Update

Your new PC needs these 15 free, excellent programs

Start off right with solid security tools, productivity software, and other programs that every PC needs.

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New hardware needs new software

More than a mere blank slate, a new PC is a fresh opportunity—a collection of components that, with the right software installed, could accomplish anything from balancing your household budget to helping to cure cancer.

Yes, stocking your PC is an intensely personal task. Even still, some programs are so helpful, so handy, so useful across the board that we heartily recommend them to everybody. These are the programs you want to install on a new PC first.

(Longtime readers may notice that the list has slimmed down significantly this year. There’s a good reason for that: The bevy of hassle-killing extras in Windows 10 has allowed us to finally retire perennial favorites like CutePDF and WizMouse.)

Another browser

Before you roll up your sleeves and start slinging software around, make sure to snag your Web browser of choice. Using Windows’ default Internet Explorer or Edge browser when you’re accustomed to something else feels like wearing somebody else’s shoes. (Blech.)

Firefox and IE 11 are both tremendous options in their own right, but our money’s on Chrome, which won PCWorld’s extensive browser showdown. But hey, they’re all free! Try before you “buy.” Opera’s adding awesome new features left and right these days, and if the big names aren’t your thing, there’s a legion of highly specialized alternative browsers begging for your attention.

Ninite

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. It’s wonderful.

AVG AntiVirus Free

Assuming that you plan to connect your PC to the Net or slap a thumb drive into one of its USB ports, you’ll need to have antimalware software installed. Windows 10 ships with Windows Defender activated by default (if your PC’s manufacturer didn’t preinstall premium antivirus trialware), and that’s a solid option that does a great job of staying out of your way, but Windows Defender isn’t as effective at fighting off the barbarian hordes as third-party options are.

AVG AntiVirus Free does a great job of blocking and eradicating malware, and it includes extras such as a secure shredder, Do Not Track protection for your browser, and the ability to schedule automated scans. Avast Antivirus Free and Panda Free Antivirus are other popular no-cost antimalware options, but AVG is the program I use to keep my computer safe and secure.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free

Well, AVG is one of the programs I use to keep my computer safe and secure. No single antivirus utility offers bulletproof protection, especially against the latest and most clever threats. MalwareBytes Anti-Malware Free was designed specifically to find and eliminate those cutting-edge “zero day” threats. You can’t schedule scans or even use it as a regular antivirus program, but it’s invaluable when you think that something nasty has slipped by your primary antivirus utility.

While you’re browsing the MalwareBytes anyway, be sure to grab the company’s free MalwareBytes Anti-Exploit as well. More and more malware’s being injected via browser exploits these days, but this tool can help you batten down the hatches by adding four additional security layers to your web browser. And while it’s not a standalone antivirus solution, MalwareBytes Anti-Exploit plays nice with the AV software on your PC.

PC Decrapifier

Now that you’ve installed security software to protect your PC from invasion, it’s time to clean all the preinstalled junk off your computer. Most boxed PCs come chock-full of bloatware intended to make dough for the PC makers, and you probably don’t need (or want) most of it clogging up your system resources.

That’s where PC Decrapifier comes in. This pint-size wonder program scans your PC, brings up a checklist of the bloatware installed on your machine, and helps you wipe ’em all away in one fell swoop. Yay! A secondary screen lists all of your programs if you want to nuke even more. Ignore it, or just be careful to avoid erasing something important.

Microsoft also recently an introduced its own tool to blow away Windows 10 bloatware, but it involves performing a complete reinstallation of the operating system. Don’t mess around with it unless you know what you’re doing.

Benchmarking and stress-testing software

If, on the other hand, you built your own PC bit by bit, you don’t have to worry about bloatware—but you do have to worry about the quality of all those shiny new components. For instance, is your precious new graphics card unstable? The right software can put your PC through the paces and make sure everything is running as it should be.

The programs you’ll need are too varied to list in full here. Check out PCWorld’s guides to stress-testing and benchmarking your computer for tips and software recommendations alike.

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CCleaner

Piriform makes another must-have system tool: the legendary CCleaner. It does all the dirty work required to keep your PC running in tip-top shape, including ditching unwanted cookies, wiping your browser history, deleting unnecessary files, and keeping your Windows Registry sparkling clean.

It’s powerful, but even better, it’s free! (A $25 Professional version with premium support is also available.)

Secunia PSI

Programs that aren’t up-to-date are programs with gaping security holes and missing features. Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector hums along silently in the background, automatically keeping your software patched, or—if it’s unable to update an app for some reason—notifying you when updates are available. ’Nuff said. Secunia PSI takes the hassle out of keeping your PC current.

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VLC Media Player

Windows 10 has a prickly problem: Unlike Windows 7, it’s incapable of playing DVDs out of the box. Your PC might have a DVD-playing program installed if you bought a boxed system, but if not, the simply wonderful VLC media player can play your flicks (and music, and podcats, and…) for free. It can even play (some) Blu-ray discs with a little fiddling.

Paint.net

Now that the workhorses are out of the way, it’s time to dig into handy-dandy extras, starting with Paint.net. Don’t let Paint.net’s freebie status fool you: This image editor may not have all the bells and whistles of Photoshop, but it packs everything that most people need (even layer-based editing) and costs hundreds of dollars less.

If you’re a graphics professional, and you can’t afford Photoshop but require more than Paint.net offers, check out GIMP. It has a challenging learning curve, but its capabilities are impressive.

Sumatra PDF

Adobe Reader is the go-to PDF reader, but it’s clunky, constantly updating, and frequently targeted by malware peddlers. If you need only basic functionality, go with Sumatra PDF instead. Sumatra lacks the fancy extras found in many full-featured PDF readers, but when it comes to straight-up reading Portable Document Format files, Sumatra PDF is blazing-fast and completely accurate. Oh, and since it’s less ubiquitous than Adobe’s offering, hackers tend to stay away from Sumatra PDF.

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Spotify or iTunes

Sometimes, blasting tunes is the only thing that makes slogging through a spreadsheet or a stuffed inbox even remotely tolerable. The exact music client you’ll want will depend on whether you’ve already bought into a service, naturally. For musical neophytes I recommend two programs: iTunes and Spotify.

The iTunes Windows client notoriously sucks, but it gets the job done—and that job includes giving you access to a vast universe of premium music downloads and keeping your iPhone’s music library synced with your PC. Spotify, meanwhile, is an all-you-can-eat streaming service with millions of top-tier tunes available, all for free if you don’t mind listening to a few ads.

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Lastpass

A password manager

The high-profile hack attacks of the past few years have driven the point home: You need strong passwords, and you need a different password for each site you visit. Rather than juggling dozens of alphanumeric codes in your noggin, download a password manager. 

There are several options available, but one of our favorites is LastPass, a cloud-based password manager that generates strong, random passwords and keeps track of your credentials across all your devices for free. If you’d rather keep tighter control over your vault, the open-source KeePass lets you manage your password vault locally (though you can stash your database in your personal cloud storage to access it on other devices).

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LibreOffice

A productivity suite

PCs excel at helping you Get Things Done—but few of them ship with a productivity suite installed. Fix that, stat!

Legions of people swear by Microsoft’s legendary Office; I do, too. But you don’t have to drop big dollars on Office if you don’t need its myriad bells and whistles. Free—and good—alternatives abound, with  LibreOffice (pictured) being the flagship free-and-open-source option. (OpenOffice is still lingering around, barely, but it’s updated far less than the beloved LibreOffice.) The online-only Google Docs also rocks. Even if you don’t plan to use a productivity suite regularly, it’s smart to have basic editing capabilities available on your computer.

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Steam

All work and no play makes Homer something something! Valve’s outstanding PC game marketplace, Steam, makes it easy to shrug off the stress of the workday and blow off some ... well, you know.

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Windows 10

Now that your new PC is well stocked and ready to rock, it’s time to truly become the master of your domain. Check out PCWorld’s guides to the best Windows 10 tips and tricks, most potent power tools, and legion of hassle-killing extras to learn about every nook and cranny of your new computer.