These are my top ten favorite file and system utilities – in no particular order. They’re all free for home users (most also offer paid versions which may add extra features/support but my reviews are of the free versions).
1. Image Resizer – perfect for resizing multiple pictures easily and quickly e.g. making them smaller to send via email/upload to Facebook etc.
It replicates the functionality of Microsoft’s old Image Resizer Powertoy but adds extra features e.g. it remembers your preferences and offers larger default sizes for pictures with widescreen options better suited to modern monitors and cameras.
Unlike the old Powertoy which was for XP only, Image Resizer is designed for XP, Vista and Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit versions). See my review how to use Image Resizer for more details – Image Resizer is available as a standard installer.
2. WizTree – WizTree Free displays where the space on your internal or external drive(s) has gone in a simple pictorial ‘tree’ format, sorted by size of folder from largest to smallest.
It helps you quickly find big (but not essential) folders and files which you can delete or move to another drive to free up space. It can also be a good way to find a very large file/folder (e.g. film) if you are not sure of its name.
See my review how to use WizTree for more details. It is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
3. Ccleaner – Ccleaner is a great way to clean up files stored by programs and Windows that are supposed to be temporary (but aren’t). It can also protect your privacy by cleaning up traces of your activities such as your Internet history and most recently opened documents.
It was the best of four system optimization tools tested by PC Advisor magazine last year – even though two of the others were expensive paid programs.
Ccleaner includes a separate registry cleaner which is very highly rated. Even so, in my opinion registry cleaning should be left to advanced users cleaning the registry of specific items – not used as a general purpose optimization tool to be run on a regular basis.
See my review how to use Ccleaner for more details. Ccleaner is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
4. Revo Uninstaller – Revo helps you uninstall programs from your computer more easily – it is especially useful if you cannot uninstall them in the usual way from ‘Add or Remove Programs’ (XP) or ‘Programs And Features’ (Vista/Windows 7).
See my review how to use Revo for an example of using Revo to uninstall iTunes when it can’t be removed in the usual way. Revo Uninstaller is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
5. Defraggler – Unlike the disk defragmenter built into Windows (which only lets you defragment an entire drive in one go), Defraggler lets you defragment one or more files, folders, or the whole drive. It may also be able to defragment files which the Windows defragmenter cannot.
Whilst defragmenting is less useful on huge, fast hard drives with plenty of space, it is still a useful way to optimize the file system on older, slower and smaller drives.
See my review how to use Defraggler for more details. Defraggler is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
6. Pocket Killbox – Pocket Killbox lets you delete files that cannot be deleted by Windows Explorer. This is particularly common with files infected by a virus but can also occur if a file is locked or has permissions (security settings) that prevent you deleting it.
See my review how to use Killbox for more details. Pocket Killbox is available as a portable version.
7. Speccy – Speccy is an advanced system information tool. It provides an easy way to find out the specification of your computer i.e. what’s inside it – without having to open it up.
This can be useful for deciding which components to upgrade, getting better tech support or for monitoring temperatures to check for overheating. It could also help if you decide to sell your computer – you will get more interest if you can provide a detailed specification.
See my review how to use Speccy for more details. Speccy is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
8. Unstoppable Copier – Unstoppable Copier is primarily used to recover files from disks with physical damage but it also has batch mode functions that let you use it as a regular (e.g. weekly) backup system.
As its name suggests, when Unstoppable Copier comes to a file that is too corrupt to copy it simply skips it and carries on copying the rest – whereas Windows Explorer just stops dead in its tracks without reporting which was the corrupt file – so you don’t know what or where the troublesome file was…
See my review how to use Unstoppable for more details (covers copying files from a failing hard drive). Unstoppable Copier is available as a standard installer or as a portable version.
9. ERUNTgui – ERUNTgui is a free program that adds a graphical user interface to ERUNT (Emergency Recovery Utility NT) – a long established utility (similar to System Restore) which backs up the crucial Windows registry database and allows easy restores.
It minimizes the risk of restore failures because each restore point is independent of the others – even if one is corrupted the others should still work. This is not the case with Windows System Restore where a single corrupt restore point can cause all restores to fail (and you won’t find this out until it’s too late – when you really need to do a restore).
An ERUNTgui restore can also be performed even if Windows is unable to start – Windows System Restore is not able to do this at all in XP and may require access to a recovery or installation disc for Vista/7.
See my review how to use ERUNTgui for more details. Eruntgui is available as a standard installer.
10. Recuva – Recuva is a file recovery program. It aims to recover files deleted from your computer, email, Recycle Bin, digital camera card or MP3 player etc.
It scans your drives for the files you need, then tries to recover them and works on any rewritable media.
For beginners and intermediate users, Recuva has a quick-start Wizard that guides you through the process of recovering your files. Let it know what kind of files you’re looking to recover, where they were located, and the program does the rest. There is also a detailed online help file for Recuva including its use, settings and troubleshooting.
Recuva is available as a standard installer from developer Piriform here or as a Portable version with no installation required here.
Free software can often be just as good or better than much of the paid software out there – this is especially true in the case of file and system utilities. Although some of my top 10 have paid versions for technicians or commercial use, home users can take advantage of them for free. Most come with an optional portable version too so you can try them out without needing to install them or clutter up your system.
Do you have any other favorites? Why not let us know in the comments and share them with our readers.