Whether you’ve just reinstalled Windows or you need to fill some holes on your software collection, we’ve got everything you need in our annual Lifehacker Pack. Here, you can grab our all-time favorite downloads in one, simple installer.
Once again, we’ve gotten the folks at Ninite to help us out by creating a one-click installer for the Lifehacker Pack. Install all the apps below or just the ones you want, all one easy installer package. And, just like in the past, we have two different packs: an “essentials” pack, with our must-have apps that almost everyone will use, and the “extended” pack, which is for those looking to go a little deeper or replace certain apps in the extended pack that they don’t like.
When you edit documents, you use an Office suite, but when you edit plain text or code, you need something specialized. Notepad++ adds a ton of features to plain text editing, like text searching, tabbed editing, syntax coloring for code, and built-in scripting that let you add in pretty much any feature you want.
Need something a bit simpler? Try Notepad2. You can also find other similar apps for a price, like SublimeText, but all they really bring you is a more attractive interface.
Text expansion can save you hours of typing every week, and PhraseExpress is probably the best text expander on Windows. It isn’t perfect, but it’ll get the job done (though we recommend removing all its built-in autocorrect features). Just set up your custom snippets, and with a few choice characters you can instantly fill in long passages, lines of code, or other info like the current date and time.
If you’d like something a bit more minimal, we recommend you also check out Texter, a text expansion program written by our own Adam Pash, or just create your own text snippets in AutoHotkey.
Also written by Adam Pash, Belvedere is an automatic file sorter based on Hazel for Mac. Belvedere lets you automatically keep folders clean by moving and sorting files with a certain extension, deleting files based on their creation date, and a ton more. Just set it and forget it, and you won’t have to worry about keeping your desktop clean or backing up those documents to Dropbox ever again.
Let’s be honest: nobody likes having to open Adobe Reader to read those PDF files. SumatraPDF is everything Adobe Reader isn’t: simple, fast, and easy to use. It opens PDFs almost instantly, and supports most PDF features like tables of contents. Plus, for you keyboard junkies, it has some nice shortcuts for flipping through those PDFs at lightning speed.
Want something a little more advanced? Try PDF-XChange.
Chrome has overtaken Firefox as the most popular browser among power users, and it’s easy to see why. It’s fast, extensible, and syncs your preferences, extensions, passwords, and more all through your Google account. Plus, it updates pretty frequently, improving itself every few weeks through small, incremental updates.
Most people have switched to web-based email, but we still recommend having a mail client on your system for backup, offline access, or for when the web service goes down. Thunderbird is the best of the bunch, supporting any IMAP-capable mail account out there, and is incredibly customizable due to the number of plugins available.
If you want something a bit more advanced and are willing to pay, both Microsoft Outlook and the Thunderbird-based Postbox are good alternatives.
If you want all your IM accounts in one place, look no further than Pidgin. Pidgin lets you chat from AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, Facebook Chat and more all in one combined buddy list. Plus, with a ton of third party plugins that let you add other IM networks, themes, notifications, and integration with social media services, it’s the perfect one-stop-shop for all your IM and communication needs.
If Pidgin doesn’t do it for you, you might prefer the polish of the cross-platform Trillian or the social network-focusedDigsby.
Skype’s still the biggest name in video chat, not to mention one of the cheapest ways to make international phone calls. And, it’s available on nearly every platform imaginable, including Windows, Mac, Linux, iPhone, Android, and more. Even if you aren’t a Skype fan yourself, it’s a program you’ll want to have on hand, since chances are someone you know uses it—and when it comes time to chat with them, you’ll have it at the ready.
Of course, when given the option, we’re pretty big fans of Google Chat and the new Hangouts feature in Google+.
µTorrent is easily our favorite BitTorrent client for Windows, being both extremely lightweight and full-featured. Beyond the basic downloading of torrents, you can easily share files with your friends, remote control torrents from the web interface, and even stream videos as you download them. And, while you’re at it, you can tweak these settings for increased speed and privacy.
If you don’t like BitTorrent for one reason or another, Usenet is another great way to share and download files, and SABnzbd is our favorite Usenet client out there. It’s super easy to set up, runs in the background, and lets you control it from any computer through your web browser. It automates nearly every step of the process, too, so you just need to load up the NZB you want to download and it’ll do the rest.
Dropbox is still the best file syncing tool around, letting you back up files to the web and sync them between all of your machines and mobile devices. You get 2GB of space to start, but it’s easy to get more space for free, and useful for so much morethan just syncing your documents. It’s a must have on any system you own.
If you don’t like Dropbox or have problems with it’s recent security issues, there are a lot of alternatives out there to consider.
Everyone should back up their computer, and Crashplan is our favorite backup tool around. Not only can it back up to local drives and remote computers, but you can also back up your data to Crashplan’s cloud service for an affordable fee, which protects your data in case of fire or other local catastrophe. Of course, if you’re really against paying, you could always back up your data to a friend’s computer and they yours, to keep your backups in more than one place.
If you ever burn live CDs or rip movies, you’ve probably come across image files before. ImgBurn is a simple utility that will burn them to disc in just a few clicks. Just start it up, load your ISO, and hit Burn.
Over time, your hard drive gets filled up with leftover files, temporary caches, and other cruft that can slow your computer down. CCleaner is the best tool around for cleaning it up, and you can even run it on a schedule so you never have to think about it. If you’re using Windows, it’s an essential tool to have.
Windows has its own built-in uninstaller, but sometimes it misses certain files (which is why we need CCleaner to keep things neat). Revo Uninstaller is much more effective at removing every trace of a program from your system, and can even help you manage your startup items to keep things running smooth from the moment you power on.
Windows can handle ZIP files natively, but all other archives (like 7Z, RAR, and tons more) require an external program. 7-Zip is a simple yet powerful archive tool, letting you both unzip files with the press of a button or zip them up securely.
VLC may be the most popular play-anything program on Windows, but KMPlayer is really our favorite of the bunch. With a light footprint, codecs for just about any video and more settings than you can shake a stick at, it can make even the lowest quality video files watchable—even if they’re damaged. If you watch videos on your system, this is the program to use.
If KMPlayer isn’t for you, we’ve included VLC in the extended pack below. We also recommend checking out Media Player Classic, SMPlayer, and PotPlayer for your video-playing needs.
If you have photos to manage, Picasa’s the program to do it in. Just import your mishmash of photo folders, and Picasa will help you organize them into an easy-to-browse library, and even give you some dead simple editing tools while you’re at it. Plus, with Picasa Web Albums, you can upload them to share them with your friends or just keep them backed up.
If you don’t like Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery is a good Windows-integrated alternative, and seasoned photographers might like the more advanced Adobe Lightroom.
When something like Photoshop or the GIMP seems like overkill, Paint.NET is the perfect program to do simple photo edits. With Paint.NET you can do anything from cropping to removing red-eye, and even work with layers—just without an overwhelming feature set like you’d find elsewhere. It isn’t the most powerful program on the block, but it’s more than enough for the majority of users.
iTunes isn’t our favorite music player, but it is the most ubiquitous, and if you have any Apple devices in your backpack, you’re going to need iTunes to manage them. It’s got more than enough basic library functions to satisfy the average user, and chances are, it’s the music program that most of you need, so we’ve included it in the essentials pack.
Microsoft Security Essentials
Antivirus programs abound on Windows, but you really don’t need to pay money to get good security. Microsoft’s tools are great at catching viruses, integrate well with Windows, and do their job in the background without ever nagging your for money. It’s also lightweight, which is a big plus in the security department. Save your money—Microsoft Security Essentials is all you need.
Chrome may be our favorite browser, but that doesn’t mean Firefox doesn’t have anything going for it. Firefox is still more customizable than any other browser you’ll find, and it’s getting faster all the time. And, with multiple channels, a rapid release cycle, and a new interface on the way, it’s catching up to Chrome big time.
OpenOffice doesn’t have the momentum it used to, and the OpenOffice community has left Oracle’s offering in favor of LibreOffice, the new standard open-source office suite. It’s got a few features OpenOffice doesn’t, as well as a more active community. If you don’t want to pay for Microsoft’s offerings, LibreOffice is the way to go.
Microsoft Office and Office Viewers
Love it or hate it, many of you might need to edit documents in Microsoft Office (or at least view them). Thus, we’ve added a trial version of Office 2007 Standard to the pack, as well as the Office Viewers for those that only need to open a file here and there.
.NET, Silverlight, and Java
You’re probably going to need all three of these frameworks for something. Better to install them all now and get it over with—after all, waiting for Silverlight to download is a pretty big buzzkill when all you want to do is watch Netflix.
Accidentally deleting files is a horrifying thing that can happen to anyone. Recuva can often get it back, so it’s a good tool to have in your back pocket to help keep you cool in those emergencies.
When you have to copy big files between drives, TeraCopy is a great alternative to Windows Explorer. It’ll move them as fast as possible, pause and resume, and even recover from errors.
K-Lite Codec Pack
Windows Media Player is actually a pretty nice player, and if you’d rather use it than install a separate program, this pack of codecs will make sure that it—and any other player—can handle every video format you might run into.
We understand that many of you are still in love with VLC, and we understand—it might not be our favorite video player, but it’s still one of the best and most popular out there. If you can’t live without the lightweight, play-anything VLC, we’ve included it in the extended pack for you.
Foobar2000, MediaMonkey, and Winamp
If you’re lucky enough to be free of iTunes (or you only use it to manage your iPod), these three players are some fantastic music managers. Foobar2000 is minimal and customizable, MediaMonkey is a library-organizing monster, and Winamp is just a great all-around player for any user
While the above players are each desktop powerhouses in their own right, we’ve also fallen in love with the cloud music service Spotify. It’s great for discovering new music and testing it out before you buy, so even if you have a local music player, we can’t recommend Spotify enough.
It’s slow, naggy about updates, and somewhat insecure, but unfortunately, sometimes you just need Adobe Reader. Whether you’ve got PDF files with special features Sumatra doesn’t support, or your file just won’t open correctly, chances are it’ll work in Adobe Reader. We recommend keeping SumatraPDF as your default reader, and keeping Adobe around for those unfortunate occasions.
it’s one of the geekier selections on our list, so it isn’t for everybody, but AutoHotkey is one of the most powerful, useful programs you can get for Windows. With just a bit of code, you can turn just about any action into a keyboard shortcut, or even create your own little programs. It may look intimidating, but it’s surprisingly easy to learn, so if you’ve ever thought “my life would be perfect if I just had this keyboard shortcut”, AutoHotkey is a godsend.