Your shiny new Windows 11 installation has almost everything you need for daily computing. Still, there are always a few outstanding applications that are always the first software downloads we perform after a fresh Windows installation.
While Microsoft’s new operating system has some of the best bundled applications (MS Paint forever!) in the history of Windows releases, you’ll still need a few third-party apps to fill the gaps on your Windows PC. You’ll never want to uninstall any of these fantastic applications.
VLC Media Player (Free)
The days of downloading massive code packs to play obscure video formats are thankfully long behind us. However, you’ll still run into video files that Windows Media Players just can’t understand.
Luckily VLC Media Player can play every media format imaginable, and probably a few that no one has ever heard of! That includes the ability to play ISO files in case you have full-quality DVD images on a drive somewhere.
VLC supports hardware decoding, so in most cases, it won’t tax your CPU while doing other tasks at the same time. It’s spyware-free and has no ads. This open-source app survives on donations alone, and we think you’ll feel like throwing a few dollars their way once you realize how essential VLC is to any PC.
Google Chrome (Free)
Microsoft Edge is a major improvement over the Internet Explorer web browser, and now Edge is even a Chromium-based browser. So it’s perfectly fine to stick with the browser that came with your Windows 11 installation. However, it’s hard to argue with Google Chrome’s massive plugin support and integration with Google’s services. Features such as an integrated password and download manager also reduce the number of apps you need in the first place.
If you use Google services and use different platforms such as iOS, Android, Linux, or macOS alongside your PC, then Chrome is an essential download. The browser is a little bloated these days, so you have to watch the number of tabs you have open, but otherwise, it’s still the king of the hill.
Adobe Acrobat Reader (Free)
The PDF format is still in wide use today, despite us moving away from printed documents in favor of on-screen viewing. It’s especially common to receive printed documents, such as company forms and contracts, that are designed to be printed.
There are plenty of good PDF readers you can download, and it used to be that the free version of Adobe Acrobat was too limited compared to third-party options. Today, Adobe packs a lot of functionality into the free app, and although you can’t edit PDFs without a subscription, you can perform the most common tasks, such as filling in and signing forms.
You can also annotate PDFs, so students can make notes on research papers or textbooks in PDF format without paying a cent.
Windows Defender is so good these days that we really can’t recommend that most users install a third-party antivirus package. However, Defender does have a blind spot in things that aren’t strictly viruses, such as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs), adware, malware, and browser hijackers.
MalwareBytes fills that gap neatly and ensures you don’t get infected with software that slows down your computer or steals your information. The main drawback of the free version of the app is that you have to perform scans manually. There’s no automatic real-time protection.
Microsoft doesn’t sell a discrete annual Microsoft Office suite anymore. Instead, you’ll have to pay for an annual subscription. The Microsoft 365 subscription is admittedly a fantastic deal. Especially the Family Plan, which includes all the Office apps you need along with a terabyte of cloud storage per family member.
If you aren’t a fan of perpetually paying for your office suite, a great alternative is LibreOffice. This free and open-source office suite will make any classic MS Office user feel right at home.
It’s a no-frills offline productivity package that’s good enough for home users, students, and businesses that don’t rely on the cloud features offered by Microsoft 365. If you need a great free alternative to Word or Excel without any online complications, LibreOffice is the top choice, in our opinion.
VPN services hide your internet activity from your ISP and other people who share a network with you, such as the free WiFi at a coffee shop. It also makes it possible to hide your IP address and real location from online services.
Many people pay for a VPN subscription to circumvent geographical limitations on content. ExpressVPN is one of the best VPN services on the market, and it’s undoubtedly one of the easiest to use and set up. Once the Windows app is installed, it takes just a single click to secure your entire internet connection. While this is a paid service, new users get a fully-functional 30-day trial, so you can see whether it’s right for you at no risk.
Steam is the biggest online marketplace for PC games and has the best Windows client of any gaming service. There are over 50,000 games on Steam at the time of writing, many of them free!
Steam lets you manage your games from one central application, and you can even launch games on your computer that you did not buy through the Steam storefront. Steam hosts massive sales with many popular titles discounted as much as 90% several times a year. If you’re thinking about gaming on your Windows 11 PC, then Steam should be one of the first apps you download.
Most of us have simply too many passwords to remember them all. Besides, the sorts of passwords that you can easily remember are also the types of passwords that are the easiest to crack.
There are many great password managers, but the commercial ones cost a fair amount of money or are limited if you opt for the free version. Google Chrome has a decent password manager built-in, although not everyone is comfortable storing their information with Google, or online for that matter.
BitWarden is a free and open-source password manager and generator that gives you control over where your data is stored and how it’s protected. Since it’s open-source, it also means that the software can be independently audited for vulnerabilities or hidden spyware.
WhatsApp & Telegram Desktop Apps (Free)
We’re lumping these two applications together because the chances are that you’re using one (or both!) of these platforms as your primary messaging service on your mobile phone.
The WhatsApp desktop application was off to a shaky start when it first launched, but it’s now a stable and fully-functional desktop version of the mobile app.
The same goes for Telegram, with its desktop application. In both cases, it’s much more convenient to send messages using your computer keyboard. Not to mention, you can easily drag and drop files from your computer into chat. In the case of Telegram, you can share photos and videos without any compression at all.
With massive hard drives and fast internet, you may not think file compression would be used much these days, but almost everything you download from the internet will be in a compressed format. Windows 11 has native support. ZIP files, but the OS can only scratch its head once you start downloading other formats.
7-Zip is a free and open-source compression file manager that can open virtually any archive format. It also has its proprietary 7-Zip format, which has some speed and size advantages over other algorithms.
7-Zip integrates neatly with Windows File Explorer so that you can compress or open archives from the right-click menu at any time.
Much of the business world has now moved over to Microsoft Teams, and Skype still has a solid following, but both of these applications are preloaded in Windows 11. So you’re covered if you need to use them. Zoom is not included with your Windows installation, which is still one of the most widely-used video conferencing apps in the world.
Notepad++ is mainly meant for the coders among us, but if you want to engage with software source code, this free enhanced text editor should be one of the first apps you download.
It supports many programming languages and will automatically color and format code so you can easily edit it and figure out what’s going on. It’s not a full development environment, but it’s a lightweight tool that will run on any computer capable of Windows 11.
This is a must-have download on your system, whether you’re a seasoned coder or someone who just dabbles.
Although your Windows 11 installation comes with a copy of Microsoft Teams, it’s likely that your company or clients will use Slack. For our money, Slack is the better option for coordinating a team of people to complete a project.
While it lacks the same level of video integration that Teams offers, Slack is peerless as a text-based communications backbone. Free users get all of the most important functions and features, and you can easily upgrade as your organization grows if you’re the head honcho. No matter who you work with, chances are you’ll need Slack at some point, so you might as well set it up early.
Discord started life as a voice and text chat service that allows gamers to chat to each other privately, without the danger of being harassed by public chat systems built into games.
Today, Discord has grown into something of a social phenomenon. Anyone can start their Discord server and create a social space for themselves for almost any reason. Whether you’re a Twitch streamer, news voice communication for your online work team, or just want a way to hang out with friends during lockdown. Discord is a great choice.
If you’re interested in Discord, check out our guide on How to Make a Discord Server, and you’ll be wondering how you ever got along without it.
For every version of Windows that supports it, one of the first things we always install is Microsoft PowerToys. This is a set of tools and modifications to Windows intended to give power users more control over Windows and make them more productive.
To be honest, PowerToys should just be a part of Windows, in our opinion, but it’s quick and easy to install it from the Windows Store app on your computer. Once PowerToys is up and running, you’ll have access to various utilities that you’ll soon see as essential.
For example, “Always on Top” lets you pin windows on every other window. Awake is a utility that makes it easy to keep your computer on if it’s running tasks (e.g., compiling code, rendering video) without messing around with your power and sleep settings. PowerRename lets you rename files in bulk. Our favorite is Shortcut Guide which pops up all the available keyboard shortcuts for your current desktop view!
Start11 (30-day trial, $6)
While you can use Windows settings to align the Taskbar and Start Menu to the left, the classic Start Menu experience is nowhere to be found. If you miss the classic, minimalistic Start Menu, you can get it back by grabbing a copy of Start11.
Unfortunately, the software isn’t free, but you get a 30-day free trial to see if you miss the classic Start Menu so much that you’re willing to pay the $6 asking price. If you have multiple Windows 10 and 11 computers, you can get a 5-device license for just over twice the price of a single license.
The app doesn’t just bring back the classic Start Menu. You also get a range of layout choices, color settings, and many other ways to make the Start Menu bend to your will through the power of customization.
Google Drive for Desktop (Free)
There’s a good chance that you’re already a Google Drive user, but you may not know that there’s a desktop app for the cloud storage service. You can sync watched folders from your computer automatically to your cloud drive and can keep working on your Google documents when the internet is out.
The amount of storage you get for free is relatively modest. Still, by paying for a Google One subscription, you can quickly increase the amount of storage for practical backups of multiple computers.
Apart from Google Drive, DropBox is another cloud storage app we can heartily recommend as a clean and straightforward way to sync data on your Windows 11 computer to cloud storage. The free tier of the service provides just enough storage to keep critical documents safe in the cloud, with very reasonable prices for larger space allocations.
DropBox even has some productivity features that are more in line with Google Drive, although it’s nowhere near as comprehensive. DropBox is an essential download if your main concern is cloud storage and you’re not hooked into the Google Drive ecosystem.
DaVinci Resolve (Free)
Windows 11 includes a rudimentary video editing app, but if you want to make something professional, why not use the same software the pros use? DaVinci Resolve is a proper professional-grade video editor that’s gained a fair bit of popularity in Hollywood. It’s right up there with Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Except, it’s freeware!
That’s right, apart from a small handful of very niche features, Resolve is completely free and functional. The learning curve can be steep, but there’s a ton of tutorial content online for the software. It also has Mac and Linux versions in addition to Microsoft Windows so that you can transition or collaborate across multiple systems without any concerns about compatibility.
Windows 11 Is Better With Diversity
One of the best things about being a PC user is that the sheer diversity of software choices means you can always find the right app for your needs. Although we think the apps listed here are the best in their respective categories, every user needs something different. If you’ve got your own must-have Windows 11 apps to share, tell us about it in the comments, or visit us on Twitter and Facebook.