If you use your PC for gaming or office work these days, you’ve probably been pushed to use Windows 10. Unfortunately, while Microsoft boasts that Windows 10 is getting better (and hey, it’s certainly an improvement over Windows Me in most areas), it still has more than its share of overkill, quirks, and privacy issues.
That’s why it’s important to use third-party applications to fill critical gaps and stop the worst of Microsoft’s Windows 10.
The following is a short list of my best public services that have stood the test of time over the past decade as an IT professional, technology journalist, and speaker. The utilities are in no particular order but have been chosen because I find them essential to providing vital features that are relatively often missing from the Windows store.
Under each heading, you will find a brief description of a key element of the application and my notes, and a screenshot.
Nothing is more important than your data in the digital world, and nothing is worse than losing it. Macirum Reflect is a convenient and functional way to backup, restore, or restore images from partitions or entire hard drives. One of my favorite features is the built-in Recovery Disk Creator, which allows you to create a USB Recovery Disk running its own version of Reflect for recovery or other work in an offline environment.
The downside is that the Reflect license costs a bit of money if you want all the features. Still, honestly, I think it’s worth every penny for personal use: I’ve saved hundreds of hours of my life by using Reflect to restore disk images to new machines instead of reconfiguring everything.
If there’s one valid criticism of Windows 10, it’s that it takes much of the power and control away from the end-user. We cannot stop Microsoft from removing personal and analytical data from our computers or stop automatic software updates without changing the registry and accidentally breaking anything…. Or can we? The Windows Privacy Dashboard is important because it allows you to quickly and easily block IP addresses from telemetry, automatic updates and manage other system-wide privacy settings. Each setting is explained clearly and simply, so even beginners can determine which settings they want to change in a few minutes. It is one of the first applications I install on my computers.
Windows 10 has a built-in application for voice recording but no built-in tool for audio editing. That’s why more people than ever today are recording audio files for meetings or podcasts. When you prepare audio data for download, you want it to be as clean as possible. That’s why it’s handy that you can normalize the volume, combine clips and reduce noise. With Audacity, an open-source audio editor, everything is quick and easy, thanks to an intuitive interface. Don’t forget to download the LAME MP3 encoding DLL to be able to export your audio data in MP3 format!
For years I have used a notepad to write down ideas, copy and paste text, or keep some information handy. But Notepad has some disadvantages: It doesn’t automatically save everything (I wish I had $10 for every time Windows crashes and I lose unrecorded information in Notepad), and it’s extremely functional. Please do yourself a favor and replace it with Notepad++. Notepad++ is the ultimate text/coding/idea/scratchpad editing application. It saves automatically, has line numbers to display code or reference text, an auto-entry feature that prevents you from retyping previously entered text values, full customizability, etc. The best part is that it is available under the GNU license and is completely free!
Notepad++ is one of those applications you didn’t know you needed, but you can’t go back once you use it.
It is an incredibly fast, light, and portable tool for viewing and editing images. IrfanView is for you if you ever need to resize, convert, or adjust an image. This is my method for pasting copied images, cropping, adjusting color/contrast, exporting to different file formats, or respecting a limited file size. However, IrfanView cannot create sketches/drawings – you still need to use Paint (or Pixlr) for that.
Intel can disable Undervoltage due to the Plundervolt vulnerability, but Undervoltage can still disable older Intel PCs. Suppose you have a 9th generation processor or a 3rd generation or older device. In that case, you can probably benefit from using Throttlestop to reduce temperature and power consumption and improve performance and battery life. So hit the gas and follow our guide here if you haven’t already started!
If you want to use other operating systems on your computer, you will probably need Rufus. Rufus is a GUI-based application (many formatting programs are command-line only) that allows you to quickly and easily create a bootable USB flash drive. Rufus is incredibly easy to use, whether you want to create a boot drive for Windows or Linux, flash your BIOS, or run a low-level utility. What I mean is that I always have a spare USB boot diskette, just in case I accidentally corrupt my system (or an automatic Windows update would corrupt the system).
Windows 10 includes a fairly simple ZIP utility, but there are many things it can’t do. It cannot handle many file types, the most important of which is the 7ZIP file. You may not encounter 7ZIP files (an enhanced compression standard) every day, but when you do, you will need an application like 7-Zip to handle them. There are many poorly made applications in the Microsoft Store, but I would avoid them in favor of a 7-zip application on the website. It is well integrated into the shell and open source and has its own interface. She will never get in your way when you don’t need her, but she will be there for you when you do.
Do you need the full model name of the SSD or WLAN card? Want to know what temperature your processor is set to? Don’t remember the model of the sound card or motherboard? Do you know how many PCI lines you have? HWiNFO is a very handy utility with a fairly intuitive interface that allows users to get the information they need about their system, whether they are disturbed/impaired or seasoned experts. HWiNFO is the king of real-time system monitoring.
Do you really need antivirus software on Windows 10? Windows Defender is very effective and far less intrusive than third-party solutions, and experts generally agree that safe computing habits, aside from Defender, are pretty much all you need. But sometimes we make a mistake and leave something on our PC that we shouldn’t, and then you may need a little help or support. Malwarebytes Antimalware works both as a protection against third-party viruses and as a manual thorough scanning tool. I don’t use it at startup, but I use it every few months for hand scans to ensure there’s nothing that shouldn’t be there. If you only have Windows Defender, download Bytes Antimalware Malware.
This includes my list of practical applications for general use. Of course, I use many other applications for music and video editing (Mixed-in-Key, Mp3tag, Davinci Resolve, etc.). Still, I think they’re a bit beyond the scope of this article on must-have applications.
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