Best Software Applications – Whether you just bought a new laptop, built a new desktop, or are just doing a clean install on a new solid state drive, good for you! You sure love the taste of a fresh new machine, but now you have to get back to Zen productivity by restoring files and installing programs.
We’ve put together a list of essential programs to get you started. Many of these apps are also available as web services, but the app versions have the advantage of offline access.
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Downloading movies or music to local storage can be useful when you expect hours without connection. Even if you only want to write e-mail when there is no Internet connection, you might want to be able to read the messages you reply to. Depending on the browser or network you use, relying on web services can also cause privacy issues.
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From security utilities to productivity tools and plenty of advice for the areas in between, here are the best app recommendations with a special focus on great free software you can download right now…
Windows offers Edge out of the box, a browser based on the Chromium project, and actually includes a few features that Chrome doesn’t have, especially for Windows users, such as pinning websites to the Start menu. Meanwhile, macOS offers Safari, a very solid browser by most standards, especially if you live in the Apple ecosystem, and perhaps the reason why a significant proportion of Mac users (~40%) don’t look any further.
However, the default choice for most remains Google Chrome, at least because of its integration with other Google services. Chrome is also great for Android users because you can natively sync all devices.
Chrome is a bit bland out of the box, although it does support extensions for a myriad of different things. From a security standpoint, however, those same extensions can pose a risk, and the fact that Google records everything you do in the browser isn’t good for your privacy either.
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Open source Firefox is a solid browser with better privacy options. But if you like Chrome as it is, aside from Google’s tracking methods, Ungoogled Chromium might be an interesting choice for you. The problem is that while it disables many services that rely on Google, it doesn’t always replace them with something else, so you should only use it if you know what you’re getting into.
Many power users also swear by Vivaldi. This browser is known for how customizable it is. For example, it will allow you to stack tabs within tabs in one of 3 ways: with a drop-down menu, with 2 tab strips, or showing all tabs in the active row only. You can add a side panel on both sides of the screen, with browser and application menus (notes, mail, RSS and calendar) and the option to add any website.
The fact is, many people still use terrible passwords. Even those who prefer something harder to crack than “123456” often have the same login credentials on several sites. There is also the problem of forgetting which passwords correspond to which websites. Most web browsers have their own password managers, but they just aren’t as good as dedicated third-party software.
A password manager is an essential addition. If you haven’t chosen yet, we recommend starting with the open source Bitwarden, especially since its free version is fully functional. For $10 a year, you’ll get extra features, like sharing encrypted files instead of plain text. Accounts for couples and families/organizations are also available. If for whatever reason you don’t like Bitwarden, KeePass is a good free alternative.
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In the past, we’ve recommended LastPass as our top pick, but now its free version only allows access on one type of device: PC or mobile. If you’re willing to pay for a password manager, LastPass is good enough, but you can also choose 1Password or Dashlane, which also includes a VPN service to hide your IP address from the websites you visit.
Cloud storage and backup is a must-have part of your toolkit. Backing up and restoring data has also never been easier, and while there are tons of options, we’ve long been spoiled by Dropbox’s ease of use. Dropbox offers 2GB of free cloud storage which isn’t much, but you can earn up to 16GB through referrals and a few other tricks.
For photo-specific features, Mac users can take advantage of the Photos app, which automatically creates albums based on the people and places that appear in photos, and can sync everything to iPhone and iPad with iCloud. For Windows users, we often recommend using Google Photos, which includes similar features. Google Photos used to offer unlimited free storage for up to 16MP photos and 1080p videos, but now it only gives you 15GB of free storage, shared with other Google services.
If you have larger storage requirements, we’ll review all the best alternatives and different price levels before making a decision. The main alternatives to Dropbox and iCloud include Microsoft OneDrive, which is built into Windows, and Google One. Fortunately, competition for cloud backup is fierce and prices have come down a bit.
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If you have sensitive files, you might want to use pCloud, which provides device-based encryption to paying users, meaning that even if your account is hacked, a hacker won’t be able to open your files without your devices.
For full data backups (terabytes of photos, videos, full drives) there are better alternatives than the above. First, you get specialized backup software, file versioning, and often unlimited storage space, so you can offload terabytes of data and stay comfortable. Recommended cloud backup providers include Backblaze, IDrive, Carbonite, and SOS Online Backup.
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 advanced users, while the average user could add another layer of protection that doesn’t burden the system.
Malwarebytes is the first tool to consider. A veteran specialist in preventing malware and rootkit attacks, it’s great and free for personal use. If you’d rather not have an antivirus program installed on your computer because you’re afraid of excessive detection, you can put the Emsisoft Emergency Kit for Windows on a disk-on-a-key, which you can connect only when you need it. There’s also VirusTotal.com, which you can use to scan downloaded files for threats before you open them.
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For easy note-taking, there’s OneNote, which Microsoft offers as a free cross-platform app. If you have a Mac, you might prefer Notability.
Microsoft Office remains the king of office productivity, and some have no problem justifying an Office 365 subscription if you need it for work and make the most of the included apps and perks like 1 TB of OneDrive storage.
The alternative is abundant here as well. On the Windows side, if you want a free office suite closest to Microsoft’s, try FreeOffice. Other free options include LibreOffice – some of our writers swear by it, while others hate it. The open source office suite offers all the basics and more. The same goes for WPS Office Free.
Apple offers the full productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) to all Macs for free, which is a great way to start working on documents, spreadsheets, or presentations without worry.
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For programmers and developers, we have to give a shout out to Sublime Text, perhaps the best text editor you’ll find. Notepad++ is a great open source alternative, but only for Windows. Meanwhile, Microsoft has slowly but surely gained a lot of acceptance with the free Visual Studio Code which is cross-platform and popular among many.
There are several PDF editors that offer free versions that include features that Acrobat Reader does not. We’ve written an extensive guide on the subject, but as a quick shortcut you can try PDFsam to merge, split, extract pages, rotate and shuffle your PDFs. It is also cross-platform.
If you enjoy using a desktop email client, we like Postbox for its lifetime pricing (a 30-day free trial is available). For up to 2 accounts, eM Client is free and highly customizable. Firefox users will feel right at home with the open source Mozilla Thunderbird, while Mailbird is for advanced users willing to pay.
The video chat and messaging apps you need mostly depend on the people you want to chat with. The most popular personal messaging platforms are WhatsApp and Messenger (also known as “Facebook Messenger”) and both offer native desktop applications. Apple users will be happy to use iMessage, which is more private, but not all may be available on the platform (the iPhone also sends SMS through the same app).
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Zoom has become synonymous with video chat, offers local recording and screen sharing, and is best for reaching a large group (although you can talk to one person for more than 40 minutes on the free plan). You can enable end-to-end encryption of your calls to prevent their content from being used for targeted purposes