Instant organization: Instead of clicking around in Windows Explorer to find where Windows hid your newly downloaded MP3 file, try DropIt. This open-source utility lets you set up folder associations for specific file types. Just drop files on the big target icon on your desktop, and DropIt will automatically whisk them away to their appropriate (and easy-to-find) destinations.
Cleaner desktop: Stardock’s Fences lets you create separate areas on your desktop to organize unruly desktop icons into a manageable system. Keep programs in one fence and Word documents in another, for instance, or group them any way you like.
Complete removal: No list of great free tools would be complete without Revo Uninstaller. Windows’ built-in Programs control panel simply isn’t as good at removing the bits and pieces of programs that you want to banish from your hard drive.
Smart dock: The Windows 7 taskbar isn’t bad, but Stardock’s ObjectDock replicates the slick Mac OS X dock interface, complete with snazzy magnification animations, for Windows users.
Virtual machine: Oracle’s VirtualBox lets you run multiple virtual machines on your PC, so you can have multiple instances of Windows, Linux, or any other OS installed. It keeps a working image of a machine as a backup. Then, if things go horribly awry, you can delete the damaged image in favor of the backup.
All-in-one uncompressor: If you’ve ever asked “What’s a .rar file?” you need 7-Zip. It supports all of the essential file compression formats-and more than a few obscure ones, too-so it can unpack anything you download. The utility adds file management tools to Windows’ context menus, too, enabling you to zip files, unzip files, and convert file formats on the fly.
FTP essential: People who transfer lots of files still rely on the old File Transfer Protocol to move their bits around. FileZilla remains one of the best FTP clients on the market, and it’s still free.
Display manager: DisplayFusion gives you multiple-monitor management powers that Windows doesn’t, such as the ability to display different background images on each screen or to span an image across two monitors. It also packs hotkey combos for automatically arranging your desktop, and it lets you set custom behaviors for your apps.
Easy-launch Web apps: If you spend most of your working life in Web-based apps such as Google Docs and Gmail, Mozilla’s Prism browser plug-in for Firefox can restore your sanity. By turning your favorite Web apps into separate applications that launch from Windows’ Start menu, the utility enables you to cut down on the number of mouse clicks required to get to the tools you need, while at the same time eliminating browser-tab clutter.
One keyboard, many PCs: I have three computers on my desk, running any of three operating systems: Windows, OS X, and Linux. But the free Synergy utility lets me use a single keyboard and mouse to control all three PCs, regardless of their OS. When my mouse pointer reaches the edge of a screen, Synergy uses the Wi-Fi network to take over the next machine. It’s the closest thing to magic that your PC is likely to encounter.
Mobile touchpad: Logitech’s Touch Mouse, a free download, taps into your Wi-Fi network to let you use your phone or tablet as a trackpad to control your Windows (or Mac) desktop.
Check our alphabetical list of all of the free downloads mentioned in this package of articles.
Review our list sorted by category of all of the free downloads in this package.