All the tools you’ll need for Windows – all 100% free

Non-savvy computer users (i.e. people who have a real life) get confused with the many options available to them. Especially Microsoft Windows users – they get bombarded with so many freebies, offers, trials, toolbars, optimizers that only end up harming their computer – the more programs you install, the slower your computer becomes!

Do you really need the Google/Ask/Bing/Yahoo! toolbar? Get rid of them! Control Panel -> Programs)

You only need the following applications on your computer – and they’re all free. Note how we will only be getting software “from the horse’s mouth” – the original publisher of the software. Not from a generic “software downloads” site. You never know what you’re getting with those.

Antivirus protection

Product: Microsoft Security Essentials (download from Microsoft)

Do I need it? You don’t need it if (a) you already have an antivirus application you are paying for, or (b) if your bank is giving you a license for an antivirus application. In all other cases, uninstall freebies like McAffee Security Scan Plus, ESET Online Scanner etc, uninstall any antivirus software you may have that has expired and is not receiving the latest updates, and go with Microsoft’s free solution.

Bottom line: It’s hassle-free, never expires, install-and-forget and it’s much better than an out-of-date antivirus.

Media Player

Product: VideoLAN Client (VLC) (download from videolan.org)

Do I need it? If you receive funny videos of cats over email, or watch movies or listen to music on your computer, yes, you do. The reason I recommend VLC is that it’s the only multimedia player you will need – it can handle the vast majority of media formats. You can then get rid of all other media players in your system – just uninstall them! It’s easy to keep VLC updated (it notifies you whenever a new version is out and makes the upgrade process easy), so you can open the latest lolcatz video with (relative) confidence that you are protected from viruses that attach themselves to media files and attempt to gain control of your computer.

Bottom line: Antivirus alone can not protect you from content you receive from the Internet. Use VLC to ensure your media player is as robust as possible.

CD/DVD Burning Software

Product: Ashampoo Burning Studio 6 Free (download from Ashampoo)

Do I need it? Yes, if your computer has a CD/DVD writer. Again, there’s too many freebies/trial editions out there that fill your computer with crap you don’t need. This is a simple, powerful and clean product.

Bottom line: Get it, install it, forget it until you need it. Keeps you safe from all the dodgy “free” alternatives out there.

Internet Browser

Product: Mozilla Firefox (download from the Mozilla foundation)

Do I need it? Yes. Never mind the dangerous Internet Explorer or Google Chrome – which doesn’t protect your privacy while surfing the web. Firefox auto-updates and has a host of privacy-enhancing measures that you can enable from its settings.

Bottom line: Get Firefox, use it exclusively to browse the web and keep yourself safer from online threats. (Only exception might be some backwards banking websites that only work with Internet Explorer – unacceptable behaviour really, as the websites of most respectable financial institutions work fine with Firefox)

Windows Optimization

Product(s): Piriform Ccleaner (download from Piriform) and WinDirStat (download from sourceforge project page)

Do I need them? If you’ve had your computer for more than 6 months, you might be surprised how much junk (unnecessary files) Ccleaner can remove. If you’re running out of disk space, WinDirStat is great at showing you exactly where all your disk space has gone! These are the standard tools I use to clean old computers and it’s surprising how much disk space you can reclaim. This makes defragmentation (with the standard Windows tools) easier, which makes your computer faster!

Bottom line: Free, very useful tools. You don’t need any other “Registry optimizer” or “Windows optimiser” software – they’re usually dangerous, stay away from such tools!

Compression/Archiving

Product: 7-zip (download from 7-zip.org)

Do I need it? Yes. Allows you to disregard all other freebies/trial/freeware/adware compression/zip utilities out there. 7-zip is excellent & safe software.

Bottom line: Get 7-zip and get rid of all other rar/zip/etc utilities. This one does it all!

Well, that’s it for now. These are my standard tools. They do what they say on the tin and don’t try to make you pay for “premium versions”, install other “freeware”, display ads, steal your information or make your computer slower.

Advertisements

CrashPlan unable to connect, check your network?

An annoying message at best, particularly when it’s obvious there’s nothing wrong with “your network”. I had this symptom on a Windows XP machine I installed CrashPlan 3.4.1 on last night.

The solution was to uninstall CrashPlan, turn on “Show hidden files and folders” in Folder Options of Windows Explorer (what if this doesn’t work?*) and hunt and delete all “CrashPlan” folders in the “C:\Documents and Settings\username\Application Data” and “C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings” (hidden) folders.

I then restarted the computer, installed CrashPlan once more, and all was working.

*Bootnote: Turns out some malware had been messing with the registry of that computer and disabled the GUI for “Show hidden files and folders”, rendering it ineffective. I would just tick the box, hit “Apply” and I would still not see the hidden files and folder. A quick scan with Malwarebytes fixed that.