Essential Windows Apps for 2018

There are so many Windows apps out there that making a list of the best and must-have software for your desktop or laptop seems like a daunting task. We scoured the recommendation pages, countless forum posts and dozens of comments to compile this year’s Lifehacker Pack for Windows, a list of software champions in four categories: productivity; Internet and communications; music, photo and video; and utilities.

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 our Apps Catalog where we publish great Windows, Mac, Android and iOS apps and browser extensions every week.


Wox (free)

Of course, Windows 10 has its own search feature – Cortana search, which you access by pressing the Windows button on your keyboard and typing in an app, file name, or anything else you want to find on your system (or learn more).

We think the open source Wox application is a great alternative because it is a fast launching application that is also great for finding files and folders scattered around your system. More importantly, it makes it easy to quickly search the web by pressing just a few keys on your keyboard, whether you want a simple Google search or prefer to use your own custom prefixes to load a query into another search engine. Wox also supports third-party plugins, so you can do everything from finding your current IP address to searching YouTube and Twitch streams and managing your Spotify playlist.

OneNote (free)

Since our previous favorite, Evernote , cut down on the free plan ( and its cheapest paid plan now costs $ 8 / month (RIP Evernote Plus )), we consider OneNote to be the best cross-platform note-taking app. for Windows users. It’s completely free, you can download the OneNote apps for iOS and Android if you want to sync your notes across multiple devices, and it’s already installed on Windows 10 by default. How simple it is. If you have a more fashionable Windows tablet, you can even write or draw notes with a stylus (or finger).

We recommend that you install the OneNote Web Clipper extension for Chrome or Firefox so that you can also save the interesting web pages you browse. Also consider installing Office Lens for Android or iOS so you can send photos of documents, whiteboards, and other “scanned” items directly to OneNote.

PhraseExpress (free)

As Lifehacker alumnus Patrick Allan wrote in 2016 :

“Text expansion is one of the greatest improvements you can make to your productivity. Think about any tedious input you make during the day – addresses, email response templates, snippets of code, or whatever – and imagine 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 our […] helper for people new to text expansion.

For a new, simple open source alternative, you can also try Beeftext . A number of other text extension fans also swear by Breevy , which you can also use to launch apps with tiny text shortcuts. However, the app will set you back $ 35. We’ll focus on PhraseExpress first .

Todoist or Microsoft To-Do (free)

The eternal battle continues. Todoist is one of our best options for managing tasks, and you can use its core features for free. (You’ll pay $ 36 a year for additional services like automatic reminders, backups for your tasks, customizable shortcuts, and a way to see all your tasks for a given project.) Todoist is also incredibly cross-platform : you can pull up any tasks you defer via Chrome or Firefox, macOS, iOS, Android, as well as watchOS and Android Wear, as well as Gmail and Outlook. Now you officially have no more reason to postpone your tasks.

Created by the Wunderlist development team , Microsoft To-Do deserves your attention. You can keep track of tasks, add reminders, and highlight colors for different to-do lists. You even get a helpful little “smart reminder” “My Day” service that can motivate you to get the job done with helpful suggestions about what tasks you might want to tackle first. We still prefer Todoist as it works on even more devices and browsers than Microsoft To-Do, but the latter may eventually outshine the former … but not yet.

Plus, if you’re tempted to check out Wunderlist, don’t get too attached. As Microsoft noted on a blog post in 2017 , “Once we make sure to include the best of Wunderlist in Microsoft To-Do, we’ll remove Wunderlist.” There is no guarantee that you will be able to transfer your reminders and settings to another app (such as Microsoft To-Do) when Wunderlist disappears, but at least you can play with all the professional Wunderlist features for free during this awkward transition. …

Office Online or LibreOffice (free)

If you don’t want to pay Microsoft for Office 365 , there is always Office Online , a free way to view and create Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. (As always, you should also try Google’s Office suite if you want complex document, spreadsheet, and presentation applications that you don’t have to pay for.)

If you want a standalone (and free) solution, consider using the open source office suite LibreOffice . All in all, LibreOffice is a great alternative. But if you find yourself switching between Microsoft and LibreOffice applications, such as when working with worksheets or presentations, it may be much easier for you to just pay Microsoft’s price. LibreOffice can get a little fussy when you switch between the two platforms.

Sumatra PDF (Free)

Finding a simple PDF reader that doesn’t look bloated or ugly can be a challenge, but Sumatra PDF is the best we’ve ever seen. It’s read-only, not editing, but much better than Microsoft’s solution: reading all of your PDFs in the Edge browser. We’re fans of Sumatra PDF’s clean interface and speed, and it even has a portable version if you want to quickly view a PDF file without installing a new app.

Internet and communication

Google Chrome or Firefox Quantum (free)

Firefox has always given way to Google Chrome – and it remains so if you’re only looking at market share . Mozilla has made several significant improvements to Firefox with the release of Firefox Quantum in November 2017, and both browsers are closer in performance and usability than ever before.

So it would be wrong to say that one is better than the other; it really is a matter of personal preference at the moment. Which interface do you like? Which browser has the extensions that you use the most (or are most familiar with). What seems like less performance hit when you have 30 tabs open at the same time?

As we noted in the Lifehacker Mac Pack , Chrome still feels sluggish when you try to load many tabs at the same time, but it uses less CPU and memory quite well than other browsers. Is that enough to tip the scales in Chrome’s favor? Not really. If you’re a power Windows user, you’ll probably leave both browsers installed on your system just in case you need to switch to one or the other for any reason – or because you enjoy testing both for a few months before you make the final decision on what to keep.

Opera is also a great alternative to Chrome and Firefox. It’s just as fast, comes with a built-in VPN, and integrates WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Telegram directly into a handy sidebar. If you are chatty this is worth checking out too.

Goat or Franz (free)

Gone are the days of running an application like Pidgin to chat with your friends on various instant messaging networks. Nowadays, you’re probably just texting, posting Facebook messages, or using one of the many other chat services that have both mobile and desktop apps – WhatsApp, Slack, Google Hangouts, etc.

If you’re just an avid Facebook fan , try Caprine , a simple and elegant stand-alone application that lets you send and receive messages without launching your web browser. For a little more conversational firepower, try Franz , which lets you chat on Messenger as well as a host of other services from one convenient window. You can use it to check Slack, WeChat, Skype, Telegram, HipChat, and more.

Skype (free)

As we wrote in Lifehacker Mac Pack , there are many services that you can use to video chat with friends and colleagues: WhatsApp , Google Hangouts , Houseparty, and even Facebook Messenger itself . There is no doubt a video chat service built into your smartphone.

So why exactly Skype ? Microsoft recently updated the app to make it more user-friendly and fill it with even more useful features. As a single standalone app, Skype can do it all: file sharing, one-to-one and group video chats, text and instant messaging, screen sharing, translation, and voice messaging. (Too bad it can’t sync with Facebook and import your existing contacts.)

eM Client or Mailbird (free)

You can of course use the Microsoft Mail app built directly into Windows 10, but its UI still feels a bit heavy, especially if you’re more used to the simpler design of an app like Mozilla Thunderbird or (paid) Outlook.The eM Client email app looks a lot simpler, but it comes with a lot of features in its free offering. You can customize its appearance (including a dark theme), see a lot more contextual information about an email contact through a handy sidebar (including files you’ve exchanged or upcoming events you share), schedule emails to be sent at specific times, and translate emails written in foreign languages ​​right in the app.

Mailbird is a great alternative. While it has fewer features for free users, it offers an easy way to combine up to three email accounts into one beautiful app. Its user interface is slightly easier on the eye than the eM Client, but not as extravagant as the default Windows mail application. And if you pay for Mailbird – $ 18 a year or $ 59 for a lifetime subscription – you can integrate many other accounts into the app (Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, Dropbox, Google, etc.) and take advantage of the app’s more unusual features. to improve productivity. , I like speed reading .

Microsoft News or Flipboard (free)

If you’re into old-school news, you’ll probably prefer a serious RSS feed like Nextgen Reader ($ 6). But if you want to stay on top of the day in a more stylish way, the Microsoft News app is a great free app that gives you a great overview of the news you need to know, depending on what topics you have covered the app. you are interested. You can also choose your favorite sources that you enjoy reading if you are only interested in what some of your favorite publications have to say.

Classic Flipboard offers an even more visual way to see what’s going on in the world, with a focus on magazine design that offers larger images and fewer stories on every page. It’s great to read and enjoy, especially if you accidentally skim topics looking for articles you might want to explore in more detail. The Microsoft News app is better for getting a quick overview of everything you need to know right now.

Discord (free)

If you’re a gamer and you don’t have Discord installed on your system , you’re doing yourself a disservice. This is the app to use if you want to create a virtual meeting base for chatting with friends and guildmates, or join one who knows how many other groups are focused on your favorite games, hobby websites … nothing, in fact. Built-in voice chat makes it incredibly easy to plan your next raid, host an online event, or talk to people you’ve typed for years.

Music, photos and videos

VLC (free)

The best reason to install VLC on your Windows system is that it is a thousand times better than Windows Media Player. It’s not bloated, it plays pretty much any media you add to it, and it does a great job of producing the smoothest picture you can get on systems that aren’t that powerful. In other words, if you’re trying to watch HD videos on a less-stellar laptop like VLC has the best chance of providing you with the highest quality you can get. It is not a miracle worker, but its hardware decoding capabilities are enormous.

Adobe Bridge CC , digiKam, and Google Backup and Sync (free)

Of course, you can organize your photos manually by coming up with a clever folder layout and making sure you are always up to date with every shot you take. However, this is a lot of work. Consider the free Adobe Bridge CC app instead. It’s not a great photo editor , but it’s a great photo organizer (for a price). Organize your photos by labels, ratings, keywords, size, date taken … basically any metadata you can think of to associate with a snapshot.

If you want an app that’s a little more functional (and similar to the Adobe Lightroom app), the open source digiKam app is worth exploring. We especially love how easy it is to import and export photos from your expansive offline library to digital services like SmugMug (export only) or Facebook (both!), Because you don’t have to just keep all of your photos by collecting digital dust on your computer. … HDD.

By the way, be sure to check out Google Backup and Sync . It’s not a photo organizer app, but it’s a great way to upload your photos to Google Photos, a pretty useful free backup tool that’s good enough for most people’s snapshots. (If you’re shooting more than 16 megapixels, or say 4K video, you can pay Google for extra storage, or look elsewhere to have your archived photos keep their original sizes instead of Google compression.) You can also use Google. Photos to organize your library a bit if you prefer to create online collections that are easier to share with friends than create an offline archive.

Adobe PhotoShop Express , Paint.NET, or Gimp (free)

If you just need to do some basic photo editing – adjust some colors; flipping and rotating frames; and adjusting settings like contrast, brightness, and white balance – it’s hard to go wrong with Adobe’s free PhotoShop Express . You can edit photos in RAW (!) Format, Fix a lot of problems and apply a number of different filters to give your pictures a little extra finesse. It’s a great tool if you need more than what you’ll find in the default Windows photo app, but the thought of opening a tool like PhotoShop – the full version – terrifies you.

More advanced users who want features like PhotoShop without paying for them should try Paint.NET and Gimp , two great (free) apps, listed in order of difficulty, that give you much more control over your photos and graphics than simpler applications for “photo correction”. These two have been the main elements of the image-editing scene for as long as we can remember; they are still maintained and updated – the latter is slightly larger than the former – which should give you an idea of ​​their longevity and overall usefulness. (Plus, these are great tools for getting to know a PhotoShop-like environment before you make the big pay move.)

HandBrake (free)

If you care about editing and converting videos instead of (or in addition to) photos, HandBrake should be at the very top of your list. This free video converting tool, combined with an application like MakeMKV , lets you create video files from just about anything.

HandBrake comes with many options, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with our guide on the handbrake, to learn the basics. However, the app does an excellent job of presenting a number of easy-to-select presets that should cover most video conversion scenarios.

Our advice? Put together a few videos you need to convert, create a batch job, and let HandBrake run overnight. When you wake up in the morning, your new videos are ready to go – and if you want to take the extra step, set HandBrake to automatically shutdown your computer after the conversion is complete. Convenient!

Spotify ($ 10) and Amazon Music Unlimited ($ 8-10 )

Spotify , which has a dedicated Windows app as well as a Windows Store app, is a great streaming service. If you’ve listened to music or made friends at any point in the past few years, you no doubt know what Spotify is and don’t need our introduction. Spotify is much easier to navigate than a service like Apple Music, mainly because iTunes is still a terrible Windows app. The Google Play Music is no official desktop application, so you need a solution with open source software to listen to music outside of the browser. Even then, Spotify’s carefully curated playlists and social integrations are much more interesting.

We also love Amazon Music Unlimited , which costs $ 10 for non-Prime subscribers and $ 8 for Prime subscribers ( oooh ). The service has a desktop app and a fairly extensive library, although you can still get a desktop app if you subscribe to Prime. You get a nice chunk of music and radio to listen to, but not nearly as much as if you paid Amazon even more money than you already pay.


Dropbox , Google Drive and Mega (free)

There are many cloud storage services that you can use to back up important files or share files with friends (or the Internet in general). We’ve covered their costs and competitors pretty well, and we think Dropbox is a great, all-inclusive solution for most people’s cloud storage needs. However, you only get 2GB of free space with the service unless you get creative .

Google Drive gives you up to 15GB to play, and it’s just as easy to sync files on your laptop or desktop and work with them offline. If you need even more, consider Mega . You get 50GB of free cloud storage and a handy app ( MEGAsync ) that you can use to sync files to the cloud. The only downside is that the Mega has an annoying transfer quota ofaround 1GB in 24 hours. So we wouldn’t use this to, say, back up our hard drives, but it’s a great tool for files you want to store in the cloud and retrieve from time to time.

qBittorrent (free)

The free BitTorrent app qBittorrent is a dream come true. Its easy-to-use interface should be familiar to anyone who has used the torrenting app over the past few years, and its open source development (hopefully) ensures it is forever ad-free and malware-free.

The app perfectly covers all the basics, including support for VPN connections, RSS-based downloads, and a remote web interface for managing the app from afar. We also appreciate that qBittorrent can automatically move completed downloads to a new directory – for example, “done” – instead of cluttering your main downloads folder. What’s more, you can schedule an app with bandwidth limits when you don’t want your BitTorrents to consume your internet connection, and you can even turn off qBittorrent (or your system) when it’s done with a large download, you leech, you …

Backblaze ($ 5 per month)

With Crashplan dead and gone, Backblaze is our new top choice for backup services. It’s half the price of the cheapest plan you can get from Crashplan right now , and it does exactly the same thing: just install the app, select the files and folders you want to back up, and let Backblaze do wonders. When your hard drive crashes or you accidentally delete an important file you were working on, your $ 60 annual offer is worth the peace of mind – trust us.

7-Zip or PeaZip (free)

Yes, you can extract .ZIP files directly in Windows, and these are probably the types of archives you will come across the most. For everything else, including .RAR, .TAR, .ISO, .VDI, and .VHD to name just a few – the open source 7-Zip app is a simple and easy way to extract additional files from just about anything . Its user interface isn’t the prettiest, but it doesn’t matter to most people. If that bothers you, try PeaZip , a free 7-Zip alternative that offers a nicer GUI on top of 7-Zip’s core functionality.

Notepad ++ (free)

If you like a good text editor – for example, because writing website code is much more fun than dealing with a WYSIWYG editor – Notepad ++ is a great tool. No matter what programming language you are using (e.g. HTML, C ++, Swift, etc.) Notepad ++ most likely has a visual setting that automatically highlights your variables with color as you type. It’s a great way to organize your code, and it’s just one of the main features of an application.

With built-in macro support, incredibly rich search functionality, a beautiful tabbed interface for working with multiple documents at the same time, and support for plugins, Notepad ++ is a great alternative to the default Windows application for editing text.

Ditto Clipboard (free)

Instead of having the old boring default clipboard that only remembers the last thing you copied. Ditto Clipboard keeps a current history of everything you CTRL + C (or, as you prefer, copy files). It doesn’t matter what you copy – text, images or code – you can select and re-paste at any time.

The PC Decrapifier (Free)

When you buy a new laptop and it is loaded with malware or are worried about the amount of seemingly unnecessary programs on the Windows system that you have been using for some time, install PC Decrapifier . This incredibly useful utility will give you recommendations based on the experience of other users on which items to keep and which ones to throw away. It will help you sleep better knowing that you haven’t accidentally uninstalled a critical app for your device.

Wiztree (free)

We’re big fans of Wiztree , an incredibly useful utility that quickly shows you how much space various files and folders are taking on your hard drive (s). It’s faster than WinDirStat , the application people usually imagine for scanning drives, and just as good for finding strange, random, giant files like some awkward temporary file taking up a gigabyte of space, or some giant movie. which you accidentally copied to the wrong folder. Remove these erroneous items and free up precious hard disk space.


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