Essential Software for Windows 10

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The following guide lists essential software that you may want to install on a a Windows 10 system. This is particularly useful for systems that are set up anew as programs are carried over if you upgrade your system.

Generally speaking, if a program runs on Windows 7 or windows 8, it should run fine on Windows 10 as well. There may be a few exceptions to the rule but the vast majority of programs will run fine on Microsoft’s newest version of Windows.

Essential software in the context of this guide refers to programs that the majority of Windows 10 users will find useful. It comes down to your use of the computer in the end though.

Tip: You may want to check out our best of Windows software guide as well which highlights even more programs.

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Essential Software for Windows 10

Another web browser

Windows 10 ships with Microsoft Edge, a modern browser, and legacy Internet Explorer. While some users may find Microsoft Edge sufficient for their activities, others may discover that it lacks features that they require.

For instance, Microsoft Edge does not support extensions and limits what you can customize significantly as well.

I recommend Mozilla Firefox as it gives you the best mix of privacy, features and customization options but other browsers such as Google Chrome work fine as well.

Tip: Check out our best Firefox add-on and best Chrome extension guides to get the most out of your browser.

Antivirus Software


Windows 10 ships with basic protection against threats. While this may be sufficient on the first start of the system, you may want to upgrade the system defenses as soon as possible to better protect it.

If you check recent test results on AV Comparatives and AV Test, you will find the following antivirus companies listed at the top (only those with free programs listed here)

  1. Avira Antivir
  2. Bitdefender Antivirus Free (appears to be incompatible right now)

In addition to that, you may want to consider adding the following specialized security programs as well to the Windows 10 PC.

  1. Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit – Mitigates exploits.
  2. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware – A second opinion scanner that you may want to run regularly.
  3. Microsoft EMET – Microsoft’s exploit mitigation software.
  4. Sandboxie – A sandboxing solution for Windows that allows you to run programs in a safe environment on the system.

Backup Software

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Backup software comes in many flavors, from programs that back up or synchronize files to full disk imaging programs that copy an entire partition or hard drive for backup purposes.

There are many free backup programs for Windows, but the two that you may want to consider first are Acronis True Image and Macrium Reflect Free.

You need storage space to store the backups on another hard drive.



Windows 10 can unpack zip archives natively but lacks support for other popular formats such as rar. While you may find 7-Zip mentioned in recommendations most of the time, the slow pace of development and resulting lack of support for new formats has made it second choice to Bandizip.

Bandizip is a free program for Windows that supports a massive amount of formats and excellent functionality on top of all that.


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CCleaner is the go-to file cleaning program for Windows. While there are other programs available that do a similar job, CCleaner’s combination of an easy to use interface with impressive cleaning capabilities ensure that it keeps the crown on Windows 10 as well.

Piriform, the company behind the product, has updated it recently to improve Windows 10 compatibility.

Apart from removing temporary files, CCleaner supports Registry operations, may be used to manage startup items or wipe disk space on a select drive to make data on it unrecoverable.

Tip: Download CCEnhancer as well which adds support for more than 1000 new programs to CCleaner.


Desktop email programs have several advantages over online services. For one, you can configure them to have access to all emails at all time.

They do allow you to backup emails regularly and make it easier to export/import them as well.

Thunderbird is a popular free desktop email client that ships with an impressive set of features. In addition to those, you may extend the client with extensions.

Media Player

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Windows 10’s media playback capabilities are not as good as those of Windows 8. Microsoft removed Windows Media Center from the operating system and cut DVD playback as well.

Check out our list of Windows Media Center alternatives for Windows 10, there are a few that you can install that add similar functionality to the operating system.

Please note that Windows Media Player remains a part of the operating system.

Third-party media players add capabilities back to Windows 10 and are generally the better alternative as they offer better support for formats and ship with extras that the default Windows programs don’t offer.

Probably the most popular of them all is VLC Media Player. It supports most media file formats out of the box and can play media that you insert into the PC as well (DVD and Blu-Ray playback supported).

VLC plays audio files as well but you may prefer a dedicated program for audio playback. AIMP3 is a popular audio player for Windows that supports all popular audio formats, Internet radio playback, recording, and lots of other features.

Misc Software

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The following selection may or may not be useful depending on your needs.

  1. f.lux or Sunset Screen to adapt the brightness of the display to the time of day.
  2. Irfanview or XnView are two popular image viewers.
  3. KeePass is an excellent local password manager that supports plugins and global hotkeys.
  4. Nirsoft has created dozens of excellent programs for Windows that you may find useful.
  5. Notepad++ replaces the plain text editor Notepad. It supports text formats, plugins and other features.
  6. Revo Uninstaller is a software uninstaller that removes leftovers from the system after you remove programs.
  7. Sysinternals Software offers several great advanced tools such as Autoruns to manage startup items or Process Explorer to get detailed information about running processes.

Office programs

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There is Microsoft Office and the free alternative Libre Office that you can install on Windows 10. The choice depends largely on your requirements and whether you have an Office license already or don’t mind paying for it.

Apart from an Office suite, you may also want to install a PDF reader on your system. This depends again on your needs. If you only need a reader application, then I recommend Sumatra PDF for that as it is lightweight and does not expose your system to security threats.

If you require it, Adobe’s PDF reader or even Acrobat may be the programs you want to install on your Windows machine.

Windows 10’s image editor is basic and needs to be replaced. Two popular alternatives are Paint.NET and Gimp.

Now You: Did we miss a program?


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Essential Software for Windows 10


Martin Brinkmann


The guide lists essential free software programs for the Windows operating system.

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