Essential Free Software for a Windows Install

Yesterday I went and bought a laptop for my dad to learn how to use computers and the internet.  A base install of windows is not functional nor safe enough to let loose on the internet without some additional software.  Being an avid fan of things that are free, I went and downloaded the latest versions of free software that I thought would be essential for this new PC.

I hope this post is useful for other people, but its really a lazy way of me bookmarking everything in-case I have to do it again.

Before anyone I know asks “Why didn’t you use (Insert Linux Variant Here)?”, its because linux has poor language input capabilities for any language other than English.  Windows Vista has in-built character recognition for a plethora of languages and most tablets are sold with software written for Windows.

Anyway that’s probably the last pro-Microsoft paragraph you’ll get out of me…So what did I download for dad?


In my opinion one of the best suites of open-source software out there, OpenOffice will basically do anything Microsoft Office will do but for free.  From doing your expenses to writing up reports and articles, OpenOffice will do it for you.

Office 2007 onwards annoyed the hell out of me with the non-intuitive ribbons interface.  OpenOffice retains the old but tried menu system so I can teach/help my dad over the phone quite easily.

Comodo Internet Security

After the collapse of Kerio Personal Firewall I switched to Comodo Firewall (aka Comodo Internet Security).  It’s easy to set up and offered free without any feature limitations by Comodo.  The Defense+ element of the software might be annoying for some users though…

Remember, the standard Windows Firewall is next to useless!

AVG Anti-Virus

Any windows machine for a new computer user MUST be set-up with decent anti-virus software.  I’ve used AVG for probably around 10 years now and it has worked great.  It may not rate the highest in detection tests and benchmarks but its free, easy to use and updates regularly.

VLC Media Player

I’m not a fan of Windows Media Player, I either use Media Player Classic or VLC.  For my dad I opted to install VLC to keep the install clean of odd-ball codecs from strange sources.

VLC will play almost all video formats except for a few proprietary ones (e.g. RealMedia).

Foxit PDF Reader

Inevitably when surfing the web one would come across articles or papers in the ubiquitous ‘PDF’ format.  Adobe’s free reader has in my opinion become bloated and slow, while Foxit’s alternative is lightweight and fast.

A new version 3 has just been released and I have some issues with this new version (program is slow to close), however you can still download and install the old 2.4 versions if you like.


Might be going slightly out of order when I mentioned surfing the web.  I will not allow my dad, a new computer user to browse the web using Internet Explorer – it’ll just be a disaster waiting to happen.

Firefox is standards compliant and is extremely powerful when combined with useful add-ons such as Adblock Plus, NoScript, and FireGestures (just to name a few I installed for him).  Search for these via Firefox->Tools->Add-ons.


I wasn’t a great fan of Picasa but I recently revisited it after needing to look at geodata (GPS Co-ordinates) embedded within exif data and was I surprised.  The new version 3 incorporates a very quick image viewer to replace Window’s annoying image previewer that mangles your photos if you rotate them for viewing!  The interface is swift and useable, great for my mom to view her happy snaps.


With a family scattered over the four corners of the Earth (I think there’s an average distance of 6000km between each of the 4 siblings…), dad will definitely need an internet chat/phone program.  Skype fits the bill perfectly being free and used by all my family with one of the best quality video and audio I’ve seen.

There’s even paid options to ring landlines and mobiles (overseas of local) from the comfort of the home PC using the ‘Skype-Out’ service.

That’s it folks!

That is it for the bare essentials!  There may be other software utilities such as 7-Zip other’s may consider essential, but this is where I’ve drawn my line for the usage needs of my dad.

Do you think I’ve missed out on anything (for use for the average new computer user)?

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