lifestyle.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:07 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Audi/video player: VLC, handles pretty much everything you throw at it.

Media Player Classic is a better choice.

And the Combined Community Codec Pack, in case you run into something you otherwise cannot play.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:13 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Forgot to mention Foxit PDF Reader. Because you will want to DTAdobeMF ASAP. It's not quite lightweight as SumatraPDF but still very, very fast compared to Adobe PDF Reader and it supports some PDF features better than Sumatra.

The app that I take for granted but that's awesome? F.lux, it adjusts the color of your screen according to what time it is.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you didn't know:

Press the windows key and start typing the name of a program or document. Windows will start creating a list from indexed locations (sort of like typing a search into google). Once you see what you want to open is at the top of the list, hit enter to launch it.

Also, you can hold the windows key and press up arrow to maximize, left arrow to fill the left half of the screen, or right arrow to fill the right half.

Those two features alone are have made huge improvements to my workflows on PCs.


My favorite music player on windows is Foobar2000. It just gets out of the way, has powerful library management features (if you want to use them), and is insanely customizeable.

Probably the best IM program for windows is the same as it is for Linux: Pidgin.

Thunderbird is the best free e-mail client.

I see Cave Story has been ported to Mac, but if you haven't played it yet, now's a good excuse. One of my favorite things ever.
posted by jsturgill at 4:16 PM on August 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

SAS is definitely the best for analytics on extremely large datasets.
L4D2 is my choice for killing zombies.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:33 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's also CCleaner when you need to tidy up stuff like the registry.

VirtualCloneCD when you need to mount ISO/IMG/BIN files.

TeamViewer is THE remote control app to use when your relative has manage to install another dozen browser toolbars. Again.

Some of your biggest security headaches will be Java and Flash. Make sure that java is set to autorun (this coming from a performance facist). You can't autorun flash but its update functionality is triggered every now and then when you're running a flash file in the browser.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:37 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aside from general software, you'll definitely want to secure your PC from malware infections (details and urls in my profile):

- Microsoft Security Essentials
- Immunet (low impact cloud AV)
- Secunia PSI
- Web of Trust
- Adblocker
- Noscript

You'll want to make an admin account and not use it as your main account (main account should be standard user). Don't have too much faith in the UAC for preventing malware. With these prereqs you'll be much better prepared for maliscious websites. Good luck!
posted by samsara at 4:59 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

First to say Irfanview? And I like Foobar2k, though it's not the only mp3-playing answer.

(Also, seconding VLC, Foxit, 7zip, Firefox/Opera (maybe throw in Chrome--I'm not for sure, though), utorrent and Notepad++)
posted by box at 5:30 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Browse through Ninite's installer package options and get yourself a bundle. Some of the previously mentioned apps are there. I'd suggest adding:

Irfanview, for images.
uTorrent, for, uh, torrents.
Evernote because it's awesome.
Dropbox if you use more than one PC or Mac and need an easy way to share files on and off your home network.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:33 PM on August 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone who uses both OS X Lion and Windows 7, I can't think of any Windows-exclusive applications that are "killer". Notepad++ has a godawful user interface, SumatraPDF lacks many features included in Preview.app, Adobe Reader is crapware (great functionality but terrible security and infuriating behaviour) and Windows Media Player is best left untouched.

The applications I use the most are Chrome/Opera, VLC, Miranda IM, Evernote's desktop client, µTorrent, Microsoft Security Essentials, and Powershell 2. These are the best in their respective categories, IMO.

The gaming ecosystem is where Windows really shines. There are tons of great games that are available for Windows only. Titles like LA Noire, Hitman: Blood Money, Deus Ex (the original), Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and so many more.
posted by identitymap at 5:37 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

For work purposes, I can't recomment FileMenuTools highly enough. It allows you to customize the options you see when you right-click the mouse. Some of the more useful options:

- launching the command line/DOS window from your current location (getting in and out of DOS and navigating can be awkward in Windows)

- renaming a bunch of files, for instance appending a unique sequence number or replacing specific text with alternate text

- editing file attributes, for instance updating modified date for all items in the folder

- configuring the list of programs Windows displays as possible "Send To" destinations

- hiding any undesired right-click options that have been added to your context menu by other programs

Since I've started using it, I really find it indispensible for working with files. Plus, it's freeware.
posted by GraceCathedral at 7:09 PM on August 24, 2011

If you're looking for entertainment, then spend some time looking around at Good Old Games.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:14 PM on August 24, 2011

I nth just about everything posted thus far and also recommend Paint.NET for a much superior alternative to MS Paint. I'm understating its awesomeness tentatively but it's quite powerful and easy to use. It ain't Photoshop but seems more accessible than GIMP, at least in my experience. And of course there are sweet FOSS productivity suites like LibreOffice. I'm getting too lazy to hyperlink but I like GreenShot for screen capturing and DeepBurner is a pretty decent free CD/DVD burning application. Audacity is great for editing sound.

I picked up MS Office 2010 Pro Plus through my employer's MS enterprise licensing home use program. Might be a handy piece of information for other folks out there who work in big Microsoft shops. I've heard the program may be discontinued but I've been turning my co-workers on to it while they have the chance to snag it.
posted by aydeejones at 8:50 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I nth Chrome to the nth! power as n approaches infinity
posted by aydeejones at 8:51 PM on August 24, 2011

The app I install everywhere is Process Explorer from Microsoft, formerly from SysInternals.

It's similar to activity monitor in OSX or top in unix. It can easily be set up as a Task Manager replacement and does everything better than Task Manager.

While it's near-perfect for me, I would not recommend it to my Great-Aunt. And not only because she doesn't have a computer.
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:32 PM on August 24, 2011

Lots of good ideas in the responses above already. Here's a few I haven't seen mentioned:
  • VirtuaWin: Multiple desktops on one monitor. I use this at work when I have several projects going at once.
  • Taekwindow: Resize and drag windows by Alt-clicking anywhere on them. Great for netbooks with small screens.
  • NIST Internet time service: Synch your computer's clock to the clock of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Also, a reminder that freeware is awesome, but it's also awesome to forego that one meal out and send a few bucks to your favorite software developer or project. Spread the love.
posted by msittig at 11:13 PM on August 24, 2011

* What is software that helps you work more efficiently in day to day tasks. (quicksilver/launchbar replacements for example).

Find and Run Robot, XYplorer

• What is the software that is the best in its field at what it does. (Best messenger/email client/PDF/sound mixer/party thrower)

foobar2000 + components

• What is the application that did something you never thought you needed, but now can't live without?

Opera (tabbed browsing, RSS feeds, mouse gestures and more)

• What is something totally awesome?

FastCopy, ImgBurn, TrueCrypt, KeePass
posted by Bangaioh at 12:52 AM on August 25, 2011

I used Find and Run Robot for a while but am currently using Launchy. DonationCoder has lots of handy stuff.

Notepad++ is great text editor. If you've got $50 bucks you're not using EditPad Pro is even better (especially if you do regular expressions).

If you're comfortable with scripting then AutoHotKey will do text replacement allow you to customize hotkeys and you can even write small apps with it.

I'll second KeePass. As an explorer replacement I never found anything that was perfect for me but xplorer2 came closest. (Link to the lite version with some features disabled.)
posted by Awfki at 4:53 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the application that did something you never thought you needed, but now can't live without?

The extension that absolutely everyone in the world should be using, but isn't, is a multi-item clipboard manager. On Windows the best I've found so far is Ditto. On the Mac I use ClipMenu.

Basically the workflow is, when you want to paste something you copied, say, three copies back, in any application, you press Ctrl-Shift-V to bring up a menu of previous copies, tap the down arrow three times to select what you want to paste, and hit return. If you're pasting into Word or an email or somewhere you don't want formatting, you hit shift-return and it pastes in without formatting.

This might not sound like much, but it's life-changing. I use it roughly every two minutes, eight hours a day. Some examples:

* I'm adding a citation to a legal document from a case in a webpage. Instead of switching back and forth four times, I copy the case name, citation, year, and pin cite consecutively, and then switch to the document and paste them consecutively.

* I'm adding a new reference to my resume. Same deal -- I copy the contact's name, company name, address, and phone number from their website consecutively, and then go paste them all at once instead of switching back and forth.

* I'm programming, and I'm pretty sure I don't need a block of code, but I cut it instead of deleting it. Five minutes later I realize I was wrong, and I page back through my recent copies and paste in the deleted block.

* I've been working on a comment in a webpage for half an hour, and I start to worry that I might accidentally close the window or something. So I select all and copy, and know that I have it backed up.

* I'm writing an email, and realize it should really be a reply to another email, so I just copy the subject line and body, throw away the draft, and then paste both into the new reply.

... and on and on and on. Seriously, if you spend any time at all writing text with a computer, you owe it to yourself to start using one of these.
posted by Honorable John at 7:53 AM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

TreeSize tells you where the heck all your hard drive space is going.
CCleaner is indispensable to get rid of all the junk that accumulates (especially if you watch Netflix on your PC - the cache becomes enormous)
posted by desjardins at 8:13 AM on August 25, 2011

And the Combined Community Codec Pack, in case you run into something you otherwise cannot play.

Worth noting that if you use VLC (for playing of videos only, it sucks as a music player and music manager) then you don't need to install any codec packs.

If you don't have an iPod/iPhone/iPad then use Winamp for music playback and management. Otherwise stick with iTunes.

Also don't bother with a picture viewer if you intend to use Picasa for managing your photos (which is excellent), it comes with a good standalone image viewer as part of the install.

Don't bother with third party anti-virus solutions, just use Microsoft Security Essentials. For 99% of the time, it'll be all you need. Reach for the hard core tools if and when you need them.

Also take a look at ninite.com, it's an automated installer for lots of popular and useful applications.
posted by mr_silver at 8:16 AM on August 25, 2011

UltraFileSearch is a great search utility, if you're like me and simply want to search the hard drive for certain things without being subject to the confusing whims of the built-in Explorer search.

These two let you tweak some stuff in windows 7:

7 Taskbar Tweaker gives you some handy options for your taskbar. You can set it to close programs using the middle mouse button a la tabbed browsers.

Classic Shell lets you tweak the start menu and windows explorer in some handy ways. E.g., you can get the "up" button back.
posted by ropeladder at 8:52 PM on August 25, 2011

Thirding Ninite.com as a good place to find good software.

That said, I wanted to add a note of caution: Make sure if you install all sorts of things you may or may not keep that you use a good uninstaller to clean out the cruft when you decide you don't want something. Revo is supposed to be good, there are a couple on Ninite.

Also, I don't know enough about Macs to know how they handle it, but make sure as you install things that you don't let everything run on startup. A lot of useful things (Skype, Dropbox, Steam, an on and on) always try to run on startup by default and it drives me nuts. It will slow your computer down noticeably. You can usually turn this off in the programs preferences, or by using (in Win Vista/7) Start > Search > MSCONFIG

More on that here.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:43 AM on August 26, 2011

seconding f.lux -- great app to have
posted by knockoutking at 11:33 AM on August 31, 2011

« Older Recommend books and films with a medieval setting....   |   I need delicious syrupy goodness Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.