Lifehacker Pack 2016 for Windows: Essential Windows Apps
There are more awesome programs in Windows than we can count, but some of them are essential for just about any PC setup. In this year’s Annual Lifehacker Pack for Windows, we’re highlighting the downloads you need to improve productivity, communication, media management, and more.
Lifehacker Pack is an annual snapshot of our favorite and essential apps for each of our favorite platforms. For our constantly updated catalog of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark the Windows Apps Catalog .
Again, we have the wonderful guys from Ninite, which help us in this year, creating an installer Windows Lifehacker Pack in just one click . You can download the entire package together, or just pick the apps you want and Ninite will install them all at once, without the extra programs and toolbars – perfect for new Windows installations or customizing your friends with a good selection of apps.
And like every year, we have two packages for Windows: the Essentials package, which everyone should have, and the premium package, which includes some of the tools more advanced users are likely to need. This year we added one or two new apps, removed some unnecessary ones to keep the ever-growing package compact, and included links to other Lifehacker guides on getting the most out of each app. (And, of course, this is just a starting point – there are tons of great Windows applications out there , even if they’re not essential.)
Note: Unfortunately, Ninite is missing a couple of apps from the list – most notably CCleaner (because they don’t want their software on Ninite), Bins and Fences (both paid apps). So don’t forget to grab them manually after you’ve installed the rest of the Ninite package!
So, without further ado, here is the Lifehacker 2016 package for Windows!
At first glance, Launchy is a utility that helps you launch programs very quickly, but in reality there is much more to it than that . Not only can you launch your favorite programs with just a few keystrokes, but you can also open documents and folders, perform calculations, end processes, search the web, and perform any number of additional tasks (such as starting an SSH session). You may need to create some custom shortcuts for Modern UI apps in Windows 10, but this is still our favorite option .
ResophNotes and Evernote or OneNote
Everyone needs a place to store small notes and clippings, but not everyone needs the same thing. So, for our part of the note-taking package, we offer you two options: ResophNotes and Evernote. The native Simplenote app for Windows is now available , but ResophNotes is still our pick, letting you sync simple text notes via Simplenote or Dropbox so you can get back to work. Evernote, on the other hand, is more like a filing cabinet for notes, Internet clippings, and whatever else you might need. It may seem like overkill, but once you figure out how to use it , it becomes indispensable for work and play.
The same can be said for Microsoft’s OneNote, which keeps pace with Evernote in most features . And OneNote has become especially attractive to Windows users after Evernote has raised the prices of their paid plans and added more restrictions for free users . Luckily, you can instantly switch all of your Evernote notes if you want to switch. OneNote is not included with Ninite’s one-click installer, so make sure you select it from the link above if you want to go that route.
ResophNoes icon by Jayvant .
Expanding your text is one of the greatest improvements you can make to your productivity. Think of any tedious input you make during the day – addresses, email response templates, snippets of code, or anything else – and imagine that you can type it all in with just a few keystrokes. That’s what text expansion does, and it can save you hours of typing . PhraseExpress is the best free option for Windows, and while it has its own problems , it is our helper for people new to text expansion. However, once you get the hang of it , the Breevy could be a worthy upgrade.
There are more to-do apps out there than we can count, and which one you choose depends a lot on how you do your best . But if we had to pick a favorite, it would be Wunderlist . It’s free, syncs to the cloud, and exists on just about any device you might want or have. And now there is a plug-in for Microsoft Outlook that makes it easy to share to-do lists, turn emails into things to do, and set reminders based on letters and requests in your inbox. Just fire it up and start making your lists. It’s incredibly easy to use, which is exactly what you want from a to-do list: make it easy to add and move tasks so you can get back to actually doing them .
When Google Docs isn’t enough for word processing, you’ll need LibreOffice, a feature-rich, cross-platform, 100% free office suite. When the LibreOffice word processor, spreadsheet tool, and presentation tool aren’t the right fit, Microsoft Office will surely fit the bill (albeit at a price). If you’re not sure which one you want, check out our comparison between the two . And if you just need to view Office documents, you can use Microsoft Office Viewers instead.
The first time you open a PDF file on a new Windows computer, you might be greeted by the familiar prompt to install Adobe Reader. Do not do this! If compatibility issues don’t force you to use Adobe’s reader, you’ll be much more happy with something fast, lightweight, and simple, like the awesome (and free) SumatraPDF. If you need to edit PDFs, use our favorite PDF editor , PDF-XChange .
Internet and communication
Browser wars are no longer as close as before, and in our days , most experienced users have switched to the Chrome . We can see why too: It’s fast, smooth, syncs all your settings, and has an incredible library of extensions. It may not be as customizable as Firefox and can use a lot of RAM , but for most people – even advanced users – that’s more than enough .
Whether you live and die for instant messaging or just need it for casual contacts, having a desktop client is much easier than using the Internet. With an app like Pidgin, you can log into multiple accounts at the same time (like Google Talk, AIM and Facebook Chat), have multiple conversations in one window, and much more with the fantastic Pidgin plugins .
Skype may not be our favorite video chat software , but it is definitely the most popular. Chances are, you have at least one or two friends or family members who want to use Skype with you, so it’s a good program to carry in your pocket even if you don’t use it as part of your regular phone call . Just remember to turn off the autoplay feature so it doesn’t always work.
Music, photos and videos
Windows Media Player can play most of the major file formats, but when it comes to playing DVDs, files downloaded from the Internet, and more, you’ll need something that can do more. VLC plays all file formats under the sun and does it well . It’s not our favorite video player – that credit goes to the amazing PotPlayer – but VLC is incredibly easy to download and use, which is why we’re replacing PotPlayer with VLC in this Lifehacker package. This is an application that we would recommend to almost everyone. Plus, it can do much more than just watch videos , which makes it a good app to always have at your fingertips.
Picasa was our previous choice for easy storage and editing of photos, but Google removed the service to make way for the new and improved Google Photos . Google Photos downloads all your photos from all your devices for free, organizes all your photos, and makes it easy to share photos with friends and family.
Desktop Uploader just makes it easy to automatically back up all photos on your desktop, cameras and other devices. Of course, if you’re not a fan of photo management apps, you can just skip Picasa and use Dropbox instead .
Unless you’re a professional designer, you probably won’t need something more complex and complex like Photoshop to edit random images. For the rest, there is Paint.NET: a basic, free, easy-to-use image editor that satisfies the basic needs you will come across on a regular basis. This year we are also including a slightly more advanced, but still free GIMP, as it is so essential in any graphics editor’s arsenal.
Choosing a music player is one of the more personal decisions you can make when it comes to apps, so we recommend trying a few things and see what works for you. If you’re not sure what you want, we recommend MusicBee as a good place to start (replacing our previous pick, Winamp). It’s customizable, lightweight and easy to use – a tricky combination. It has a lot of options for customizing the interface, installing additional plugins, and more to make everything work that way. If MusicBee isn’t your cup of tea , check out the enhanced package below for a few more options.
MusicBee may be our choice as a music player, but we still recommend having a streaming music player handy, even if it’s not your main player. Spotify is a great app to have on hand. It helps you find new artists, try them before you buy, listen to various streaming radio stations, and create awesome collaborative playlists – among many other hidden features . Plus, you can listen to more than just music on Spotify . There are audiobooks, radio plays, language lessons, famous speeches, poetry, and even guided meditation.
Many of us these days have more than one device. Maybe it’s a work computer and a home computer, or maybe it’s three computers, a smartphone, a tablet and a time machine running Linux. Whatever the range of your device, Dropbox is absolutely necessary to synchronize all of your files (and others ). You get 2GB of free space to start with, but it’s very easy to download additional space for free .
When you need to download a large file, BitTorrent is almost always a better alternative than a slow direct download. When it comes to Windows, uTorrent is still our trusted BitTorrent app . It is full of useful features, but it remains light and easy to use, so few programs can truly say that they have reached a balance. It has a few advertisements, but it’s easy to turn them off . Once configured, make sure it’s optimized for speed and privacy .
Everyone needs a backup . There is nothing worse than a hard drive crashing and having to start from scratch. Log into CrashPlan. While you can always back up to an external drive , it won’t save you if you lose your computer in a fire, burglary, or other disaster. CrashPlan backs up your computer to the cloud using the CrashPlan cloud service or a friend’s computer, keeping your data safe no matter what. Plus, it’s really easy to set up . Install, forget and relax.
It’s surprising that it took us so long to add one of our all-time favorite apps to the package, but it’s here: F.lux is a brilliant little app that sits in the taskbar and changes the color temperature of your monitor based on the time of day. As the sun sets, your screen takes on an orange tint, so you don’t get all that blue light that can disrupt your sleep and cause eye strain . Research shows that reducing your exposure to blue light at night will help you sleep better . It’s a little off-putting at first, but trust us: give it a week and you can never go back.
Every computer needs a little maintenance from time to time, and CCleaner is the perfect way to free up hard drive space if yours gets a little full. CCleaner cleans up temporary files and cookies from your browser, temporary files and documents from Windows, removes junk from other programs you’ve installed, and even safely wipes your hard drive when needed. You can read more about how to use it effectively here .
Windows can create ZIP archives right out of the box, but when you stumble upon a less familiar file format like the much more efficient RAR or 7Z, you’ll need an archiving tool. 7-Zip is the tool you need to not only create and open archives in other formats, but also encrypt them for safe storage right from the Windows context menu. You will most likely need it once, so you can install it now. It is ideal for compressing a bunch of files or sending sensitive information to the Internet .
No matter how careful you are, every computer should have a good antivirus program installed . If you choose the right one, it is light enough that you will never notice it, but durable enough to pick up any infection that gets in your way. Our previous pick, Avast !, scored lower in antivirus testing by AV Comparatives and AV-Test than in previous years, which is why Avira is our new free antivirus assistant for Windows . Avira was the top free option in both AV Comparatives and AV-Test benchmarks, and it is by far one of the top choices in terms of usability.
So, you have the essentials that every computer should have, but there are other programs that we install over and over again when we boot a fresh installation of Windows. This is what the advanced package is for: they are not essential, but they are very useful applications that deserve to be part of your toolbox.
.NET , Silverlight and Java
.NET, Silverlight and Java are three frameworks that you may not always need right away , but may be in the future. If you know you will need them in the future (for example, if you are a Netflix user who needs Silverlight), download them now. If you’re not sure, it doesn’t hurt to wait. Just remember to disable Java in your browser for.
When you uninstall a program using the built-in Windows tool, sometimes it leaves behind unnecessary files or registry entries that it can’t find. Revo solves this problem : it not only removes all traces of the program in question, but you can also uninstall the program in “Hunter Mode” simply by clicking on the program you want to get rid of. This is a must for any Windows user, especially those who like to try a lot of software.
The handbrake is not required for everyone, but it is very useful for those who copy, encode, or otherwise work with video. Not only is it a perfect program to rip DVD to your computer , but also the ability to convert large Blu-ray files , encode videos for your favorite phone or tablet, and more. Best of all, it’s 100% free and open source.
Bins is a great little application that bundles multiple icons into one stack on the Windows taskbar. It’s perfect for grouping your music players, stacking your less frequently used programs, and otherwise clearing up taskbar clutter . It’s $ 5 and one of the Windows programs worth paying for .
If you have multiple icons on your desktop that are constantly cluttered, Fences is for you. Fences divides your desktop into several small groups, allowing you to place icons in each group separately – by category, file type, or whatever you want. You can even create fences based on folders on your PC and navigate between multiple pages of icons. And Fences now supports high-resolution displays and is fully compatible with Windows 10 . That’s all you need to create a clean, organized desktop and keep it that way. Fences costs $ 9.99, but you can get a free trial before you buy (or get the old free version of Fences here ).
iTunes , MediaMonkey and foobar2000
If MusicBee isn’t for you, it’s good that you have many other options. We’ve added several other music players to the enhanced package to suit just about any need. iTunes, while far from perfect, is ideal if you have iOS devices to sync with. MediaMonkey has many advanced tagging, organizing and syncing features, and can even sync to iOS with a little fiddling . Foobar2000 is more customizable than anything else, and while a little advanced, it really can be anything you want . Try one of them and you will definitely be satisfied.
Whether you are an avid programmer, a casual web developer, or just a fine tuner, Notepad ++ is far superior to Windows’ built-in notepad for editing code. It’s lightweight, keeps open documents in tabs, syntax highlighting, and has many plugins to customize your experience. Even if you’re only editing a random INI file, Notepad ++ will delight you.
What about our favorite little Windows utility that hasn’t been mentioned before? AutoHotkey basically turns any action you can imagine into a keyboard shortcut . It requires a bit of code, but even the most basic users can figure it out by day – and you can do anything from simple shortcuts to creating complete programs with AutoHotkey. Use it to add your own shortcuts to Windows Explorer , create a custom boss key , put your computer to sleep, and more . If you haven’t tried AutoHotkey yet, now is the time – you will wonder how you have ever lived without it.