Whether you've just purchased a new PC or reinstalled Windows, the first task you'll likely do is installing apps. While there are dozens of amazing Windows programs, knowing which ones are the must-have software for Windows 10 or Windows 11 makes setting up a new installation easier.
In no particular order, let's step through 15 essential apps for Windows that everyone should install right away, along with some alternatives for them.
1. Internet Browser: Google Chrome
Unsurprisingly, Google Chrome is still our top browser pick. It's super-speedy, includes little conveniences like letting you instantly search Google Lens for an image, and has a vast library of Chrome extensions. Throw in cross-platform syncing that lets you open your desktop tabs on your phone and vice-versa, and you've got a fantastic browser for all purposes.
Chrome isn't without its faults, however. Plenty of people want to avoid Google's pervasive tracking in Chrome, and it gobbles a lot of RAM. But the good news is that you have plenty of other fantastic browsers to choose from, like Firefox and Opera.
Even the built-in Microsoft Edge is based on Chromium, so give it a try if you prefer Microsoft's approach over Google's.
Download: Google Chrome (Free)
Download: Firefox (Free)
Download: Opera (Free)
2. Cloud Storage: Google Drive
If you only pick one cloud app service, Google Drive is the one you should install due to the amount of free space it includes. It offers 15GB of free storage, which is shared across your Google account with Google Photos and Gmail too.
Google Drive offers an app for every major platform, so you can take your files anywhere. In addition to syncing files you place in the dedicated Google Drive folder, the desktop app makes it easy to back up folders on your computer and external devices, too.
It's also super easy to share files with others, plus the service plays well with Google's productivity suite. Whether you use it as part of your backup plan, as a cloud flash drive, or for setting up shared folders with others, Google Drive is an essential app pick for Windows 10 and 11.
Paired with OneDrive (which comes built into Windows) or another free cloud storage provider, you can get plenty of storage space and separate your files logically by service.
Download: Google Drive (Free, subscription available)
3. Music Streaming: Spotify
Years ago, listening to music on your desktop meant painstakingly importing and organizing a collection of MP3s. That's no longer the case; music streaming services eliminate the need for buying individual albums physically or digitally.
There are a lot of music streaming services available, but we think the essential pick for Windows 10 or 11 is Spotify. Its ad-supported free plan lets you listen to as much music as you like, and there are several Spotify Premium plans that are worth it for avid listeners. Spotify is also home to millions of podcasts, making everything available in one convenient place.
Spotify also has a dedicated Windows app, unlike some of its competitors. If you're already invested in another ecosystem, though, Apple Music or YouTube Music might be a better choice for you.
Download: Spotify (Free, subscription available)
Visit: Apple Music (Subscription required, free trial available)
Visit: YouTube Music (Free, subscription available)
4. Office Suite: LibreOffice
Chances are you'll need a productivity suite that lets you work with documents, spreadsheets, and presentations at some point. You might think that paying for Microsoft Office is the only way to get such access, but that's far from the truth.
No Windows user should go without LibreOffice. It's a completely free and powerful office suite that includes alternatives to Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and more. Once you get used to a few small aesthetic differences from MS Office, you'll be flying through your work with LibreOffice.
Note that OpenOffice, a once-popular alternative, is basically dead now. If you don't want to use LibreOffice, try FreeOffice. You can use web apps like Word Online or Google Docs too, but we're focused on full desktop downloads here.
Download: LibreOffice (Free)
Download: FreeOffice (Free)
5. Image Editor: Paint.NET
Whether you want to try your hand at basic image manipulation, need a way to blur sensitive info in screenshots, or want to retouch old photos, everyone should have an image editing program installed. Photoshop is the gold standard for this, but there are plenty of free tools that are more accessible.
Paint.NET is a must-have Windows app for your image editing needs. It's far more powerful than Microsoft Paint, but doesn't overwhelm you with loads of confusing tools. You can easily blur out parts of an image, auto-level photos to make them look better, and add text and shapes to your pictures in just a few clicks. Plenty of plugins allow you to expand its functionality, too.
If you find Paint.NET too basic, GIMP is a more advanced solution, and it's also available at no charge.
Download: Paint.NET (Free)
Download: GIMP (Free)
6. Security: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware
Windows 10 and 11 include Windows Defender, which is a good enough antivirus for most users. However, it's wise to keep a secondary security program installed to supplement it.
For this, you can't beat Malwarebytes. The free version lets you scan your system for malware that your antivirus might not catch. And for a powerful blended security solution, upgrading to Malwarebytes Premium is worth the cost.
Download: Malwarebytes (Free, subscription available)
7. Media Player: VLC
Thanks to YouTube's ubiquity, you probably don't watch local videos too often. However, everyone should still keep a solid video player around on their desktop for when they need to play media files locally. Even if it's not one of the tools you think to download on a new computer right away, it will come in handy someday.
For this task, nothing beats VLC Media Player, which packs a ton of features and is capable of playing nearly every video and audio format imaginable. You might not break it out often, but give VLC a download while you're setting up your PC. You'll save yourself the hassle of messing with video codecs or using QuickTime, which hasn't been supported on Windows for years.
Download: VLC (Free)
8. Screenshots: ShareX
Taking a screenshot on Windows is useful for everything from capturing funny moments to having a record of important information. The basic Snipping Tool and Snip & Sketch apps only provide a barebones feature set, so you need something better in your pack of essential Windows apps.
You won't find a more powerful free screenshot tool than ShareX. With tons of capture methods, a solid built-in editor, the ability to run automated steps after you take a screenshot, and extra tools like a color grabber and ruler, ShareX has an impressive feature set for no cost.
If ShareX overwhelms you, give PicPick a try instead. It's a bit simpler, but doesn't compromise on features.
Download: ShareX (Free)
Download: PicPick (Free)
9. File Compression and Extraction: 7-Zip
Windows includes native support for simple zipped files, but anything beyond the basics requires a more powerful tool. While this isn't the most exciting software category, a file extractor is still a must-have PC app so you can work with any kind of archived files you might encounter.
7-Zip is the gold standard for file compression and extraction apps. It's small and installs in seconds, is easy to use, and stays out of your way when you're not using it. Those who need advanced features will still find them in 7-Zip, though.
The only drawback of 7-Zip is its aged, spartan appearance. If you can't get over that, take a look at PeaZip, which is a similar tool with a much more attractive UI. Either way, you certainly don't need to pay for tools like WinRAR.
Download: 7-Zip (Free)
Download: PeaZip (Free)
10. Messaging: Rambox
Chances are that you use at least one messaging service to stay in touch with your friends during the day. With so many options to choose from, there's no way we could pick the best messaging service, because it all depends on what your friends use. So why not have all of them in one place?
Rambox is our pick for the best messaging app on Windows. It lets you add accounts from dozens of popular messaging services, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, GroupMe, Discord, and many more. You can even add other web apps, like Apple Music, to it.
The app simply adds a new tab for every service you use, letting you keep up with every group in one window. It includes some extra features that make it more useful than opening these apps in your browser, and you can easily close or minimize one window (instead of a half-dozen) when it's time to focus.
While Rambox's free plan has some limitations, it offers more for free than competitors like Franz.
Download: Rambox (Free, subscription available)
11. Clipboard Manager: ClipClip
A clipboard manager is an important Windows app because it saves you a lot of time. Instead of only being able to keep one item on your PC's clipboard at once, clipboard managers let you keep track of the last several dozen entries you've copied.
ClipClip is a great Windows clipboard manager to use. In addition to logging what you copy, the app also lets you pin frequent snippets for easy access. It's easy to create folders for quickly pasting canned text like addresses, email responses, and similar.
The app doesn't overwhelm you with options, but does let you tweak its hotkeys, disable clipboard monitoring when needed, and choose what the app ignores. Add it to your list of basic Windows software and you'll never have to worry about managing your PC's clipboard again.
Download: ClipClip (Free)
12. Password Manager: Bitwarden
It's not humanly possible to create strong passwords for every account and remember them all. That's why you need a password manager. It's a secure service that creates good passwords for you and locks them behind one master password, which is the only one you have to remember.
Bitwarden is the best free password manager and one of the most important pieces of software you can download. In addition to the desktop app, you'll need to install the Bitwarden extension in your browser of choice to easily auto-fill passwords. Follow our complete guide to getting started with a password manager to learn how to get started.
Download: Bitwarden (Free, subscription available)
13. Backup: Backblaze
Backing up your PC is essential, as a natural disaster, break-in, or malware attack could wipe out all the files on your machine. You don't want to lose all your documents, photos, and other files and have to start from scratch.
We like Backblaze as an essential backup service for Windows 10 or Windows 11. For just a few dollars a month, the service backs up everything on your PC, as well as any external drives you connect, to the Backblaze cloud. You don't have to worry about choosing what gets backed up, and there are no limits to your backup size either.
While it's the only app on this list that doesn't have a free option, backing up is worth paying for. If you ever lost all your files, the app would pay for itself in an instant.
As an additional backup layer, or for your main backup if you can't afford Backblaze, you should try EaseUS Todo Backup Free. It's an easy-to-use tool for making local backups of your files.
Download: Backblaze (From $7/month)
Download: EaseUS Todo Backup Free (Free, premium version available)
14. Storage Management: TreeSize Free
Everyone knows the hassle of running low on storage space. That's why one of the useful apps you should install on every Windows system is a disk analyzer.
TreeSize Free is a straightforward way to find out what's taking up space on your computer. Simply open it and tell it which disk to scan, and it will order all the folders on your PC based on how large they are. You can then see the largest files on your computer and take action to delete or move them accordingly.
Don't waste time trying to manually hunt through folders and find large files—let this essential utility do it for you. Use it as part of our step-by-step Windows cleaning guide.
Download: TreeSize Free (Free, premium version available)
15. Scripting: AutoHotkey
If you want to bring more automation to your computer, then AutoHotkey is something you need to download. It's a custom scripting tool that let you define your own commands, making it as useful as whatever you can dream up.
As just a few examples, you can create quick text expansion, enable automatic typo correction, override certain keyboard keys, and create macros to perform several actions with a few keypresses.
AutoHotkey can be a little intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's a powerful tool to have in your kit. See our guide to getting started with AutoHotkey and great AutoHotkey scripts to try as an introduction.
Download: AutoHotkey (Free)
The Must-Have Apps for Every Windows PC
We've looked at essential apps for Windows 10 and Windows 11 that everyone should install right away, and they're almost all free. If you don't prefer one of our picks, you'll find a suitable alternative without much trouble. Most people will get plenty of use out of these programs and appreciate them more than the default software that comes installed with Windows.
Now that you know this necessary software for your PC, you should also be aware of useless Windows apps that you should uninstall.