Update: also see our feature on 12 free Windows 7 power-up downloads.
Even though Windows 10 is out on July 29 and many Windows 7 users are expected to take Microsoft up on its free upgrade offer, there will still be plenty taking the cautious route and sticking with their existing OS.
Thankfully for those staying loyal to Windows 7 there is plenty of free software that allows your PC to continue to hit the heights. Whether it's editing your latest set of photos from a trip abroad, optimising the performance of your PC or simply surfing the web, there are so many free offerings out there.
We've managed to whittle this mountain of software down to the best 20 that will truly take your PC to the next level. So what are they? Read on, and find out.
The Paint application got a much needed improvement in Windows 7, but it doesn't cater to the needs of professionals and by no stretch of the imagination can it be considered an Adobe Photoshop replacement.
GIMP, a diamond of freebies, is simply remarkable in terms of quality and quantity, with an array of options. From 3D perspective tools to eye-popping render effects, GIMP impresses throughout. (For a less professional, more basic and easy to use image editor, Paint.Net is a good alternative).
VLC Media Player
VLC Media Player is not about the cool menu colours or the glow of the play button seen in its rivals. The developers of this fantastic piece of software have focused on the core aspects of a media player, and it succeeds by being able to play virtually any video and audio format with impressive quality.
One of the best features of VLC Media Player is the ability to increase the volume of any video above the level that is usually available in other media players. If you've ever downloaded a video that you can't hear at all then this feature will be incredibly useful for you. All in all the great ease of use makes this media player a must-have.
Converting video from one format to another is child's play with Handbrake, which accepts practically any format as a source. Handbrake also includes chapter selection, basic subtitle support and audio embedding. With tree diagrams and tabs in the interface, Handbrake is a pleasure to use.
The browser war is pretty fierce and everybody has their favourite browser. However, the star of open source development is undoubtedly Mozilla Firefox. Does your browser look dull? Then download one of the many themes from the Mozilla website. You can also increase functionality and productivity with add-ons such as Firegestures.
Created by Google, Picasa gathers and organises all your photos to make them easily accessible. Adjusting and fixing your photos, posting them online or viewing a timeline are all functions which are just a few clicks away, and amateurs will appreciate the simple yet very effective layout in Picasa.
Included with Picasa is the excellent Picasa Photo Viewer to preview pictures in Windows Explorer folders, and the fact that it links in with Google+ to store your photos online as well as on your PC makes this an incredibly useful tool.
Windows 7 might offer a brand new taskbar, but it doesn't do much to improve upon the main desktop itself. Fences is a great way to make your desktop organised, by arranging and sorting icons into various 'fences' or labelled shaded areas in a well-presented manner. Fences makes life a lot easier.
Any Windows 7 PC users who own an Apple or Android smartphone will immediately be enamoured to this program as it makes your PC look like a huge smartphone thanks to the fenced off areas, and this means a far more intuitive experience all round.
CCleaner works hard to completely banish clutter and unwanted files yet it will always ask your permission before doing so. Whether it is dealing with temporary internet files, cookies or redundant files, CCleaner is more than a match and will have you wondering what it was you did before you installed this program.
There is even an added uninstall feature to remove annoying programs that refuse to leave your computer and all this means that CCleaner is strongly recommended.
From cleaning up registry problems to detecting system clutter, EnhanceMySe7en notifies you about improvements that could be made on your computer. However, the supreme aspect of this program lies in the insane amount of data and tools provided, including hard drive monitors that measure 'Work Time' and 'Temperature' and helpful options such as 'Time to wait when a program hangs'.
Adobe Reader might be an unnecessarily larger download than its rivals, but it manages to keep a consistent and steady footprint in terms of resources (unlike Foxit PDF Reader that has a constantly increasing footprint) and with a browser plug-in included, it's a good idea to stick to the software provided by the creators of the PDF format themselves.
There are various programs hosted online that allow you to edit PDFs within emails but Adobe's offering remains one of the best applications out there, and with constant updates it will never become outdated or insecure.
Unlike Paint, Windows 7 makes absolutely no improvement to the Notepad application. Fortunately, the freebie, Notepad++, expands on the functionality of the default notepad by including tabbed windows. It's a programmer's dream, with support for various programming languages.
One of the best things about Notepad++ is that updates are continually delivered to users and the last one arrived very recently on May 23. This program justly deserves the name 'Notepad++'.
Since Windows 7 doesn't improve upon one of the most commonly used techniques seen on a PC – namely copy-paste – the freebie Ditto enhances copy-pasting by placing a universal clipboard storing every single object that has been copied, to be pasted in whatever order is required.
Defraggler, from the creator of CCleaner, is a complete defragmentation tool for Windows that is easier and far more intuitive to use than the bundled tool that comes as part of Windows 7. It does, however, have a couple of stand-out features beyond being simply a defragmentation program.
Its best feature is the ability to defragment individual files or a specific part of a drive without touching anything else thus making sure that you are defragmenting only what is needed. This saves a great deal of time compared to a whole drive defragmentation which can often take hours.
Recuva is a freeware app that recovers files that have been accidentally deleted from the Recycle Bin, MP3 players and memory cards, claiming to recover files that have also been corrupted by viruses or damaged disks.
The slick Recuva Wizard at startup appeals to both amateurs and professionals, and with no price tag, this program can be priceless when you recover those important photos or documents.
Stacks is a fantastic addition to the Mac OS X Dock. Wouldn't it be great if you could do that on a Windows taskbar? 7Stacks does exactly that.
When you've downloaded 7Stacks, it gives you the chance to enjoy an overview of all your documents in one place after just a few seconds of setting up, and makes your PC appear similar to a Mac from the off. Given the fact that this is completely free of charge, there's nothing stopping you enjoying one of the Mac's most intuitive features.
Another great Mac OS X feature is Exposé, the ability to view all running windows in various thumbnails in full screen. Switcher mimics this feature, allowing you to decide which mouse or keyboard shortcut you would like to activate the Switch.
Anyone waiting for Windows 10 won't need to worry about Switcher when it arrives as the Task View that is included as part of the new OS performs the exact same task as Switcher. Until then, Switcher remains the very best way to achieve this in Windows 7.
Compressing files has many advantages since they take up less space and are therefore quicker to download from the internet. Featuring a host of compression formats, 7-zip lets you uncompress almost any compressed data, and with the unique 7z format, files can be compressed up to 40% smaller than Zip formats.
Copying files in Windows 7's default Explorer can be laborious at the best of times. That doesn't have to be the case thanks to SuperCopier's set of tools. The program copies files at a far faster rate than Windows Explorer can ever hope to achieve and allows you to perform a number of tasks along the way.
This includes being able to prioritise certain files in the queue so that you can get the files you need faster, and there is a detailed error log that notes down anything abnormal about your files. You can even decide the speed that files are copied making SuperCopier a must for any Windows 7 PC owner.
Getting the very most from your copy of Windows 7 can be as simple as downloading the rebadged version of Windows Live, Windows Essentials. Inside the package is a collection of useful programs such as the classic Windows Movie Maker, Live Mail, Live Writer to create blog posts with added photos and videos, and it even contains OneDrive as standard.
Whilst there are obviously separate programs that can perform the same functions as Windows Essentials, this little collection is very handy when you are just starting out and don't need to carry out anything more advanced than the bare essentials.
Most people store some sort of important personal information such as passwords or bank statements on their PC. Files deleted from the Recycle Bin are not necessarily lost forever, and it could be a disaster if someone managed to retrieve such sensitive information.
Eraser makes sure the file is actually erased from the hard drive by overwriting the selected file several times in 'carefully selected patterns'. This means that the file is not just deleted, rather it's permanently nuked and gone forever.
OpenOffice, a popular open source suite, is an immensely powerful set of applications considering the fact that you don't have to dish out a single penny for it. OpenOffice is very similar to Microsoft Office, and features like macros and built-in templates will please advanced users.
OpenOffice is by no means the only free Microsoft Office alternative on the market. The likes of Google Docs, LibreOffice, Atlantis Word Processor, WPS Office, and Office Online all offer a different slant on the popular productivity suite and are again free of charge.