- 1 Web Browser
- 2 E-Mail
- 3 Word Processing
- 4 File Sharing
- 5 Graphics
- 6 Audio / Video
- 7 Instant Messaging / VoIP
- 8 Gaming
- 9 Compression Utilities
- 10 Software Development
- 11 CD / DVD
- 12 Network
- 13 Anti-Malware
- 14 Data Backup and Recovery
- 15 System Tweaking
- 16 System Utilities
- 17 Windows Installation Customization
- 18 Misc. Utilities
- 19 Software Repositories and Catalogs
- 20 E-Mail Service Providers
- 21 Alternative Operating Systems
Having used Microsoft Windows since Windows 95, i have tried a lot of software over the years and would like to share some recommendations and experience. Actually, my first piece of advice for those just starting out in the world of computers would be to avoid Microsoft Windows altogether and go with Linux instead. However if you got hooked on Windows, or are forced to use it at work, and are looking for some decent software, hopefully this list will be useful. With very few exceptions, everything here is completely free without any limitations, at least for personal use, unless otherwise noted.
Many programs listed here come packaged in an installer and some of the installers may contain 3rd party software offers, adware, or other components which have nothing to do with the actual program. Developers include these offers because they get paid a small amount of money if you choose to install them. I cannot blame them for wanting to earn a little something in return for the massive effort, knowledge and ridiculous amount of time that is required to develop software, however i would caution users to pay very close attention to both the installer options and any firewall alerts for internet connections which you will usually want to disallow if you want to avoid installing anything other than the main program. Another method to circumvent 3rd party offers is to use a portable version of the program if one is available since they are usually packaged as ZIP archives with no installer. If a portable version is not available, or you just want the convenience of an installer, you can often use a utility like 7-Zip or Universal Extractor to unpack the installer to see what lives inside. In many cases you can also remove the offending components from the install script and recompile the installer. That being said, i would encourage you to donate to the developer if you choose to not install any optional components. They deserve it more than you know.
Please leave a comment if you have any corrections or suggestions.
Mozilla Firefox is currently my top choice for internet browsers. It is highly configurable and supports many thousands of add-ons which extend its functionality. See my article, Firefox Extensions: My Picks for a list of my personal favorite add-ons, as well as some general advice regarding extensions and how to get the job done without an extension in some cases. I say that Firefox is my current choice because it has become obvious that the primary concern of the Mozilla corporation is revenue generation while the privacy concerns of its user-base seems to be running a very distant second. This became blatantly obvious when Mozilla partnered with Google, the spyware king and, more recently, Yahoo, as well as an array of other ethically challenged corporations.
Qt Web Browser is a light and secure portable web browser that i like to keep on hand for testing or just to have as a spare browser.
Mozilla Thunderbird is currently my favorite email program. Like Firefox, its functionality is easily extended with a variety of add-ons. The same caveats apply to Thunderbird as Firefox.
nPOPuk is mini email client/email checker that can preview your emails and delete them on the server without having to download the entire email. Unfortunately the program is not as intuitive as it could be and there is no option to reply to a message using your default email client.
LibreOffice by The Document Foundation is probably the most feature rich alternative to the Microsoft Office suite. Although LibreOffice strives to be as compatible as possible with the Microsoft Office suite of programs, there are some areas where it may fall short. For the casual user however, i would highly recommend it over Microsoft Office. The LibreOffice project was created after the OpenOffice project was taken over by the Oracle Corporation.
PDF-XChange Viewer (commercial/limited freeware) by Tracker Software is one of the few programs listed here that is not free if you want to use all of its features. I’m listing it anyway because there simply are no free, full-featured PDF viewers/editors for Windows that i am aware of. Firefox, and perhaps other newer web browsers, can view PDF files natively, but the features are very limited. PDF-XChange Viewer is quite a powerful viewer with the ability to add captions, bookmarks and more and is much faster, and probably more secure, than its Adobe counterpart.
qBittorrent is one of the better, clean, user-friendly P2P/BitTorrent clients i have found. qBittorrent intends to emulate the feel and simplicity of the older uTorrent clients and does a fine job in this regard. The software is free and open source. Although its development has been intermittent, it looks like it has resumed once again.
Tixati is the most powerful, configurable, efficient and free P2P/BitTorrent client for Windows that i am aware of that still has a GUI. While uTorrent was always a favorite of mine, it is now packaged with garbage and ads. With the power of Tixati comes a myriad of configuration options which give the program a cluttered, granular feel. If you find Tixati to be a bit overwhelming, i would recommend something more moderate like qBittorrent.
Google is the “file sharing” tool for those who want to find stuff whilst avoiding the potential legal pitfalls of file sharing programs. Here’s a simple example you can build on:
GIMP — The GNU Image Manipulation Program — is a very powerful raster (and limited vector) graphics editing program developed for Linux that eventually made its way to Windows. GIMP is probably the most feature rich free image editor that exists for Windows, far exceeding all others that i am aware of in terms of overall capability including Paint.NET, RealWorld Paint or any other of the many programs i have tested over the years. With this power comes a bit of a learning curve however, so if you don’t need all kinds of filters, tools, layers and export capabilities, a simpler program may be preferable. Special 32 and 64 bit builds of GIMP for Windows can be found at Partha’s Place.
Paint.NET is another fairly capable image editor for Windows that supports layers, however it relies on the bloated .NET framework. Though it is easier to use than GIMP, is also lacks many of its features.
Inkscape is a well-known and very powerful Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) editing program that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. Like GIMP, it is free and open source.
XnView by XnSoft is one of the more popular and powerful alternative image viewers and rudimentary image editors for Windows. XnViewMP is its newer, multi-platform counterpart. Both can handle just about any image format you can possibly imagine. In addition to images, these programs can also view many other file formats.
IrfanView by Irfan Skiljan is another very popular alternative image viewer and rudimentary editor for a wide variety of image formats. Like XnView, IrfanView also support viewing several file formats other than images.
OpenBR is an interesting and upcoming open source biometric recognition program. It didn’t work when i last tested it on Win 7, but this may be a project to keep an eye on if you have a need for such software.
Find Icons is a nicely laid out website that makes icon hunting fun and easy. Find Icons is useful for web, software and theme developers.
Iconfinder is another nice website that catalogs icons.
TAAG — Text to ASCII Art Generator — is a cool on-line utility for converting plain text to ASCII art.
Audio / Video
VLC media player by VideoLAN is probably the most popular, versatile, free, open source, cross-platform media players around. If you have a video that your current player chokes on, try VLC. It just works.
VideoLAN Movie Creator is a highly anticipated (at least by me), free, open source, cross-platform movie editor from the developers of the VLC media player. At this time there are no good programs for video editing on Windows that i am aware of which are both comprehensive, reasonably easy to use, and have a nice GUI, and i have searched very far and very wide.
MPC-BE — Media Player Classic – BE — is another high quality alternative multimedia player for Windows that closely resembles the old Windows Media Player before it started to look like bubblegum, albeit with a great deal of added functionality and configuration options. MPC-BE is based upon Media Player Classic and Media Player Classic – Home Cinema.
Open Broadcaster Software is one of the few free, open-source desktop recording and streaming programs for Windows that actually works and is not packaged with crap-ware. Although you can record and/or stream video of your desktop with VLC media player, doing so isn’t much more friendly than self-dentistry.
CamStudio is another possible desktop recording program, though it has always been buggy and difficult to configure to the point where it seems to be an art to get both decent quality and a smallish file size. Still, i’ll mention it because there so few free and clean alternatives for Windows and it does work.
foobar2000 is certainly one of the top Windows audio players for power users. It can handle a large variety of file formats including MP3, WAV, OOG and FLAC, and is easily extended with plug-ins. foobar2000 is like the Firefox of audio players in that virtually everything about it is customizable to the point where it possible that no two users may have exactly the same look for their UI’s.
Mp3tag is one of the most popular and powerful metadata editing programs for tagging various types of music files.
Wavosaur is a very good audio program for editing, processing and recording WAV and MP3 audio files.
Audacity is another sound file editing, processing and recording program similar to Wavosaur, except it is open source, cross-platform and supports more formats, including OOG and FLAC.
SoundJay.com has about 3000 royalty-free sound effect files in MP3 and WAV format.
PacDV is another website that offers a lot of royalty-free sound effect files in WAV and MP3 format.
Instant Messaging / VoIP
TeamTalk by BearWare.dk is a great little audio/video communication tool if you don’t need encryption. Though it was originally designed with gamers in mind, enough features have been added to enable TeamTalk to act as a light-weight Skype replacement, including the ability to share files and desktop applications, as well as create channels.
Mumble is an open source audio chat program with encryption that is built for gamers, but also useful for others.
Miranda NG is the Next Generation of the classic Miranda multi-protocol instant messenger. Like the original, Miranda NG is primarily a text-only messenger which supports all the popular protocols, including YIM, ICQ, AIM, IRC, etc., and more can be added. Both Miranda and its NG variant are essentially frameworks which are extended via plugins. Both are highly configurable, customizable and powerful … and often a little buggy. Miranda has been in development as long as i can remember and is still no where near a stable 1.0 release, yet it is well-liked by those who desire a highly configurable, multi-protocol instant messenger. The NG variant aims to speed-up the development process.
Cube Engine Games by Wouter van Oortmerssen is the home of Cube and Cube 2: Sauerbraten, the fast-paced, addictive, multi-platform, open source, Quake-like First Person Shooters (FPS). The Cube games use the Cube game engines which were written by Wouter and are quite unique in several ways, one of which is the ability to create and edit levels from directly within the game, including a co-op editing mode. While the graphics can’t really compare with the newest games, they are still quite good and if you like the fast-paced FPS style you can have a lot of fun with Cube.
Urban Terror by Frozen Sand is a free but proprietary Counter-Strike-like First Person Shooter that is fairly popular and fun. Unlike Counter-Strike however, Urban Terror is centered more around fun than realism.
GZDoom is a free source port of Doom by id Software. Doom, for those who are unaware, is the obligatory First Person Shooter that scared the hell out of us “old timers” and set the standard for every FPS that was to follow. The game was released in 1993 and was a major success. I don’t believe another ground shaker would be released until 5 years later when Valve Software gave us Half-Life in 1998. Along with GZDoom you will need at least one game WAD file and GZDoom supports several of them, including Doom, Doom 2, Final Doom, Heretic, Hexen, Strife and possibly others. You can purchase the games through Steam to get the WAD files, or you can find them at a particularly well-known BitTorrent site. Doom was the first real 3D computer game i played and thinking of it brings back very fond memories, one of them being the 2 joysticks i broke because of having the crap scared out of me :)
Free Gamer is a news site for free, open source games.
7-Zip is a powerful, open source compression/decompression utility for handling many types of compressed archives, including ZIP, RAR, TAR, GZ, CAB, various installers and its own efficient 7z format.
PeaZip is another free, open source archive tool that is quite capable.
Universal Extractor by LegRoom is a fairly popular wrapper utility that uses a bunch of different 3rd party executables to extract the contents of just about any kind of archive, including many software installers such as Inno Setup, NSIS, MSI and others. Universal Extractor is no longer being developed by its original author, however a few modified versions can be found, the best of which seems to be on the oszone.net forum which is in Russian, so unless you can read Russian you might want to run it through a translator.
AutoIt by AutoIt Consulting Ltd. is an easy to learn general purpose Windows programming/scripting language that offers fantastic tools for casual scripting or full-blown program development for the Windows NT operating systems. Although AutoIt started out as a simple program to automate keystrokes and mouse clicks, it has evolved into a very powerful tool with support for Unicode, COM objects, DLL calls, regular expressions and much more. Using AutoIt, along with the heavily customized AutoIt Script Editor which contains Koda for building graphical interfaces, you can easily write GUI driven Windows programs and compile them to stand-alone executables. All of my utilities are coded in AutoIt and i would highly recommend it for anyone looking to get their feet wet in programming for Windows. There are a few caveats with AutoIt worth noting however; it is an interpreted language which does not compile to machine code, so in order to be able to run on a machine which does not have AutoIt installed, an AutoIt executable is packed with your script which adds about 500 KB overhead. Also there is no multi-threading capability. Lastly, because AutoIt is quite powerful and easy to learn, and because it is apparently difficult to develop accurate malware signatures for, it is becoming popular among malware developers. This growing problem is exacerbated by the fact that several of the poorer quality anti-virus programs tend to flag all AutoIt executables in general. An alternative to AutoIt is AutoHotkey which is open source, however AHK was forked from a much older version of AutoIt and is therefore not quite as intuitive to use and may lack some of the power of AutoIt.
Notepad++ by Don Ho is one of the premier code editing programs for Windows. This programmers text editor has been around a long time and is still actively developed. Notepad++ uses the powerful Scintilla edit control which supports multiple carets, column editing and much more, and it is easily extended with a large variety of plug-ins.
PSPad is another good, well-featured code editing program for Windows that features an integrated HEX editor and FTP client. Unfortunately it lacks a column editing mode, though it does have column selection. PSPad loads very fast and has a nice, clean UI. I would highly recommend PSPad to anyone who is looking for a light weight code editor or a capable Windows Notepad replacement.
RJ TextEd by Rickard Johansson is a full-featured code editor that is oriented somewhat more toward the web developer. RJ TextEd uses its own edit control and the program feels quite heavy, though it is certainly a quality and capable piece of software. RJ TextEd may be the closest free alternative to the commercial UltraEdit.
Vim, an improved version of Vi, is a very popular, open source code editor for UNIX systems, however there is also a Windows port. Vim is extremely powerful and extendable, though the Windows GUI is quite minimal. If you want to view and edit extremely large files which will choke both Notepad++ and PSPad, such as MySQL databases or server log files, Vim is an excellent choice.
HxD by Maël Hörz is a popular HEX editor for Windows. Although it is very small, it is quite powerful with a lot of key features including the ability to edit RAM, direct disk access, compare files and edit very large files.
Inno Setup by Jordan Russell is a powerful, extendable and well-known tool for building Windows installers. Inno Script Studio by Kymoto Solutions is one of the newest and nicest GUI front-ends for editing Inno Setup scripts.
ColorMania by Blacksun Software is a nice color picker that is really helpful for graphics design or website development. I actually like Color Cop better, but it seems it is no longer being developed and i noticed some annoying bugs in the last version that was released.
CD / DVD
AnyBurn is a really nice, intuitive disk burner that can create and burn images, rip audio CD’s, create audio CD’s and even convert images. AnyBurn is one of the better programs i have found that is very easy to use with a polished GUI.
ImgBurn is one of most powerful and configurable disk burners for Windows which still has a GUI. I would not recommend it for the casual user since doing something as simple as creating a music CD is more trouble than it needs to be, however it is a favorite for those that do a lot of burning and know how to leverage its power.
Privatefirewall from Privacyware is my current choice for the mandatory Windows firewall replacement. I used to use Tiny Personal Firewall (TPF) before it was sold off and became shareware, then Comodo Firewall until it became a massively bloated and buggy, resource hogging, 200 MB+ “security suite” that embedded itself throughout the system like a virus. The last version i used would not even uninstall correctly. Privatefirewall also offers a lot of the same features as its Comodo counterpart, though you do not have to install all of them and it is still an order of magnitude lighter (my installation is less than 6 MB). I am uncertain about the future of Privatefirewall as it seems that development has ceased, though for now it does run on Windows 7 and 8. Privatefirewall is fairly powerful and certainly not the easiest program for beginners to deal with, though it does include a built-in white-list and a training mode to ease the configuration process. Privatefirewall has a few small bugs that i am aware of, but they are UI related and not something that affects it performance.
DNSCrypt by OpenDNS is a Windows and Mac utility that encrypts DNS traffic. DNS, or Domain Name System, is the computer infrastructure that converts the human-friendly host-names that you type in your browser address bar to IP addresses which are understood by the internet routers that direct your requests. Most people probably use the DNS service that their Internet Service Provider (ISP) provides which is really not a good idea for a few reasons, one being security and another being the fact that every site you visit is probably logged for nefarious reasons. I would highly recommend DNSCrypt to everyone, especially if you are an activist or deal with any sensitive information on-line, such as banking. I would also recommend changing your DNS server to one that cares about your privacy and security, such as OpenDNS. Alse see my article, Encrypting DNS Traffic (and why you want to).
PuTTY by Simon Tatham is a free, open source SSH/Telnet client that has been around forever. PuTTY consists of a single executable with no dependencies so it is very light weight while still having many options. PuTTY is used for logging on to remote systems, such as your web server, VPS, etc..
Bitvise SSH Client by Bitvise Limited is another good, multi-protocol SSH/Telnet/SFTP/RDP client for Windows that is both powerful and polished. Unlike PuTTY, Bitvise has an option to remember and store your log-in credentials and can do so securely. Bitvise SSH Client is free for personal use.
SoftPerfect Network Scanner by SoftPerfect is is a powerful GUI driven tool for probing remote networks and systems.
Technitium MAC Address Changer is one of the nicest GUI driven MAC address spoofers for your network adapters.
Also see Process Hacker in the System Utilities section.
In addition to the below products, please read my article, Malware: It’s worse than you think.
Emsisoft Commandline Scanner, also known as a2cmd, is an on-demand malware scanner that seems to be a good quality product and it is completely free for personal use. a2cmd is a hybrid of both Emsisoft and BitDefender technologies. Find a way to add it to your Explorer context menu, such as with FileMenu Tools (listed in the System Tweaking section), and scanning files and updating virus definitions is a breeze.
ClamWin is a free, open source anti-virus product that uses a non-standard method to detect malware. While many will scoff at ClamWin, i have found that it sometimes detects malware that the heavy-hitters miss. ClamAV, the Linux variant, seems to be quite popular among email service providers and i have also seen it show up on web hosting control panels such as cPanel recently. ClamWin is not a resident scanner, meaning it must be run manually, but you can use it as one with Clam Sentinel.
VirusTotal is a good on-line malware scanning service that uses multiple engines for checking the integrity of both files and websites.
Jotti’s malware scan is another on-line malware scanner for files that uses multiple engines.
For a large assortment of general and specialized tools for dealing with malware, see the downloads section of bleepingcomputer.com. Be very careful with some of the tools they offer since some of them they can seriously break your system.
Data Backup and Recovery
FreeFileSync is the one of the better data backup software programs i have found that offers just enough advanced features to handle the more difficult jobs while still being easy to use. The interface is a bit strange, but it works quite well. The main disadvantage with FreeFileSync is that it writes whole files and not just the changed portions like a product that does differential backups, so it is more disk intensive which may be a concern for those using flash media for storage or backing up over the internet.
KeePass Password Safe is the very best password manager i have found. I have been using it many years and never once had an issue with it. There are two versions available; the 1x branch and the 2x branch. I would think the 1x branch would be the best alternative for the vast majority of users since it loads faster and does not require the dot NET framework, but if you need more power and more options, go for the 2x branch. Both can be extended with plug-ins and i would highly suggest adding a backup plug-in for redundancy to store database backups off-site, or at the very least an external drive.
Password Safe is another good and simple password manager, albeit with less features than KeePass.
Recuva by Piriform, the company that developed the well-known CCleaner, is one of the easiest to use data recovery utilities for recovering deleted files from various kinds of media and file systems. A portable version is available on the builds page.
Classic Shell is a wonderful open source utility for un-screwing many of the screw-ups that Microsoft calls “features” that have been introduced into its desktop operating systems since Windows XP. Classic Shell allows you to customize almost every aspect of the Windows Start menu and parts of the Windows Explorer interface. If you hate the essentially useless “Start Panel” that was introduced with XP, then Classic Shell is definitely for you!
AeroTuner by WinAero is a simple run-once utility to customize the transparency properties of the Windows 7 Aero interface. AeroTuner does not need to run in the background. WinAero also provides many other handy utilities for various Windows operating systems.
7+ Taskbar Tweaker by RaMMicHaeL is another handy utility that allows you to tweak various properties of the Windows 7 and Windows 8 taskbar. 7+ Taskbar Tweaker must remain running in the background.
FileMenu Tools is one of the best utilities i have found for customizing the Windows Explorer context menu. It comes packaged with a many handy utilities, such as a bulk file renaming utility, a find and replace utility, a utility to create symbolic links and many more, and you can easily add your own.
ShellExView by NirSoft allows you to edit or disable various Explorer shell extensions. You can use it to remove unwanted menu items from the Windows Explorer context menu.
ShellMenuNew by NirSoft allows you to remove unwanted items from the “New” context menu of Windows Explorer.
ShellMenuView by NirSoft is another utility that allows you to enable or disable Windows Explorer context menu items.
RegScanner by NirSoft is a simple utility to search the registry for a given string and open the associated registry key or export the results.
BlueScreenView by NirSoft is a small utility that makes it really easy to troubleshooting critical Windows program crashes, or the infamous “blue screen of death” (BSoD) that we are all familiar with.
SoftPerfect RAM Disk by SoftPerfect creates a virtual hard drive known as a RAM disk which exists only in memory. SoftPerfect RAM Disk is a great utility to create storage space for temporary files, especially for disk intensive programs like your browser temp files or BitTorrent chunks. Many people use RAM disks to save wear and tear on their Solid State Drives (SSD) since they could not handle a whole lot of writes when they were first introduced.
CCleaner — Crap Cleaner — by Piriform is a hugely popular program for cleaning up temporary files, obsolete registry entries and a great deal more. I would recommend using CCEnhancer for CCleaner as it adds a lot more cleaning functionality. A “slim” version of the installer can be found on the builds page which does not included 3rd party offers, as well as a portable version.
WinAudit is one of the more powerful and configurable system information utilities for Windows that provides a wealth of information, including information about installed hardware, drives, processes, services, user accounts, memory, services and much more.
Unlocker by Empty Loop is a handy utility for deleting files that are locked and in-use by another process, such as explorer.exe.
Autoruns by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell is a super utility for learning and changing what programs and libraries are loaded when Windows boots. Although it is useful for malware hunting, it is is also great for anyone that wants to trim their boot time by disabling unnecessary process and DLLs from being loaded. It is infinitely more powerful than the rudimentary Windows System Information utility.
Bginfo by Bryce Cogswell is a utility that modifies your desktop background by adding all kinds of configurable information to it, including drive information, memory capacity, network information, etc.. Whatever kind of system information you want basically. Bginfo runs only briefly when Windows boots in order to create your desktop background and then exits.
FileAlyzer from Spybot is a very cool utility that provides a highly detailed analysis of any given file, including general file information, a hex viewer, icon information and extraction, the ability to upload to VirusTotal and much more.
Process Hacker is a fantastic, free, open source program that i use all the time to view what processes are running, writing to disk, or accessing the internet. Process Hacker can terminate processes and present all kinds of information about a process and much more. If you don’t need all the functionality of Process Hacker, check out Process Liquidator, which is my own little program that can terminate and provide basic information about running processes.
Process Monitor by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell is another fantastic and powerful program for monitoring exactly what any given process is doing in real-time.
Rapid Environment Editor by Oleg Danilov is a full-featured utility for editing the system environment variables.
Registry Jumper by Eolsoft is a handy little utility to quickly open any given registry key. Add it to your system path and you can quickly open a registry location from the Run utility (Windows key + R).
Windows Installation Customization
Win Toolkit is becoming a mature and powerful point-and-click program for customizing and building installation images for Windows 7 and, to a lesser degree, Windows 8. Many power users will be familiar with the beloved nLite program by Dino “nuhi” Nuhagic who abruptly abandoned the project when he went to work for Microsoft. Although development for nLite has apparently resumed in the form of NTLite, the lengthy abandonment of the project has left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, especially after having donated twice and making other small contributions to its development. Adding a lot of bitterness to its taste is the outrageous NTLite price tag of $45 for home use, which is why Win Toolkit is looking like a very attractive alternative. Like nLite/vLite/NTLite, Win Toolkit can also build unattended installation images, slipstream drivers and hot-fixes and my favorite; remove unwanted components like the inferior Outlook Express, the crippled Windows Media Player, the bloated Dot NET framework, useless services and many others.
Update: Win Toolkit may have been discontinued.
DriverPacks offers bulk packs of hardware drivers which may be particularly useful for network administrators, or someone with a lot of computers.
Autopatcher is one of several utilities for downloading and installing hot-fixes and updates for various Windows operating systems.
Wget for Windows is the Linux equivalent of the powerful GNU Wget utility which is used to download files from the web. Although it is a command-line program, several GUI front-ends are available if you poke around.
Converber is a simple and capable unit conversion program and one of the better ones i have found.
Software Repositories and Catalogs
PRISM Break lists alternatives to proprietary software that are centered around protecting your right to privacy and security.
FossHub is one of the better software download sites that hosts only Free, Open Source Software (FOSS).
The Portable Freeware Collection lists a large variety of mostly portable, free software.
NirSoft offers a large selection of small, clean, efficient utilities for Windows.
Windows Sysinternals has a lot of very useful utilities for system tweakers, malware hunters and software developers.
bleepingcomputer.com has a very nice selection of system utilities and anti-malware tools.
MajorGeeks is one of the better software catalogs.
Softpedia is a reasonably good software download site, though their reputation is slipping in my opinion.
alternativeTo is a great site for finding alternatives to all kinds of software products.
E-Mail Service Providers
RiseUp appears to be one of the better email service providers for political activists and anyone else who is genuinely concerned about their right to privacy. Their service, which is financed largely by donations, is completely free with no ads and no crap. To my knowledge they keep no logs and everything is encrypted. RiseUp also offers a few other toys, including a free VPN service. Email from RiseUp to other domains is not always 100% reliable since the RiseUp mail servers are sometimes blacklisted, possibly because of their firm stance regarding privacy. Although i cannot recommend RiseUp as a general purpose email service provider, they are certainly worth a look if you really value your privacy.
For more email service providers, see the the article Hunting for an email service with extreme wishlist for privacy and security? by Network World and the table Privacy-Conscious Email Services by the Proxomitron folks.
For dealing with email spam, see the KnujOn website.
Alternative Operating Systems
ReactOS is the operating system i’m dying to use … literally. I have been keeping an eye on this open source, Windows NT compatible OS for well over a decade and they are still in the alpha stage of development. At this rate i’m not sure i’ll live long enough to ever install it as my primary OS. Still, i love the idea behind the project and wish them success. I find it odd that ReactOS hasn’t managed to attract more developers given its huge potential.
Linux is all grown-up now as far as a comfortable desktop OS for the everyday user, at least for the most part. While there are still occasional driver issues and a lack of software alternatives to their Windows counterparts in some cases, installation, usage and system updating has become a point and click affair. Install the right desktop GUI with the right theme and give it to a casual Windows user and they may not even notice they’re using Linux. The real problem is choosing which distro to go with since there are so bloody many. I would suggest staying away from one of the most popular flavors of Linux however, and that is Ubuntu or any derivative thereof, which includes Mint. Read Ubuntu Spyware: What to Do? to learn why.