These are my recommendations for Windows software.
Firefox Web Browser
Firefox is a slim, standards-compliant browser that takes advantage of hardware acceleration.
It is the only major independent browser that protects and respects your private information and one of only a few not built upon Google Chrome's Chromium base.
You should be able to decide who sees your personal info. Not just among your friends, but with every advertiser and company on the internet — including us.
At Mozilla, we believe that privacy is fundamental to a healthy internet.
New versions of Firefox are released regularly which allows for new features and protections sooner.
Unsafe Addons Blocked
- Firefox blocks extensions that compromise your privacy.
- Remove extensions that you don't use or need.
- Ensure that “Update addons automatically” is checked.
Plugin Support Ending
Extensions can help protect your privacy and security. Learn more about extensions. I recommend the following Firefox extensions:
- Privacy Badger blocks spying ads and invisible trackers by enforcing the Do Not Track header.
- HTTPS:// Everywhere looks for a secure (HTTPS) version on the site which encrypts your communications with the websites, making your browsing more secure.
- LastPass password manager (disable your browser's built-in password manager).
LastPass — The last password you have to remember.
LastPass works on Windows, Mac, Linux, mobile devices and browsers.
LastPass Free now limits you to using it on either PCs or mobile devices:
I like LastPass because your sensitive data is encrypted locally before upload. Even LastPass staff cannot access it.
Configure It Carefully
When registering LastPass during the setup process, be sure you know the LastPass master password and the email account you've used.
- You can only set up one account using any particular email address.
- Recovery is difficult (if you could easily recover it, so could anyone else).
- Ensure the password is long and strong (you only need to remember this one password, so make it a good one). Hints for remembering passwords.
MozBackup is a freeware program which allows you to create backups of Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc.
MozBackup is no longer being developed by JasnaPaka.
Mozilla has documentation about dealing with Firefox profiles.
The Bat! — Flexible and Secure
The Bat! Professional (US$59.99) and Home (US$49.95) are both flexible, secure email programs with an internal HTML viewer (for security), advanced message handling, OpenPGP encryption and more.
The Bat! is a secure desktop email client for Windows, built to protect your correspondence against third-parties. Continuously improving since 1998.
The Professional version, which includes message base encryption, is recommended for advanced email users with high volumes of mail or requiring customized handling of their email.
The lighter Home version is for personal use only.
Thunderbird is a powerful, easy to use, stand-alone email program that works great for those with simpler demands.
Thunderbird is not recommended for those with high email volumes, including business users.
Progress WS_FTP Professional (US$49.95–89.95) is the professional standard in file transfer and networking software and includes features like compression, security and automated processes.
While there are other FTP programs and FTP-capability is built into some web design programs, Progress (formerly Ipswitch) is the premium FTP product for security.
WS_FTP secure file transfer products use industry-leading security at every level of data management, protecting data before, during, after transit, and verifying that files reach intended destinations uncompromised. With our solutions, you have the power to automate important tasks and integrate transfer activities with existing workflows and applications.
FileZilla (free) is a free cross-platform graphical FTP, FTPS and SFTP client with many features. It runs on Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and more.
FileZilla Pro (US$19.99) is a professional FTP/S, SFTP client for Windows, Mac OS X or Debian Linux that can also connect with many cloud servers.
FileZilla Pro manages all of your transfers no matter how many files are in your source directory, it is heavily optimized for speed and you can also adjust the pace of your transfers at will.
FileZilla Server is a free open source Windows FTP and FTPS Server.
PDF is a format invented by Adobe that allows files to be viewed anywhere with the proper fonts regardless of the software it was created with.
Browsers Natively Display PDF Documents
Modern browsers have moved away from plugins like Adobe Reader and have developed built-in PDF capabilities. Not all are as capable:
- Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome display PDFs and allow you to fill in PDF forms before you save or print them.
- Firefox prior to version 81.0 will display PDFs, but warn you that a PDF document containing forms requires a different viewer.
Even with built-in PDF capabilities, you may require more features than your browser can provide. For example, I found that some PDF documents didn't format well when printed by the browser's PDF interface.
A dedicated PDF reader can provide more features and controls. PDF editors allow you to edit existing PDFs.
Adobe Reader was the gold standard for PDF software for many years. Unfortunately, the number of security issues has tempered that success.
Adobe Reader isn't just unnecessary. The PDF tool has a history of being an application you wouldn't want on your system. Adobe Reader carries a certain reputation from being heavy and sluggish to a long series of security flaws. For many users, Adobe Reader is simply overkill for reading PDF documents.
So, is Adobe Reader safe? If you keep Adobe Reader updated, then you should remain safe. Adobe pushes updates for its apps on the first Tuesday of every month (as part of Patch Tuesday, which many tech companies observe).
I recommend you look at alternative PDF readers.
- Download Adobe Acrobat Reader DC
- System Requirements. | Online help.
- Install updates for Acrobat and Reader.
- Adobe Acrobat Reader DC FAQs.
- Adobe Security Bulletin.
Able2Extract Professional (free to try) is a powerful professional PDF program that allows you to do almost anything with PDFs.
- A full licence costs US$149.95.
- A 30-day subscription costs US$34.95.
Get quick, accurate, transfer of native and image (scanned) PDFs into editable MS Word and formatted MS Excel spreadsheets for editing, analysis and other revisioning. Other conversions include PDF to PowerPoint (PPT), Publisher (.PUB), AutoCAD, HTML and Text. As a full PDF solution, Able2Extract Professional can also create secure PDF files, edit PDF content, fill in PDF forms, edit and create fillable PDF forms, and insert Bates numbering to PDFs. Convert, create, and edit your way to PDF productivity!
Able2Extract Pro is available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
I strongly recommend Able2Extract Pro for users that need professional quality software. See my review of Able2Extract 12 (an older version) for details.
Windows: Windows 11/10/8.1/8/7, 32-bit or 64-bit edition. Microsoft Office 2003 and newer. 200 MB hard drive space.
Mac: MacOS , 12 (Monterey), 11 (Big Sur), 10.15 (Catalina), 10.14 (Mojave). 300 MB hard drive space.
Linux: Ubuntu 21.10/21.04/20.10/20.04, Fedora 35/34/33/32, 64-bit edition. 200 MB hard drive space.
- Memory: 512 + MB RAM.
- Monitor: 1366 (Width) x 768 (Height) screen resolution.
Nitro Pro (free to try; US$249.99 to buy) allows you to create professional quality PDF documents that anyone can view, with any PDF reader, on virtually any device.
Nitro Pro provides all the tools you need to create a paperless office at a price that is affordable.
I've used Nitro Pro from version 8 through 11. Unfortunately, Nitro Pro runs only on Windows and I found there were issues printing from a browser in 64-bit Windows.
- Create PDF files from scratch, or turn any kind of paper or digital file into a fully editable document.
- Add, delete, replace, and correct text and images in PDF documents. Page editing tools let you insert, extract, and rotate individual pages, as well as copy and paste text from your PDF into Word and other MS Office files.
- Convert files to PDF from virtually any application that can print, or create PDF files direct from your scanner in a single step.
- Turn PDF files into editable MS Office files including: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint—all while retaining the original fonts, images, and formatting.
- See the Nitro Pro features for more.
- The Nitro Resource Center includes Video tutorials for Nitro Pro.
Learn why NitroPro makes sense for business.
From significantly reducing your costs to offering a partnership through every step of implementation and daily use, Nitro Pro is the first and leading Adobe Acrobat alternative for a long list of reasons.
— Nitro Pro
- Nitro Pro is the affordable alternative to Adobe Acrobat.
- Nitro Pro vs Adobe Document Cloud.
- See why our customers love us (infographic).
LibreOffice and Microsoft 365
Most office suites will generate PDFs from existing documents. Following these steps for LibreOffice and Microsoft 365 respectively:
- File ⇒ Export As ⇒ Export as PDF
- File ⇒ Export ⇒ Create a PDF/XPS Document
You'll need to create the document first then save it. The resulting PDF will be a PDF copy of the original document. To change the PDF you'll have to modify the original document first.
Alternative PDF Readers
The alternatives include both free and fee-based software. If the extra features of the paid software meet additional needs, I would suggest investing in that software unless professional-grade software provides better value for you.
Free PDF Software
I found these free PDF readers added features not found in browsers:
- Foxit Reader is a free PDF reader with more.
- Not all features are necessary for basic users.
- Watch for extra pre-selected software including a 14-day free trial of their pro (paid) software.
- Older versions contained software that was insecure and labelled as malware.
- Sumatra PDF is a free PDF, eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR) reader for Windows.
Other free PDF readers and editors I tried were unable to fill forms or had an unusual interface. I recommend you stick with the browser rather than installing software that doesn't add any features.
PDF-XChange Editor/PDF-XChange Editor Plus
PDF-XChange Editor (US$43.50) is very small and fast PDF editor with features such as the ability to create, edit, annotate, OCR and digitally sign PDF files.
During installation you're asked if you'd like to use the free version. The extra features will work, but DEMO will be stamped on your documents.
PDF-XChange Editor Plus (US$54.50) adds the ability to create and edit fillable forms and customizable dynamic stamps.
IrfanView: A Quick Graphics Viewer
IrfanView is a fast image viewer/converter that works with a whole range of the most common graphics formats and is free for non-commercial use.
- IrfanView is available in both 32- and 64-bit versions (you can install both). The 64-bit version can handle larger files and is faster but not all plugins are available in 64-bit.
- IrfanView is free only for private, non-commercial use (that means at home), for educational use (schools, universities and libraries) and for use in charity or humanitarian organizations.
- A commercial licence costs 10 Euros (US$12).
- If IrfanView freeware works for you, donations are encouraged to support continued development.
Download and install IrfanView from one of the recommended sites.
IrfanView can acquire images from a camera or scanner but viewing certain images may require plugins.
- While IrfanView includes a number of default plugins, I'd suggest that you also download and install the IrfanView PlugIns to enhance the number of formats IrfanView can view.
- IrfanView can view HEIC images, but you must install the HEVC extension/codecs.
- Once Microsoft's HEIF Image Extensions and HEVC Video Extensions videos extensions are installed into Windows 10, IrfanView can view HEIC images.
The Work Area
When you open IrfanView you see a black work area and several icons.
- Click on the folder icon in the toolbar and select the directory to search for your image. IrfanView displays thumbnails of your photos — easier than choosing by filename alone.
- Click on Print (View ⇒ Print) and another dialogue box comes up with options to print the image in original size, best for page, etc. and an option to centre the image.
Check IrfanView's Frequently Asked Questions page for help, tutorials and information.
GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful open source image editing software that many say rivals that of Adobe Photoshop.
GIMP is free to download and use (even commercially) on Windows, macOS, Linux and other operating systems.
VLC Player is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework, that plays almost all multimedia files as well as DVD, Audio CD, VCD, and various streaming protocols.
- No spyware, No ads, No user tracking.
- You can use the software in the way you want (within the boundary of law), for personal, educational, research, military, governmental and/or professional purpose.
- You may need to set VLC Player as the default player to allow it to appear when you put a DVD or CD into your computer's DVD drive.
Other than the process of rebuilding the cache each time VLC Player is updated, I've noticed no issues. A beautiful player that works seamlessly.
- VLC's FAQ can answer most of your questions.
- How to stop VLC from opening multiple windows in Windows 11/10.
VLC Player is also available in the Microsoft Store but the app does not support DVD or Bluray playback.
The LibreOffice 7.3 family offers the highest level of compatibility in the office suite market segment, starting with native support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) — beating proprietary formats in the areas of security and robustness — to superior support for DOCX, XLSX and PPTX files.
— LibreOffice blog
Given a choice between Office 2019 and the just-released LibreOffice 7.0, your pick should be open-source's top office suite LibreOffice.
Maybe paying an eternal subscription fee for Microsoft works for you. It does for many users. But, if you want an old-style office suite which lives on your PC, LibreOffice is now your top choice. Oh, and did I mention? LibreOffice won't cost you a cent.
LibreOffice is offered in two versions. I recommend installing the newer release (aimed at tech enthusiasts and power users) to take advantage of the newer features and better compatibility with Microsoft Office. If you have difficulties (I never have) you can move to the more stable version.
Business and enterprise users requiring support can purchase long-term Service Level Agreements, personalised assistance, technical support, and custom new features.
The 64-bit version of LibreOffice will run faster but cannot be installed on 32-bit computers.
- Download LibreOffice.
- LibreOffice extensions and templates.
- LibreOffice Bookshelf (manuals).
- LibreOffice in business support for education and enterprise users.
LibreOffice System Requirements
LibreOffice runs on Windows, macOS (Mac OS X), and Linux. Java may be required for certain features of the software.
- Microsoft Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, or Windows 10.
- Pentium-compatible PC (Pentium III, Athlon or more-recent system recommended).
- 256 MB RAM (512 MB RAM recommended).
- Up to 1.5 GB available hard disk space.
- 1024x768 resolution (higher resolution recommended), with at least 256 colors.
For certain features of the software — but not most — Java is required. Java is notably required for Base.
I ran LibreOffice on Mac, Linux and Windows without Java. Your needs may be different, but I recommend uninstalling Java if it isn't required.
What About OpenOffice?
LibreOffice has provided significant advantages to OpenOffice since version 6.0.
…LibreOffice boasts much better file compatibility with Microsoft Office documents. In addition, you can now export Writer documents to the ePub ebook format. You can also import QuarkXPress files. In short, if you want to publish ebooks straight from LibreOffice, you can now.
LibreOffice can freely incorporate code and features from OpenOffice, but OpenOffice can't incorporate anything from LibreOffice. This lets LibreOffice add features at an even faster rate, as it can adopt new features from OpenOffice as it adds them.
OpenOffice is available only as a 32-bit version for Windows (64-bit versions are available for Linux). This complicates things if you require Java.
Still prefer OpenOffice?
- Download Apache OpenOffice.
- System requirements.
- OpenOffice extensions and templates.
What About Microsoft Office?
Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) is now Microsoft's main office suite. It is a cloud-based subscription product managed by logging into your Microsoft account.
You can obtain a free online version of Microsoft 365 if you register for a Microsoft account.
Files are saved on OneDrive (Microsoft's cloud service) by default rather than onto your computer's hard drive (you can change that).
If you're using your files across multiple devices, OneDrive makes sense. However, you should ensure that your passwords are good enough to ensure your documents aren't being compromised. Nothing online is truly hacker-proof.
Support Ending for Windows 7, 8, and 8.1
[B]eginning January 1, 2022, updates will no longer be provided for the OneDrive desktop application on your personal Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 devices.
After March 1st, 2022, your personal files will no longer sync and should be uploaded/accessed directly on OneDrive for web.
This will affect Microsoft 365 users not running Windows 10 or 11. Learn more…
Office 2019 or Microsoft 365?
The traditional 10-year Office is still available. As with Microsoft 365, you need to log onto your Microsoft Account then install Office 2019 from there.
With excellent free options available like LibreOffice, you probably should re-examine your reasons for continuing to use Microsoft Office.
Office service packs? Forget about them. There will be security updates, but what you see today in Office 2019 is what you'll get when you use Office in 2029.
|Microsoft Office||Microsoft 365|
|You'll need to replace your copy of Office when support expires.||Microsoft 365 expires annually.|
|Office Home & Student 2019 allows for installation on one computer until product support expires.||Microsoft 365 Home gives you up to 5 annual licenses.|
|Office Home & Student 2019 includes only Word, Excel and PowerPoint.||Microsoft 365 Home adds Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher.|
Business and Enterprise versions offer additional software and/or options.
A successor to Office 2019 launched along with Windows 11 on October 5, 2021. Office 2016 expires October 14, 2025.
Finding Your Office License
There might come a time when you need to move your Office onto a new computer. You will need to determine your license key to do so.
There are three main types of license for Microsoft Office:
- Retail: purchased as a stand-alone product.
- Volume: purchased as part of a volume license agreement (probably your workplace).
- OEM: purchased with a computer (non-transferable).
To find your license key, open Office then click on File ⇒ Account. For OEM versions try File ⇒ Account ⇒ About, but you may need to open a command prompt and enter:
cscript ospp.vbs /dstatus
Peter Deegan has more details in his article, License and registration, please.
Uninstall Unsupported Versions
Office 2010 and earlier are no longer supported and should be uninstalled.
While an unsupported version of Microsoft Office will continue to work as before, it will no longer receive any security updates or support. This places your computer and your data at risk.
Old Office Macros
Macros developed for very old versions of Microsoft Office continue to be used. These make Office vulnerable to malware infections.
Microsoft released Excel 4.0 for Windows 3.0 and 3.1 in 1992 and many companies still use this functionality in legacy operations. The problem is that bad actors have started using Excel sheets and macros as a new way to deliver malware.
You'd expect attacks using this old script language to be very limited but we are seeing new obfuscation techniques.
— Tech Republic
Companies need to be updating their software and removing their reliance on old macros that make their software vulnerable. They also need to educate employees about the risks.
In the meantime, most security software can be configured to block macros.
There are a lot of programs that can handle basic text editing including Windows Notepad and similar products included with other operating systems.
While LibreOffice and OpenOffice will often set themselves up as the default text editor they are not as nimble as a text editor needs to be to be.
A more specialized text editor can be a better solution for specific requirements. I've used all of these editors:
- Notepad++ is an excellent free editor.
- BBEdit, a macOS editor, replaced the now-retired TextWrangler. A free lite edition is available.
- Brackets is an open source text editor that understands modern web design. It doesn't require the extensive knowledge of HTML/CSS that using other text editors need, but may not provide the flexibility some people need.
Wikipedia has an extensive list of text editors including the default editors for various operating systems.
Tame your Text with NoteTab — a Better Solution
NoteTab Pro has been my primary Windows text editor for many years. It loads quickly and I find it extremely useful to have multiple tabs open at once to copy content back and forth.
It is simple yet continues to be an excellent HTML/CSS editor (I have made changes to accommodate HTML5 and CSS3).
NoteTab is available in three different versions:
I recommend NoteTab Light (Version 7: 100% free — no ads & no nags) as your default text editor.
If you're working with HTML, you'll want to check out NoteTab Pro. Discover why webmasters prefer NoteTab over other HTML editors.
- Minor updates are free via NoteTab's “Check for Updates” feature (available from the Help menu).
- If you own earlier versions of NoteTab Pro or Standard you can upgrade to NoteTab 7.
Check out some of the other software available from Fookes. Some of it is freeware, but all of it is quality software.
This site is carefully hand-crafted using NoteTab Pro.
CCleaner Disk Cleanup
CCleaner is recommended for routine cleanup but these resources can help with year-end “deep cleaning” of unnecessary files (or when your computer is slow):
While there are many tools out there, CCleaner provides an excellent set of tools for cleaning up the stuff left behind in Windows, Mac or Android.
CCleaner is now owned by Avast and has seen a number of issues since then, including some privacy issues. Carefully review the settings.
Some, including Microsoft, feel that cleaning the registry is unnecessary and can lead to problems. I've used CCleaner for years without issue. Backup the registry changes before cleaning so you can restore cleaned entries if there's a problem.
The free version is licensed only for home use. Businesses will need to purchase a licence.
The free version has no support.
- I don't recommend selecting the two options related to the context menus for the Recycle Bin.
- Deselect Yahoo! Toolbar, Google Chrome, or other optional addons before or during installation.
- Do select the option to check for an update to avoid missing improvements available in newer versions.
- Do select the option to check for an update to avoid missing improvements available in newer versions.
CCleaner also provides a portable version (.zip) that can be extracted and run from a thumb drive.
The Professional (a one-year renewable subscription) version adds automatic updates and premium support. The Professional Plus version also adds disk defragmentation and file recovery features.
- Most users do not need the $9.95 backup CD (but backup your downloaded installer on an external device for future installations).
- Notice the pre-checked automatic subscription extension.
- Support options.
There are six tabs at the right of CCleaner:
- Easy Clean: analyzes and cleans your system of temporary content automatically.
- Custom Clean: cleans your system of temporary content, often removing megabytes of unneeded temporary files and log entries (don't delete these if you're experiencing trouble with a program). Essentially the legacy CCleaner's Clean tab.
- Registry: checks for issues within the registry. I suggest selecting only one option at a time and backing up before cleaning (CCleaner doesn't offer an actual repair; it simply removes the registry entry).
- Tools: provide an interface to uninstall programs, change Startup programs and System Restore. I find the Startup most useful, but take care what you disable or delete or Windows may not start correctly.
- Options: allows you to change the way CCleaner operates including how cookies are handled. Be sure you understand the implications and what changes will be made to your system when making non-standard choices. The Privacy sub-tab pre-selects the sending of anonymous data.
- Upgrade: displays the advantages and cost of an upgrade to the Pro version.
Once installed, but sure to check the Options tab on the left to be sure you're happy with what is there.
- Settings: select the Custom Clean option. Secure deletion is recommended unless your computer is older and slow.
- Cookies: remove anything under “Cookies to Keep” that you don't need.
- Smart Cleaning: disable the top then bottom boxes and confirm these actions to stop CCleaner from running in the task bar.
- Privacy: uncheck all boxes for privacy and to stop third-party offerings.
Raxco PerfectDisk Pro (US$39.99/3 PCs or US$59.99/total home) can help to extend the life of your hard drives (including safe disk optimization for SSDs) by improving the performance speed and efficiency at the disk level.
PerfectDisk offers the most comprehensive solution for defragmentation by optimizing virtually every file on the system, including the Master File Table (MFT), most NTFS metadata files, paging files, directories, and datafiles, and completely consolidating free space. And it does it all in a single pass.
PerfectDisk has been my defragmentation utility of choice for several years. I tested a number of different products (including Defraggler) before making this choice.
The PerfectDisk 14 added support for Windows 10 and has S.M.A.R.T. enhancements including better handling of SSDs and failure prediction.
- Optimize Windows 11, 10, 8.1, 8, 7, Vista & XP
- Faster web browsing and downloads
- Better photo and video editing experience
- Maximize streaming media performance
- S.M.A.R.T. monitoring of physical drives
- Advanced reporting and setting controls (including “boot time” defrag to deal with locked system files)
- Designed for today's power user
- Safe non-defrag SSD optimization
- 30-day free trial
PerfectDisk 13 Pro customers need to upgrade to PerfectDisk 14 Pro PRIOR to upgrading to Windows 10.
- Download Defraggler (free but with no support).
- The Professional and Business Editions provide support and additional features.
- Defraggler allows you to defrag individual files, entire drives and free space.
- It works with HDD and SSD and supports NTFS and FAT32 file systems.
Defraggler's slim installer (recommended, if provided) doesn't add extra software but the standard installer can install other software if you don't uncheck the option in the middle of the install (which is not always easy to catch).
We experience light differently at night. Light is warmer so normal computer screens can appear to have a bluish tinge while running after dark. This can affect our sleep.
f.lux fixes this. Tell f.lux what kind of lighting you have, and where you live. Then forget about it. f.lux will do the rest, automatically.
f.lux makes the color of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
Check out the FAQs if you have problems.
7-Zip is a compression utility that works much the same way as the commercial WinZip product for .zip format files, but is free, even for commercial use.
In addition, 7-Zip has an enhanced 7z format which provides a very high compression ratio (smaller zipped files).
Windows can't deal with .7z, .RAR or .ARJ files.