10 essential free Windows 10 apps

(Image credit: Polarr; Shutterstock)
Subscribe to Windows Help & Advice

Windows Help & Advice magazine

(Image credit: Future)

If you like reading about Windows software then check out Windows Help & Advice magazine. Windows Help & Advice is totally dedicated to Windows users. We’ll show you how use your new Windows PC, tablet or all-in-one device, what all the apps do and how to solve common problems.

Why spend a whole lot of money when the best free apps for Windows 10 can do the job just as well? There’s a raft of PC applications and software out there created by enterprising individuals and organizations that are completely gratis, and they are just as up to task as their paid-for counterparts. 

Open source communities also roll out their own free stuff that are just as functional. These applications may be rougher around the edges owing to the many-cooks approach to development. However, they also come with their own advantages. On top of that guarantee that your software is going to stay free, they might come with experimental features that those in the commercial market might hold back on or are designed for a niche that commercial developers can’t profit from.

There’s a swathe of options out there, and we’ve found the best free apps for Windows 10, doing our best to dodge anything too feature-light. Make no mistake; none of the apps on this list are mere samplings of the goods that attempt to get you hooked enough to buy the real thing. These are the real full-fledged stuff that is cost-free to you.

Here are the best free apps for windows 10 of 2021.


The best free photo editor for Windows 10: Polarr (Image credit: Polarr; Shutterstock)

1. Photo Editing: Polarr

Polarr has crept up on us over the past few years, but since it made the jump from mobile to PC app, it’s proved to be one of the coolest and most capable photo-tweaking tools available, paid or not. 

Alternatively: Adobe Photoshop Express

2. Music making: Cakewalk

Originally a DOS sequencer launched in 1987 and coming to Windows in 1991, Cakewalk recently came under new ownership and is back from the dead – those new owners decided the app was best given to the world for free. 

Pro-level recording, all the tools you need to mix and master tracks, not to mention a host of software instruments and effects. 

Alternatively: Ardour

3. Audio editing: Audacity

Audacity almost annoys us: we’re absolutely desperate to recommend something different in this slot, but there’s still nothing else that can hold a candle to it for audio cutting or tweaking. It’s a tool that everyone should have installed at all times.

Alternatively: Ocenaudio


The best free video editor for Windows 10: Shotcut (Image credit: Meltytech LLC)

4. Video editing: Shotcut

Shotcut has been carving out its own niche in the video-editing world, and while it’s still catching up to the big boys, it’s also entirely free – no surprises, no restrictions. 

Unless you look on the Microsoft Store, where it’s inexplicably paid-for. Don’t do that.

Alternatively: OpenShot

5. Notes: Notepad++

There’s a whole lot of contextual formatting in Notepad++ (it is, after all, made for sketching code in all manner of languages), but it’s just as much a straightforward and capable alternative to Microsoft’s Notepad. And that’s a good thing. 

Alternatively: Atom


The best free office software for Windows 10: LibreOffice (Image credit: Open Document Foundation)

6. Office: LibreOffice

Pretty much a free equivalent to Microsoft Office, and compatible with the same file formats, LibreOffice is a non-paid essential. It even does more: There’s a full database and a complex formula editor included. 

Alternatively: Apache OpenOffice

7. Disk rescue: TestDisk

Whole drive letting you down? Mechanical disk giving you the click of death? TestDisk can ignore all the usual safeguards and filesystems in order to wade through the raw data, sector by sector, giving you one last chance to rescue your files.

Alternatively: Paragon Rescue Kit

8. File manager: Tablacus

Quite why Windows Explorer doesn’t have tabs in 2019 we don’t know, but Tablacus solves that problem: It’s a file manager that, yes, includes tabs. It also lets you tile folders in panes, and disable any components you don’t need. 

Alternatively: XYplorer

9. Backup: Cobian Backup

Cobian Backup is one of the most capable free backup packages there is. Send your files off to an external drive, send them to a network location, send them to an FTP server: whatever works. 

Alternatively: EaseUS Todo Backup


The best free system cleaner for Windows 10: CCleaner (Image credit: Piriform)

10. System cleaner: CCleaner

CCleaner does all those long, laborious clean-up tasks in one place. You can either run a selective scrubbing job, or set up a batch job to deal with everything at once. Just be wary of the pop-ups. 

Alternatively: Advanced System Optimizer