Curated list of Windows utilities

This is an opinionated compilation of GUI software I use on Windows, and it is work in progress. I don't plan to add every app I use because some may be too specific (but some on this list are very specific too, so, I don't know, I may publish the criteria I followed later).

This list has been discussed on /r/windows and Hacker News .

Part 1: Open-source


Notepad++
Versatile text editor.

Fast and simple, it works well for quick editing text files. It includes syntax highlighting for dozens of programming languages and many other features, such as the ability to search recursively inside the contents of files in a directory. Do not try to open big files though, as it freezes quickly (for big files, see glogg alternative below). By default, it adds an entry in the Explorer context menu during the installation, but that can be selected (or removed later with ShellExView). After installation, I apply some changes to the default Notepad++ settings.

For an alternative to Notepad++ more similar to Windows Notepad (lighter, simpler), see Notepad2 or some of its maintained Notepad2 forks. Notepad2 is also open-source and runs the same engine: Scintilla. Visual Studio Code is a more powerful alternative, also open-source, but I find it too heavy and unresponsive (maybe because it's an Electron-based app). Sublime Text (see below) is a good shareware alternative. For alternatives to Notepad++ file search functionality, you may want to check the open-source Searchmonkey, AstroGrep, grepWin and the non-GUI ripgrep.


Mozilla Firefox
The cross-platform browser by Mozilla.

I use it with the extensions uBlock Origin, I don't care about cookies, Bypass Paywalls, LanguageTool, Wayback Machine, Push to Kindle and Checker Plus for Gmail. Other useful extensions are Greasemonkey and Wappalyzer. Firefox also has an Android version (with support for these same extensions) and a developer edition.


JPEGView
The fastest image viewer/editor.

It can open the most common image formats (including JPEG, BMP, PNG, WEBP, TGA, GIF, TIFF and RAW) and is very fast. The GUI is minimal but allows adjusting typical parameters. For more powerful (heavier) alternatives that have an image browser, see XnViewMP below.


VLC
Cross-platform multimedia player that can play most video and audio formats.

It bundles its library of codecs (mostly based on the FFMPEG project) and supports hardware acceleration. See my default settings.

Other open-source alternatives used to provide better performance, most notably: mpv (including its user-friendlier fork mpv.net) and the Media Player Classic forks MPC-HC and MPC-BE, but as far as I can see this is no longer the case in most circumstances (for some broken/incomplete videos or for specific formats that perform better with DirectShow, MPC-BE will work better, so I may install Media Player Classic too, disabling the "pause on click" behaviour via Options > Player > Keys > Play/pause). I haven't tried the freeware PotPlayer, but that comes with adware. VLC is also popular for its Android version.


7-zip
File compressor that supports the most common formats.

It can open many formats, including ISO images. Years ago I used the shareware application WinRAR, which in my opinion still has a slightly better UI (the interface in 7-zip is basic but works). The only other advantage of WinRAR is the possibility of compressing RAR files, but compressing files with open formats like .7z or .tar.xz is nowadays preferred, and WinRAR cannot do that. 7-zip by default adds a cascaded menu in the Explorer context menu for compressing and decompressing, and a separate menu for calculating hashes (all of them can be disabled and tunned in the preferences). Includes a command-line tool (7za.exe). There is a fork called 7-Zip-zstd which supports more formats: Zstandard, Brotli, LZ4, Lizard, Fast LZMA2 and decompression of lzip. p7zip is a 7-zip port to Linux/macOS (command-line only, and at this moment unmaintained).


ShareX
Very powerful screenshot/screen recording tool.

It has many capture methods and possible upload destinations, and can be customized with actions. Also, it includes additional tools such as a color picker, a hash checker (therefore, tools such as HashCheck are no longer needed), or a tool to change the DNS servers. Also, it adds an entry in the Windows Explorer's context menu to upload files to the supported services (that I always disable in the settings, because the same functionality is already available by default inside the "Send to" submenu).

ShareX is a quicker, more powerful alternative to the open-source tool Greenshot, which is also very good, has a better image editor and may be easier to use. ShareX's screen recording functionality is very basic and probably can't replace the open-source tools OBS and Captura yet.


WinSCP
SFTP client that also supports FTP, FTPS, SCP, WebDAV and S3.

It is the SFTP/FTP client that has the best GUI (much better than FileZilla 3, for example). Remote editing works without issues, and it can store sites and credentials using a master password. The stored sites can be used to connect with Putty if it is installed (by default, it searches for the 32-bit version of Putty) and it has an option to "remember session password and pass it to Putty" in Preferences -> Integration -> Applications. Additionally, the different sites may be marked with different colors, which can very handy. See the settings I use.


Putty
A simple and stable SSH client.

It has support for other protocols such as telnet and rlogin, and can even be configured as a Cygwin terminal (I never tried that, though). Multiple enhanced forks exist, such as Kitty (this one works well). I haven't tried Superputty but looks good. Windows now has native OpenSSH client and server implementations, but I've had no reason to try them yet (and I imagine I would miss putty's ability to store bookmarks).


WinMerge
Diff and merge tool.

It has better performance than meld. I have to say that I don't have experience using other tools such as kdiff3 (cross-platform) or Beyond Compare (shareware), but with WinMerge I have never needed to use anything else.


DBeaver
Multi-platform database tool.

Supports all popular databases (MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQLite, Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, MS Access, Amazon Redshift), has many features and its UI is intuitive.

HeidiSQL is also good but has less database support and is Windows-only. Good shareware alternatives are Navicat and DataGrip. Other open-source apps that I haven't tried but that may be OK are SQL Workbench/J and SQuirreL.


qBittorrent
Multi-platform, powerful BitTorrent client with a simple user interface.

Deluge and Transmission are also good open-source BitTorrent clients, and that are cross-platform too, but I have found that on Windows qBittorrent works better. The freeware ╬╝Torrent used to be very good (until v2.2.1, I recall).


glogg
Multi-platform GUI application to browse and search through long files.

It can open huge files very fast in read-only mode.


KeePass
A light-weight and easy-to-use password manager.

For cross-platform compatible alternatives, see KeePassX and KeePassXC clones.


Sumatra
Open-source PDF reader with support for other document formats.

It can also open DjVu, EPUB, XPS, CHM, CBR, CBZ and MOBI files.

It is less bloated than Foxit Reader (which now installs ads and other software by default, including a banner that must be disabled in preferences) and especially lighter than Adobe Acrobat Reader. There is also CDisplay Ex, but that comes with bundleware too. Nowadays, PDF support is bundled in Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, and these are usually fast enough at opening PDFs, so I don't always need to install Sumatra. When I install it, I add a simple change to the default configuration to speed-up the boot-up process.


Windows Terminal
Terminal emulator for Windows 10, written by Microsoft.

Finally, Microsoft published a better console, and made it open-source. It supports the Command Prompt (cmd.exe), Windows PowerShell, Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), and it has tabs. This makes ConEmu and probably Cmder obsolete.


PowerToys
System utilities to maximize productivity, by Microsoft.

Inspired by the PowerToys project for Windows 95, this is for Windows 10 only. It currently includes FancyZones (window manager), Shortcut (Windows key shortcut guide) and PowerRename (a Windows Shell Extension for advanced bulk renaming using search and replace or regular expressions).


calibre
Cross-platform e-book manager, viewer, and converter.

Especially useful if you own a Kindle.


BleachBit
Cross-platform cleaner tool to preserve privacy.

It can secure-delete files, folders, program's history, cache and temporary files. It can be an alternative to the problematic freeware/shareware CCleaner.


mRemoteNG
An open-source remote desktop connection manager.

Although it supports multiple protocols (VNC, SSH, etc.), I mostly use this when I need to connect to Windows machines via RDP protocol ("Terminal Server").


VirtualBox
Virtualizer for x86 and AMD64 machines.

It is a bit buggy, but I use it as a proper VMware alternative. Hyper-V could also be a free alternative for Windows Pro users, but VirtualBox allows sharing machines between Windows/Linux/Mac hosts.


Veracrypt
Disk encryption software.

TrueCrypt successor. If using Windows Professional, Microsoft's alternative BitLocker is available for free.


Audacity
Cross-platform audio software.

HTTrack
Website offline downloader.

Poedit
Cross-platform translator for Gettext (PO) files.

GIMP
Cross-platform image editor.

HexChat
Simple IRC client.

I rarely use IRC nowadays, but this is probably the best IRC client for Windows. It is much lighter than Quassel IRC, for example.


youtube-dl-gui
A cross-platform GUI for youtube-dl.

youtube-dl is a small tool to download videos from YouTube and hundreds of other sites. Can download/convert video and audio-only files in multiple formats.


Zeal
Offline browser of API documentation.

LibreOffice
The open-source office suite.

It is not perfect, but LibreOffice Writer and Calc can be useful alternatives to Microsoft Word and Excel.


Zenmap
Official cross-platform GUI for the Nmap Security Scanner.

The open-source Angry IP Scanner or the freeware Advanced IP Scanner may have a prettier interface, but they cannot compete with nmap discovery features.


Wireshark
Network protocol analyzer.

Handbrake
Multithreaded video converter.

For video ripping/compressing, the open-source MakeMKV and MKVToolNix are also applications to have in mind.


Caesium
Cross-platform image compressor.

It provides an interface with a real-time preview, and can process multiple images at the same time. For lossless compression there is a separate app: CaesiumPH.


FileOptimizer
Advanced file optimizer.

Compresses many file formats without quality loss. For lossless compression of images, it can be an alternative to Caesium, especially when extreme compression is needed.


Goldendict
Cross-platform dictionary program.

Early access builds are available at GitHub. GoldenDict supports many offline formats (DSL, dictzip, Babylon, etc.) and has a (closed-source) Android version too.


SpeedCrunch
Cross-platform, high precision calculator.

Windows Calculator is probably OK too, an it is now open-source.


ConvertAll
Simple unit conversion program for Windows and Linux.

Current versions of Windows Calculator also allow to do conversions between the most common units.


Rufus
Utility to create live USB systems from ISOs.

balenaEtcher is a cross-platform alternative, also open-source, but unfortunately based on Electron.


CrystalDiskMark
Small HDD/SSD benchmark utility.

CrystalDiskInfo
HDD/SSD utility and health checker.

Git
Distributed version control system.

AutoHotkey
Scripting language for automating tasks in Windows.

For automating tasks, I may use Nodejs and Python as well. I still need to check AutoIt, it's supposedly less buggy than AutoHotkey.

Part 2: Freeware


Everything
Quick file searcher with a minimalist interface.

Using an index, it can locate files and folders by filename instantly. With this and Notepad++ file contents search, I haven't needed to try other alternatives (such as the shareware Agent Ransack) that may be more advanced. WizFile is another freeware alternative that I haven't tried.


foobar2000
Advanced audio player with a simple GUI that can also rip disks and convert files.

A very good audio player for Windows with a simple but customizable user interface. It supports Gapless playback, ReplayGain and has advanced tagging capabilities. It can also rip CDs and transcode files (e.g., from FLAC to MP3).

I also like the open-source Clementine, which now may be discontinued. On Linux, I use DeadBeef, which now has a Windows version that I haven't tried. For ripping, I used to use the open-source apps cdex (that recently started to include bundleware), CUETools and fr:eac, and the freeware alternative Exact Audio Copy, but because Foobar2000 can also rip discs with the free encoder pack (and maybe because now I don't rip discs that often) I don't install them anymore. For similar reasons, I haven't tried FlacSquisher yet, although that may be still useful to mass-convert FLAC to mp3/opus while keeping the directory structure intact. Other freeware multimedia players that I haven't tried are AIMP and MusicBee.


Paint.NET
Simple image/photo editor.

I still use GIMP and Photoshop (see below), which are heavier and more powerful, but Paint.NET is great for quick editing.


XnViewMP
Powerful and intuitive image viewer.

It could also be used as a simple file manager, especially for browsing images and videos.

There are a few good freeware alternatives such as IrfanView (that may be slightly faster) and FastStone Image Viewer, but I choose XnViewMP for its user interface (the older XnView Classic may still be slightly more stable). I need to check its sister project XnConvert which looks that may be a very good image converter. The commercial app ACDSee has a nice GUI, but is not worth it anymore.


Keypirinha
A keyboard-focused launcher.

WizTree
A fast disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool.

Adds an entry in the Windows Explorer context menu, but that can be disabled in the preferences. The open-source WinDirStat is good and can be an alternative, but it is much slower on NTFS drives. SpaceSniffer has a nicer treemap but is also slower.

The developers (Antibody Software) also produce other quality tools.


Process Explorer
Advanced process and task manager.

It is feature-rich and stable, like all other Sysinternals solutions. Among other things, I use it to identify processes with opened/locked files (Find => Find Handle or DLL), to verify image signatures, and to identify processes from their opened windows.


Autoruns
The best startup monitor.

Also from Sysinternals. It includes a command-line version.


Sysinternals tools
Advanced system utilities.

Many freeware apps by Sysinternals (now Microsoft). Apart from Process Explorer and Autoruns (described above), the tools I use are Process Monitor, DiskMon, TCPView, ShellRunas and PsTools. See the full list.


Nirsoft tools
A unique collection of small and useful freeware utilities.

This site contains a massive collection of small freeware utilities, all of them developed by Nir Sofer. Most of the tools can be called from the command line and export data to files. Apps worth checking are CurrPorts, WirelessNetView, Wireless Network Watcher, AdapterWatch, DNSDataView, WhoisThisDomain, PingInfoView, IPNetInfo, NetResView, DomainHostingView, NirCmd, HashMyFiles, UninstallView, WakeMeOnLan, WifiInfoView, SearchMyFiles, FileTypesMan, ProduKey, ShellExView, ShellMenuView, DriverView, USBDeview, CountryTraceRoute, NetworkLatencyView, SmartSniff, AppNetworkCounter, FolderChangesView, FileActivityWatch, MultiMonitorTool, TurnedOnTimesView, AdvancedRun, AppCompatibilityView, BlueScreenView, AppCrashView, WinCrashReport, WhatIsHang, RunAsDate, ProcessActivityView, OpenedFilesView, OpenWithView, RegScanner, RegFromApp, TaskSchedulerView, AppAudioConfig, SoundVolumeView, DriveLetterView, URLProtocolView, IconsExtract, ResourcesExtract and its password recovery utilities. See the full list. Note that antivirus usually flag software from this site as malicious, but it is not.


Revo Uninstaller Free
Application uninstaller tool.

4t Tray Minimizer Free
Freeware window manager.

For me, the freeware edition of this program is enough. I don't need to use it often though.


HWiNFO
Hardware information and diagnostic tool.

For my needs, It has replaced the freeware siw.exe (now abandoned), Speccy, CPU-Z, GPU-Z and HWMonitor. The shareware Aida64 is not worth it (IMHO).


Mp3tag
Freeware metadata editor for many audio file formats.

I find Mp3tag easier to use than other alternatives such as MusicBrainz Picard (open-source). By default, the installation process adds an entry in the Windows Explorer context menu.


HxD
Simple and fast hex editor.

Unfortunately, the open-source Frhed has been discontinued.


AnyDesk
Freeware remote administration tool.

A better TeamViewer alternative.


imgBurn
CD/DVD/Bluray image recorder.

Probably discontinued, but still the best tool to burn images. Now, it includes bundleware (the betanews download does not). In the past, I was a Nero Burning ROM user, but I also used the open-source InfraRecorder to burn CDs, which worked reasonably well. I never tried the freeware CDBurnerXP.

Part 3: Shareware/Commercial


Sublime Text
Cross-platform code editor.

It will not replace IDEs such as IntelliJ IDEA, PhpStorm or WebStorm, but as a code editor, it is better than Notepad++ and any other text editor I have seen. See my Sublime Text settings.


Directory Opus
Advanced, customizable file manager with a superb GUI.

It is still not perfect (e.g., SFTP support and dark mode are not included by default), but in my opinion, it is better than everything else, free or paid, on any operating system. After installation, I always make some changes to the default configuration.

I have reviewed many free Windows Explorer alternatives (Directory Opus is very expensive), including the open-source and cross-platform Double Commander and muCommander, the freeware FreeCommander, Altap Salamander and Multi Commander, and the shareware XYplorer and xplorer┬▓. They are all OK, but I don't think they can be compared to Opus Directory or even Total Commander (see below). fman is a promising cross-platform shareware alternative but is still very limited.


Total Commander
Stable and customizable 2-pane file manager.

Usually, I also install Total Commander, and I configure it with these settings. I always install a few plugins (BZIP2, xz, ISO, Cloud, Exif, id3 and maybe imagine, SFTP, fileinfo and 7zip (7-zip unpacking-only functionality is already bundled)). Most plugins can be downloaded for free.


Adobe Photoshop
Industry-standard image editor.

Foxit PhantomPDF
Full-featured PDF editor.

Can create, edit, secure and scan PDF documents. I find it easier to use than Nitro PDF and Adobe Acrobat.


Microsoft Word
Word processor from Microsoft Office.

Microsoft Excel
Spreadsheet from Microsoft Office.

Sofware I may consider using


Dia
Diagram drawing application.

I used it in the past and it worked, but it was a bit frustrating to use. There is also draw.io, which is open-source too, and that it is more intuitive and easy to use. But, unfortunately, draw.io is web-based/electron-based. Recently, I've been told about yED, but I haven't looked into it yet.


OmegaT
Translation memory application written in Java.

I have been told that this app is the best open-source application for translators, and that is comparable to the best commercials applications. I haven't tried it yet, and I am not sure I can use it to replace Poeditor, the app I use to translate Gettext files.


Free Download Manager
Freeware Download manager and accelerator.

It can accelerate downloads by splitting files into sections and then downloading them simultaneously. I have found it to be too invasive, though.

Internet Download Manager commercial alternative is supposedly better (I haven't tried it). A long time ago, I used the shareware Download Accelerator Plus (DAP), now abandoned.


Soulseek
Freeware P2P file-sharing tool for music.

It doesn't work very well, but it's still the best app for downloading music in MP3 and FLAC. I have also used Nicotine+ occasionally, not sure which of them is more unstable.


eMule
Open-source P2P file-sharing tool.

Used to be the best, it has now become very old and doesn't work very well. It is not discontinued, but stable versions are not released often. Still, it can be used to find and download some of the rarest files. The cross-platform fork aMule is not better.


jDownloader
Open-source download manager.

I don't love this app, but it is still the most complete for downloading stuff from websites and file-hosting sites. Note that some steps need to be done in order to disable the annoying advertisements.


FileBot
Cross-platform organizer and renamer of videos and music.

It works well for organizing and renaming movies and fetching subtitles and artwork. It can be used from the command line. Unfortunately, it has become a paid app.


VueScan
Software for film scanners and flatbed scanners.

I don't scan, but I have been told this is the best scanner software available.


Google Chrome
The cross-platform browser by Google.

The browser is based on the open-source Chromium project.


Inkscape
Vector graphics editor.

Blender
3D content creation suite.

RawTherapee
RAW converter and digital photo processing software.

I haven't tried it yet. The also open-source, cross-platform darktable looks good as well.


Avidemux
Open-source video editor that supports most common file formats.

It isn't great, but it is simple and works OK for simple tasks such as splitting videos.


Cygwin
Linux command-line tools ported to Microsoft Windows.

With Windows Subsystem for Linux in Windows 10, this has become less relevant.


Universal Viewer
Advanced viewer that can open many file formats.

A freeware and a shareware version (with support for more formats, including PDF and Office formats) are available. Additionally, it supports Total Commander plugins.


DBF Viewer 2000
dBase/Foxpro/Clipper browser and converter.

The best program you can use to open and convert dBase files, if you ever have to do that. The trial version is very limited (for example, cannot export more than 50 rows). In archive.org there is a much older trial version that can be used without this limitation.


Universal Extractor 2
Open-source tool to decompress and extract files from any type of archive.

Process Hacker
Open-source to monitor system resources.

Instead, I am using the default Task Manager or Process Explorer (see above).


Resource Hacker
Freeware resource editing tool.

This can be used to extract and edit resources in executables (*.exe; *.dll; *.scr; etc).


icofx
Probably the best app to create and edit icons.

It can be used as a trial for 30 days. Originally used to be freeware, the older freeware version can still be downloaded in filehippo.


Ditto
Open-source clipboard manager.

I have never used a clipboard manager, I tried both Ditto and CopyQ once and I didn't like them, but they must be the best free/open-source apps on Windows for that (I am not sure if there are any commercial alternatives worth trying).


Free Clipboard Viewer
Full-featured and portable freeware clipboard viewer.

I used it once to debug clipboard issues with RTF content. It was simple and worked.


WizKey
Keyboard enhancement utility for typing accented letters and special characters.

It is shareware, but has an unlimited trial period.


cherrytree
An open-source hierarchical note-taking application.

Because I usually store text notes in the cloud, I haven't checked this tool yet. I should probably check Zim, Simplenote, and OneNote as well.


Gramps
Genealogy Software.

Sublime Merge
Git Client.

Shareware, from the makers of Sublime Text.


FreeFileSync
Folder comparison and synchronization software.

I haven't checked this tool yet.


MiTeC freeware tools
I haven't checked the tools included in this site yet.

NTCore freeware tools
I haven't checked the tools included in this site yet.

den4b freeware tools
I haven't checked the tools included in this site yet.