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Many of our visitors sent us messages with questions about what applications, plugins and tools they should install on their PC so that common computing tasks such as viewing movies, listening to music, browsing the Internet can work from the first try. In order to answer such questions, we invited a few of our friends from other famous blogs and tried to come up with a great list of recommendations. In this article you will have your questions answered by: the famous How-To Geek, Anand Khanse from the WinVistaClub, Joseph Fieber from ITsVISTA.com and Ross McKillop from Simple Help.
As soon as you install Windows Vista on your PC, you should install all the latest updates and drivers and next you should go for the security solutions. The sooner your computer is protected against security threats, the better. Here we have a few recommendations for you:
ESET Smart Security for Home Users and Kaspersky Internet Security - are two very good commercial security solutions which include a firewall, antispam, antivirus and antispyware protection. They both offer great detection & removal of security threats and are light on resource utilization. ESET is recommended by Anand and Kaspersky is recommended by Ciprian.
A good free antivirus solution is AVG which offer very good antivirus and anti-spyware protection. Recommended by Ross and Ciprian.
For other good free alternatives, you should read our series of articles on security solutions: Protect your system from viruses for free, Protect your system from spyware for free, and Protect your system from hackers for free.
A good internet browser is very important for a pleasant and safe browsing experience. Actually, it is one of the first things you should install on your PC, together with the Windows Updates and security solutions. There are quite a few alternatives, the ones we recommend are:
IE7Pro - if you want to use Internet Explorer 7, then install also IE7Pro. It is a must have add-on for Internet Explorer which adds a lot of features which improve your browsing experience. Recommended by Anand.
Firefox - The plugin options alone are a great reason to favor Firefox over all other browsers. The interface layout can also be customized where Internet Explorer 7 is very inflexible that way. Recommended by Joseph and Ciprian.
Another great alternative is Opera.
Plugins, Players & Runtime environments
The plugins and runtime environments mentioned in this article will allow you to run most applications on your PC and to correctly navigate most of the web pages found on the internet. Some of them must be downloaded from a specific page while others are distributed also via Windows Update.
Plugins, players & runtime environments which must be downloaded from the web:
Adobe Flash Player allows you to run content created by using Adobe Flash. Many websites use this technology including many of your favorite video sharing websites.
Java runtime environment allows you use application written using the Java programming language. There are many applications developed using the Java programming language and installing its runtime is highly recommended.
Adobe AIR allows you to run rich Internet applications created using Adobe technologies. Even though this is a new technology, it's gaining ground quite quickly and you might encounter applications which require it in order to function.
Adobe Shockwave is another player from Adobe which allows Adobe Director applications to be viewed in your web browser. Adobe Director is a tool used to create multimedia aplications such as animation movies or games. Even though it is not as wide spread as Flash, it is still a good idea to install it. While browsing the web I did encounter sites with web games which require this plugin in order for you to play.
Plugins, players & runtime environments distributed via Windows Update:
Silverlight is a web browser plugin which competes with technologies such as Adobe Flash. Even though there are not too many websites using Silverlight, it is a good idea to install it as more and more websites will use it. You can also find this plugin listed as an optional Windows Vista update.
.NET Framework allows you to run applications developed using Microsoft programming languages such as C# or Visual Basic .NET. Considering the fact that many applications are developed using such programming languages, installing it is a must for all Windows users. Even though it is shipped directly with Windows Vista, it is always a good idea to upgrade to the latest version.
CD & DVD Burners
Today, most PCs have a DVD writer installed. In order to burn DVDs, you can use the Windows Vista built-in CD/DVD burner or you can install third party tools. Some of them are great commercial solutions, such as Nero and Roxio while others are free, such as CDBurnerXP. All the CD/DVD burning tools mentioned here are great and highly recommended by the wintuts.com team.
PDF (Portable Document Format) has become the de-facto format for document exchange on the web. There are many PDF readers available. The ones we recommend are:
Foxit Reader for Windows - it is a free PDF file viewer, very light on resources and extremely fast compared to Adobe Reader. Recommended by Anand, Ciprian and Joseph.
Adobe Reader - because Foxit just doesn't work correctly in a multi-monitor environment. Recommended by the How-To Geek.
Everybody needs to create and read documents. The alternatives are not that many as compared to the PDF readers. However, there are quite a few good ones from which you can choose:
Google Docs - it works great for general wordprocessing, spreadsheet and presentation work. Even though this solution is web based, coupled with Google Gears, it is a great solution which works also when you are not connected to the internet. Plus it is free of charge. Recommended by Joseph.
Microsoft Office - because it is a great suite and you can't work in the corporate world without it. Recommended by the How-To Geek and Ciprian.
OpenOffice - if you don't have the money to purchase Microsoft Office and you want a good desktop office suite, OpenOffice is definitely a good alternative. Recommended by Ciprian.
Movie Codec Packs
Everyone wants to play movies on their PC. However this cannot be done without installing a good codec pack. There are many alternatives on the internet. The ones that the wintuts.com team recommends are: K-Lite Codec Pack and Vista Codec Package.
Video & DVD Players
Now that you have installed a good codec pack you need also a good video player. If you are not satisfied with Windows Media Player you can always try other good players. Some of the better alternatives are:
VLC media player - is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. Recommended by Ross & the How-To Geek.
Media Player Classic - is a lot better than any current version of MS Media Player. Small and light footprint, plays any format you throw at it, great alternative to VLC media player. Recommended by Ross, Joseph and Ciprian.
KMPlayer - is another excellent video player which works great on Windows Vista. Recommended by the wintuts.com team.
Playing music on your PC is another important activity for any person. Finding a good media player is not very difficult. You can either use Windows Media Player from Microsoft or you can install a third-party player such as Winamp. Just like Firefox, this program has an extensive plugin collection that can make it do almost anything you want, and it is extremely flexible in letting you choose the layout. This player is recommended by Joseph and Ciprian.
Another good music player you might want to try is also foobar2000.
Another useful tool you should install on your PC is a good file archiver. There are many alternatives, including commercial ones such as WinZip or WinRAR. However you can find also really good free alternatives. One of them is 7-Zip, a very popular open source file archiver which offers all the basics you need when it comes to archiving tasks. Recommended by Anand, Ciprian and Joseph.
One other good free alternative is also Universal Extractor. This tool extracts files from virtually any type of archive, regardless of source, compression method, etc. Recommended by the wintuts.com team.
System Tweaking & Optimization Tools
In order to keep your system in good shape for as much as possible, it is a good idea to install and use some tweaking & optimization tools. We have some suggestions for you:
Auslogics Disk Defrag - it is a tool which allows you to defragment your hard disks. Not only it is free but it also offers you many useful statistics and reports about the status of your partitions. If you take into consideration that Disk Defragmenter doesn't offer you any kind of reports and visibility regarding the defragmentation process, you might want to replace it with Auslogics Disk Defrag. Recommended by Anand.
Another good defragmentation tool you might want to try is Power Defragmenter. I have used it for years and I did not find a faster defragmentation tool. Recommended by Ciprian.
CCleaner - is a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system, allowing Windows Vista to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. Recommended by Ross & the How-To Geek.
Revo Uninstaller - is a great tool for uninstalling software without leaving as many files and settings behind. This tool is basically a better version of Programs and Features. Recommended by Ross & the How-To Geek.
As a closure to this article, we have a few recommendations left, which do not enter into the above mentioned categories:
KeePass - is a nice little tool that can be used for storing all your passwords. Recommended by the How-To Geek.
Picasa - it is an excellent free photo organizing tool from Google. Includes basic tools for modifying the pictures, export functions, and upload to an online catalog. Recommended by Joseph and Ciprian.
RocketDock - is an application launcher which looks and functions great. Plus, there are many ways to customize its look to match your Windows Vista visuals. Recommended by Joseph and Ciprian.
Texter - is a great tool for automated form filling and text substitution. It saves you time by replacing abbreviations with commonly used phrases you define. Recommended by the How-To Geek.
Notepad ++ - it is a great text editor which can be used for working on any type of code or basic text when you don't need formatting and other functions getting in the way. Recommended by Joseph and Ciprian.
DVD Shrink - a very simple and easy to use DVD Ripper. Very useful when you need to get those DVDs onto your hard drive, and to strip out the stuff you don't need. Recommended by Joseph.
Google Calendar Sync - is a very nice tool which allows you to sync between Outlook and Google Calendar. Recommended by the How-To Geek and Ciprian.
Microsoft Live Mesh - is a great tool for remote desktop and file sharing between home and work. Highly recommended by the How-To Geek.
SyncBack - this is a commercial tool which can be used for powerful automated daily backups. Recommended by the How-To Geek.
We hope that we have managed to give you enough alternatives for all everyday computing tasks. If you have other interesting suggestions, don't hesitate to leave a comment.
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