How to replace Windows Essentials

Microsoft officially ended support for Windows Essentials in January this year, but left the installer on its site, so fans of the classic software suite could still download Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Live Mail, and all their other favorites.

However, as it signed Windows Vista’s death certificate earlier this month, Microsoft also quietly removed that last link, finally laying Essentials to rest. If you already have it, the programs won’t suddenly stop running, but next time you need to reinstall it, you’ll be stuck.

Windows Essentials was excellent in 2012, but its component programs have been superseded by far superior free alternatives. It’s time to move on, and this is the free software to help you do it.

  • Using an older version of Windows? Here's why you should upgrade to Windows 10

1. Replace Mail with Mozilla Thunderbird

Windows 10 comes with its own Mail app, but it doesn’t store any of your messages offline, making it a poor replacement for the venerable Live Mail. 

Mozilla Thunderbird, from the team behind the Firefox web browser, is a far superior alternative. This feature-packed free email client is easy to set up, and gives you full control over where your messages are archived, and how often. It can also sync your calendars and manage RSS feeds, so you can check the headlines and check your schedule while catching up on emails.

Review and where to download: Mozilla Thunderbird

2. Replace Movie Maker with Shotcut

If Windows Movie Maker had continued to evolve after 2012, this is what it would look like. Once you’ve launched free video editor Shotcut, simply click the Playlist and Timeline buttons at the top and you’ll find yourself with a very familiar interface with almost no learning curve.

Like Movie Maker, Shotcut lets you import video clips, images, and sound files, then drag and drop them onto a timeline. Shotcut is a non-linear editor, so no changes are final until you export your work. Each change you make is stored in an edit decision list, and can be reversed at any time. 

Shotcut offers an excellent range of audio and video filters, and there are even advanced tools like chroma key compositing for green screen effects.

Review and where to download: Shotcut

Windows Photo Gallery was a handy jack of all trades that let you view, organize, edit, and share photos without firing up several different programs. Its editing tools were surprisingly advanced, with noise reduction, a healing tool, and red-eye removal alongside more basic functions like rotation and resizing.

Free image editor and viewer IrfanView is a perfect upgrade, with all these features and many more. It makes tagging and organizing images a breeze, and supports batch conversion, so you can easily get huge photo collections under control. It’s packed with excellent editing tools, and you can add even more by installing Photoshop plugins.

Review and where to download: Irfanview

4. Replace Writer with Open Live Writer

Windows Live Writer wasn’t one of the stars of Windows Essentials, but it was thoughtfully crafted and earned itself a loyal userbase. It supported all the most popular blogging platforms of the day, including WordPress, SharePoint, Blogger, Typepad and LiveJournal. It let writers compose blog posts offline – complete with images, videos, and formatting – and then upload them to multiple platforms at once. A simple premise, but very useful.

Open Live Writer is an open source project based on a fork of Windows Live Writer, and the latest release is optimized for use with Windows 10. The project has a bright future, and its ambitious team of volunteer developers are hoping to add plugin support soon.

Download here: Open Live Writer

5. Replace SkyDrive with Mega

Microsoft’s cloud storage service OneDrive (formerly known as SkyDrive) still exists. In fact, it’s fully incorporated into Windows 8 and 10, appearing alongside your local and networked drives in Windows Explorer. However, the free version gives you just 5GB space for your files, so you’ll soon need to look elsewhere for your online storage and file-sharing needs.

That’s why we prefer Mega (aka MegaUpload), which gives free users 50GB to play with. It also supports parallel connections for faster uploads and downloads, and secures files with end-to-end encryption. 

Try it online: Mega

6. Replace Family Safety with Qustodio 

Like OneDrive, Family Safety has been integrated into the most recent versions of Windows, but if you want an extra layer of security for your kids, free parental control software Qustodio is an excellent choice. 

The free version of Qustodio (think 'custodian') covers the basics, enabling you to set rules and time schedules for web browsing, and block pornography and other unsuitable content like gambing sites. It's an ideal way to boost Microsoft's built-in safety tools if you have young children.

Download here: Qustodio

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of TechRadar's sister site Advnture. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better)