The best free PC software programs aren’t about the cost (or lack thereof), they’re about a fresh opportunity—collections of code that put the dumb hardware in your computer to smart use, tools that can accomplish anything from balancing your household budget to helping cure cancer. bagas31
Stocking your PC is an intensely personal task. But some programs are so helpful that we heartily recommend them to everybody. These free PC programs—a mix of must-haves and delightful auxiliary apps—deserve a place on almost any computer (unlike, say, this more niche roundup of 5 free Windows power user tools we can’t live without). There are times when a paid alternative makes sense, however. We’ve pointed out the circumstances where an upgrade over the free offering is warranted, along with our recommendation for the category.
And if you’re selecting these programs as part of breaking in an all-new PC, be sure to check out our guide to how to set up new computer up the right way. Let’s dig in!
Before you roll up your sleeves and start slinging software around, make sure to snag your web browser of choice. Using Windows 10 and 11’s default Edge browser when you’re accustomed to something else feels like wearing somebody else’s shoes.
That said, our money’s actually on Edge, which earned top honors in PCWorld’s extensive best browser showdown, barely nudging out Google’s just-as-superb Chrome browser. But hey, they’re all free! Try before you “buy”—we’ve published some extensive looks at compelling features you’ll only find on Edge, Firefox, and Vivaldi (a.k.a. the enthusiast’s browser).
Is it worth it to upgrade to a paid version?
Maybe. Browsers are largely free, and mostly fantastic already. For Windows users there is Ghost Browser, which lets you sandbox separate online identities while viewing them all in a single window. At $120 per year, however, you’ve got to really need what Ghost Browser’s offering.
Ninite makes loading up a new computer a breeze. Simply head to the Ninite website, select which free software you’d like to install on your PC—it offers dozens of options, including many of the programs named here—and click Get Installer to receive a single, custom .exe file containing the installers for those programs. Run the executable, and Ninite installs all of them in turn, and it automatically declines the offers for bundled bloatware so many free apps try to sneak in. No muss, no fuss, no hassle.