Diplomatic Technology: PC 103, Fantastic Freeware

IT personnel, computer enthusiasts, subscribers of MaximumPC – this post isn’t geared towards you guys, because what I’m going to talk about, you live with it everyday.  This article is about bridging the gap between geeks and non-geeks, and reaching out to those perhaps not so computer savvy, less experienced, or gun-shy when it comes to working on their machines.  Full disclosure; I’m writing this for people like my parents.

This… is Diplomatic Technology.

Software can be intimidating. There’s just so much of it.

I’ve elected to construct a list of free software which has served me well over the years, and share it with you in the hopes it will make your computing experiences better.  Anyone can use the software listed here, but some of the programs listed may have advanced features not recommended for novice users; I will insert disclaimers as needed.  Enjoy!

Process Explorer

by Mark Russinovich (info and download link here)

Process Explorer is an excellent upgrade to what would normally be the ‘Processes’ tab of your Task Manager.  I’ve been using this application almost my entire IT career.  It gives far more fleshed-out details about the processes running in the background on your machine, including folder paths and associated applications.  It is an invaluable tool when your machine is running slow, or applications you don’t recognize are showing up in your processes.  It doesn’t even need to be installed; once you unzip the package, you can just double-click the procexp.exe and boom, you’re using it.  Figuring out which applications are causing you problems is made much simpler with this tool.  Mark Russinovich is a legendary face in the Windows community; take a look at this brief bio.  Browse the Sysinternals site for other wonderful utility apps for Windows.

WinDirStat

(info and download links here)

WinDirStat is short for Windows Directory Statistics.  It is simply the best tool for finding out how much space on your hard disk your files are occupying, and shows it to you in a surprisingly easy to understand graphical interface.  If you find you’re low on hard drive space, WinDirStat can help you locate files suitable for deletion, or files that for some reason have gotten insanely large – for example, I once had to troubleshoot a machine that was suddenly completely out of hard drive space.  Thanks to WinDirStat, I located a Dr. Watson log that had corrupted somehow and was just filling itself with junk data – it had grown to 34gb in size.  I would have never thought to look for that, if not for the giant square that file represented in the treemap graph WinDirStat provides.

Display Fusion

(info and download links here)

If you only have one monitor, you may as well skip to the next entry.  If you have two or more monitors however, it is agonizing having to go back to a single one for any reason, and you won’t know how you functioned beforehand.  Display Fusion is a tool that makes having dual monitors (or multiple monitors) even more awesome.  I installed it for one reason only; I wanted to be able to have different wallpapers on my two monitors.  Beyond that, I wasn’t looking for any additional functionality, but this application has it anyways – very cool features like being able to set up different screensavers for your monitors, multimonitor taskbars, change your Windows logon background, and more.  The free version of the application has all of its basic features, and it is very easy to use.

CCleaner

(info and download links here)

CCleaner is the best tool for ridding your computer of junk and miscellaneous unnecessary files.  Many malware and spyware programs nestle themselves in the folders that CCleaner dives in and cleans – running it from time to time can help protect your machine from the bad guys out there.  Just open it up and hit ‘Run Cleaner’ to nuke Temporary Internet Files, Cookies, Empty your Recycle Bin, and more.  You can remove the checkmarks for your History and Recently Typed URLs so you don’t lose them to the cleaning.  It has the ability to delete a lot more than what it defaults to as well, but several of those choices are advanced options not recommended for anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing – be advised, and stick with the defaults if you aren’t sure.  This is also true of its registry cleaner functionality.

Microsoft Security Essentials

(info and download link here)

There are a lot of free anti-virus options out there, but surprisingly Microsoft makes one of the best ones.  It is a very strong anti-virus suite with a minimum of fuss and system impact (it running doesn’t slow your machine very much).  Highly recommended for machines without anti-virus software installed, or for those who have uninstalled an anti-virus they no longer wished to pay for.

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware

(info and download links here)

Another excellent app to carry around on a thumbdrive with you in case you need to rescue a friend, MalwareBytes can pull computers from the depths of oblivion when they’ve been infected with viruses, spyware, or similar.  While not perfect, the free version of MalwareBytes has saved many a machine, or at least made it possible to do so, by scanning down to the deepest files and seeking, isolating, and destroying malicious software.  It will nag you a little bit to get the full version, and it does run in the background once installed, but these are things that can be tolerated for an application that can prevent you from needing to do a complete format of a hard drive and reinstall of the operating system.

*****Honorable Mention, ADVANCED Users ONLY!**** 

HijackThis (info and download links here)

Designed for advanced users, HijackThis will show you every single thing happening on your machine.  While it can be a terrific tool for removing deeply-rooted malware, the software itself makes no distinction between safe and unsafe operations – meaning it gives you the ability to remove anything running on your computer, regardless of whether its supposed to be there or not.  For that reason it is NOT ADVISED AT ALL FOR NOVICE USERS.  However, if you know your stuff, this application may save your computer someday.

Know a great tool or application I missed?  Have any suggestions for further Diplomatic Technology articles?  Need advice on a problem?  Leave a comment, or hit the Contact JUST REBOOT! link at the top of the page!  All contributors will be credited!

 

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4 thoughts on “Diplomatic Technology: PC 103, Fantastic Freeware

    • This looks like a really cool multi-utility and I will be checking out the trial version, however it didn’t really fit the criteria of the article because 1. it’s not really simple, with all those functions and 2. it isn’t free forever.
      I’m not really in the habit of reviewing windows apps, mostly just Android stuff – I write Diplomatic Technology posts specifically for people like my parents – in fact, FOR my parents to read. If I find that I really dig your app though I’ll see if i don’t change my tune, though!

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