Top XP Freeware that every user needs

Martin Brinkmann
Nov 15, 2006
Updated • May 18, 2013
Windows, Windows XP

Freeware programs can extend the functionality of the Windows XP operating system by a mile and beyond. The operating system lacks a lot of features out of the box. It is not really that optimize for speed for example, and several of its settings may cause privacy concerns.

The following list is a set of programs that I install on every new Windows XP system that I setup, a must have of freeware applications so to speak.

I decided to keep the list small and divide it into two parts.The first part lists mostly security related tools that every Windows XP users should have available on the system. The second part, which I will publish in another article, lists tools and programs that help you a great deal in the operating system.

I always start with security related tools which is IMHO the best approach. Fix the security issues, add protection and concentrate on everything else afterwards. I start with AntiVir which is a great free anti virus tool that can be scheduled to update itself on a regular basis. Once Antivir is up and running I install XP Antispy which disables the phone home options that are built into Windows XP (next to many other settings that disable features no one really needs).

I do take a look at the services that are running and disable every service that is not needed. This is not part of the tutorial, I thought it would be still worth to mention this step.

After that I install either Spybot Search and Destroy or Ad-Aware. Both tools protect the system against all sorts of spyware.

I'm not using a firewall which may seem odd to some users here. It created a heated discussion about a year ago. As you can see, my PC is still up and running and I'm still not using a firewall. I don't really think there is a good free one out there. I do use a hardware firewall on the other hand.

Next on my list are Microsoft Powertoys for Windows XP, Tweak UI to be precise which gives you access to system settings.

Disk Cleaner is another excellent freeware that I install on the system, it is a one click get rid of all temporary files solution - able to remove cookies, temporary files and history from browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera for instance.

I like to install Snadboys Revelation as well. I is a free and easy to use tool that can reveal passwords that are shown behind asterisks on the system. This can be very useful if you forget a password and see only ****** and nothing else in the password field.

Last but not least I install True Crypt on the system, either to use encrypted containers, using a finite amount of hard drive space, or to completely encrypt a partition of the drive. Both have advantages and I recommend to use at least one of the two for all important documents.

That is the minimum, I know that there are more tools that are nice and can be installed and I would like to hear about them from you. Which tools do you install on every XP system? Please note that I will write a second article about tools that are recommended but not security related like VLC, Firefox and Thunderbird.


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  1. Joe said on February 26, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    I don’t use any type of firewall either but I wouldn’t recommend that to the average user. The average desktop user is completely clueless about what’s going on. The average user is working with root (administrator)privaleges! That’s a very bad thing but it’s a reality you have to face when setting up a box for the average Joe.
    The averave user likes to download stuff from just about any old place. The average user opens email attachments from unknown senders. The average user has never heard of a checksum. The average user doesn’t know that just about any executable (or worse a .bat file) can be hidden in a downloaded picture or video.

    Firewalls aren’t designed to protect users from all the nasty little script-kiddies but to protect the average user from themselves.

    If a user is aware of all these neat little problems, they don’t need you to set up a box for them. If they can’t install an OS and configure it on their own, they need a firewall.

  2. Martin said on November 15, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    I will mention many of the tools mentioned in the comments in the second part of the article, nameley Unlocker (which is very useful), Process Explorer, Autostarts, CCleaner, Foxit, VLC, Eraser and more :)

    Demon, I have the anti-spyware installed but not running in the background. I check my system with them every once in a while and it normally only finds some third party cookies..

  3. DemonLlama said on November 15, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    I keep my systems as streamlined as possible, I don’t like extra processes taking up resources in the background. Therefore I don’t install any anti-spyware proggies unless I see a problem that needs fixing (which I never have on my own systems. It’s about smart browsing). I also never use software firewalls. They have too much overhead and cause too many things to break. IMO everyone on broadband should be behind a router w/ a hardware firewall built in anyway.

    In fact (sure to get flamed for this), I don’t even have an AntiVirus installed on all my systems. The only time I’ve ever had a true virus infection was when a less savvy roommate dragged in Nimda while he was downloading pr0n and it spread over the network like wildfire. That was about 4 years ago. Now that I live alone I’m not as concerned.

  4. RG said on November 15, 2006 at 6:48 pm

    Before mentioning my choices I have to agree that stuff like Zone Alarm are becoming increasingly useless and buggier too, so a good choice is always a hardware firewall.
    Spybot, Ad-aware, AVG antivirus, and CCleaner here (AutoHotKey and Samurize for productivity)

  5. Kip said on November 15, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Nice list: I’d have Avast instead of AntiVir. I’d add CCleaner (privacy tool and registry cleaner), Foxit Reader (essential for PDF files),What’s Running (a recent replacement in my toolbox for Sysinternal’s Autoruns and Process Explorer), SIW (for a system audit), FreshUI (for system tweaking) and Spyware Terminator (free resident antispyware)

  6. Tobey said on November 15, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Just check this out: , everyone can choose something from this list. BTW as I think, you shouldn’t forget to install Media Player Classic (QTA & RA), I couldn’t live without it :)

  7. Thinker said on November 15, 2006 at 12:17 pm

    There is yet one must-have tool – Unblocker.
    When you get a message like:
    Cannot delete folder: It is beign used by another person or program
    use this one:
    (if link stop working, you can look for it by google)
    Really great tool

  8. Cappella said on November 15, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    Wow, there are definitely more very uesful freeware out there, but these are certainly my favourite ones as it help me solves lots of problems.

    Process Explorer – Number one diagnostic tool to help me see even clearly the processes running in my PC. Used to be from Sysinternals, but now bought over by Microsoft. Even use this to find spyware.

    Eraser – Military grade data scrubbing software. You can create any kinds of data scrubbing mechanism using this to ensure your data cannot be recovered by any means.

    Autohotkey – Use to automate repetitive tasks. I use this sometimes to automate some mouse clicks which require one to do it repeatedly for hundred over times. Can be difficult to master as it requires textual scripting.

  9. Abisurd said on November 15, 2006 at 11:10 am

    SandBoys software (Revelation) is really outdated. The website was last updated about three years ago. Copyright information says its circa 2000. Does not work on Firefox, and failed on my IE session authenticating me to my Exchange Server. Also failed on Yahoo sign-in page and the Google sign-in page.

    I somehow feel that his product is designed for Windows native applications and does not work for browsers.

  10. Martin said on November 15, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Using Windows without a firewall and without updating all your software to the latest version is nothing I would recommend though. Make sure everything is up to date.

  11. Martin said on November 15, 2006 at 10:39 am

    I have been using it with a direct connection (without hardware firewall) for most of the year. Had to switch to a new router (because of 16 mbit connection) and this one has a hardware firewall.

  12. Magnus said on November 15, 2006 at 10:22 am

    When choosing not to use a firewall, is that because you already are behind some hardware firewall or NAT router, or do you have your XP connected directly to the Internet (allowing incoming connections)?

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