New years are perfect for new beginnings. The new year also comes just after Christmas too. Both these facts mean many of us are going to be starting 2020 with a brand-new Windows PC. Whether a Christmas gift, a January sale bargain, or an attempt to start afresh at the beginning of the new decade doesn’t matter. New computers are exciting for their possibilities, but out the box, they’re kind of grey. They come with basic software only and, as such, can’t actually do that much.
That’s where we come in with today’s guide. Today we’re going to walk you through all the must-have free software for your new Windows PC. If you’re a Mac OS or iOS iphone user come back later and Android smartphone users can check out their essential apps here. Everybody else, however, let’s get started.
Essential programs for a new computer
Your web browser of choice
Fortunately, the Windows 10 operating system comes with an excellent default web browser. Microsoft Edge is miles ahead of the old Internet Explorer, and offers some excellent unique features too like being a PDF reader, and giving you a very good Reader mode that cuts out all the clutter on the web pages you visit and turns the text into something more resembling a page out of a book. Very cool.
With web browsers though, it is very much horses for courses with everybody having their own preference. Google Chrome is the most popular by far offering fast load speeds and ton of available plugins, although it is also a RAM hog that can slow your new PC down to a crawl, if you have too many tabs open at any one time. Mozilla Firefox is big for privacy enthusiasts, offering you complete control over your own data. Opera is built with the same code as Chrome but has added different features, which means you can pick and choose the features your web browser has while maintaining the core offering you get from Chrome. Incidentally, Microsoft Edge is also based on the Chrome code now, which is something you might want to consider.
As soon as you’re connecting to the internet, you need to start thinking about your cyber-security. Windows Defender, which ships with Windows 10 is a decent antivirus program that is user-friendly and does a pretty good job of keeping Windows users safe. You might want to think about backing it up, however, with a powerful secondary antivirus software that can run as a specialized scanner. The free version of Malwarebytes is a great option for this as it is able to search out malware more effectively than Windows Defender. You can then leave Windows Defender to actively protect you in real-time and periodically scan your hard drive using Malwarebytes to make sure nothing has slipped through the cracks.
Once you’ve got your system locked down tight, the only real threat to your cyber-security is you. Secure passwords are both a nightmare to come up with and a nightmare to remember. You need a unique password for each online account you have so it is basically impossible to remember them all. This is why you need a password manager to help you securely lock down all your accounts. Last Pass is the best free option as it will automatically generate secure passwords, store them using strong encryption, and then fill them in for you whenever you log into an account. Last Pass is great too because it’ll sync across three devices.
PCs are important tools for work as well as being fun for games. What’s great these days is that you can get your hands-on excellent productivity programs for free. Libre Office gives you a completely free alternative to the Microsoft Office suite including free alternative programs for Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and more. There is no good reason for you not to download Libre Office on your new PC right now.
Bonus app – Google Drive also gives you access to Google’s free productivity programs including Google Docs and Google Sheets. Importantly, however, Google Drive gives you free access to 15GB of Cloud storage space, which you can then use to sync all of your media files and documents cross-platform to your multiple device or to share them with others.
The other productivity aspect you may need your PC to take care of is design. Fortunately, however, there are some excellent free options here too. If you’re a professional graphic designer or a student looking to break into the industry you should download and install GIMP onto your new PC. GIMP is an open-source program that offers complex and advanced design tools and features that rival those found on Adobe Photoshop. If you’re more of an amateur looking for a simpler setup that will still allow you to get quite a lot done, you should download Paint.NET.
Bonus app – Screenshots are becoming more and more important in today’s increasingly connected social world. Whether you’re looking to include something you’re looking at in your design work or simply show a friend something funny you’ve seen, Greenshot is an excellent free tool for capturing what’s on your screen at any given moment.
Media – Videos, Movies, and TV shows
There are lots of options here for programs to watch movies and TV shows on. The way we listen to music has changed, however, so we’ll come to that in a moment. With video, there are lots of different file types and codecs that you need your media program to be able to read. If a program can’t read all of them, you need to download another one. Fortunately, the indomitable VLC Media Player is all you’ll ever need in this respect. When you have it on your Windows PC, there’ll be no video you can’t watch.
Your music streaming app of choice
In years gone by, this section would have included the likes of Winamp. Now though, most of us listen to music through our streaming subscriptions. Sure, we have subscriptions for movies and TV shows, but the music subscription services are mostly complete meaning there literally all we could ever need. The top apps are Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. Whichever you use, download it now.
If you’ve got this far and you’ve downloaded all the apps we’ve said, your new PC is now a powerful beast that is ready to go. Of course, there are more programs you can download and install like Skype, Dropbox, Steam, CCleaner, and One Drive; but we’ve just started you out here with the essentials.