We feature hundreds of different downloads every year at Lifehacker. If all you want is the best of the best, look no further than our annual Lifehacker Pack: One download that installs only our favourite, must-have Windows applications in a few clicks.
As with last year's Lifehacker Pack, it's intended as both an up-to-date compilation of our favourite Windows apps and utilities, and an actual bundle of software you can easily install.
This year we teamed up with the good folks at Ninite to create an unattended installer for the 2010 Lifehacker Pack. That's right — run this puppy on a brand-new Windows 7 installation, walk down the street to grab a cup of coffee, and when you get back, Ninite's bundle installer has finished automatically installing the apps we'd recommend anyone have on their system. Just to make sure we're on the same page, here's the screaming link you should follow to download the streamlined Lifehacker Pack:
We divided up the Lifehacker Pack into two sections this year — the "Essentials" and the "Extended". Each is just what they sound like — the Essentials is just what you need to make a modern Windows system usable, and "Extended" adds a lot of apps and functionality that not everybody needs, but some folks may find incredibly helpful.
Want to quickly and automatically install the apps we're recommending? Head to our Ninite bundle, then click the link at the top to "Select All Essential Apps". Don't need one or more of the apps included? Un-check the box next to each item you'd remove. You can then hit "Select All Extended Apps" in the second section, and do the same kind of cherry-picking of additions and removals.
When you're all done picking out the apps you want, click the "Get Installer" link that appears in the lower-right corner, and you'll be sent to a download page for your personalised installer package.
Here's how the Lifehacker team came up with the Lifehacker Pack selections, and a brief explanation of why each app is included:
The Essentials Pack — Just What You Need
Notepad++: Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.org and other office suites are good for just that — writing business documents in an office setting. When you need to edit text and need just a bit more than Notepad/Wordpad offer, Notepad++ is, as you might guess, much better. There's a good selection of text search and manipulation tools, tabbed editing of multiple documents, syntax colouring for those working with code and scripting abilities that can add in functions written by the app's very enthusiastic user base to add functions like automatic saving.
Texter: Built by our own Adam Pash, Texter remains the only truly free text replacement utility for Windows systems. It saves time and mental cycles by filling in long passages and tricky code when you type in a few key characters, and it is, in fact, how most of the Lifehacker editors track and write the HTML and text snippets that get reused everywhere. It can work with text from the clipboard, insert times and dates, and make semi-personalised email responses and signatures a snap. If you've got a bug complaint or code to add for Texter, you can contribute through GitHub.
Belvedere: Belvedere, another Adam Pash production, emulates the automated cleaning and sorting powers of the Hazel application for Macs. It takes care of the file actions you'd normally do (or forget to do) manually — remove image files from the desktop when they're a certain age, delete leftovers in the downloads folder after a certain point, compress and back up files matching certain conditions and so on. Like its television namesake, Belvedere handles your messy files and folders without a stiff upper lip and unspoken understanding of what needs doing.
SumatraPDF: What does SumatraPDF do that Adobe Reader doesn't do? Makes reading PDF documents very, very simple and fast. SumatraPDF downloads PDFs and opens them, rather than try to offer a browser plug-in experience. It opens those PDFs quickly, seems to support the majority of PDF features, including tables of contents and offers smart navigation shortcuts for those who want to learn.
Chrome: When Lifehacker first launched in early 2005, Internet Explorer had a near-monopoly on browser usage, and Firefox was everything it wasn't — open-source, faster, extensible and full of helpful little features — like, say, tabbed browsing. Firefox is still a smart alternative to Internet Explorer, but these days (as hard as it is for some of us to say it), the fastest, simplest and most search-savvy browser around is Google's own Chrome browser. At this point, the browser has incorporated most of the features one needs from a browser, has added some nifty new stuff, like built-in browser preferences and bookmark syncing, and has an extension library that's covering a lot of ground. In short, for those without special, only-available-for-Firefox needs, Chrome gets the job done. The majority of Lifehacker editors are using Chrome as their primary browser for work and personal browsing these days, and we see it as the best web tool we can recommend. (Don't worry, Firefox lovers — you can still grab Firefox as well in the Extended download.)
Thunderbird: With so many people using web-based email services these days, we could easily leave out a desktop email client. But Thunderbird is free, and its latest version is easy to set up as a kind of backup tool for Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and most non-Exchange email services. Why keep a desktop client connected to a webmail service? Because IMAP clients tend to still let you access Gmail, even when it's "down". And with Google's support for offline Gears on the wane, Thunderbird's smart download-then-work-offline feature is great for air travel and other non-connected situations.
Pidgin: Pidgin isn't as flashy as its newer, more social-media-focused counterparts like Trillian or Digsby, but in this case, simplicity is a virtue. Set up Pidgin with your AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, MSN or other chat accounts. Sync your Pidgin profile with Dropbox (a download also included in this pack), and you don't have to mess with settings anywhere or go hunting for chat logs. Better still, stash a portable copy in Dropbox, synced to that same profile, and you've always got a chat client ready to go on any Windows system.
Adobe Flash: Yes, it causes a good number of browser crashes (though fewer when bundled with Chrome). Yes, it's harder on laptop and mobile batteries than straight-up browsing. And, yes, HTML5 is the future. But at this moment, you need Flash, on occasion. If you want a say in when and how it runs, install the FlashBlock Chrome Extension and the original FlashBlock Firefox add-on if you're running that too.
Skype: It's one of the cheapest ways to call somebody overseas and, amazingly, it's still free if you both use your computers. Even better, Skype for Windows' new screen sharing/remote control feature turns out to be a pretty great tool for troubleshooting problems from far away. At some point, someone will ask to call you on Skype. It doesn't hurt to have it available.
uTorrent: The best, most secure and most full-featured BitTorrent client for Windows. Our voting readers agree by a wide margin, and we've found quite a few neat things to play with in uTorrent, too, like share your own files and running it from a thumb drive.
Dropbox: It's only been two years since this file syncing service debuted, but it's already hard to imagine how we lived without it. Everybody gets 2GB of free space to store files in the most simple interface possible — if it's in the Dropbox folder, it's synced. We've discovered and linked to many clever uses of this one-folder-every-computer setup, but at its heart, Dropbox is the service that frees you from having to remember to unplug your USB drive from every computer you use it on.
Mozy: Where Dropbox is simple, Mozy is detailed — in a good way. The web-based backup service also offers 2GB of free space, but keeps an eye on many different folders, or types of files, across your whole computer, with versioned copies of everything. They're trying to entice you into signing up for their full service, costing $US54.45 for a full year of unlimited storage, but that's not such a bad thing — having a copy of all your stuff in a place you can't delete it, set it on fire or spill your coffee on it is a savvy move.
ImgBurn: When it comes to disc-burning software, "Just works" is a big recommendation, because it really stinks to deal with image files, disc types or driver incompatibilities right before you want to hit "Burn". ImgBurn works with CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray, creates and opens all kinds of image formats and supports every Windows OS back to 95.
CCleaner: You may not think you'll ever run out of hard drive space, and maybe you won't. But the extra files, leftover data and cache files left hanging around by your apps can get very big and make your system work harder to find the good stuff. CCleaner finds the cruft and cleans it out, nice and simple.
Revo Uninstaller: Windows is too lenient in what it allows each piece of software to do when it "uninstalls". Some leave files, others leave menu links and file associations. Revo Uninstaller is like bleach when it comes to cleaning out apps. It also has a handy startup program manager for deeper cleans of what's dirtying up your system.
7-Zip: Windows (thankfully) opens and creates ZIP files natively. For opening the many other kinds of archives floating around the internet, install 7-Zip. You'll only see it hanging around when you open up a file, or right-click to create new files.
Music, Pictures & Video
Picasa: Picasa makes sense of the myriad folders, files and faces that make up our often discombobulated photo collections, and does it with an interface that's easy to understand. It also serves as a one-stop shop for quick photo touch-ups, collage creation, web album uploading and easy, no-pain photo emails.
Paint.NET: When you need to crop, cut or otherwise edit an image, Windows' built-in Paint isn't quite enough, while a full-fledged Photoshop or GIMP installation is probably too much. Paint.NET is just about perfect for the graphic design needs of a non-graphic-designer.
iTunes: We are not in love with iTunes, by any means — it's nearly a textbook example of feature creep, and it's not a fast, easy or particularly stable bit of Windows software. Still, it seems like everyone has to install iTunes at some point, either to make or release purchases or manage an iPod. There are apps that can manage iPods without iTunes, but they are not elegant. So we include iTunes because it still handles the basic functions of a music library and makes sense for the many, many iPod owners out there.
Microsoft Security Essentials: As the How-To Geek put it in his headline, stop paying for Windows security — Microsoft's security tools are good enough. The free download integrates tightly into your Windows system, but not in the annoying icons-everywhere, constant-nagging fashion of the big commercial providers. It also doesn't drag down performance, is quickly and automatically updated, and best of all, is just quietly working.
The Extended Pack
- Firefox: When we're not using Chrome, we're using Firefox. It's still a great browser with a lot of add-ons that can't be had anywhere else, and a good alternative to keep handy.
- OpenOffice.org: The free and open-source alternative to Microsoft's Office suite has its problems — speed, feature bloat and import/export problems for trickier documents. But at its heart, it still replicates the majority of what one needs to get modern work done without a Microsoft licence.
- Microsoft Office and Office Viewers: For those with a need to use authentic Office editing tools, or just read and print documents sent your way. The Office included in this pack is a trial version of the 2007 edition, good for assessing your needs and one-off projects.
- .NET, Silverlight, and Java: Because, at some point, you'll be asked to install these system and browser plug-ins, and it's better to do it now than to wait until you're eager to start something.
- Recuva: When you or your computer accidentally delete something important from a hard drive, memory card, USB drive or other space, Recuva can often find it for you, be it the assignment due today or the priceless photo from last weekend.
- TeraCopy: Rather than find out that your 3GB, hard-drive-to-USB-stick copy failed and crashed at the 90 per cent mark, install TeraCopy and make copying easier and more stable.
- Everything: For most people, hitting the Start menu (or keyboard key) and typing what you need to launch works just fine in Windows Vista or 7. For really deep, intensive, split-second search of your storage, Everything is the supreme commander.
- K-Lite Codec Pack: VLC plays everything, but if you need Windows itself to recognise, code and play all those obscure formats floating around the web, K-Lite gets your other media players, and Windows Media Center, up to speed.
- Foobar 2000, Songbird and Winamp: Windows Media Player works better than you'd think, and iTunes and VLC get the job done for straight-up library organising and music listening. Music, though, is a very personal thing, and many of our readers love the customisation, power features, and in the case of Songbird, avoidance of Apple lock-in of these great media players. Installing them all doesn't take that much space, so why not give them a try?
- Adobe Reader: It has regular security holes, it's less than quiet about upgrading and suggesting other Adobe products and other PDF tools, like the recommended SumatraPDF in Essentials, are faster and lighter. But you will, at some point, encounter websites and documents that were made in such a way as to require actual Adobe Reader. Install it, then, but keep Sumatra as your default reader, and leave Adobe available as a just-in-case.
So there it is — the app Essentials we'd imagine any fresh Windows re-install (or virtual machine or BootCamp or triple-boot-on-Mac) should have in place, and the Extended stuff for covering all the bases on a productivity machine.
Once again, you can install all or a chosen few of these apps at once, with no licence approvals or other unnecessary "Next" clicks, at the Lifeahcker Pack 2010 Ninite page. Thanks again to the Ninite team for making this year's pack very easy to put together and put out there.
What app Essentials or Extended goodies did we leave out? If you were designing a Lifehacker Pack for Windows, what would you recommend everybody have installed? Give us a tiny bit of free consulting in the comments!