While Apple and Android vie to become the undisputed leader in the smartphone and tablet world, Microsoft continues to focus on one of its flagship products for the PC market, the Windows operating system. With the constant release of new applications and features, Windows continues to be invaluable to millions of people around the world.
Whether you are a beginner or a PC pro, there is the essential software and features you will need if you want to get the most out of your Windows installation. We’ve rounded up some of the best Windows software and examples of the best Windows 10 features to help you get started.
The Six Core Software Applications for Windows
To make installation easier, Microsoft doesn’t include a huge amount of software by default, except for some basic “essentials” like Paint and Edge.
You will need to download and install additional software prerequisites to get the most out of your Windows 10 PC. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the best Windows programs currently available.
VLC Media player
The default Movies & TV app in Windows 10 is easy to use, but it has few features and doesn’t play all types of video files. This is why you need to consider installing VLC Media Player on every Windows PC you have. VLC is completely free to download and use.
If your video file is not encrypted or corrupted, VLC should play it. It supports almost every type of media imaginable, including live streaming and DVD.
VLC not only plays videos but also converts them. This is useful if you want to play videos on devices that are picky about the type of content they can play (e.g. smartphones). To do this, simply click Media> Convert / Save.
You can also use VLC to record your desktop or webcam (Media> Open Capture Device> Desktop) or to add effects to your custom videos (Tools> Effects & Filters.)
Instead of relying on the default Microsoft Edge browser, you should consider downloading and using Google Chrome on your Windows PC. Simple and fast to use, Chrome lets you customize your browsing the way you want it.
If you’re signed in with your Google account, you can share your bookmarks, web history, and extensions across multiple devices, including between Windows and Android. Power users can share their browsing experience between work and game profiles thanks to multiple accounts.
Chrome also includes other useful features such as a built-in password manager, tabbed browsing, and private incognito browsing to keep certain websites out of your browsing history.
If Chrome isn’t for you, you can download and use Mozilla Firefox instead.
Microsoft Office, the premium productivity suite, has been a must for businesses and home offices since 1990. Whether you’re writing a letter, creating a presentation, or dealing with finances, Office has all the tools you’ll need to get the job done.
Office is designed to provide a seamless experience with applications that help you accomplish any of your work tasks. For example, you can create documents in Word, create presentations in PowerPoint, and then send them to colleagues in Outlook.
There are also other products available, such as Access (for databases), depending on your Office suite. It’s not available for free, and you can purchase Office as a one-time purchase or as a subscription with Office 365
LibreOffice exists as a free alternative with many of the same tools. Check out our comparison between LibreOffice and Microsoft Office to see which option is best for your needs.
If BleachBit is good enough for Hillary Clinton, you can use it to safely remove unnecessary and potentially confidential files from your PC as part of your regular PC maintenance. As an open source project, the chances of BleachBit ever being hacked by malware are as close to zero as possible – unlike CCleaner
Whenever you uninstall software, trace files remain – these are files that BleachBit deletes when it scans your PC. It will also delete your internet browsing history, including any browser tracking cookies that have been stored on your computer, as well as recycle bin files and leftover files from Windows updates.
BleachBit is easy to use. Just select the items you want to clear from the sidebar, then click the Delete button to erase them.
You can also import additional cleanup rules created by the BleachBit community to improve your software, with over 2,400 additional rules available for download. To do this, open BleachBit, click the Menu button> Preferences, then select the Download and update cleaners from the community (winapp2.ini) checkbox.
Windows 10 can create and open ZIP files, but it’s a fairly straightforward process and any ZIP files you create will not be optimized for the best encryption or compression. You will need to install 7-Zip if you want to create more complex archive files.
This free open source file management tool supports all types of archive files including ZIP, GZIP, and RAR. It also has a native file type (7Z) that supports AES-256 encryption and high compression to reduce the size of your archive.
You can add password protection to your archived files and also customize the compression method (choosing fast over security or vice versa). You can also use 7-Zip as a file manager, allowing you to view your files and folders.
Files and folders you save in the Dropbox folder accessible from File Explorer are automatically copied to the Dropbox servers. Dropbox files are encrypted using 256-bit AES encryption for maximum security.
Dropbox not only provides you with a safe place to back up your files, it also allows you to comment on files, play videos from your storage in a web browser, and share files both publicly and with selected users.
You can expand your initial 2GB of free storage with additional paid plans from 2TB to 5TB, or unlimited storage for teams and businesses.
Five Key Windows Features
While the basic layout of Windows hasn’t changed much since 1995, things are different under the hood these days. Each release of Windows contains new features, each with its own benefits to improve the user experience.
We couldn’t select all of them, but here are some of the more important features you’d expect to see in Windows 10.
Multitasking with virtual desktops
If you don’t have a second monitor, your screen can fill up pretty quickly with open windows, desktop shortcuts, etc. Mac and Linux users already know the benefits of having multiple virtual desktops available for distribution – a feature that has been introduced in Windows since release of Windows 10.
The increased productivity is a real reward for users using virtual desktops on Windows 10. Instead of switching between open windows on the same desktop, you can switch between them (fully open) on virtual desktops.
You can do this to separate work and play apps, or simply to free up more space while you work. There is no limit to the number of virtual desktops you can create.
To set up a new virtual desktop in Windows 10, just press the Windows + Tab keys on your keyboard, and then click New Desktop at the top. Your existing desktops will appear in a sliding menu at the top – just click on the virtual desktop to switch to it.
You can also quickly switch between them by pressing Windows + Ctrl + Left / Right arrow keys instead.
New and improved smart menu
Smart Menu has been a staple of nearly all major Windows editions since 1995. A failed attempt to remove it in Windows 8 has led to a new and improved renaissance with Windows 10, where it is no longer just a list of the software you have installed.
Acting as the control center for your Windows PC, the Start Menu gives you access to virtually everything you need, including applications and settings, on your PC.
Divided into two, the left section lists your installed software and the recently installed apps are listed at the top. It also provides you with shortcut buttons for accessing files and photos, as well as bringing up your PC’s power menu.
The section on the right is customizable, with live tiles to display content from your favorite apps, as well as breaking news updates and your surreal emails. It also allows you to add shortcuts to your favorite files and folders. For clarity, you can divide these tiles into different sections.
The Windows 10 Start menu also lets you search â€” just go to the Start menu and start typing to search on your computer or the Internet. You can also quickly access important system tools like PowerShell and Disk Management by right-clicking the Start Menu button.
Built-in malware protection
With a dominant market share, Windows has always faced the problem of malware. Windows Defender (now called Windows Security) is Microsoft’s effort to address this problem head-on by providing users with built-in antivirus protection that replaces third-party software entirely.
Windows Security is enabled by default on any Windows PC that doesn’t have third-party antivirus protection installed. If Windows Security detects other antivirus software, it is mostly disabled to prevent tampering.
Otherwise, Windows Security is designed to protect your Windows 10 installation from threats as soon as Windows becomes active. It protects your computer by performing scheduled scans for the latest malware and viruses, and regularly updates your system to keep your protection up to date.
In addition to protecting against viruses, Windows Security also includes a system firewall, controls for unrecognized applications, system performance enhancers, and parental controls. To check the security of Windows, right-click the Start Menu button and select Settings. From here click on Update & Security> Windows Security.
Voice control with Cortana
Cortana may not be the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant rival that Microsoft originally counted on, but it still gives you total freedom of hands by letting you control your Windows PC with your voice.
With Cortana, you can search, set reminders or timers, launch and control other apps, access files, control other smart devices, access your settings, and more.
Integrated Xbox Streaming
The Xbox Console Companion app included with Windows 10 is the perfect companion for Xbox gamers. This gives you complete control over your Xbox remotely, allowing you to download games, chat with friends, and check your game achievements.
The best feature, however, is game streaming to Xbox. This means that you can play Xbox games using an Xbox controller or other alternative right from your Windows PC. It streams video from Xbox to your computer, allowing you to view it full screen or in a smaller window so you can play while other windows are visible.
With the Xbox Companion app, Microsoft is building an ecosystem that gives you more flexibility in how and where you play your favorite games. For the best experience, you will need a wired connection, although you may want to lower the connection quality for acceptable Wi-Fi gaming.
Get the Most Out of Windows
When you set up a new computer, these are some of the most important programs and features that you will use first. You can have your own preferences, and that’s okay – Windows is designed to be as customizable as possible, allowing you to use the apps and settings that best suit your needs.
If you’ve just bought a new Windows PC, get started quickly by installing these apps first