Superior Alternatives to Crappy Windows Software

It may be the year 2008, but a whole lot of sucktacular software still rears its ugly head on PCs everywhere, even when better-behaved options are freely available. Whether it's molasses-slow bloatware, shameless adware, anemic default apps, or "Your trial period has expired!" nagware, it's time to replace stinky Windows software with its superior (but lesser-known) alternative. Last week we asked what software you should never install on your PC, and over 200 comments later, you compiled quite a list. Today we're going to take a walk down the Crapware Hall of Shame, point and laugh at the worst offenders, and highlight some better choices. Photo by chelseagirl.

Application to Avoid: Adobe Reader
Indictment: Bloatware
Superior Alternative(s): FoxIt Reader or Sumatra PDF
Notes: There are much worse offenders on this list than Adobe Reader, which has gotten more performant over the years. Keep in mind that Adobe deals with some PDF's (like ones with editable form fields) better than FoxIt. If you don't want to ditch Adobe Reader entirely, here's how to tweak Adobe 8 for speed.

Application to Avoid: AOL Instant Messenger pidginthumb.png
Indictment: One-trick pony with ads included made by a company that holds its customers hostage. (Speaking of, here's how to cancel your AOL account.)
Superior Alternative(s): Digsby or Pidgin or Miranda or Trillian or Meebo
Notes: The moral of the story is you should avoid anything that comes on six zillion free CDs that swamp your apartment building's mailroom.

Application to Avoid: Browser Toolbars (that you didn't seek out yourself)
Indictment: Notorious for hijacking your browser, phoning home with your online activity, taking up precious real estate, and not offering any features you actually want.
Superior Alternative(s): Your browser's built-in search box and a few good bookmarklets
Notes: Don't get us wrong: Not all toolbars are bad, but do beware when they get tacked onto the end of a totally unrelated software installation and you have to opt OUT of them.

Application to Avoid: Internet Explorer (6 and 7)
Indictment: Lacks features any self-respecting modern web browser had two versions ago
Superior Alternative(s): Firefox
Notes: Because IE gloms onto the innards of your operating system so inextricably, you can't truly uninstall it. Just set your system's default browser to Firefox to avoid launching IE ever.

Application to Avoid: iTunes
Indictment: Too controlling, gleefully enforces DRM, can't monitor folders for new music
Superior Alternative(s): foobar200 (more on foobar2000), Songbird, or WinAmp
Notes: We—ok, I—actually like and use iTunes, ever since that time Steve Jobs waved that iPhone over my forehead and chanted. These recommendations only for those with particularly sensitive digital music sensibilities.

Application to Avoid: Java Runtime Environment
Indictment: You ugly and yo' Mama dresses you funny
Superior Alternative(s): None.
Notes: If you want to run a Java app, without the runtime you're SOL. Java, we love the idea of you. Just not the coffee cup staring at us from the system tray.

Application to Avoid: Limewire
Indictment: Where do we start? Haven't launched Limewire since our college days, and don't plan to ever look back
Superior Alternative(s): Frostwire
Notes: Bonus: Frostwire does BitTorrent, too.

Application to Avoid: MSN Messenger
Indictment: Little ugly non-faces with a red X over them plant themselves in your system tray with no obvious way to uninstall or quit it
Superior Alternative(s): Digsby or Pidgin or Miranda or Trillian or Meebo
Notes: Uninstall MSN Messenger by going to the "Add/Remove Windows Components" area in Control Panel's "Add/Remove Programs" area.

Application to Avoid: Nero Suite
Indictment: Costly
Superior Alternative(s): CDBurnerXP
Notes: The free CDBurnerXP may not do everything Nero does, but for the price it does a whole lot.

Application to Avoid: McAfee/Norton/Symantec Anti-Virus
Indictment: Naggy subscription costs after the free trial on your new PC runs out
Superior Alternative(s): AVG or Avast
Notes: See why many readers have ditched their AV software.

Application to Avoid: QuickTime
Indictment: Plants itself in your startup and system tray
Superior Alternative(s): QuickTime Alternative
Notes: While QuickTime doesn't annoy us THAT much, it still annoys us a little—especially since it comes with Apple's Software Update. (See Safari's Honorable Mention, below.)

Application to Avoid: RealPlayer
Indictment: We're still so traumatised about RealPlayer's repeated takeover of our PC back in 2004 we're seeing a special doctor that's killing that part of our memory
Superior Alternative(s): Real Alternative

vlcthumb.pngApplication to Avoid: Windows Media Player
Indictment: WTF interface, chokes on clips in common formats
Superior Alternative(s): VLC

Application to Avoid: WinZip
Indictment: Cost
Superior Alternative(s): 7-Zip or ALZip

Honorable mention: While Apple's Safari web browser for Windows itself is not crappy, Apple's Software Update trying to push it on you completely sucks. Here's how to opt out of installing Safari and stop the nag.

What crappy apps or better alternatives did we miss? Did we wrongly accuse one of your favourites? Let us know in the comments.

Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, still hasn't forgiven RealPlayer. Her weekly feature Geek to Live appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker AU.


    A music player substitute is MediaMonkey and is ace for organising music collections.

      Agree totally with the MediaMonkey recommendation. I have been using it since MucicMatch went "commerial". It does everything MusicMatch did and more. I even bought the Pro version. Love IT.

    Instead of getting QT Alternative and Real Alternative separately, just get the K-Lite codec pack. Has codecs for every format you'll ever want to play, plus Media Player Classic, which is a simple but not bad media player.


    I too got sick of Acrobat readers huge size and decreasing performance with each new version. I used FoxIt Reader for a little while but found it was not up to scratch (some PDF's looked messed up and they are slack when it comes to support. Last time I checked it could not display PDF's inside Firefox.

    I now use PDF XChange Viewer (Free Version). I have not looked back. Superior to both Acrobat reader and Foxit reader.

    As for cdburnerxp, did someone say "Over burning" ?? Sorry not in cdburnerxp. So I wouldn't be uninstalling Nero just yet.

    Also I have to say I much prefer "Media Player Classic" over VLC. Sooo much simpler to use and nicer to look at, it just works.

    All the other suggestions I agree with....

    Interesting that you bag Java (understandably)and then recommend Frostwire which requires Java!

    Here is a gem - FastStone Image Viewer. (The name doesn't do it justice". I am a Web Designer and all I use is FastStone for image manipulation. Please, please, please give this a try and it's FREE. Unbelievable.

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