There is no dearth of freeware apps for Windows. Over decades of its dominance in the operating system market, Windows has been a very popular development platform and enjoys the biggest – albeit dispersed – library of software applications among all the operating systems. The fallout of this humongous volume of options though, is the fact that finding the apps that you want – and that work exactly the way you want – becomes extremely difficult.
Through years of trial & error with trying out new apps, I’ve found myself uninstalling or deleting over 90% of what I try. There are a select few though, that I’ve stuck with. These are not you popular apps with millions of users, nor are these made by big time developers. These are all smaller apps that don’t do everything under the sun, but absolutely rock and what they do.
For anyone used to a touchpad on a laptop, reaching down below the trackpad area to use the left & right click buttons is a necessary evil. It’s not intuitive in any way, but there doesn’t seem to be a better way to click & drag to scroll through panes, or even right-click. That’s where TwoFingerScroll comes into picture. On most synaptic touchpads, it let’s you do two things:
- Drag with two fingers on the touchpad to scroll
- Tap with two fingers to simulate a right-click (or middle-click if that’s what you prefer)
The last version of the app was released a couple of years back and it doesn’t seem to be in development now, but it works on Windows 7 just fine.
You probably already know that typing the first few characters in Windows Explorer or the open/save dialog box automatically selects the first match. But what if you only remember the second or third word of the file you want? Scrolling through a long list of files & folders can be daunting. Well, Listary to the rescue. The app sits quietly in the background till you get to a Windows explorer pane. Start typing whatever you remember of the name you want, and Listary will show a list of results that match the text. It will also list recently opened folders that match the criteria, something that has saved me hours of fiddling through file lists in the past year. There are a whole bunch of other features like Favorite folders, app integration, etc. that make it even more awesome.
Ever wondered where all that hard disk space is going? No matter how big a hard disk one gets, it just seems to fill up in no time, leaving you clueless as to where it all went. SpaceSniffer lets you visualize how hard disk space is divided between the files and folders on your hard disk. Every folder is shown as a box sized according to the amount of space it occupies. Double-click a folder to see it in more details. That’s about it. Simple, yet extremely effective. I’ve tried a bunch of hard disk visualization tools, but nothing provides the balance between utility and simplicity that SpaceSniffer does.
Font Management in Windows is basically a single folder that lists all your fonts and lets you preview them one at a time. When you are dealing with a few hundreds or thousands of fonts though, this is clearly not an option. There are a whole bunch of font management tools out there, but the one I’ve stuck with for the longest time is a little-known one called NexusFont. It is a pretty fast app for its category, and lets you view fonts from any folder, create sets of fonts that can be loaded temporarily just when you need them. The previews are also extremely customizable, and even come with a anti-aliased rendering option, something not very common among similar apps on Windows.
The Windows Explorer used to have a dual-pane interface back in the pre-Windows 95 era, which was chucked in favor of the simpler single-pane interface that we see now. Apart from the irreversible old-school charm, the dual pane interface actually has a whole bunch of advantages, especially if you are a power user. FreeCommader brings that power with a dual-pane setup, tabs for keeping multiple folders available at hand, built-in archive management, a quick viewer for a whole bunch of common files and much more. It is no match for some of the full-featured commercial offerings out there, but for a free app, it is powerful enough for most users.
Ever gone back and forth between applications just to copy and paste different pieces of text? I always found it frustrating, but never realized how unnecessary that was, until I found ClipX. A clipboard manager on steroids, ClipX basically keeps track of everything you copy and lets you paste any of those snippets by using a single hotkey – Win+V. It takes some getting used to – knowing that you can in fact copy a bunch of elements and then paste them one by one without having to go back – but once you do, it can be a productivity boost like nothing else.
Most desktops are messy. We all love to have apps & documents at our disposal without having to go through folder after folder in Windows Explorer, and so they all find a place on our desktop. After a point though, it can get really difficult to find what you need. Fences is a tiny app from the makers of the once popular WindowBlinds, which lets you group icons on the desktop, and visually segregate them for easy access. You can label the groups or simply place them in certain corners for easy access. As a bonus, you can simply hide (and show) everything on the desktop by double-clicking the desktop or pressing the Escape key.
Ever tried finding a document using the built-in Windows search? Granted, search has improved multi-fold in its current avatar in Windows 7, but it still falls short of being blazingly fast, especially when you compare it with Everything Search. Results in this app start appearing the moment you start typing your query, and there is absolutely no setup to be done – no adding folders you want searched and so on. It works out of the box, and even supports regular expressions if you are geeky enough for them. Sure, it is limited to filename search and doesn’t bother with searching inside the documents, but the sheer speed is enough utility for me for pretty much every situations I’ve had so far.
I often think Microsoft has decidedly retained the built-in Notepad app in Windows barebones. Probably to allow third-party developers continuously push the envelope and let users choose what works for them. If you like the speed of Notepad, but are dying for some extra features, AkelPad might be the answer. Out of the box, AkelPad is super-snappy and doesn’t come across as much more than Notepad with a tabbed interface, but enable some of the built-in plugins and the power starts to slowly take over. The app developers have decided to keep things very nimble but with the ability for users to get much more with plugins like code highlighting, autocomplete, macros and more.
I’m an aggressively keyboard person, so having the ability to do as much as I can without having to move the mouse around is a capability I can’t compromise with. Although the ability to tap the Windows key and start typing to search for an app is pretty nice, Windows doesn’t really have much else to offer in this domain. That’s where Executor comes in. The keyboard-based launcher finds apps based on what you have typed (not necessarily the first few characters of the name as in the default Windows Start menu), and also lets you add keywords for a plethora of tasks. Another one in my simple-yet-powerful list, Executor directly competes with the better known Launchy, but is much more leaner and quicker in my experience.
This is by no means a very comprehensive list, but rather my own personal swiss army knife of freeware apps I can’t work without. Of course, it changes every now and then as I find better apps to replace existing ones. If you have your own obscure favorites, let’s hear about them in the comments below. Thank you so much for reading!