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Lee's 10 favorite free Windows programs of 2009

It's amazing how many apps we review over the course of a year. There's no way I could count the number of times I've run appwiz.cpl (add/remove programs) on my desktop and laptop in the past twelve months. Certain apps, however, stand the test of time. The ten I've listed after the jump are permanent fixtures on my Window systems - some old, some new, but all awesome.

I don't spend as much time on system maintenance as I should, but I care enough about my PC to have set up scheduled CCleaner tasks to remove the numerous temp files polluting my hard drive and tidy up registry clutter. The portable version is another of my go-to USB flash drive apps.

Comodo Easy VPN
It's a totally free Hamachi alternative, and it just sits in my tray quietly keeping me connected to my remote systems. I use it along with UltraVNC for remote troubleshooting from time to time and for direct access to shared folders and printers over the 'net.
While I'm a little bummed that I can't make use of the Amazon MP3 store integration that was recently added (being in Canada and all), I'd still much rather run DVDJohn's alternative than the Apple-prescribed iTunes. Once DoubleTwist supported my iPod Touch, I switched and never looked back.

Every time a new browser gets released, I'm testing it on one system or another. Keeping my passwords in sync on my iPod Touch, Linux virtual machines, and Windows systems would be a real pain in the butt if it wasn't for LastPass.

Besdies providing an awesome sync tool, LastPass' built-in strong password generator has made it easy for me to stop using the same password I've used since freshman year at college. Er...not that that's what I was doing before, of course. That's just irresponsible...

I [expletive deleted] love MalwareBytes. No single piece of software has saved me more hours of frustratingly tedious labor this year. The few times I can't get MB to clean a system, well, it's just too far gone to bother cleaning anyway and a reformat is the only way to go.

Some day, a better malware cleanup tool will come along. My money is on it being the next major version of MalwareBytes.
I used to default to Photoshop for pretty much all of my image editing tasks - because it was there. However, I got tired of slow startup and unnecessary overhead and went looking for an alternative for my everyday edits. Paint.Net has been exactly what I needed. It's lightweight and still packs more than enough features to get the job done.
QuakeLive and Battlefield Heroes
Yes, I'm cheating and taking a two-fer on this.

I tried, but I just couldn't convince myself to leave these two off my list. Even though I suck horribly at it, QuakeLive is just too damn much FPS fun for me to stay away. Every time I sign in, I feel like I'm back in college - challenging my roomate to yet another Doom deathmatch over our null modem cable.

As for Heroes...Well...After dealing with an uppity customer, few things are as satisfyingly soothing as destroying something with a tank for free.

Sumatra PDF
I'd say about 99% of the time I need to do anything with a PDF, it's all about reading. I seldom need to be able to fill forms or anything like that. Sumatra is incredibly small, fast to open, and there's even a portable version - which is a permanent fixture on my USB flash drive.

So much to download, so little time. Thank you, uTorrent for all the torrent-managing goodness you've provided me in 2009. As is the case with Sumatra, I don't need all the fancy extra features of an app like Vuze - uTorrent's compact simplicity is more than enough for me.

...and last but not least, every new web browser released in 2009. Just about everyone who develops a web browser debuted faster, smarter, and generally vastly improved versions this year.

While I've been using Google Chrome recently, Opera 10.5 and Firefox 3.7 are also sharing web browsing duties on my systems. There's no denying that all three are much improved. Besides the usual suspects, browsers like Arora, Flock,QTWebkit, Maxthon, and SRWare Iron also made big strides this year.

You can download my three current browsers here - keep in mind, these are all unstable so only install them if you're ok with buggy (possibly crash-prone) software:
Those are my ten picks. I'm sure some of your favorites didn't get mentioned, so share them with us in the comments - and thanks for reading in 2009!

Tags: applications, free, freeware, programs, software, windows