Here we’ve put together a list of our favourite utility apps — tools useful for everything from setting up a new computer, to just getting the most out of your existing system.
This feature is not just for Windows users either — we’ve included options for Mac OS X, Android and iOS users too.
We’ve ensured the majority of these apps are free, except in a few special cases where the cost is well worth it.
While we’ve listed apps by OS, many of them are available across multiple platforms, or have alternatives for the same use.
A very handy installer that can download and automatically install a selection of critical apps. Ninite avoids any toolbars or extras, and runs with no user input.
It’s great solution for getting a new system up to speed. It can also be used to update existing apps.
Ninite Pro can be used on multiple PCs on a network at the same time.
From: Google Chrome
This free (and open source) software goes beyond just allowing the creation of custom keyboard shortcuts. It can remake keys and buttons, expand typing abbreviations and create hotkeys on other input devices.
To automate repetitive tasks, AutoHotKey can create complex inputted or recorded macros. Scripts can be exported as an .exe to run on other systems.
An excellent free image editor — Paint.NET has many features shared by higher-end paid software. It can handle essentials like layers and effects, and is easy to learn and use.
Importantly, it’s continually updated, with new features and better support. It can also run on low-end hardware, such as Atom and Celeron CPUs.
Productivity apps such as Word are critical to getting work done, but are often expensive and very large to install. OpenOffice is small, totally free and includes a word processor, spreadsheets, presentation creation, drawing, database manipulation and a maths program.
OpenOffice can also read existing .doc and .docx files, or save in the format. It also has a large selection of language packages.
From: uBlock Origin
The Internet is a much nicer place with an Adblocker, which can also give protection against Malware. Not all ad blockers are available for every browser, though.
One of the most popular and widely available is Adblock Plus but it is criticised for participating in the acceptable advertising program. uBlock Origin is a popular pure ad blocker for Chrome and Firefox.
From: Foxit Reader
The free Adobe Acrobat reader is decent, but other free options offer better features.
Foxit Reader lets you view, create, annotate and print PDFs. Sumatra is a simple free PDF reader that can also open eBooks. PDFCreator is a powerful and flexible PDF creation tool that can also convert any printable file format to PDF.
Malwarebytes Anti Malware
From: Malwarebytes Anti Malware
For many, the excellent built-in Windows Defender is probably enough protection. For extra peace of mind, Malwarebytes Anti Malware is a popular choice.
A premium version with extras such as real-time protection and malicious website blocking is available.
Potentially illegitimate uses aside, torrents can be a great way to handle high-speed downloads of programs and files.
When the favourite, uTorrent, went a bit rouge, qBittorent stepped up, with an excellent interface and useful features such as an integrated search engine, web remote, IP filtering and bandwidth scheduler.
It’s also available on various platforms, such as Linux and Mac OS.
CCleaner has two main uses. To ensure total privacy after using a PC, running the program does a full sweep and clean of browser history, cookies, Internet files and passwords.
It can also be used to help a slow PC, by removing temporary files, cleaning up the registry and disabling unnecessary programs from starting up at boot.
With limited space on SSDs, wrangling unneeded space hog files is an ongoing process. WinDirStat makes it easy to see what is using up your previous gigabytes with graphical tree map display based on size.
You can then check and delete the offending files and free up space. It also works on external drives, or network-connected storage.
While Windows has some built-in ZIP handling options, it can’t handle some of the more exotic formats. If size is critical, 7-ZIP actually does a better job than some of its popular competitors, such as WinRAR.
It can also perform up to 70% better than a standard zip when using its own format, 7z.
From: Image Resizer
Added as a right-click menu option, you can resize one or more images in just a few clicks. A range of resolutions are available, as well as a custom sizes.
When favourite TrueCrypt was discontinued, VeraCrypt continued on as an open source and free file encryption utility. It supports AES, Serpent and Twofish ciphers.
For some Windows users, the built-in BitLocker software offers encryption, but it has also come under fire for being closed-source and having potential backdoors in its security.
Price: Free (for single device)
Passwords are easy to forget, which can lead to some pretty insecure practices. A password vault allows you to store complex hard-to-crack passwords in one spot, and secure them with a single hard-to-break but easy to remember password.
LastPass can also autofill passwords, and is available across your devices, such as PC, tablet and smartphone.
Being able to remotely control your home (or work) PC and access files and programs on the go is extremely useful. It’s also an easy way to remotely help friends and family with computer issues or hold online meetings.
TeamViewer is free for private use, and can be used on other devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
Mac OS X apps
The easiest way to automatically install a range of useful apps onto your Mac. Categories include browsers, productivity options, developer programs, tools, utilities, multimedia apps and ways to stay in contact.
It includes both free and paid apps, which need a separate licence. MacApps also has a short explanation of what the different apps do.
F.lux automatically (and slowly) adjusts your monitor to look warmer (and less blue) at night. This science behind the app is research-backed too.
From: Parallels Desktop
Sometimes, it is useful to run Windows applications on a Mac, especially games. It’s possible to use Boot Camp to install Windows, but a virtual machine can be used to run software within Mac OS instead.
Parallels costs $100, but is fast and well supported. VirtualBox (www.virtualbox.org) is slower, but does the same job for free.
From: Duet Display
It connects via your lightning (or 30-pin) cable, and can deliver 60fps with no lag. Even better, the iPad touchscreen can be used to interact with and control your laptop.
Have a media file that can’t be played on your playback device of choice, such as an Apple TV? HandBrake is a free and open source video transcoder that can handle just about any format out there.
It’s also useful for reducing the quality, resolution and file size of videos to suit specific devices or storage space restrictions.
From: Google Translate
As close to a Star Trek universal translator as has been made, this app can translate 90 languages through typing. Using a camera, it can instantly translate text (in 26 languages) on items such as signs or menus.
It can also do two-way automatic speech translation and has downloadable language packs.
A smart keyboard that allows faster smartphone typing with fewer mistakes. The app actually learns your writing style (and reads old texts to judge commonly used words), picks up slang and constantly improves its predictions.
With Flow enabled, you can type simply by swiping a finger across the keyboard. SwiftKey also supports over 100 languages.
Quickly and simply save your thoughts when on the go and have them automatically shared across to all your devices, including a laptop. Simplenote allows tagging and searching to help make finding a specific note easy.
Notes are saved each time they are changed and the revisions can be viewed. The app can also be used to share notes with others.
Adobe Photoshop Fix
From: Adobe Photoshop Fix
This free iOS-exclusive app is an intuitive yet powerful way to retouch and edit pictures on iPhone or iPad. It uses Photoshop technology you’re familiar with, and has tools such as heal, liquefy, smooth and a range of painting and colour options.
Coupled to Adobe Creative Cloud (paid), you can sync images with other devices and export .PSD files.
From: Dragon Dictation
Aside from notes, you can write emails, send tweets and even post Facebook status updates without typing. Corrections are done with voice as well, giving a very hands off experience.
The ultimate tool to connect your PC and smartphone. Get call, SMS and app notifications on your computer and quickly reply straight from the desktop. You can also easily transfer files between devices and control music.
AirDroid can also remotely manage your phone, locate it if lost, mirror some apps on PC and even view footage via the camera.
From: Tiny Flashlight
The app has a widget button that can be placed on the home screen, with a few different styles. There are also plugins available, such as a strobe mode or shake on lock screen activation.
This app makes playing a huge variety of content on your Chromecast (or other supporting player or smart TV) easy. It’s not just local files either — the app can access a NAS, shared drive or even cloud storage.
It can handle subtitles, as well as music streaming and picture slideshows through on-screen touch controls.
Tasker could be used to automatically turn your phone to silent at night, or at a location such as work. Condi is a simpler, but free alternative.
ES File Explorer
From: ES File Explorer
A simple yet powerful way to access, copy and move files in Android. The app also connects to (most) Cloud storage accounts, and can be used to manage content remotely from a computer.
ES File Explorer has built-in search functionality, handles ZIP and RAR files and be used to backup files online, or save app data.