The 6 essential Windows software programs for any PC

No matter what else you do on your PC, everyone needs basic programs that cover security, web browsing, and backup.

Bruce Johnson asked for "a list of minimum programs and applications needed to...operate my laptop?"

PCWorld senior editor Brad Chacos wrote an excellent story about the best software for a new PC. But if we're talking the barest minimum, anyone with a Windows PC really, absolutely must have a program in each of the categories below.

 [Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to]

Browser: More than anything else, we use our computers to surf the web. Windows comes with a perfectly good browser--Internet Explorer. You can see how it fared against major competitors, including Firefox and my browser of choice, Google Chrome, in PCWorld's recent browser comparison.

Antivirus: Connecting to the Internet without protection is like leaving the front door open when you're on vacation, with a sign out front proclaiming "Expensive stuff inside. No one home." A good antivirus program, working in the background, provides the protection you need. I use Avira Antivirus, and PCWorld compared other major antivirus suites earlier this year.

Supplemental malware scanner: Your antivirus isn't perfect, so it's a good idea to scan your drive every week or so with an on-demand malware scanner, such as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. I wrote about this necessity in more detail last year.

Backup program: You wouldn't believe how much email I get from frantic people who've lost important files because they didn't have a backup. You can check out my introduction to backup for details and recommendations, and you can check PCWorld's feature on free backup programs from earlier this year.

Password manager: You need a different password for every site you log onto. And the passwords must all be long and complicated. Since you can't memorize them all, you need a secure program to store them. I use KeePass Password Safe. I've already explained why.

PDF reader: PDF files are all over the place, and everyone assumes--with good reason--that you have software that can read them. My choice: FoxIt Reader.

Beyond this bare-minimum list, there may be other categories to cover depending on what you want to do with your PC. You may or may not need a photo organizer, web-authoring tools, or an accounting program. You probably need an office suite, but I'm not going to say that's an absolute, especially with so many web-based alternatives. There are programs, such as games, that you may not need but still want. Some of these useful programs are free, but please remember that software programmers need to eat, too, and be willing to pitch in a little money if requested.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags 99designsapplicationsProductivity softwaresecurityUtilitiesbrowserssoftware

More about AviraGoogleMalwarebytes

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lincoln Spector

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place