21 Awesome (But Lesser-Known) Open-Source Applications for Windows

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Madagascar for the last few years, you undoubtedly already know about the All-Star open-source applications for Windows. I’m talking about applications such as Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, OpenOffice, and VLC.

However, there are hundreds of lesser-known but highly-useful open-source applications available for Windows. A few of my favorites are below.

These applications range from moderately popular to downright obscure, but all of them are open-source and FREE. All of them are worth the install time if you have never tried them. As a side bonus, many of them are cross-platform as well.

Here they are, in random order:

zscreen.jpg1. ZScreen

ZScreen is an open-source screen capture program that quietly resides in your system tray until needed. It can take screenshots of a selected region, the active window, or the entire screen. It can even send screen captures via FTP and copy the URL to your clipboard, all with just a single keystroke. Oh yeah, it can also interface with image editing software, such as Photoshop or Paint.net.

If you frequently take screenshots, ZScreen is light years faster than pressing Print Scrn and pasting into MS Paint.

pdfcreator-logo.png2. PDFCreator

PDFCreator allows you to create PDFs from any program that can print. Once it’s installed, simply “print” to the virtual printer that it creates, and the resulting document can be read on any computer with Adobe Reader (or comparable software).

There are several similar programs, but if you dig open-source software, PDFCreator trumps many of the others.

keepass-logo.gif3. KeePass

KeePass is one of those applications that you don’t realize how badly you need until you start using it. It securely stores and manages the login information that you use for e-mail, websites, banks, etc. Unless you always use the exact same login information (a terrible idea!), you need KeePass. It’s even available in a portable version.

I use KeePass to manage hundreds of usernames and passwords. I’d go crazy without it.

handbrake_logo.jpg4. HandBrake

HandBrake is a DVD to MPEG-4 converter that allows you to stick a DVD in your drive and have the video converted to a digital file for convenient viewing. It’s great for minimizing wear-and-tear on DVDs, plus it’s handy if you travel a lot and want to watch movies on your laptop.

For best results, use it in conjunction with DVD43.

notepadplus.gif5. Notepad++

Let’s face it – Windows Notepad is a pretty wimpy text editor, and there are many better alternatives. Notepad++ kicks the original Notepad in the junk pretty hard. Best of all, it interfaces nicely with Filezilla. Here are the features:

Syntax Highlighting and Syntax Folding
User Defined Syntax Highlighting
Regular Expression Search/Replace supported
Full Drag รขโ‚ฌหœN’ Drop supported
Dynamic position of Views
File Status Auto-detection
Zoom in and zoom out
Multi-Language environment supported
Brace and Indent guideline Highlighting
Macro recording and playback

peazip-logo.png6. Peazip

PeaZip is my current compression/zip utility of choice. It can open almost any archive type imaginable (including ACE – be sure to grab the separate plug-in). Peazip can split/join files, offers 256-bit encryption, and integrates nicely into the right-click contextual menu. It even manages to look good in the process.

Hey, there’s also portable version AND a Linux version available. Nice.

bonkenc-logo.png7. BonkEnc

BonkEnc is a fantastic CD ripper, encoder, and audio converter. It’s tiny, lightweight, and is my application of choice for ripping and encoding CDs. BonkEnc can produce MP3, MP4/M4A, Ogg Vorbis, AAC, Bonk and FLAC files, and also features CDDB/freedb lookup.

Along similar lines, if you’re looking for a batch audio/video transcoder, take a look at MediaCoder.

launchy-docu.png8. Launchy

I admit: I’ve been spoiled by Quicksilver on Mac OS X. My favorite similar program for Windows is Launchy, an open-source keystroke launcher.

To launch a program, press Alt + Spacebar, and then type a few letters in the program name and press Enter. Boom! You can also browse folders the same way. Once you get used to it, it’s a huge time saver.

cabos-logo.jpg9. Cabos

Cabos is a Gnutella file-sharing program originally based on Limewire and Acquisition. Unlike some other file-shaing programs, there’s no spyware, adware, or any other crap to junk up your computer.

gnucash-logo.png10. GnuCash

If you recoil in horror at the bloat of financial programs such as Microsoft Money and Quicken, GnuCash may suit your needs. It’s a slimmer version of those programs, and it has all the features I need for managing my meager amount of money.

The interface is easy enough to understand. It actually looks a lot like a digital checkbook ledger. Don’t be fooled, though – GnuCash can handle the needs of much more demanding users.

rssowl-logo.gif11. RSSOwl

RSSOwl is a cross-platform RSS reader. It allows you to easily track updated content on multiple sites. I really like the tabbed interface.

I find RSSOwl especially useful on a laptop, but on my always-connected desktop I prefer a web-based RSS reader, such as Google Reader.

vdub_logo.PNG12. VirtualDub

VirtualDub is a free video capture and processing utility. Wait, it’s more than that. VirtualDub lets you capture video and then manipulate it with a multitude of plug-ins and filters. It isn’t a full-fledged non-linear editor, but it packs a powerful punch for a free program.

If you work with video on Windows a lot, you probably already know about VirtualDub. If you’re just getting into video editing, you should grab VirtualDub immediately. Heck, it doesn’t even require installation.

eraser-logo.png13. Eraser

If you are paranoid about someone else recovering your sensitive deleted data, you owe it to yourself to check out Eraser. When you delete a file, your operating system really just removes the reference to the file from the file system table. The actual data is still present and can be recovered with an undelete utility.

Eraser securely shreds your sensitive data by overwriting several times with multiple, carefully-selected patterns. In other words: once you erase it, it’s gone!

paint-net-logo.png14. Paint.NET

Paint.NET is to MS Paint what NotePad++ is to Windows Notepad. It’s a dandy little photo editor that supports layers, unlimited undo, and a host of other features. By all rights, it should come with Windows by default.

Paint.NET isn’t meant to fill the shoes of bigger applications like Photoshop or The GIMP, but I use it almost every day for basic photo manipulation.

infrarecorder-logo.png15. InfraRecorder

Need CD/DVD burning software for Windows? It doesn’t get much better than InfraRecorder (by the same author of TUGZip).

InfraRecorder can burn audio/data discs. It can handle multi-session discs, creation and burning of disc images (ISO and BIN/CUE), and can even save audio/data track information to separate files. Oh yeah, it also has a portable version.

autohotkey-logo.png16. AutoHotkey

It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. What can you do with AutoHotkey? Almost anything!

For starters, by using custom keystrokes and mouse-clicks, you can automate practically any repetitive task. Define any shortcut for Windows. Remap keys and buttons any way you please. Control your mouse cursor with your keyboard. By writing your own scripts, the potential is limitless.

gantt-logo.png17. GanttProject

If you need to do any project management, GanttProject will help you get everything organized. As the name implies, it uses Gantt charts and resource load charts to help break a project into a tree of tasks, complete with dependencies.

GanttProject even allows you to exchange data with Microsoft Project, though you may find that you have no reason to do so.

mp3gain-logo.gif18. MP3Gain

MP3Gain is a simple and elegant application that serves one main purpose – to automatically adjust MP3 files so they all play at the same volume. It does it without decoding and re-encoding, so the quality remains the same. No more fiddling with the volume between different songs.

filezilla-logo.png19. Filezilla

Way back in the day, I used WS_FTP. Now I exclusively use Filezilla for my file transfer needs. It supports SFTP, allows for bandwidth speed limits, and easily saves server settings.

Best of all, it seamlessly combines with text editors (such as Notepad++) for quick-and-dirty file editing on the remote server!

wesnoth.jpg20. Battle for Wesnoth

After all this downloading, it’s time to take a break and have some fun. Battle for Wesnoth is a single/multiplayer turn-based strategy game with a fantasy theme. You can build an army from different kinds of units, such as trolls, elves, dwarves, and orcs. There are a number of standard campaigns included, plus a growing number of user-authored campaigns available on the campaign server.

The music is well done. As a composer, I appreciate games that incorporate an orchestral soundtrack.

alien-arena.jpg21. Alien Arena

If fantasy isn’t your thing, maybe you will like Alien Arena, a deathmatch-type game along the lines of Quake III and Unreal Tournament. The action is fast and furious, and for me mostly consists of running around and dying. I tend to suck at first-person deathmatch games anyway, but the game is quite engrossing.

The 2008 version just came out earlier this year, so join the servers and start fragging.


Those are some of my favorite, lesser-known open-source applications for Windows. If you have any to add, feel free to comment below.

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68 thoughts on “21 Awesome (But Lesser-Known) Open-Source Applications for Windows

  1. I like ERUNT. Simple, does not seem like much but is a excellent tool for OS crash recovery. Use it on all my clients PC’s and it has saved there buts many times.

    Also like Cobian Backup for a free and simple backup that runs once a day.

    CClean is another good, not sexy, but functional and useful tool.

  2. Great list of apps. I haven’t heard of some of these before. I’ll have to setup a vm to test these on. I like to keep my machine clean until I’m ready to commit to a new application

  3. I’ve been using GnuCash and PDFCreator for some time now, and am extremely happy with both.

  4. Wow, I didn’t have any idea there were these open souce applications for windows as well. I will definately check them out. Thanks.

  5. excellent list, have already got notepad++, paint.net (cant live without this) and few others, will try the otherones you recommended…

  6. Thanks for this awesome list. I have been using MP3Gain, VirtualDub, and FileZilla for years now. I tried Launchy, but settled with Google Desktop since it even integrates Google Search. Another good freeware that I use regularly is CCleaner. I have recently started using Paint.NET on the recommendation of a friend.


  7. Hi,
    very nice list… i think i can add some of i am using…

    Zip – 7-Zip is the best…
    Editor – Scite/PSPad/notepad++/notepad2 (actually u can find a list on snapfiles.com in freewares)
    File comparison – WinMerge
    XML/XSL transformations – CookTop
    Chat/IM client – Pidgin,miranda IM,gajim

    Note taking – Keynote,Evernote (which is not free now, but if anybody wants old free version..can contact me thru my site)

    bash for windows – Cygwin
    prog. launcher – Executor is the best…


  8. Notepad++, Paint.Net, Filezilla are all stunning. I found Greenshot (http://sourceforge.net/projects/greenshot/) easier to use than ZScreen. Although ZScreen is much more versatile it seemed to require much more configuration. The Start search menu in Vista does pretty much what Launchy does I think.

    Anyway, sourceforge.net is just phenomenal.

  9. Actually pdfCreator does work with Vista. The trick is to have it run minimized when Vista starts by putting it into your startup group.

  10. Several years ago I tried many free and open source text editors. I found PSPad to be my favorite for Windows. I believe the license is GNU Version 1.2.

  11. Nice list of programs. I have used many of these for years. However, I would like to point people away from Notepad++ and to PSPad. http://www.pspad.com/

    It’s simply astounding. Supports FTP as well, without the need for plugins. Supports just about every syntax known to man/woman.

  12. nice list, i have actually used 13 of these before and i still use them for my dily computer life. i would like to add some of them that you missed:

    nvu: html and wysiwyg editor for all platforms
    gparted: very famous partition creator
    super: converts all types of music into others (even supports web music like real player)

  13. I think you forgot to add TrueCrypt…

    An a excellent option for file encryption, laptop users love this tool.


  14. I agree with ‘Houser’, I’ve heard of the majority of these, not ‘lesser-known’ for me.. I’m such a geek!

  15. The premise of the article was to highlight good applications that people may not know about, not just rehash the same top apps that everyone and their grandmother already uses. In that sense, they are lesser known, but not unknown.

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions everyone.

  16. Nice list. I particularly love Launchy, although I’ve downgraded to version 1.25 because it works better than the newest version (2.0), especially if you get the yubnub plugin.

  17. Are you crazy?!
    Google desktop is not open sourece.
    Besides google is evil (in a bad way).
    Just look at their past on wikipedia.
    Trust me, the more you rea,the more you will hate google.

  18. I like open source of freewar, and I especially like it when it’s portable.

    I prefer 7-Zip for archiving…it’s great and portable. And IcoFX is worth mentioning here, it’s awesome for fiddling with icons (and portable). Also IrfanView is on my list (portable).

    For screen capturing, try FastStone. The most recent version is not free, but older versions are. There’s a portable version as well..

  19. I prefer jEdit for a programming editor. The plug-in and macro interface is awesome. Very customizable and fully featured. I used to use notepad++ bu the search feature was buggy and did not meet my needs at work.

  20. SourceView is about to release a dual DVD collection of over 8gigs of open source software that can run on Windows XP. All of these programs and so much more is available. If you are interested, just send an email to mden@sourceview.com and I will send you advance information. Thanks

  21. One great software that I use is audacity from sourceforge! Superb audio manipulation software. Available for Windows as well as Mac, Linux, OS2 etc, this is feature rich, but with
    easy learning curve.

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