Microsoft’s Windows operating systems remain the most widely used operating systems internationally, though the marketing team over at Apple would like you to have a different impression. According to the Desktop OS Market Share report by Net Applications, over 90% of personal computers across the globe run a version of Windows operating systems. Apple’s OS X is the next runner up at 7.18%. This extraordinary market share provides many benefits for users of Windows operating systems, including the highest rate of compatibility with existing software. Unfortunately, this high level of compatibility also makes computers that operate Windows systems juicy targets for the more malicious members of the technological community and the annoying (and sometimes destructive) things that they create.
When left unprotected, what was once a fast, productive machine can quickly be slowed to an agonizing crawl. But not to fear! One of the benefits of using such popular operating systems is that for every job, there are myriad programs that were specifically designed to do that job.
Following is a list of four FREE programs that every Windows user should install and use regularly to keep their PC humming!
There are many free antivirus programs out there, but time and again the most reliable and least obtrusive option in my experience has been AVG Antivirus Free. It installs quickly, is easy to use, and offers several levels of security without costing you a dime. Upon installing AVG, it is automatically set to protect your browsing (which means AVG will notify you and remove any malware that attempts to download from a website), scan your emails for malware, and run a weekly scan of your computer. It automatically checks for updates as well, and no registration is required. Basically, you just install this and it won’t bother you until it finds something — a rarity in free software.
The only thing to worry about with AVG is during installation, be sure to select “Custom Install” when prompted and uncheck the options referring to toolbars and whatnot.
Other solid options for free antivirus software are Avast and Microsoft Security Essentials (if you have Windows 8, this is already included as part of Windows Defender).
While AVG will cover you on the majority of malicious software, spyware remains outside its realm of expertise. Spyware specifically refers to malware that is made to track your browsing history and compromise your identity. Fortunately, there is another enduring and reliable free piece of software called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware that protects against the vast majority of spyware.
Though not as aesthetically appealing as AVG, Malwarebytes gets the job done. The free version is a stripped down variation of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware PRO, but it certainly covers the holes left after installing AVG. Unlike AVG, Malwarebytes’ ability to set scheduled scans is reserved for owners of the PRO version, so it will be up to you to conduct the scan at regular intervals. It scans quickly compared to other anti-malware software, so making it a part of your weekly routine will keep your computer squeaky clean.
CCleaner is a free and useful tool that serves a variety of purposes for Windows users. Its general “Cleaner” function removes temporary files and clears your cache for major programs. It also includes its own “Uninstall” function that allows you to more effectively remove programs from your computer, along with the ability to manage the programs that run on startup, the most common source for long startup time.
CCleaner also includes a registry cleaner, but whether or not this actually improves performance is often debated.
Defraggler is a free tool that defragments your hard drive, serving the same purpose as the Windows Disk Defragmenter located in System Tools. (Basically, it organizes the pieces of information on your hard drive so they are more easily accessible by your computer.) Users running Windows Vista or later need not worry about this program, as Windows automatically defragments your hard drive on a regular basis. However, if you are running Windows XP, you still have to defragment manually. Defraggler allows you to schedule weekly defrags, and it operates at a lower cost to system performance while it runs than the standard Disc Defragmenter.
No software will protect your computer 100%, but with AVG and Malwarebytes protecting you from outside threats and CCleaner helping you manage your programs, you shouldn’t have any trouble with the things that most commonly tend to bog computers down.
Nathan Taylor is the SEO Manager and resident IT guru at Highly Relevant. When he isn’t hard at work building links and optimizing websites, he enjoys casually strolling through Westwood with his wife and dogs.