Essential Software for Windows 10

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 26, 2015
Updated • Jul 5, 2017
Windows, Windows 10

The following guide lists essential software that you may want to install on a a Windows 10 system. This is particularly useful for systems that are set up anew as programs are carried over if you upgrade your system.

Generally speaking, if a program runs on Windows 7 or windows 8, it should run fine on Windows 10 as well. There may be a few exceptions to the rule but the vast majority of programs will run fine on Microsoft's newest version of Windows.

Essential software in the context of this guide refers to programs that the majority of Windows 10 users will find useful. It comes down to your use of the computer in the end though.

Tip: You may want to check out our best of Windows software guide as well which highlights even more programs.

Essential Software for Windows 10

Another web browser

Windows 10 ships with Microsoft Edge, a modern browser, and legacy Internet Explorer. While some users may find Microsoft Edge sufficient for their activities, others may discover that it lacks features that they require.

For instance, Microsoft Edge does not support extensions and limits what you can customize significantly as well.

I recommend Mozilla Firefox as it gives you the best mix of privacy, features and customization options but other browsers such as Google Chrome work fine as well.

Tip: Check out our best Firefox add-on and best Chrome extension guides to get the most out of your browser.

Antivirus Software

Windows 10 ships with basic protection against threats. While this may be sufficient on the first start of the system, you may want to upgrade the system defenses as soon as possible to better protect it.

If you check recent test results on AV Comparatives and AV Test, you will find the following antivirus companies listed at the top (only those with free programs listed here)

  1. Avira Antivir
  2. Bitdefender Antivirus Free (appears to be incompatible right now)

In addition to that, you may want to consider adding the following specialized security programs as well to the Windows 10 PC.

  1. Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit - Mitigates exploits.
  2. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware - A second opinion scanner that you may want to run regularly.
  3. Microsoft EMET - Microsoft's exploit mitigation software.
  4. Sandboxie - A sandboxing solution for Windows that allows you to run programs in a safe environment on the system.

Backup Software

acronis true image wd

Backup software comes in many flavors, from programs that back up or synchronize files to full disk imaging programs that copy an entire partition or hard drive for backup purposes.

There are many free backup programs for Windows, but the two that you may want to consider first are Acronis True Image and Macrium Reflect Free.

You need storage space to store the backups on another hard drive.



Windows 10 can unpack zip archives natively but lacks support for other popular formats such as rar. While you may find 7-Zip mentioned in recommendations most of the time, the slow pace of development and resulting lack of support for new formats has made it second choice to Bandizip.

Bandizip is a free program for Windows that supports a massive amount of formats and excellent functionality on top of all that.


ccleaner free

CCleaner is the go-to file cleaning program for Windows. While there are other programs available that do a similar job, CCleaner's combination of an easy to use interface with impressive cleaning capabilities ensure that it keeps the crown on Windows 10 as well.

Piriform, the company behind the product, has updated it recently to improve Windows 10 compatibility.

Apart from removing temporary files, CCleaner supports Registry operations, may be used to manage startup items or wipe disk space on a select drive to make data on it unrecoverable.

Tip: Download CCEnhancer as well which adds support for more than 1000 new programs to CCleaner.


Desktop email programs have several advantages over online services. For one, you can configure them to have access to all emails at all time.

They do allow you to backup emails regularly and make it easier to export/import them as well.

Thunderbird is a popular free desktop email client that ships with an impressive set of features. In addition to those, you may extend the client with extensions.

Media Player

vlc media player

Windows 10's media playback capabilities are not as good as those of Windows 8. Microsoft removed Windows Media Center from the operating system and cut DVD playback as well.

Check out our list of Windows Media Center alternatives for Windows 10, there are a few that you can install that add similar functionality to the operating system.

Please note that Windows Media Player remains a part of the operating system.

Third-party media players add capabilities back to Windows 10 and are generally the better alternative as they offer better support for formats and ship with extras that the default Windows programs don't offer.

Probably the most popular of them all is VLC Media Player. It supports most media file formats out of the box and can play media that you insert into the PC as well (DVD and Blu-Ray playback supported).

VLC plays audio files as well but you may prefer a dedicated program for audio playback. AIMP3 is a popular audio player for Windows that supports all popular audio formats, Internet radio playback, recording, and lots of other features.

Misc Software

f.lux 3

The following selection may or may not be useful depending on your needs.

  1. f.lux or Sunset Screen to adapt the brightness of the display to the time of day.
  2. Irfanview or XnView are two popular image viewers.
  3. KeePass is an excellent local password manager that supports plugins and global hotkeys.
  4. Nirsoft has created dozens of excellent programs for Windows that you may find useful.
  5. Notepad++ replaces the plain text editor Notepad. It supports text formats, plugins and other features.
  6. Revo Uninstaller is a software uninstaller that removes leftovers from the system after you remove programs.
  7. Sysinternals Software offers several great advanced tools such as Autoruns to manage startup items or Process Explorer to get detailed information about running processes.

Office programs

sumatra pdf

There is Microsoft Office and the free alternative Libre Office that you can install on Windows 10. The choice depends largely on your requirements and whether you have an Office license already or don't mind paying for it.

Apart from an Office suite, you may also want to install a PDF reader on your system. This depends again on your needs. If you only need a reader application, then I recommend Sumatra PDF for that as it is lightweight and does not expose your system to security threats.

If you require it, Adobe's PDF reader or even Acrobat may be the programs you want to install on your Windows machine.

Windows 10's image editor is basic and needs to be replaced. Two popular alternatives are Paint.NET and Gimp.

Now You: Did we miss a program?

Essential Software for Windows 10
Article Name
Essential Software for Windows 10
The guide lists essential free software programs for the Windows operating system that users who use it may want to run on their systems.
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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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