This is the software I use all the time - couldn't get along without some of them. I've included a 'Geek factor' so my friends who don't like reading instructions or setting options can skip "medium" or "high". Low means it will be easy to use 'out of the box' - might be more difficult to do everything it offers. High is for software that probably requires experience using utility or test software or customizing your computer.
Freeware text editor is a replacement for Notepad, but much more functionality. It opens multiple files in tabs. It has tools for sorting, line-numbering, spell-check, thesaurus, text statistics, sorting, formatting, send to email, and "favorite" file lsit. Many function libraries are included, but you can customize your own. PRO version is a bargain for web page editing - colour coded HTML tags, convert text to HTML, removing tags. I can quickly create web pages using input forms combined with a template, then send the web page to a browser for instant viewing. Best $20 I ever spent. (Geek factor: low -- high for writing your own scripts)
IRFANVIEW (file viewer)
Best and easiest file viewer for all your media files - images, music, audio, and video. It supports simple editing and conversion of images (edit or convert 100 images at once). The best function rotates your photos without changing the compression (quality).
You can view all the files in a folder using arrow keys or mouse wheel. You can create a slideshow, create thumbnails, and much more. Just set it open for all file types by default. Addons expand the media files it can handle. Free for private use. (Geek factor: low)
AGENT RANSACK (file search utility)
Agent Ransack can search for files (html, txt) and optionally text strings in those files in Windows XP+ folders. Supports DOS and regular expressions.
Windows XP file search can't find files containing a text string - this can. Hint: In XP and Win7, you can add it to Windows Explorer context menu so you can search just under the folder you select. Hint: Try setting 'Regular Expressions' for basic searches. I use this regularly to find files containing certain words. (Geek factor: low)
Firefox (Fx) is fast, free, flexible, and secure "open-source" web browser. My favorite Firefox addons: NoScript, All-in-one Gestures, Smoothwheel, Superdrag, Tab Mix Plus, FireFTP. I was so impressed with them that I donated online. There are even addons to emulate Internet Explorer for poorly designed websites that only work with that browser. (Geek factor: low)
Thunderbird (Tbird) reads mail and news for many accounts. Unlike webmail, where you login and read your email in a web browser, a program designed for email can handle multiple types of mail and news accounts: pop mail, Imap mail, newsgroups, and RSS feeds. It offers two levels of mail filters, which can be set up to move mail to folders, set colors, identify spam and phishing based on rules you set. Addons also add functionality and security, smooth scrolling, mouse gestures, and even web browsing without leaving the program. (Geek factor: medium)
Classic Shell for Win7
Restores a collection of features that were removed from Vista and Windows 7, such as the classic Start Menu. It adds a useful toolbar to Windows Explorer, “All Programs” becomes a cascading menu, and more. (Windows Vista, 7) (Geek factor:low)
XENU's LINK SLEUTH (web utility)
Simple utility checks for broken links on an entire web site. Lists broken links in various ways. (Windows XP+) (Geek factor: low)
This simple Windows utility can be used to create icons for a long list of computer functions, such as shutdown, standby, reboot or hibernate your computer. It has icons to start your screensaver, change volume level, mute the sound, blank your screen, eject a disk, etc.
(Windows XP/Win7) (Geek factor:medium)
SKYPE INTERNET PHONE
Requires high-speed Internet 3MB and up to function well. Install this software on your computer, tablet or phone to call someone who is also running Skype software - for FREE. Or you buy credit to make low-cost calls from your computer to regular phone numbers. ($15 credit provides about 10 hours.)
You can set up free call-forwarding to your home phone if you don't answer on your computer. You can even buy wireless Skype phones that use your home network to connect and replaces your land line altogether.
You can also buy a phone number located in your choice of cities - people in that city can now call you using a local number. You can use special numbers to make Skype calls (at skype rates) from a land-line phone. Why doesn't everyone use this? Geek factor: medium.
My Programs for Computer Maintenance
Clean, defrag, check, and backup. That's it. I use Ccleaner (downloads) to delete temporary and unneeded files.
I use Windows built-in software to defragment my hard drives (so the system runs fast), and to test for hard drive problems. I backing up my system in two ways, Macrium Reflect to make weekly "IMAGE" backups. For daily personal file backup, I use Windows RoboCopy (downloads) in a batch script to copy personal folders to an external drive.
For security, start by setting up your router with the best wireless security and password (read the manual). I now use Microsoft Defender and the Windows Firewall, because they do the job of protecting my from any malware that gets past the router. Occasionally I run anti-malware software or even
external malware scanners to test for and remove nasty things that may have landed on my computer.
The best online security is to keep your operating system both web browser updated. Modern software will notify you when a security update is available - install it right then. And of course I practice "safe Internet" habits. That's it -- but you may need more than all these free tools.
You can copy the files from 32,000 floppy discs or 9 DVDs (about 5GB) to fill up a dual-sided Blu-Ray disc - 45 to 50 GB or 8 hours of HD video. But the world moves on and most people are using local network storage drives or cloud storage (online services) for their personal files and online streaming services for movies and music.