Top 35 free apps for Windows 10

From backup to productivity tools, here’s the best of the best for Windows 10. Sometimes good things come in free packages.

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Spotify is still the No. 1 music streaming service

The music streaming industry remains highly competitive. Between Amazon Music Prime (free if you're already a Prime member), Apple Music (three-month free trial, then $10 per month), Pandora (free with ads), Spotify (free with ads, $10 per month no ads), and a dozen more, you'll find an enormous array of music available for any platform, any time.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #23 - Spotify Spotify Technology

Debatably, Spotify remains the best deal for cheapskates: 30 million songs, easy interface, any platform you can mention, top-quality curated playlists, news, weather — even a social platform that lets you eavesdrop on friends. With 50 million or so free users and 50 million more who pony up $10 per month, Spotify has become an 800-pound gorilla in the genre.

Competition in the music space remains cutthroat. Apple Music, for example, paid $500,000 for a two-week exclusive right to play Chance the Rapper's new release "Coloring Book."

You can get the desktop app on Ninite.

Rip and burn CDs and DVDs with HandBrake

Windows doesn't rip DVDs — period.

While you're bound to get 100 different opinions from any collection of a dozen different RIAA lawyers, ripping DVDs for your own use (say, to play them from a computer that doesn't have a DVD player or to keep your three-year-old's fingers off the shiny side) is a common, debatably illegal, activity. Ask your lawyer how she rips DVDs.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #24 - HandBrake HandBrake

I rip DVDs all the time (so sue me), and when I do, I use HandBrake. It'll rip to MP4, or if you like, it'll create video files specifically tailored to iPhone, iPad, Android, or Apple TV. Personally, I rip MP4s and put them in Plex. Open source software at its finest, HandBrake has an enormous number of options that should cover even the most convoluted cases.

You can get it on Ninite.

Notepad Next for fast, easy text

After years of using the old Windows Notepad and more years working with Notepad ++ (which is still my favorite editor for writing code or hand-writing HTML), I finally found a quick, light, simple Notepad replacement that doesn't bend my brain.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #25 - Notepad Next Simplify Designs

Wonder of wonders, it's a Universal Windows Program app, which is to say it's a tiled (formerly "Metro") app that you get from the Microsoft Store.

Notepad Next has tabs for working on multiple documents, it saves your changes automatically, and it doesn't store your stuff in the cloud. A straight-up text editor, few frills, lots of moxie — and it's free.

Tackle torrents with Tixati

If you aren't yet using torrents, now's the time to start.

Try Tixati. It's simple (no Java, no .NET), fast, and easy to use, and it supports magnet links (which really simplify downloads), with extensive bandwidth reporting and management.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #26 - Tixati Tixati Software

There's no spyware, no adware, no nonsense.

There are good visual tools for monitoring bandwidth and throttling if need be — or blast your connection wide open and let 'er rip. With Tixati it's easy, and you don't have to worry about all the garbage that's frequently associated with torrent handlers.

Get connected with LINE

Video calling used to be dominated by Skype. While Skype continues to rule the VoIP niche, at least in the United States, there are lots of alternatives. I've tried Skype so many times — and gotten so frustrated with it — that you couldn't get me to go back to Microsoft's product for all the tea in Asia. Which, come to think of it, is where I first found LINE. If you know people in Asia, chances are very good they already depend on it. LINE may be the most popular online calling/messaging program in the world.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #27 - LINE Line Corporation

LINE covers the gamut from plain old phone calls to text, images, video, and audio — audio messages too. It's completely free. And it runs on anything, including Android, iPad and iPhone, macOS, Chrome OS (which is to say, on Chromebooks). The Microsoft Store UWP app is brilliant, stable, and eminently usable.

LINE makes its money by selling zillions of sets of emojis and "stickers." Right now, more than a billion stickers are sent every day. Ka-ching.

LINE has one significant limitation: When you create a new account, it can only be used on at most one mobile device and one PC. If you want to run LINE on two Windows desktops, you have to sign up for two accounts.

If LINE doesn't float your boat — you can't convince your contacts to install and use the app — look first at FaceTime, which comes on every Apple device; Facebook Messenger, which works with Facebook accounts; WhatsApp (owned by Facebook); Google Hangouts if you're engulfed by Googlers; ooVoo, Viber, Jitsi, Vonage, IMO, and dozens of others. The primary limitation is in being able to connect with your contacts.

To-do gets to-done with Wunderlist

Microsoft liked it so much, it bought the company.

I've wasted a lot of time trying to turn other tools into to-do lists: Google Calendar, Outlook, even Word and email. I always end up with duplicated entries, lengthy messes — and heaven help me if I want to update the list from my PC, my phone, and my iPad, or share it with someone else.

That's where Wunderlist takes the cake. I can create a shopping list and share it with other members of the household. I can make a to-do list and stare in wonder as it backs up weeks, months, even years of overdue tasks. There are due dates, automatically generated reminders. I can even assign a task to someone else and keep track of whether they're on task or comatose.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #28 - Wunderlist 6Wunderkinder

Get it for Windows 10, for your tablets and phones of any pedigree — even your Mac, Kindle Fire, or Chromebook. If you prefer to run it inside a browser, yep, Wunderlist is there, too.

Microsoft is honing its Wunderlist replacement, Microsoft To-Do, but as of this writing, it's still not as functional as Wunderlist.

Burn, baby, burn with Rufus

If you aren't accustomed to working with them, ISO files (blah.blah.iso) seem a bit mysterious at first. That's because they contain a complete representation of a disc. Within the ISO file are all the folders and files found on the disc, as well as all the glue that holds the disc together.

In the good old days, people would take an ISO file and "burn" it to a CD or DVD. Nowadays, ISO files are frequently burned to a USB drive so you can boot from them — or they're cherry-picked for their data with programs like 7-Zip, which can open and read data from an ISO file like it's any other folder.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #29 - Rufus Pete Batard

There are lots of ways to create bootable USB drives. If you download Win10 directly from Microsoft using its Media Creation Tool website, the site will allow you to create a bootable USB drive that'll install Windows 10. But for most other software, you're out of luck. You have to take an ISO file and turn it into something that can be booted.

Rufus comes from Akeo Consulting in County Donegal, Ireland. It's free and open source. It does one job — turn an ISO into a bootable USB drive — and it does that job masterfully. You can jiggle with the settings if you like, but if you follow those in the screenshot, you'll get a bootable Windows installation USB drive like a-ringin' a bell.

Still nostalgic for Win7's Start menu? Use the newly liberated Open Shell

Do you need a replacement Start menu for Windows 10? Some folks think the Win10 Start menu is just fine, thank you very much. But they probably aren't accustomed to the grandeur that was the Win7 Start menu, in all its cascading, easily customized beauty.

If you pine for the days of flyout menus, "All Programs," and personalized Start, you have two great options: Stardock's Start10 and Classic Start Menu from Open Shell. Both work very well. Start10 costs $5, Open Shell is free for everybody.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #30 - Open Shell Ivo Beltchev

I reviewed both of them in Aug. 2015, and the basics haven't changed — although some of the details have. Classic Start Menu, for example, has added the ability to uninstall tiled Universal Windows apps by using the Start menu, added some taskbar skins, changed the buttons in Explorer.

By and large, the description in the review still holds, but Classic Start has gone through some existential changes — the original developer decided to quit the game, and handed the keys over to an avid open source team. Open Shell is the new name, and it works just as well as the original Classic Shell and Classic Start.

You can get it from Ninite ("Classic Start").

AlternativeTo: Show me some options

Looking for an alternative to an expensive, lethargic, expensive megapackage? Run it through AlternativeTo.net. You can find in-depth comments and real-world experiences with packages that rival Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat, AutoCAD, TeamViewer, WhatsApp, Slack, and many more.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #31 - AlternativeTo AlternativeTo

This isn't a definitive, divinely inspired set of reviews. It's a crowd-sourced and decidedly quirky collection of comments from folks who have been there.

There's a new ZIPper you need to know: PeaZip

Yes, I've been recommending 7-Zip for a very long time. But there's a new kid on the block — at least, PeaZip is new to me — and it's now my go-to Zip/Unzip routine.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #32 - PeaZip PeaZip

In case you missed the controversy, 7-Zip has had security problems and some folks who know whereof they speak insist that they haven't been solved. I've decided that discretion is the better part of valor, and have switched over to PeaZip.

Of course, Windows natively handles most zipping and unzipping chores through File Explorer. But if you bump into a RAR or CAB or MSU zipped file (see screenshot), or any of 180 other formats, it's a whole lot easier to put the file through PeaZip. Works like a champ.

NirSoft: The ultimate grab bag of system tools

Few hackers (I use that in the positive sense of the term) can approach Nir Sofer for creating small, single-purpose, intensely useful Windows tools. For example, SmartSniff (screenshot) can show you everything that passes in and out of your computer. His NirSoft site contains password recovery tools, command-line utilities, many different kinds of network monitors, capture Flash videos, convert HTML files to plain text, and on and on. More than 100 utilities, in all.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #33 - NirSoft NirSoft

The big downside? Antivirus products (including, yes, Windows Defender) have a bad habit of flagging his utilities as infected or malicious.

Personally, I've never downloaded an infected file from his site and don't know anyone who has. It's all free, all simple, and almost all of the utilities run without an installation step.

Rainmeter for system stats — and much more

Why on earth would anybody want to put a skin on the Windows desktop? That's a rhetorical question. Personally, I like to be able to see how my CPU usage is going (thank you, Firefox). I also like to see the date and time in the upper right corner, without moving the taskbar.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #34 - Rainmeter Rainmeter

Enter Rainmaker, a free, amazingly versatile, ultimately extensible skin maker for Windows. You can paint your desktop with gorgeous images, the latest news, weather, currency conversions, stock quotes — just about anything you can imagine. Rainmeter comes with a few simple starter skins that provide a good place to start, but there's a huge community of Rainmaker developers who offer custom skins of every imaginable capability.

Hot key scripts and more with AutoHotkey

True confessions time. I just hate the Caps Lock key. And there are phrases that I type over and over and over again, such as site:askwoody.comor support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/, in browser search bars. I've played with keyboard mappers and various hotkey macro packages over the years, but I keep coming back to AutoHotkey.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #35 - AutoHotkey AutoHotkey

The idea's pretty simple. You set up a hot key combination — like Ctrl+Q or Shift+PgUp+Z — and then you tell Windows how it's supposed to handle the key combination. In its simplest form, I could set up Shift+Alt+S to type in the text site:askwoody.com. I could make Alt+K+B turn into the script support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/ (that's the string for finding Microsoft Knowledge Base numbers).

AutoHotkey does much, much more — it sits in front of a very capable programming language — but in the simplest incarnation, it's just a very fast way to get things done.

Mix it up with Audacity

If you're serious about audio, you use a Mac, right?

Well, not necessarily. Audacity provides all of the audio recording and editing tools that most mere mortals are likely to require — automatically change the volume, pitch, speed, tempo, get rid of clicks and other noise, fade in and out, reverb, wah-wah, and a whole bunch of additional effects that'll turn your ears in knots.

Computerworld  >  Free Apps for Windows 10 > #36 - Audacity Audacity

There's so much here you'll likely be overwhelmed.

After a hiatus of three years, Audacity got a fresh new update in February 2018 — and there's a new version, I'm told, just around the corner.

Have a favorite tool that somehow missed the cut? Hit me on the AskWoody Lounge Tools forum.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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