Since I started blogging two years ago I came upon thousands of essential, ultimate and top freeware lists but only few really had a lasting impact on the Internet community.
Most are forgotten the next day and everyone heads on to the next list in line. It does not make sense to simply write another essential list, it does however make sense to concentrate the list on freeware and Open Source software that I have reviewed here on Ghacks.
I reviewed more than 360 freeware and Open Source products which makes a pretty good resource pool for this list.
The following list contains the essential utilities that stick out from this list and made a impact on my daily life. Many have been discussed wide and far here on Ghacks and I received some valuable information and tips from my readers about them and similar tools.
I tried to list only tools that are not that common, therefore you won't find Firefox, Thunderbird and Open Office in this list (Every other list has them included).
Update (February 2016): Of the tools mentioned below, almost all are still available for recent versions of Windows. There are a few notable exceptions but it speaks for the general quality of those programs that they are still around after nearly 10 years.
Wallpaper Changer (review, developer) - Changes wallpapers from one location automatically after a certain amount of time which has to be set between 15 minutes and 24 hours. Great way of changing the appearance of your desktop from time to time.
Recuva (review, developer) - Files are not permanently deleted when you delete them, only the reference to the file is removed and the space they occupy is set to be writable again. Recuva lets you recover accidentally deleted files. Chances are better if there have not been many write intensive operations such as defragmentation on the drive.
Drive Image XML (review, developer) - A user friendly program that lets you backup and clone drives and partitions that are connected to your computer. Backups can be scheduled as well in case you are of the forgettable type. Supports drive to drive copy.
Speedfan (review, developer) - I'm using Speedfan for a long time to reduce the fan noise of my case fans. The application lets you regulate the fan speed if the motherboard supports this feature. Really nice if you want to have a silent pc. Displays voltage and temperature to control that the changes are in the limits and your pc is not overheating.
Unknown Device Identifier (review, developer) - The program identifies unknown devices in Windows and displays information about the product such as manufacturer, oem name, device type and more. Option to search for drivers for that device included.
Similar Images (review, developer) - Scans a large image collection for duplicates and removes them either manually or automatically. Great for cleaning image collections of duplicate images. Scanned a collection of 75000 images in three hours, great speed.
Httrack (review, developer) - rip complete websites with this highly configurable tool. Can mirror part or everything of a website, great for downloading images or other media as well. Takes a while to get used to all of the options and settings.
Ipod Converter (review, developer) - The Free iPod Video converter is a very easy and reliable program to batch convert videos into a format that all video iPods can play. All files are saved in mp4 format which can be played back in the video iPod.
Super (review, developer) - I'm using Super mainly to convert avi files into a DVD compliant format to burn them on DVD and watch them later on my television. Super supports many more formats (including Zune, PSP, iPod and 3G).
TVU Player (review, developer) - TVU Player is still one of the best streaming tv clients that are freely available on the Internet. Some channels have been removed but sport fans should definitely take a look to watch sport events live. Has a English interface unlike most other p2p tv clients.
CDex (review, developer) - Ripping CDs has never been so easy. CDex offers one step ripping of audio Cds in various formats including mp3. Can connect to a local or global database to add file information such as artist, album and song names to the file names automatically. Great for importing the audio cd collection to your pc.
Harddisk Ogg (review, developer) - Record sound from any source into an ogg, wav or mp3 stream in real time. Start and stop recording sounds with the click of a button. One the fly normalization for low volume sources included. Highly configurable.
Hamachi (review, developer) - Hamachi is Lan over the Internet. It simulates a Local Area Network with computers that are connected to the Internet. Great for file sharing, gaming, joining lan parties although you are not locally present. I use it mainly to play lan games with my friends, some games support only lan play and Hamachi makes it possible to play them.
ZoneOs (review, developer) - Dual Display systems are becoming common these days but a dual display system working over a network is something new. Works with computers and pocket pcs, great for technicians who have to be mobile a lot but need to access data.
Universal Extractor (review, developer) - if you never pack files yourself you may want to use the excellent Universal Extractor. It unpacks the most known formats including zip, rar, gzip, ace, 7-zip, cab and compressed exe files plus dozens more. Nice if you want a universal solution.
Snadboys Revelation (review, developer) - You can use Snadboys Revelation to make Windows passwords that are hidden behind asterisks visible again. A real life safer if you tend to forget passwords from ftp programs or other tools that save the passwords.
File Hamster (review, developer) - Tracks files and creates a backup whenever the file is modified. Highly customizable, select how many previous versions you want to keep. Offers plugin support as well. This adds zip support to File Hamster that lets you zip older revisions to save hard drive space.
MyUninstaller (review, developer) - The Windows uninstaller is not that comfortable to work with. MyUninstaller adds functionality like uninstalling selected entries at once, delete entries that can't be uninstalled and save a list of all installed applications.
Unlocker (review, developer) - Can't delete a file because it is still in use? If you hate messages like this Unlocker is the right tool to get rid of this small problem. It unlocks the file so that you can delete or move it afterwards. Just right-click a file that can't be deleted and select unlocker from the context menu.
Windows start menu, application launcher:
Toolbox (review, developer) - access drives, folders and applications with one click. Highly customizable, add images, icons, transparency, set always on top. Displays drive information (free space), windows uptime and more.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.