My current new Windows PC setup essentials in 2020
I've bought and set up a lot of new desktop/laptop PCs (usually Windows, in some cases Mac or Linux) over the past two decades; and the set of essential software I installed on a new computer has also evolved over the years.
Most recently when I've set up a new Windows laptop for the family, I've found that the set of software I now install for a new Windows computer is now relatively meager and each are now much higher quality than the generations before.
This has become a sort of compilation of "best practices" setup for myself / my family, so I figured it's nice to document it.
This has really replaced a lot of things over the years; most notably in terms of security. I make sure to open up Windows Update (multiple times, and multiple restarts throughout the process) to be certain that I am fully up-to-date.
In the past I've had various anti-virus (e.g. F-Prot, AVG, Avast, etc.), firewall (e.g. ZoneAlarm, PrivateFirewall, etc.), anti-spyware (e.g. Spybot Search & Destroy), etc. but it seems that Windows Defender, Windows Firewall and Malicious Software Removal Tool has evolved enough over the years that they have been a good enough replacement for everything, along with up-to-date windows security updates.
Language tools in Windows is another category where Windows has completely replaced the need for 3rd party. As a Chinese person, who types some Chinese text from time to time, I've been through software like RichWin, TwinBridge, NJStar, etc. over the years, but nowadays I simply make do with the Pinyin input that comes with Windows as well as CantoneseInput.com, a web-based input editor.
Some Windows settings
It's probably something that comes with old age, but I find that on almost every computer I've set up, the default cursor size (considering the screen resolution and screen sizes nowadays) is too small to see. I bump this up a bit as one of the first things to set.
Trackpad scroll direction
Maybe I'm old school and not of the "mobile generation", but I find that I can only use the mobile scroll direction on mobile. It just doesn't make sense on a laptop; but unfortunately both macOS and Windows decided nowadays that the mobile scroll direction (opposite scroll) should be the default. I have to flip this every time.
Blue Light Filter - Flux
It's probably something that comes with old age again, but I simply can't use a regular-colored screen in the evening hours anymore. It gives me a migraine pretty much within a minute of use. I have to get Flux.
There are a number of options now for blue light filters, and mobile OS like Android even comes with this feature by default now. On Windows I still use Flux, which I've used for many years. It has a lot of niceties around scheduling and easy customization of color temperature and such.
Browser - Edge, Chrome, Firefox
I'll be honest, I think we're well past the days of the Microsoft browser being the butt of the joke (as in, Internet Explorer). Edge is a very legitimate browser in its own right. Both as a dev, and for simply having more options as a user when needed (believe or not, there are still sites out there that don't work on certain browsers), I like having all 3 installed. Note that this also means manually updating Edge to the latest because the one that comes with Windows 10 as of now (Nov 2020) still isn't the latest.
Adblock plugin - ublock origin
Lucky for us, in 2020, ublock origin is available on all 3 browsers. This is the only adblock or privacy blocking plugin I'd use. The more popular AdBlock Plus is way too bloated.
Office - SoftMaker FreeOffice
This was a relatively recent discovery for me. I had stopped using Microsoft Office many years ago mainly to be cost-conscious; and for years it has been sufficient to use either Apache OpenOffice or Google Docs. More recently I found out about FreeOffice and in my brief experience so far it seems superior to OpenOffice, which is slow and often looks dated. Admittedly, I have not tried LibreOffice, but currently I'm happy with FreeOffice.
Graphics - Krita
Krita was another relatively recent discovery for me. For more than 20 years I had used Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 for basic graphics editing needs (mostly things like resizing/scaling, canvas sizing, or cropping images). In the last few years it has finally begun to age and I've run into a lot of issues with more modern image formats and such (even transparent PNGs aren't handled well).
For this reason, the last few years I found myself doing a lot of work with the web-based Pixlr Editor, and more recently Photopea. However, web-based editors always felt lacking and slow. I've tried using Gimp (another free alternative) as well but have never been satisfied.
Having tried Krita briefly, I can say it appears to satisfy all my basic graphics needs quite well and I can see myself being a long term user.
Communications - Zoom
In these COVID times with social distancing, a lot of times hanging out with friends comes down to video conferencing. In most cases, Zoom is everyone's choice, so here it is. Interesting to note that over the years, the choice of communication software has ranged from ICQ, AIM, MSN messenger, Skype to combo ones like Trillian or Adium. Nowadays text-based messengers have mostly moved to options that are on mobile like WhatsApp and Facebook messenger. Video calls, though, are still common on the computer.
I hope this list helped you discover some useful free software that you previously did not know about as well!