Curated list of Windows utilities

This is an opinionated compilation of GUI software I use on Windows, and it is work in progress. I could have called it "an awesome list of the best applications and tools for Windows", but I am not that ambitious. 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).

Updated 16/08/2020.

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

Part 1: Open-source

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 as a secondary browser with the following extensions: uBlock Origin, I don't care about cookies, Bypass Paywalls, Cookie Remover, Disable JavaScript, LanguageTool, Wayback Machine, Push to Kindle and Checker Plus for Gmail. Other useful extensions are Greasemonkey and Wappalyzer. I always change the settings to allow the right-click mouse menu on websites that hijack it. Firefox also has an Android version with support for these same extensions, that I use as my primary mobile browser. For desktop, a developer edition is also available.

The fastest image viewer/editor.

It can open the most common image formats (including JPEG, BMP, PNG, WEBP, TGA, GIF, TIFF and some RAW formats) and is extremely fast. The GUI is minimal but allows adjusting typical parameters. Unfortunately, it may have been discontinued, so I may invest some time to look at alternatives (maybe Honeyview, but it doesn't look there is something as good as JPEGView). For more powerful (heavier) alternatives that have an image browser, see XnViewMP below in the freeware section.

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. VLC is also good on its Android version. For a more modern and probably better alternative, see mpv below.

Fast, cross-platform video player.

Uses lower resources, is faster, and plays UHD (4k/8k) content better than VLC. Unfortunately, it lacks some features (I still need to try this script) and I'm still not used to its UI, so I still combine it with VLC. For another open-source alternative, see MPC-BE below on this page.

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).

Powerful screenshot/screen recording tool.

It has many capture methods (region, window, scrolling, OCR...), a few upload destinations are supported, and can be very customized. 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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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).

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

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

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

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

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.

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 Guide (Windows key shortcut guide), PowerRename (a Windows Shell Extension for advanced bulk renaming using search and replace or regular expressions), preview handlers for SVG and Markdown (that can be used with Directory Opus and Total Commander, for example), PowerToys Run (Keypirinha/Wox alternative), Keyboard Manager and Image Resizer (a Windows Shell Extension for resizing images).

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

Especially useful if you own a Kindle.

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.

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").

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.

Disk encryption software.

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

Cross-platform audio software.

Website offline downloader.

Cross-platform translator for Gettext (PO) files.

Cross-platform image editor.

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.

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. This includes the cli application and can update it automatically.

Open Source Geographic Information System.

Mobile Atlas Creator
Offline map creator.

I use it to create maps from WMS services to be used on LocusMap.

Offline browser of API documentation.

The open-source office suite.

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

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.

Network protocol analyzer.

Multithreaded video converter.

HandBrake is simple and stable video converter. For video ripping/compressing, the open-source MakeMKV and MKVToolNix are also applications to have in mind, especially if MKV can be the output format. Note that HandBrake is designed to be a video transcoder, and so it wasn't designed to allow passthrough. To be able to remux (that is: change the container format) or just re-encode the audio, see the alternatives Avidemux and XMedia Recode below.

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.

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.

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.

Cross-platform, high precision calculator.

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

Simple unit conversion program for Windows and Linux.

Current versions of Windows Calculator also allows doing conversions between the most common units.

Utility to create live USB systems from ISOs.

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

Small HDD/SSD benchmark utility.

HDD/SSD utility and health checker.

Scripting language for automating tasks in Windows.

This is not a GUI tool and should probably not be on this list, but I use this often to automate tasks with other GUI apps. 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

Google Chrome
The cross-platform browser by Google.

The browser is based on the open-source Chromium project, but can't be considered open-source itself. Some extensions I use are: uBlock Origin, Google Mail Checker, Reader View, Send to Kindle/Push to Kindle, I don't care about cookies, Wayback Machine/Save to the Wayback Machine, Dark Reader, Open in Firefox, LanguageTool, Grammarly and Talend API Tester. Unfortunately, its mobile version does not support extensions, and therefore I use Firefox on Android (see above). Chrome Canary is also good to have.

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.

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 still be 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.

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.

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 might be a very good image converter. The commercial app ACDSee has a nice GUI, but is not worth it anymore.

A keyboard-focused launcher.

Could be replaced with PowerToys (see above).

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.

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, BluetoothView, DevManView, PropertySystemView, 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.

4t Tray Minimizer Free
Freeware window manager.

Among other features, it can be used to minimize any application to the tray, to set windows "always on top", or to make windows transparent. I find the freeware edition of this program good enough (I don't use it often though). For just the always-on-top functionality there is also the open-source DeskPins.

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).

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.

Freeware Git client for Windows and Mac.

Usually, I use the official git command line tool instead, but this may come handy. It's the best GUI git tool I've used (although I have to say that I haven't tried alternatives that cost money). Also, SourceTree claims it has mercurial support.

Simple and fast hex editor.

Unfortunately, the open-source Frhed has been discontinued.

Freeware remote administration tool.

A better TeamViewer alternative.

CD/DVD/Bluray image recorder.

It has been discontinued, but is still the best tool to burn images. Nowadays 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 and install some preview handlers, such as the ones included in SumatraPDF (for PDF) and in PowerToys (for markdown), see more in Directory Opus official forums.

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

Fast and open-source video player with a classic GUI.

For most video formats, it works better and faster than VLC. The GUI feels outdated but is still better than what mpv has. Some people use MPC with MadVR and LAV filters, which provides more quality, but these have been mostly discontinued for some time. MPC-HC maintained fork by clsid2 is a very similar alternative.

Open-source diagram drawing application.

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

Open-source, cross-platform video editor that supports the most common file formats.

It isn't great (it is very unstable), but it is simple and can work OK for simple tasks such as splitting videos or changing audio tracks.

XMedia Recode
Freeware video converter/editor/remuxer.

It can be an alternative to HandBrake. Additionally, it has basic editing abilities and can also remux videos and reencode only the audio from files. It is more stable than Avidemux.

Open-source, unified display of technical and tag data for A/V files.

This is useful if you want to inspect the formats of a media file. It used to incorporate bundleware, but the current version is clean as far as I can see.

Open-source vector graphics editor.

Open-source 3D content creation suite.

Open-source RAW converter and digital photo processing software.

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

Revo Uninstaller Free
Application uninstaller tool.

Open-source publishing tool.

Open-source mind-mapping app.

Open-source, cross-platform and powerful video editor.

OpenShot and Shotcut may also be worth trying.

Open-source 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.

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.

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.

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.

Cross-platform shareware 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.

Shareware software for film scanners and flatbed scanners.

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

Sweet Home 3D
Open-source interior design application.

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.

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

Open-source CD/DVD/BD emulator.

This is a great alternative to the shareware DAEMON Tools. Nowadays, Windows supports mounting ISO images natively, so I don't usually need this software anymore. But it is still useful to mount other image formats (CUE, NRG, MDS/MDF, CCD, IMG).

Shareware CD/DVD image editor.

Probably the best software to work with disc images.

Shareware disk utility.

Utility to recover data from damaged discs. Can also open (read-only) many image formats.

Process Hacker
Open-source app 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).

Shareware icon editor.

Probably, this is the best app to create and modify icons. It can be used as a trial for 30 days. Originally this used to be freeware, the older freeware version can still be downloaded in places such as filehippo.

Subtitle Edit
Open-source subtitle editor for Windows.

It may be the best app to work with subtitles. It supports plenty of file formats.

Freeware webcam software.

I have used this to simulate a webcam using a video file or a static image.

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 there is a much older trial version that can be used without this limitation.

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.

Keyboard enhancement utility for typing accented letters and special characters.

It is shareware but has an unlimited trial period.

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 Joplin, Zim, Simplenote, and OneNote as well.

Open-source Genealogy Software.

Sublime Merge
Shareware Git Client.

It is published by the same developer of Sublime Text.

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.