Without any doubt, the best image viewer / converter for the Windows platform is IrfanView. 100% freeware, extremely capable, blazingly fast, small, and efficient. A must-have! If this isn't already running on your computer and handling all of your image-viewing tasks, then I have much work to do with you.... ;)
If you want to equip your computer with what it needs to play every video and audio format in use today, grab the K-Lite MegaCodec Pack which is 100% free and will make you fully multimedia compatible with everything in the universe.
Windows Media Player has become one of the largest pieces of needless bloatware on your computer. A much lightened and every bit as capable alternative is Media Player Classic, which has the same interface as as the old Windows Media Player but many new features and the advantage of ongoing active development. It is small and robust and a big savings on system resources. If you already installed the above K-Lite MegaCodec Pack, MPC was included in that.
The greatest audio editor / tool ever, CoolEdit Pro, is no more. It became so good, that Adobe bought it and turned it into Adobe Audition. No doubt, Adobe will ruin it like all their other bloated crap products. I highly recommend that you find the final version of CoolEdit Pro (2.1) on your favorite file-sharing program. This will have the added bonus no doubt of being equipt with a serial number. I've collected some file format filters for CoolEdit Pro (or Audition) that will add read/write support to CoolEdit (or Audition) for OGG Vorbis, Musepack MPC, AAC, AC3, Speex, FLAC, WavPack, TTA, ALAC, and Monkey's Audio files. All you need to do is put the files into the cooledit directory and enjoy.
It's not as good, but Audacity has its followers, is completely free, and gets better all the time. It's a pretty good audio editor, it just lack the high-end features that CoolEdit provides.
For a high-quality, free photo-editor, check out Paint.NET. It's no Paint Shop Pro, but it has more features than most users will ever get around to using.
RareWares is the best place on the internet to find all the latest MP3, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Mpeg-4, Musepack, and general audio software and utilities.
WinAMP is the easy pick for an MP3 player. But the creators have gone insane and it's become silly-bloated. Still, you can install it without the video capabilities (I mean really, it's an audio player...!), the visualizations, and the library silliness. When you do, this is my favorite skin ever!
Another good choice for a player is Foobar2000. Really, it's the player for the truly geeky computer nerd who wants to play every format known to man... like me :D
TrayPlay is a teensie-tiny free audio player. It has no frills, no astounding features, but it weighs in at 35 KiloBytes! Perfectly useable and won't choke any system :)
In order to make MP3 files, you'll want something to rip music from CDs. Many people use whatever program they find first, and they end up with those crappy, clicky WAV files that make horrid MP3s. Faster is not always better!! Get a copy of the freeware Exact Audio Copy and you'll be getting perfect rips of your CDs. Exact Audio Copy will even rip straight to MP3 or OGG files. You need this program. You'll love it.
Now that you've ripped the waves, you've gotta turn them into MP3s. Currently, the highest quality (and freeware) encoder is LAME. There is an implementation of LAME called winLAME that is absolutely great. It also encodes OGG Vorbis files which are superior to MP3s and open-source. You should definately have a look at Vorbis, it kicks MP3's butt. winLAME also encodes Windows Media Audio and AAC if you prefer. I have a repacked winLAME myself here with updated 3.97 LAME dll, libMAD 0.15.1b dll, libsndfile.dll 1.0.12, and OGG Vorbis aoTuVb5 libraries.
Back in the good old days of DOS, the ultimate file management utility was Norton Commander. It was the #1 most used piece of software on my computer. Then along came Windows. Fortunately, Total Commander also came along. It's a clone of Norton, but oh so much better. It has a million new features, supports all the major compression formats, and has built-in FTP. It's shareware, but not crippled. You can find a registration key easy enough on the web if you must. For anything that Total Commander can't do naturally, you can add the ability in with a quick stop at the Total Commander Users Club or TotalCmd.net.
I've also been watching the development of Gyula's Navigator and FreeCommander which describe themselves as modernized Norton Commanders for Windows. They have some useful features and are freeware. Freeware is always good :) The interfaces lack Total Commander's elegance and certainly aren't nearly as powerful, but they're a great deal better than the pathetic Windows Explorer that most people slave themselves too.
I'm a bit of a security freak, so here's some encryption goodies: FineCrypt supports a host of encryption algorithms and will keep your secret data completely secret on a file-by-file basis. It's fun to just play with too! This is a compression plugin for the above-mentioned Total Commander that will encrypt files using 128-bit AES. It'll make handy self-decrypting archives as well. And the current best thing in the world of encryption: TrueCrypt! TrueCrypt will create virtual drives on your computer that are useable like any other drive but completely encrypted with your choice of several algorithms (or two or three algorithms in combination). If you want your data 100% protected from any force in the known universe, then this is *the* program that'll do it for you. It is, of course, 100% free and open source.
I can't think of a good reason you *need* this program, but it's neat! Motherboard Monitor lets you know how hot your CPU and Tower are and a bunch of other near little things. Essential if you overclock your PC.
Spyware!! It's everywhere. Evil internet people watching everything that you do. Time to do something about it... Ad-Aware is a freeware utility that scans your computer for all types of spyware and removes it for you. If you've never used an anti-spyware program before, then I guarantee that you've got some running on your machine right now! Run don't walk and do somthing about it.
You need an antivirus. You just do. If you're not running a full-time, autoprotecting antivirus program, then you're the walking dead. Some freeware programs that you might want to check out are AVG AntiVirus, AntiVir, or avast!. They're all competent at what they do. If I had to pick one (and I have), I'd go with avast!, but that's just me... most people seem to favour AVG (which would be my last pick).
Now here's an interesting program.... You know how some programs insist on sticking run-codes in your registry? RealPlayer and Microsoft Word for starters! I hate things loading up that I don't need, so I edit out the referrences from the registry. StartUp Control Panel is a simple, tiny, free tool for zapping them without having to sort through your registry. Good for keeping your system running without unwanted programs taking over uninvited. There's also another utility by this author called StartUp Monitor that prevents programs from sticking themselves in the registry without your permission. I like both of these very much. Take that ReadPlayer :P
Another interesting one... Process Explorer is a small, free utility that will show you all the "things" running on your system and the amount of CPU time each one is taking. I was frequently having crashes that ran my CPU usage up to 100% and wouldn't let go. I couldn't track down just what program was doing this so I couldn't "End Task" to it, until I found this little beauty. It found the offending DLL file, showed what it was trying to do, and allowed me to kill the process. Now no need to reboot if I'm running that program and it crashes, and even better, since I know who the villian is, I don't even need to load it in the first place :) I don't imagine there's a million uses for it, but it's only an 85 KiloByte download, so if you want to explore what's going on inside your computer and investigate crashes... this tool may be fun! (heavens... I'm such a geek)
Hate it when programs obscure passwords with asterisks? Maybe forgotten what the password is and need to get it back? Password Reveal is a free program that'll tell you what's under those asterisks. Handy!
Programs keep getting bigger and eating up all your precious RAM - which remains a limited resource. Although you can quit the programs, the memory often remains hooked by the program libraries and soon you have no memory left. MPower and FreeRAM are RAM utilities that will manually or automatically defragment and free up RAM for you. Clean RAM means less crashes and better performance. Free, free, free.
Windows gives you that crappy defragmenter that no one ever uses because it sucks, sucks, sucks. There is a 100% freeware version of DiskKeeper called Diskeeper Lite You have to fill out a stupid survey to find it... but you can easily lie your face off in it, they don't email you anything you need. Very fast and easy to use. The direct link to the file may not work without filling out the survey, but you can always try by clicking here.
A miscellaneous free program I found somewhere, Registry Ticker gives you checkbox access to dozens of hidden Windows registry tweaks. Make Windows do what you want it too ;)
Registry Shot is a freeware program for monitorring changes that programs make to the registry, either in use or installation. Click button one to take a snapshot of the registry, run or install the program you want to monitor, and then click button two. The program instantly shows you what changes have been made! Very handy.
Free Office Suites no longer mean having to use a glorified text editor. They actually work as well or better than Micro$oft Office. The best are OpenOffice (which has everything you'll ever need but a different "feel" to it) and AbiWord, which is small, lightweight, capable, and ambitious. AbiWord is a good choice for "everyday" word processing tasks, but maybe not quite enough for projects with major formatting needs.
NoteTab Light is a phenomenal text editor. You can use it to replace Notepad/Wordpad or even use it as an HTML or CSS editor. It's 100% free and there is no reason in the world for you not to have it!
1st Page 2000 is a freeware HTML editor that will satisfy even the most hardcore web designer. Easy to install, easy to use, friendly, and filled with features. Another HTML editor you will want to check out is FCKEditor.
If you want to create your own PDF Documents for whatever reason, PDFCreator is a free package that will enable you to do it! It's no FinePrint, but hey, it's free.
Viewing PDF files seems to be universally left to Adobe's PDF viewer. I don't know why, it sucks and eats your computer's resources like nobody's business. Foxit PDF Viewer is a free package that will let you view your PDF's and cost you almost nothing in terms of memory, disk space, or cpu time. One file / complete solution.
In my opinion, video games reached their ultimate peak in the early to mid eighties some time. The greatest game system ever was the ColecoVison. Nothing beats a good round of Coleco Moustrap. Great Emulators for the ColecoVision and other classic systems are popping up everywhere on the web. Excellent emulators (like MAME) for classics arcade games are well-established too. For the best site to download these emulators, go to Dave's Video Game Classics.
The one advantage of Windows is the ease with which you can play games online. The Internet Game Zone has been the funnest, friendliest place to do so for a dog's age. Yahoo Games is an okay second-place contestant.
I know it shows just how boring I can be, but everyone has those times when you're just sitting in front of your computer with nothing to do. Play a game of solitaire with the freeware SolitairesForFree. There's 30 games to choose from. I'm a Pyramid addict myself!
If you really need your mind to become vacant but entertained at the same time, then I highly recommend some type of Tetris clone. My favorites are BeeTris, which uses honeycombs as pieces, and Fructus, where you have to line up identical fruits. Ahhh yes... they saved me from studying for many an exam! Both are freeware.
And the game that I've spent the greatest amount of time wasting away the hours with? Why it's Yahtzee! This is just a clone by the same name, but it works flawlessly and it's free. It could use better graphics... this version won't exactly wow you with its visual impact. Let me know if there are any other small, freeware versions I should look at. :)
For goodness sake, stop using that piece of MicroCrap to browse the web!! Internet Explorer hasn't been updated for years and it's always been garbage. FireFox and ThunderBird are the finest browser/email clients that you can get. They are the most fully standards-compliant clients in the world and are constantly furthering their development.
If you're downloading things from anywhere these days, you're probably familiar with Bittorrent. But an amazing newcomer to the field is MicroTorrent! It does everything that the official client does and tons more, gives you faster downloads, provides more information on what's going on, and weighs in at barely over 100 kilobytes! You have to see it to believe it... it's amazing!
If you're not using a firewall, then where have you been hiding? With new hack threats popping up everyday, your computer needs to have a line of defense. The number one freeware firewall these days is Comodo Firewall, a winner in every way.
Your computer has several settings that optimize your internet connection. Odds are that you've never set them up as good as efficiently as they should be. Step one is to download DrTCP. Step two is to read this to learn what settings to use for your setup. Check out the rest of the DSL Reports Site too. It'll analyse how well your high-speed connection is performing. Very useful site. An alternative is to download TCP Optimizer which will do all of the optimizations automatically for you (ie. you don't have to know what you're doing!!).
A download manager on your computer can speed up downloads dramatically. It will open multiple connections, and resume broken transfers. There's a ton of download managers to choose from, but my favorite is the now-free FlashGet. It seemlessly integrates into your browser, and hey... it's pretty to look at! And, of course, it's totally free :)
For a vast collection of Windows stuff (way beyond the scope of this page!), vist the TUCOWS site. TUCOWS had mostly internet-themed software to begin with, but now offers every type of program that you can imagine!