Many of the more common must-have programs on a computer are programs that cost money (Microsoft Office), programs that cost a lot of money (Adobe Suite), and service programs requiring a subscription (Norton, McAfee, or any of the other paid anti-virus programs.)
These are all great programs that are well worth the investment, but many computer users need the functionality these programs provide but can’t afford the price tag.
Luckily there are a lot of free, powerful programs that can be downloaded and installed from the Internet.
1. OpenOffice – Must Have Programs for Documents and Spreadsheets
This is a full-featured office productivity suite that will do almost everything that Microsoft Office does. It is continually updated, has an active community, and features an online wiki if you need help. The unbelievable support from the OpenOffice community is one of the reasons for its’ inclusion on our must have programs list.
2. GIMP – Image Editing
Image editing program that includes many of the more popular features found in Adobe Photoshop. If you need to do something to an image, you can probably do it with GIMP. And if the default functionality of the program doesn’t include the option that you need, there is probably a plug-in that you can download for that.
3. CrashPlan – Backup Your Data
Free, continuous backups to another computer on your network or an external hard drive connected to your computer. Incredibly easy and intuitive user interface that I recommend to anyone that has irreplaceable data on their hard drive.
All users that value their data need must have programs to back up that information.
4. MalwareBytes – check for viruses and malware
This program has come in handy more times than every other program on this list, and it will find infections that circumvented your regular anti-virus program. The PRO version includes active protection, while the free version requires you to actively initiate the scan. If you can afford it, the lifetime subscription to the PRO version is well worth the investment for the peace of mind it will provide. All users that access the Internet must have programs that allow them to scan their computer for potentially harmful code.
5. Microsoft Security Essentials – Protect Your Computer
Lightweight, easily integrates with the Windows Firewall you have on your computer already, and frequent definition updates. If you aren’t particularly devoted to a specific anti-virus program, this is the free one you should be looking at. There are a lot of free options when it comes to must have programs for protecting your computer, but using a combination of Malwarebytes and Microsoft Security Essentials can be very effective.
6. Mozilla Thunderbird – Manage Your Email
Your Windows 7 computer includes “Windows Mail,” which is an excellent solution on its’ own. However, Thunderbird is the true competitor to Outlook and includes most of the features you would find on Microsoft’s email management software. One of the features of must have programs is their ability to offer the features that are most frequently sought after in their paid counterparts. As with many of the other must have programs on this list, Thunderbird is a great program because of the active support that it receives.
7. Google Chrome – faster Web browsing
This is the entry that is more about user preference than anything else. Firefox is also a personal preference, but the speed and automatic updates offered by Chrome make it the browser of choice for me. You can also sign into Google Chrome across different computers, allowing you to share settings between machines. Must have programs need to include features that allow them to stand out from the competition, and Google Chrome’s ability to synch across machines, and even platforms, makes it a valuable tool.
8. iTunes – Manage Your Media
Anything you use it with is going to cost you money, but there is a lot you can do with iTunes that doesn’t involve hooking it up to your iDevice. Strong library management, CD ripping and burning, and shopping in the iTunes Store are all incredibly easy with this software.
9. Teamviewer – Remotely Access Your Other Computers
This program might not be essential for everyone, but the ability to take control of a linked computer is pretty awesome. All you need is a computer ID and password that are supplied on the target computer, then you can begin making changes to that computer from another one. Great for remote troubleshooting, or emailing yourself a file that you forgot on the other computer.
10. ImgBurn – burn Data to Discs
Another personal preference. The Windows 7 disc burning utility is actually pretty great, but the ability to easily make multiple copies of a disc, as well as make and burn disc images, is a handy option to have.
Must have programs receiving honorable mention –
Turn your webcam into a security camera. It’s no longer supported, but I have gotten it to work with some webcams in Windows 7 pretty easily. While not one of the must have programs for everyone, this interesting program is very useful for those that need it.
Helpful for converting image file types, as well as creating vector images.
Unpack pretty much any type of compressed file.
Easily upload and download files to or from an FTP server.
Convert video files to different file formats specific to your intended device.
Anything you can send to a printer can be sent to this program instead. PrimoPDF then turns it into a PDF file.
Related: Oco HD Camera Review
Matthew Burleigh has been writing tech tutorials since 2008. His writing has appeared on dozens of different websites and been read over 50 million times.
After receiving his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science he spent several years working in IT management for small businesses. However, he now works full time writing content online and creating websites.
His main writing topics include iPhones, Microsoft Office, Google Apps, Android, and Photoshop, but he has also written about many other tech topics as well.