Essential Windows Software

20:30 Sun 18 Jun 2006. Updated: 21:44 18 Jun 2006
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Here’s a list of software I consider essential on a Windows machine, more or less in order of importance:


The browser is rather central to a lot of what I do, and so it can’t really be anything other than Firefox. It’s powerful, flexible, and extremely customizable, and it has a tremendous amount of stuff that I consider essential. Including bookmark keywords, find-links-as-you-type, powerful JavaScript bookmarklet capability, tabs, and a large number of extensions I now find it hard to do without: Greasemonkey, PrefBar, Live HTTP Headers, HTML Validator, Firebug, and Stylish. I’ll probably go into my Firefox setup, and various extensions, in more depth in another post.


Firefox comes before this only because I need Firefox to download AutoHotKey… For years I used a closed-source program called WinKey, and only came across AutoHotKey recently. AutoHotKey allows you to set up OS-level keyboard shortcuts for just about anything. This makes the Windows Key actually useful. Applications don’t use that key, so as a user I’m free to use it to launch programs—which is how I launch anything I use frequently. Firefox? Windows Key+Shift+F. jEdit? Windows Key+J. Writer? Windows Key+W. And so on. I can’t really stand the idea of not being able to launch the program I want immediately, and the thought of hunting around for it in the Start Menu (which I never use) or via Windows Explorer (which, incidentally, is launchable by default, without AutoHotKey, with Windows Key+E) is somewhat horrifying. AutoHotKey has a lot of functionality I’m not using yet, and I will probably write a more detailed post about it later also.


I really like Thunderbird for mail. Especially after discovering the user_pref(“mail.check_all_imap_folders_for_new”, true); line to put in user.js to make it check every IMAP folder for new messages instead of just the Inbox. Not quite as customizable as Firefox, but still better than any other mail client I’m aware of (not counting the command-line ones like mutt, which may be better but which I’m not likely to start using heavily at this point).


It’s a bit of a beast, but it’s still a good office suite. Nothing spectacularly amazing here, but then again a solid and fully-featured office suite that’s Free Software is nothing to sneeze at.


I like to have this as a lightweight alternative to OpenOffice, for when I really just need a good, basic, word processor.


An excellent Java-based text editor. I’ve been using it for years and see no reason to switch to any proprietary editor. This is another application I’ll probably write a more detailed post about later.


An excellent ssh client (also does telnet, but I don’t use that much).


A good compression utility.


A good graphical SCP/SFTP client.


The first non-Free application on the list. I started using it when it was really the only reliable multi-protocol IM clients available for Windows, and so far I’ve been too lazy to switch. I intend to look into Miranda and GAIM for Windows soon.


The second non-Free application on this list. I’ve used WinAmp for a long time, maybe even from within a year of when it first came out, and I’m just very used to it. I would like to find a Free alternative, but haven’t found anything I consider good enough yet.

###Windows Media Player Classic/K-Lite Codec Pack

I’m not sure if that’s the canonical URL for the K-Lite Codecs. In any case, those together contitute my video-playing suite.


I actually haven’t used this much, coming late to the whole torrent thing, but I hear this is the best Windows BitTorrent client.

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4 Responses to “Essential Windows Software”

  1. Helen Says:

    Can I have a list of Mac free software? Please? Please?

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Well, I will write an equivalent list of Mac software when I get around to working on my laptop, but a short list would be:
    Quicksilver, which is primarily a way to launch applications via the keyboard (not quite the same as AutoHotKey, but it’s what I use instead of that on the Mac).
    Firefox or Camino (Camino is a version of Firefox with Mac-native widgets, and might be better if you’re not going to use Firefox extensions. I prefer Firefox but Seth insists I at least present Camino as an option).
    As for the rest, note that AbiWord, OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird, Azureus, and jEdit are all available for the Mac also. You don’t need PuTTY because the Mac has a built-in Terminal. In place of Trillian, try Adium for IM. I suspect you already have the evil iTunes and so don’t need to switch to something like WinAmp; I’m waiting for Songbird to mature a little before trying that out. For video, there’s VLC. I think that pretty much covers it—let me know if that helps!

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Oh, and for video Seth also says this is useful.

  4. Helen Says:

    Thank you! I already use Firefox, but the others could come in very useful. One thing I do need is image editing software – iphoto is worse than hopeless. I have heard tale of the Gimp, but hear it needs expertise to build it. Do you know anything more idiot-friendly?

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