Our PC Starter Kit features a collection of
programs we feel should find a home on any system--new or old. They run the
gamut from applications that will safeguard you from the Internet's most
dangerous pests to those that will help you stay in touch with your friends and
family. Since your new PC purchase may have left you temporarily short on dough,
you'll be glad to know the lion's share of these programs is totally free,
though we have included a few that will require a small financial commitment.
Still, even if you download every one of these apps (and we suggest you do), you
won't spend more than $150, small change considering how much safer and more
capable your machine will be. Whether you're upgrading to your 10th computer or
are pulling one out of the box for the very first time, don't go any further
without downloading these 20 indispensable programs.
What is there to say about Ad-Aware we haven't said before? We've been known to
give this venerable antispyware utility a fair amount of print, and the
attention is well-justified. Simply put, Ad-Aware is extremely effective at
finding and removing the Web's most notorious spyware components, as well as the
newest and deadliest threats. Bells and whistles are not this program's thing,
but Ad-Aware keeps the focus where it belongs: on rock-solid protection.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
You may think you'll have to fork over a few twenties to get competent virus
protection, but that's not necessarily the case. True to its name, AVG
Anti-Virus Free Edition keeps your computer safe from the Internet's latest
hazards at no cost. Of course, the program lets you manually update its
definitions at your leisure, but we recommend enabling the scheduling feature,
which will check for updates every day at the time of your choice. Eventually,
you might want to pay to upgrade to the Professional version, or you may decide
to buy another antivirus suite altogether. Regardless, you should make
downloading AVG Free a top priority as soon as your computer is connected to the
Anyone who's been in the ring with spyware knows some opponents just refuse to
go down. If your arsenal of spyware-removal tools has failed to eighty-six a
particularly devious intruder, this program could be one of your last hopes
before reformatting. But unless you're a serious computer surgeon, you'll
probably need to consult a Web-based forum to make sense of the program's scan
results. (For more information, read our HijackThis tutorial.) Though you won't
use it every day, sooner or later you'll be glad you have HijackThis.
- Search & Destroy
Like Ad-Aware, Spybot - Search & Destroy has played a prominent role in the
history of the Great Spyware War. Also like Ad-Aware, it's completely free.
Spybot, however, boasts a number of convenient extras, such as a full-fledged
scheduler and a file shredder. It's also no slouch when it comes to sniffing out
malicious software. We should note that when it comes to antispyware utilities,
you can never have too many, so you may want to load up on a few more freebies,
including Microsoft AntiSpyware and Spyware Doctor.
The bad news is that Spy Sweeper isn't free. The good news is that it's worth
every penny of the $30 registration fee. Spy Sweeper's real-time protection
shield is one of its major advantages, alerting you when unwelcome guests
attempt to clandestinely infiltrate your machine. The program's scanner is fast,
and results are nearly flawless, thanks to Webroot's top-notch
research-and-development team. Even though we recommend you keep multiple
antispyware solutions close at hand, Spy Sweeper is powerful enough to act as a
A firewall should be one of the very first programs you put on your machine. If
you don't already know, a firewall is absolutely essential in preventing hackers
and other cyberthreats from accessing your PC. Unfortunately, many of them can
be tough to configure, baffling even seasoned geeks. Not so for ZoneAlarm, one
of the most trusted firewall utilities on the scene. The program walks you
through the set-up process, offers several levels of security, and doesn't
overload you with a bunch of highly technical jargon. Just set it and forget it,
and you'll sleep well at night.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Though the vast majority of average users will never need the PDF-creation
tools of Adobe Acrobat Professional, just about everyone will want to have
Acrobat Reader on hand. Without this freebie, your computer will not be able to
decipher documents encoded in Adobe's ubiquitous Portable Document Format.
Though this stalwart isn't exactly exciting, it should be a required download
for every person who owns a computer. It also has the distinction of being one
of the few applications we've enshrined in Download.com's Hall of Fame.
By default, Web browsers log information about what sites you've been visiting
via cookies and temporary Internet files. Needless to say, such information can
be potentially embarrassing if you share your PC with other users. Although you
can manually wipe away these tracks by digging into your browser of choice, Asmw
Eraser Pro offers a more convenient way to clean the slate. The program removes
your fingerprints from a number of popular applications and deletes potentially
incriminating files so they can't be recovered. You can even schedule Asmw
Eraser Pro to continuously clean up after you in the background.
You may not be an international person of mystery, but chances are you have a
few secrets you'd like to keep. That's where encryption utilities come into
play. BCArchive provides all the essentials in an easy-to-use package. The
program lets you lock down files according to a number of secure algorithms and
can create self-decrypting archives so you can share sensitive data with others,
even if they don't have BCArchive on their machines.
Due to antispam legislation, unsolicited e-mail isn't as big of a problem as it
was a few years ago. Still, spam is prevalent, and it's just as annoying as
ever. If you're using Outlook Express as your primary e-mail client, make sure
to get your hands on ChoiceMail Free, which blocks spam with a
challenge/response methodology. Under this system, all your contacts will have
to verify their identities to correspond with your e-mail address. This may
initially seem like a hassle, but it's not really a big deal, and it all but
guarantees that unsavory bulk e-mailers won't find their way into your in-box.
Internet Explorer's decline in popularity can be directly attributed to the rise
of spiffy alternative browsers such as Mozilla Firefox. Long known for providing
a more secure surfing experience than Microsoft, this top-rated browser has an
extremely potent pop-up blocker that's become one of its calling cards. Even
though IE eventually ponied up with its own ad-stopping features, it still lacks
the convenience of tabbed browsing, a perk Firefox hasn't neglected. If you
haven't already hopped on the alternative-browser bandwagon, this is a fine
place to start.
Windows' built-in text editor could be the poster child for the phrase bare
bones. Notepad works fine for the simplest text-editing chores, but most users
will appreciate the additional functionality found in NoteTab Light. Tabs let
you easily access multiple text documents from one interface, and the program
even provides templates and macros for writing basic lines of HTML. NoteTab
Light also provides more editing tools than Notepad, and since the program is
free and comes in a tiny package, there's no reason not to keep it around.
No one would argue that the Internet has made everyday tasks--such as paying
bills, shopping, and banking--unbelievably convenient. The downside is that many
users find themselves buried under a mountain of half-remembered logins,
passwords, and credit card numbers. If this describes you, you'll certainly
appreciate RoboForm, a tool that automatically fills in Web-based forms for you.
Since the program encrypts your data, you won't need to fret about security. You
can even use RoboForm to generate passwords hackers will never guess. You'll
lose some of the application's functionality unless you register after 30 days,
but even if you don't buy it RoboForm will generate passwords and store 10
logins, making it worth the download.
Installing and uninstalling loads of software can leave your machine's registry
a mess and lead to decreased system performance. To combat this problem, many
habitual downloaders turn to TweakNow RegCleaner, a simple app that takes a
no-nonsense approach to Registry optimization. The program lets you know which
junk and invalid keys are safe to delete, but you should still use the built-in
Registry backup tool before wiping away problems. We always make sure to run
this speedy little number at least once a week, and we suggest you do the same.
Like the aforementioned Adobe Acrobat Reader, WinZip may not be flashy, but it's
one of those programs you won't want to go without for very long. Not only does
the program prove capable of transforming large batches of files into a much
smaller archive, it also boasts extras such as encryption and virus checking.
Most notably, WinZip's ease of use can't be beat; even Luddites will quickly get
up to speed, thanks to the inclusion of multiple wizards.
Programs such as Photoshop offer a full-fledged workshop for editing and
creating images, but they're too powerful, complicated, and expensive for casual
photographers. True to its name, this intuitive program does indeed let you view
your pics, but it also does much more. For starters, it can convert and rename
images in batches--a handy, timesaving feature. It also provides a decent set of
basic editing tools, including those for cropping, rotating, removing red-eye,
and adjusting brightness, color, and contrast. FastStone Image Viewer can even
display your photos as a slide show, complete with your favorite songs. There's
a lot to like here, and nothing to pay.
Just because Windows Media Player came installed on your PC doesn't mean you
should skip Apple's much-loved jukebox. This looker lives up to all the hype,
with an exquisite design and a laundry list of features, including multiple EQ
presets, visualizations, and CD ripping. iTunes also is a necessity if you plan
to patronize Apple's megapopular online music store. If you've never used the
program, you might want to take a look at Download.com's iTunes Advanced
feature, which provides basic tips along with advice for more seasoned folks.
Nero is one of the best-known names in disc-burning software, and once you take
a look at this comprehensive suite of tools, you'll know why. Nero 6 Ultra
Edition goes far beyond the standard CD- and-DVD-burning formula, packing in
features such as the ability to watch and record TV, a cover-creation utility,
audio-mixing and audio-editing tools, and a file converter. At $80, Nero Ultra
is the most expensive of our 20 essential programs, but we think you'll agree
it's a fine investment.
E-mail and instant messages are certainly efficient communication tools, but
some complain they lack the personal touch of traditional mediums such as the
telephone. Skype combines the best of both worlds, allowing you to place free
PC-to-PC voice calls around the world via VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)
technology. Of course, to use the service you'll have to plunk down a few bucks
for a microphone, and any call recipients will need to install Skype, too. Also,
you'll need to sign up for a paid service if you intend to call a landline or
cellular phones. VoIP may not have reached critical mass yet, but this is one
technology that's on the way up.
Anyone who's into instant messaging--and that would cover a large portion of the
industrialized world--knows that having a bunch of chat clients running
simultaneously can take a toll on system performance. The beauty of Trillian is
it lets you talk to your Yahoo, AIM, MSN, and ICQ buddies in one interface. If
you already have a username and a buddy list on one of those services, the
program can quickly import that data. If you've never had an IM account,
Trillian can help you set one up with very little hassle. Stop fooling with
multiple windows, usernames, and passwords; Trillian embodies the spirit of
Most Popular in 2005
SE Personal Edition
Scan your system for ad-supported software components and remove them.
Remove Spyware, Adware, Trojan horses & Keyloggers with this popular and fast
Communicate instantly using the latest version of this popular chat client.
Search for and download files on the Gnutella network with this adware- and
spyware-free P2P program.
Find, download, and share MP3, video, and image files.
Search multiple P2P networks including BitTorrent to download MP3s, videos,
games, and more.
- Search & Destroy
Search your hard disk and Registry for threats to your security and privacy.
Handle ZIP files with ease with this popular utility.
Avoid spyware, intruders, spam, banner ads, and pop-ups while protecting your
Scan and clean up your registry to improve your system's performance.
Share and download files from BitTorrent and chat with your friends.
Manage RAR and ZIP archives.
Bundle with DivX Player
Create and watch videos in the DivX video format.
Get the latest free version of this media player and jukebox from RealNetworks.
Create virtual CD/DVD-ROMs and burn backup copies of your favorite discs.
Try a fast and flexible image viewer and editor.
Put a new photo on your desktop every day of the year with this customizable
screensaver and wallpaper tool.
Download Accelerator Plus
Improve download speeds, resume broken downloads, and find mirror sites.
Chat with all your friends on mIRC, AIM, ICQ, MSN, and Yahoo Messenger.
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Read Adobe PDF files on your desktop or on the Web.
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