Many of the operating system tools that come with Windows are far inferior to free alternatives, and you can't beat the price. This post looks at some of my favorite free utilities.
Firefox – Web Browser
No round-up of free utilities would be complete without the fabulous Firefox, perhaps the best piece of free software ever designed. Internet Explorer just doesn't cut it, and Firefox does so many things so well. With version 3.0 it's easier to subscribe to blogs and bookmark on the fly. Getting back to a web site you visited before is a breeze with easy-to-read sites in the address bar drop-down view. If you go to a phishing site, it warns you before you do something stupid. In fact, it does so much, it's impossible to touch upon all of the great features in one paragraph, but suffice to say if you are not using it, run, don't walk to your current browser and get the free download. You will be glad you did.
Moffsoft FreeCalc – Enhanced Calculator
This free calculator provides far more functionality than its Windows counterpart. For starters, it keeps a running tab of all your activity, and it has features like a 000 button for thousands, a small but nice touch missing from the Windows calculator that makes entry much faster.
CodeStuff Starter – Windows Startup Utility
Windows apps have a funny way of putting all kinds of junk in your Start-up folder. This means the interminably long Windows boot sequence is even longer while you wait for apps you probably don't want or need to start. CodeStuff Starter is a simple utility that lets you uncheck any programs you don't want starting up at boot time. Just make sure you don't shut down any vital Windows tools when you use this.
CCleaner (aka CrapCleaner) – Windows Junk Cleaning Utility
This little beauty cleans up all the crap that Windows leaves behind including temp files, uninstall files, your trash and so forth, and it does it quickly and efficiently (unlike the Windows Cleanup tool). It also includes a nice registry cleaner that cleans up stray registry entries that can really have an impact on your system speed. Note that if you use this feature, be sure to accept the offer to back up your registry first. Better to be safe than sorry. Finally it includes an uninstall tool and a tool for toggling Startup programs on or off. This feature is not quite as elegant as CodeStuff Starter referenced earlier, but it does the trick.
DeepBurner – CD/DVD/ISO Burner
DeepBurner makes quick work of burning CDs and DVDs or creating ISO images when you need to preserve a directory structure during the burning process, and best of all, it's small, fast and free. It has a simple wizard to walk you through each process and if you need help, there is a decent online help system. Note that there is also a pay version with more advanced features.
Those are just some of my favorites. If you have personal favorites, I would love to hear about them.