Free Software to be Installed on Every Fresh Windows Box & Virtual MachineLast Updated: December 12, 2021
About This List
This page serves as a living shortlist of software I use. I maintain it so I can rapidly furnish a new Windows installation with the tools and I need and expect to be available on every machine so that...
- I can quickly line up the latest installers direct from their sources, up to date - every time and never waste time coming back because I forgot something.
- My "creative process" is not interrupted by as-needed retrievals and installations, doubly disruptive to my chi after leaving the "configuration mindset" :)
- Virtual machines and system images can be configured with as much prerequisite software as possible before I start cloning or forking them, reducing duplicate operations later.
- I can provide clients and colleagues with a post-installation environment that contains quality software that provides a more enjoyable and "usable" experience out of the box than a cold, clean fresh installation.
Obviously it only makes sense to install those packages you expect or think there is a good chance you will be using in a particular installation given your initial assumptions about its use-case. There is no point bloating an image with office software if it is going to be an FTP server.
I have broken the list up into profiles that more appropriately group software which is only useful or likely to be installed in certain use-cases. That doesn't mean you will never find something you will like or find useful in profiles that don't read like they are addressed to your professional/personal role(s) and my idea of what a certain role entails is not necessarily congruent with your philosophy so you will probably benefit from periodically checking out the profiles that don't sound like they apply to you now and then.
Profiles are meant to cascade logically; on a machine where I expect to be doing a lot of ARM SoC work I will run through the following profiles:
- Virtual Machine, if it is one
- General Administration and Development
If you would like to suggest any killer apps that I should know about please do (comments currently under development, come back soon!).
To increase the chance this list is useful on a long-term basis to you as well, I pledge these these non-binding assurances:
* on best-effort basis while making no guarantees whatsoever nor submitting to any retribution or acknowledgement of anything less than engaging in laudable, selfless altruism should I fall short on these or any other suggested intentions (real or imagined) or otherwise disappoint you...
- This is a list of free or functional-without-payment software. Software may contain ads but I wouldn't use it if it wasn't worth it. You must apply your own due diligence to ensure you don't install bloat bundled with the installers. No pirated software shall be included.
- This is Windows we're talking about, free is not a philosophical struggle for our purposes.
- Links are, to the best of my ability, made directly to the downloads page of a given project where the download URL appears to be stable (e.g. does not contain version numbers) or to the project's primary website or page.
- List items are in no particular order. New entries will often not be posted to the bottoms.
- Where a project has been taken over by another party I will reassess the safety and benefit of that project and may remove it if any changes in its direction pose a risk, diminish its usability or otherwise bring new versions below my subjective, personal standards.
- When software is removed, except where it has become a security or privacy risk, a link will be preserved along with a short explanation however the item may be moved to a different section.
- When a new project supplants an existing entry as my favourite implementation of a given functionality a link to the old project will be retained next to the new item in perpetuity for those whom have become dependent upon or simply prefer the old version.
- I will update this list in as close to real-time as possible when I discover new software that is appropriate for inclusion or supplants an existing solution.
- If a project becomes defunct and official or appropriately benevolent and competent sources are no longer available I may, at my discretion, mirror the last good installer here.
If you find this list useful or just like finding out about new software you might be interested in some of my other software shortlists:
- Favourite Android Software
- Favourite Redhat (RHEL/CentOS/Fedora/Oracle Linux) Software
- Favourite Browser Extensions
Base: For All Systems
- W10Privacy automatically runs hundreds of tweaks and fixes. I include this tool and a copy of my config file on installation DVDs and USB sticks to immediately de-bloat and disable built-in telemetry and privacy invasion in new Windows 10 installations before I do anything else. Absolutely essential on resource-constrained (older or virtual) machines.
- Microsoft Sysinternals Suite
- Firefox (my Favourite Browser Extensions)
- Chrome (my Favourite Browser Extensions)
- Oracle VM VirtualBox
- Docker Desktop
- Signal Desktop
- Telegram Desktop
- Npcap nmap's Npcap (libpacap compatible WinPcap successor) is bundled with the Wireshark and nmap installers. I recommend installing this stand-alone package first to ensure both tools get the latest possible version irrespective of their release schedules.
- PumpKIN TFTP Client/Server
- Alcohol 120% or Gizmo Drive ceased development in 2011;while it remains my favourite it is a 32-bit application that relies on ACP Virtuakization and will eventually cease functioning.
- HDD Raw Copy Tool
- Balena Etcher is becoming a widely popular SD card and USB stick disk image flasher for its simple, safe and elegant interface, while...
- Rufus is a versatile and highly configurable bootable USB writer; unless you have specific needs you are probably fine to install one or the other.
- GIMP for Windows
- LibreOffice for original document creation; This installation requires a lot of storage! I find Google Docs tends to reproduce Microsoft Office rendering more faithfully when importing - YMMV!
I realize it will seem odd to some that I'm including a profile that is inherently case-by-case and it is likely this will be the least worthwhile category for virtually everyone else, but since getting into hardware and embedded I need to constantly provision the same drivers over and over. I have also always used Logitech Unifying peripherals extensively in my lab (offices, shop, car, livingroom, bedroom...) to reduce the otherwise impenetrable jungle of HID wires and a Harmony system has formed the Infra-Red end of my Home Automation system for six years. YMMV but I need quick access to these tools on virtually every bare-metal Windows installation so I can quickly manage what devices are paired where, get low battery notifications, reprogram obnoxious media keys and so on; you may have noticed Logitech's product support site is slow, cumbersome to navigate and often missing their own products.
Which almost segues into the secondary purpose of this list: It's getting harder to find drivers and software for legacy devices and there is no shortage of scarcely supported and esoteric kit out there made even in modern times. Accordingly, when I deem it appropriate I am going to start uploading and directly hosting select binaries that are endangered to the point that I fear no umbridge from the original distributor.
- Downloads Menu
- Logitech Unifying Software
- Logitech Options (Newer devices)
- SetPoint* (Legacy devices)
- * PAY ATTENTION: the download form defaults to 32bit and the installer will refuse to run on at least Windows 10 64-bit. Select either the 64bit or smartinstaller packages; don't let the title and marginally attentive capitalization fool you: Full Installer 64-Bit will make the form disappear (I suppose that means there is no version of that particular installer for Windows 10, even though the form is knows you are using and claims to be presenting the Windows 10 context-optimized download options...) and break the page so thoroughly that it will be necessary to re-navigate back. Bug has persisted at least two years.
- Firmware Update Tool
- K750 Downloads > Logitech Solar
Server: Network Facilities
Terminal: End User Machines
Do not forget to install your virtualization platform's latest VM extensions package, i.e:
- Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack
- Citrix VM Tools/XCP-ng VM Tools
- VMware Tools
- Qubes Guest-Additions
For a Mixed Environment where the host will interact with Linux and other UNIX-Like Operating Systems (*BSD, Solaris, etc.)
- KLog Win32 networked syslog daemon,>
- Deploy Network File System
- Xming (On Windows 10+ you are now much better off installing Windows Subsystem for Linux)
- Windows Subsystem for Linux
NOTE 1: On Windows 10+ you are now much better off installing Windows Subsystem for Linux instead.
NOTE 2: Cygwin can consume huge amounts of space. From Stack Overflow: What is the current full install size of Cygwin? by user Warren Young:A full Cygwin installation can range from 23 to 112 GiB, depending on how you define "full"...
I've come up with a simple set of package exclusion rules that results in a much smaller installation:
- Skip all of the -debuginfo packages. Few people need these, and they take up a lot of space.
It's easy to apply this rule. After selecting all packages for installation with the sneaky trick above but before you move on to the next screen, click the "Install" text next to the "Debug" category header until it switches back to "Default."
If you've already installed the debug packages, click that text until it says "Uninstall" instead.
- Do not explicitly install any of the lib* packages. Let Cygwin's setup-*.exe automatically install libraries to satisfy package dependencies. Savings: about 5 GiB ⁵
To apply this rule, switch the "Libs" category to "Default" or "Uninstall" as you did with the "Debug" category. The installer will figure out which libraries you actually need in a later step.
- Skip the cross-compilers and associated packages. Again, few people need these.⁶ Savings: About 4 GiB
There are two major sets of cross-development tools in Cygwin: the set for creating Cygwin executables of the other word size (i.e. 64-bit tools and libraries for 32-bit Cygwin, or vice versa) and the set for building MinGW executables of the same word size as your Cygwin installation.
To apply this rule for a 64-bit Cygwin installation, while still on the "Select Packages" screen, type cygwin32- in the package name search box at the top of that screen, then click the Default text next to each top-level category until it cycles to Default or Uninstall, as above.
Repeat that for mingw64-.
The idea is the same for 32-bit Cygwin, except that you search for and exclude packages with cygwin64- and mingw32- in their names instead.
By following this rule set, I was able to install nearly everything, taking only about 23 GiB.
We can get the installation to be even smaller by excluding several other notorious disk hogs:
- X11, the desktop environments, and the GUI apps together require about 11 GiB.⁷
- A Cygwin Base + Devel installation comes to about 10 GiB.
- A Cygwin Base + TeX category installation takes about 5 GiB. If you install only your native language's support package, it comes to about 3.7 GiB instead.
- All of the -doc packages combined chew up about 5 GiB of disk space.
You really should read the original post if you intend to install Cygwin, it's extraordinarily detailed. Hats off to Mr. Young for the hands-down best answer I have ever seen posted to Stack Overflow.
- Skip all of the -debuginfo packages. Few people need these, and they take up a lot of space.
General Administration and Development: Software & Hardware Dev, Network and Systems Admin
This profile would generally be installed with another one of the more specific development/admin/infosec profiles below:
Electronics: Embedded Systems/Microcontroller/Electronic Engineering Prototyping and Development
- Saturn PCB Design Toolkit
- PulseView (sigrok frontend)
- Visual Studio Code
- Pay attention to the installation steps; tick the checkboxes for adding "Open with Code" to context menus.
- Install PlatformIO IDE:
- Open VSCode Package Manager [Gear Icon > Extensions]
- Search for the official platformio ide extension
- Install PlatformIO IDE.
There is no need to install PlatformIO Core (CLI) separately; it is included with the IDE.
- dfu-util (Windows binaries (among others) in -binaries.tar.xz archive; ensure 7zip is installed)
Windows Development, Troubleshooting, Burn-In Tests and Benchmarking
Unlike most of the software on this list I only recommend installing these apps when you run into the specific forms of trouble they were devised to diagnose and/or repair. You will hopefully never need them and their presence if left available on your filesystem may have security implications if they are misused by an attacker that has compromised your host:
- Visual Studio (ya rly :3)
- Windows Driver Kit (WDK) Contains tools including Devcon.exe (Pre-Vista), PnPUtil (Vista and later), PoolMon, PNPCPU, IoSpy and IoAttack (Vista and later, Deprecated and removed from Windows 10 Version 1703 in favour of new fuzzing tools contained in the...)
- Windows Hardware Lab Kit
- Debugging Tools for Windows 10 (WinDbg) provides tools including Kill, USBView, Tlist, Loggger and LogViewer, PLMDebug, Kill Tool, Remote Tool and so many more.
- Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK) and Windows PE
- Western Digital Dashboard
- Process Hacker has a few (not many) features over SysInternals Process Explorer (recommended in Base) mostly aimed at developers, while Explorer has tight Virus Total integration and is probably better for a typical user.
- LockHunter has a reputation for being able to break file locks when other tools can't (functionality provided in Win10 native Resource Monitor under CPU > Associated Handles also provided by Process Hacker, SysInernals Process Explorer and the CLI utility handle.exe/handle64.exe from same.
Software will only completely removed from the list if it becomes defunct, dangerous by neglect or malicious at the hands of its creator/malicious parties/new owner. Packages that have been replaced by better solutions will remain linked next to them for the benefit of readers who can not or do not want to switch. Happily, at present no packages have been removed from the list.
These installation media are provided by Microsoft. Their accessibility may however be facilitated by clever third parties :)
- See foxpa.ws/ms-isos