Make Windows 10 Amazing with Uncommon Free Apps

Entry categories TweaksUsability
Stained glass walls of Newcastle from the Industrial arts of the Nineteenth Century (1851-1853) by Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt

As a dev-signer, UXer, and accessibility guy, I use a variety of OSes to test, work, and play. My work machine is a Mac. But my home machine is Windows 10 and the experience is… lacking. Here are some free apps (mostly) that have made life on Windows way better.

Set up

Easy set up is essential. Automate whatever you can.

  • Ninite: Choose your apps, download your installer and all updates get applied automatically.
    Pro-tip: Make a shortcut to this app, and put it in your Windows “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup” folder. Will keep those apps up-to-date on every boot-up.
  • Chocolatey: Choose and download whichever Windows apps you want, will also track updates (but not install them by default). Pretty much any app you could want is here. It is a bit slow.
  • CCleaner: Does some clean-up of your machine on boot

File support

Add support for what Windows doesn’t.

General improvements

These apps improve my workflow.

  • A clipboard manager is now natively built in. Press WINDOWS + V.
  • WOX – An app launcher similar to Spotlight and Alfred. Definitely not as good, requires some extra setup, but its the best Windows has to offer at the moment. Getting Everything to work with it is beneficial as well.
    Note: PowerToys adds a similar feature, but it doesn’t handle extensions, math, or browser bookmarks, which are critical for me.
  • Stardock Groupy (paid) – Adds tabs to Windows Explorer. Absolutely essential and pretty cheap
  • Barrier – Links my Mac and Windows mouse and keyboard together
  • Dropbox – Keeps my machines in sync
  • KeeWeb – Access to my passwords on all devices
  • Ear Trumpet – Volume control for the system AND each running app
  • WinAero Tweaker – Lots of improvements to default Windows preferences
  • BeefText – Still haven’t found a cross-platform text snippet expander that just works. This is a good one however.
  • PushBullet – Sending links or messages between devices
  • SyncToy – Helps keep local folders in sync with Dropbox and vice versa

Work applications

Outside the common design and code apps, here are some go-to applications I use on a regular basis.

  • FileOptimizer – Similar to ImageOptim on Mac
  • BlueStacks – Android emulator, can use my app store purchases on my Windows machine too!
  • ColorPic – A very old color picker tool similar to Sip
  • NVDA – For testing accessibility
  • Scanning is natively supported now

Visual improvements

I love the way these improve the look of Windows.

  • MacType – Ah. No more ClearType. Makes Windows feel so much nicer. I have yet to run into a compatibility issue yet.
  • WinDynamicDesktop – A clone of Mac’s Dynamic Dekstop. It’s not one-to-one, but its pretty close
  • TranslucentTb – Improve how the Taskbar renders. Its a nice subtle touch.
  • Desktop slideshows are now built in

Closing thoughts

Windows has some helpful tools and apps, but generally speaking it feels pretty out-of-date in comparison to Mac. I still have yet to find a passable font manager. Baking in more modern defaults from the list above could go a long way toward improving the Windows experience as a whole. But these apps sure do close that gap.

The opinions and views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer. Did I get something wrong? Need to ask a question? Email me at "contact" at this URL, or hit me up on one of my social profiles.
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