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List of Essential PC Software

What is the basic software you need for a PC?

If you know the answer to that question, then this page will not be very useful to you. On the other hand, I can always use any suggestions/alterations to my list that you suggest.

A little background on the origins of this page. I bought a new PC and needed the answer to the above question. A google search did not turn up any useful information. Everyone has their own opinion on what is "essential" for them. There are no handy guides available on the web. As the good saying goes, 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. So I rolled out my own list of essential software. The emphasis here is on "own" - because the list below may not be applicable for you. But you can use it as a starting point to roll out your own list of essential software.

So how do I use this page?

The table below is divided into three sections:

The "General users" section lists all essential software. These are the "must-haves". The other two sections are for folks who want to get a little bit more from their computers - customize these to suit your needs. All the sections are advisory in nature - you can disregard the suggested software and use something else.

General Users


A firewall is essential if you connect to the internet. A firewall protects your computer from intruders when connected to the internet. Modern firewalls also detect if any unauthorized programs ( trojans ) on your computer is trying to access the internet. If possible, get a firewall with stealth capability - one which does not respond to port scans. Some highly recommended free firewalls are Zonealarm and Outpost. Once you install a firewall - head out to the site and test if your firewall works. Windows XP comes with a built in firewall which blocks out intruders - but it is recommended to get a firewall which also detects trojans (inside out attacks).


The internet has lots of files available for download in a compressed format ( files with extensions ending in .ZIP/.RAR/.ARC/.GZ/.TAR ). A Archiver utility is needed to uncompress these files. Select one which supports a lot of formats. Winzip and Winrar are two popular archiver tools.


A virus is a self propagating program which spreads havoc in its path. Virii are capable of erasing important files on your system, compromising your privacy, sending unsolicited mail to your friends and generally messing up your computer. It is recommended that a good antivirus program is installed on your system. As newer viruses are found daily, do not forget to keep your antivirus signature up to date. McAfee and Symantec are two well known manufacturers of antivirus software. Grisoft offers a free antivirus solution.


For those times when you need to take an entertainment break. The most common multimedia files on the web are music files ( mp3 format ) and video files ( mpg/avi formats ). Winamp is a good free mp3 player. Some of the AVI files are coded using DIVX codec - to play these files you need to install the DIVX codecs on your computer. These are available on the web.

Popup Blocker

Popup windows are an annoying feature of modern webpages. These advertisement laden small windows pop-up whenever you access a main site. Not only are they distracting and annoying they are also very difficult to control. A popup remover utility comes in handy. It will run quietly in the background and prevent the pop up windows from opening up. A good pop-up removal utility is Popup popper stopper - it sounds a mouthful but works just great.Note: Firefox and Mozilla browsers have built-in pop-up blocking support.


As a sign of the decadent times, these days some of the easily downloadable software come laden with "spyware". Spyware is any third party application which is installed along with your main software without the consent of the user and which monitors user browsing habits and reports back to a central server for tracking purposes. As usual, some good samaritans have come up with tools to remove these spyware. Adaware and Spybot Search & Destroy are two such tools.

Document Reader

Usually documents on the web are in Word/Text/Pdf or postscript(PS) formats. All modern computers come with rudimentary software for opening Word/text documents. Get Acrobat Reader and Ghostscript/GSView for reading PDF and PS documents.

Office Suite

This is a collection of office software. It usually includes a document preparation system, a spreadsheet program and a program to produce presentations. Office suite from Microsoft is the most popular. There may also be a few alternative versions available from other vendors.

Imaging Software

Everyone these days has a digital camera. So, good imaging utilities is essential. A image viewer, thumb nail generator, slide show maker and duplicate image detector is essential. Get a CD burner and periodically burn all the images to CD. That way your hard disk is relatively empty and you can pass on copies of the CD to family and friends. Adobe Photoshop is for the serious imager - it is expensive and the gold standard for imaging utilities. Irfanview is a lightweight viewer for the not so serious users.


A good email client is essential. Netscape comes with a built-in email client. Outlook/Outlook Express are popular with windows users. Pine and MH are popular with the Unixy folks.

Download/Connection Manager

A download manager is essential if you are on a dial up or slow bandwidth connection. It will keep a net connection alive and resume downloads if you get disconnected. Getright is a good download manager/accelerator (Warning : It contains spyware).

Advanced Users


Knoppix is Linux-on-a-CD. If you want to get a taste of Linux without going through the hassle of installing it, then Knoppix is for you. Just pop the Knoppix cd into the cd-rom drive, reboot from the cd-rom drive and you have a fully functional Linux system running from the cd. It can be used both as a Linux demo and also as a rescue CD. If you want to get a taste of Linux without going through the hassle of installing it, then Knoppix is for you.


This fine piece of software acts as a POP3 mail server on one end and interfaces to your yahoo web mail on the other end. All you have to do is run Yahoopops and point your email client to it. Voila, you can access your yahoo account from your local client.


Popfile is a email classifier written in perl. One of its most popular uses is as a spam filter. Over a period of time it learns to differentiate spam from regular mails. You can then configure your email client to automatically delete the spam mails. Saves a lot of headache. Combined with Yahoopops you can filter your yahoo mail at home.

Network Analyzer

A network analyzer monitors your network traffic in real time and decodes various protocols. It is essentially a debug tool and helps you find and fix networking related issues. It can also be used to study and understand a networking application. Netxray and Ethereal are two network analyzers I have used and both are good.


Putty is a telnet replacement with support for SSH. It is better than the default telnet client that ships with windows.

Remote Administration

Sometimes, you may need to access a computer without physically being near it. A remote administration utility is essential in such cases. Netmeeting, RealVNC and TightVNC are examples of remote admin software. Get one of these.

Peer to Peer (P2P) software

Without getting into the debate of whether P2P is good or bad, it is worthwhile to get a good P2P software on your computer. Popular ones are Kazaa-lite, WinMX and mIRC. Bittorrents are getting extremely popular for sharing large files - there are dozens of bittorrent clients.

CD/DVD emulators

Sometimes, it may be essential to run a CD image from hard disk before burning it to a CD. A CD emulator can mimic a virtual CD drive using the CD image on the hard disk. Daemon-tools is a good CD emulator.

Multiple Operating Systems

For the truly inspired, install multiple OS'es on your computer. In case of some problems with one OS, you can still use the other OS temporarily. Windows and Linux is a popular combination. If you do not want to install Linux - get the Knoppix cd mentioned above.


Ok, this is not an essential utility. But I like it. Klox is a small lightweight, easy to use program that displays a clock on your desktop. It is especially useful if to keep track of local time in a different timezone.

POV-Ray for Windows

This is not essential. But it is one of the best free ray tracers available today. Ray tracing is a image rendering technique that generates photo realistic images. Head over to their home page to see some of the best ray traced images from some of the most creative artists.


Freecell gets boring after a while - so to appease the gamer inside you, get hold of a couple of interesting games and install them. There are thousands of computer games available - get whichever ones appeal to you. Technically, these are not essential software, but once in a while you will need to take a break and that's when these come in handy.

Software Developers

Integrated Development Environment

Visual Studio is a good IDE for C/C++/J++/C# development from Microsoft. There are different flavors available. I have used MSVC++ and I recommend it. For Java programming, Eclipse is a very good IDE with support for plugins to add custom functionality.


The MSDN CD's complement the Visual Studio development environment by giving you easy access to extensive documentation and knowledge base.

Scripting languages

What can I say? Perl is ugly and non-intuitive, but it is one hell of a good scripting language. The power of Perl is the availability of numerous tried and tested libraries to do almost anything you want. To develop an application is then like building a LEGO structure - get the various building blocks ( libraries ) and link them together and you have a power application with less lines of code.

Some people prefer Tcl to Perl. Tcl is a good glue language - and with Tk enables you to do rapid prototyping. Use either or both. Get them for windows from

Python and its variant Jython are also very popular scripting languages.

The idea here is to know atleast one scripting language for the occasions where you need to come up with a quick workaround solution to a problem.


This is the document preparation system of choice for scientists and researchers. The end document is professional grade. But it is not a WYSIWYG system. Miktex is the windows implementation of the Latex document preparation system. The quality of the output document is second to none.


For those of you who want to get a feel of Unix/Linux on windows without having to install Unix/Linux, Cygwin is a godsend. Cygwin ports many of the Unix tools to windows. With a Bourne shell implementation, you get a feel of working on a Unix shell in windows. I personally have it on my box.