1. VLC media player

Load with lots of audio and video codecs, VLC is the one media player that doesn’t really need a codec pack to make it work. Not only that, it also has other tricks up its sleeve including DVD playback and even DVD playback with menus direct from ISO rips. (No need to rip and convert DVDs any more! yay!)

Also comes in Windows, Linux and Mac OS X flavours. It doesn’t have the slickest interface in the world but what it lacks in looks, it more than makes up for in function.

2. Calibre

If you’re getting into ebooks, this is one ebook manager you should have ready to go. Not just a manager, Calibre is also an awesome slice of ebook conversion goodness.

Provided your ebooks have no DRM, you can use Calibre to convert them from and into the widest array of options of any converter we’ve seen. EPUB, MOBI, Calibre can pretty much handle everything except creating AZW files for the Kindle and whacking DRM on them.

Best of all, it’s free.

3. DropBox

So this is what cloud computing looks like! Dropbox is a simple way of storing up to 2GB of files online and accessing them anywhere, anytime on any system.

You can perform automatic backup and Dropbox can automatically sync files to different systems, which is great if you’re on the road.

Maximum file size is 300MB, which is enough for everything but video. And it works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X too.

If you need more space, Dropbox offers pay-storage too.

4. Free Download Manager

If you ever download anything, FDM is the ideal way to do it. Download everything from YouTube videos to BitTorrents and back again. It not only manages multiple downloads but it also can speed up downloads that are slow via your browser.

It integrates itself into Firefox and automatically activates whenever you start to download a file but you can also bypass it for say, reading PDF files too.

5. AVG Free

Just about every man plus dog has a free anti-virus suite for free these days.

It’s a toss-up between AVG Free 9.0 or Avast! Personal Edition 5 – either one does the job and really, unless you trawl through pretty dodgy websites, there’s no need to fork out serious coin for payware suites.

AVG Free 9.0 checks websites, email, can even schedule-scan too. Just watch out for the AVG Toolbar when you install.

6. Foxit Reader

Faster, smaller and just as good as Adobe Reader, the only thing you need to be careful of when installing Foxit Reader is to avoid the Ask Toolbar.

We can see why software vendors do it but just make sure you check off the option to install the toolbar when you install Foxit and you should have no problems.

Integrates itself to be the default option for your browser so you barely know its there.

7. PrimoPDF

And if you’re going to read PDFs, you need to be able to make them too.

Again, there are dozens of free PDF writer/printer driver apps. What PrimoPDF does well is give you good control with the ability to set the dots per inch (DPI) quality (which affects the final file size).

Installs itself as a new printer device so all you do is select to print from any application and you can turn your documents into PDFs. Easy.

And the nag adware isn’t too bad either.

8. 7-Zip

Arguably the best free compression software, 7-Zip handles a wide array of formats and can even peer inside ISO images.

Integrates itself into Windows Explorer so you just right click on an archive file and choose 7-Zip to do what you want with it. Excellent technical control on creating archive files as well to cater for size or speed.

Definitely the one tool you want inside Windows Explorer.

9. Go-oo (no longer active)

If Microsoft continually curses OpenOffice.org each morning for its existence, then it will positively hate Go-oo.

Go-oo is OpenOffice.org for former Microsoft Office users with better support for Microsoft formats (it handles Microsoft Works files) including Excel VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) scripts.

It also imports WordPerfect graphics and even handles embedded Visio diagrams.

Get this and you won’t need Office.

10. Firefox

Yep, okay. Firefox 3 is getting a bit old and warn, compared to lighter-looking browsers such as Chrome. But the sheer number of plugins Firefox has makes it all but impossible to go past.

The first beta of Firefox 4 is due in a couple of months and the final version 4 release should be out by November so if you’re not using Firefox now, we reckon you might soon be.

Okay, so what did we miss? What’s your favourite must-have app that gets installed onto your Windows PC before you’ve even activated(!) Windows? Drop us a comment in the box below.

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