I've done a few pieces here on free software (true freeware - adware and spyware free) ... that 'just works'.
As more people migrate to Vista, I added a Vista box to the mix a few weeks ago and took a few of the oldie but goodies for a fresh run.
Obviously, everyone's favorites will vary, and this is a 'short list'.
I'm pleased that we now have a variety of new RSS subscribers and 'Google Reader' sharers, so if you haven't seen any of these before, that's what this piece is about. Fun, productivity, time savings, and just some stuff to try out over the weekend. (Obviously, I have NO IDEA how any of these will perform on your configuration :)
There are more than a few 'system analyzers' out there. There are two that I use most frequently. The first because of the UI and the second because I forget stuff (and probably don't back up as often as I should):
1) Fresh Diagnose - Latest Version 7.86 (July 8, 2008)
2) Belarc Advisor - More than you want to know
PDF Reader -
While many Adobe products are getting lighter, Adobe Reader (despite some new features) is going beyond bloatware.
A great alternative PDF reader, time-tested is Fox-It Reader. It's important to note that the download docs may seem a little confusing. The Free version is still very much available. Look towards the bottom.
There's been some discussion (on Friendfeed and elsewhere) about AVG Anti-Virus no longer being free. The basic version IS still available. If you're using one of the old versions, it stopped updating some time ago when Grisoft (now AVG Technologies) moved to version Version 8.
It's been here before, but you simply can't beat it for zero dollars (donateware) Paint.net. I just keeps getting better.
Desktop Conversation App
Twhirl version 0.8.4 (for those who tweet and otherwise microblog :) is a runaway winner for me (still). The desktop app that now supports Twitter, Friendfeed, Identi.ca and more.
Clean-up your junk!
Now mentioned by more blogs than I can count, I count on CCleaner to remove umpteen megabytes of 'junk' several times a day. The Latest version is 2.10.618 (July 30, 2008) and can be found here. More recently I've been trying Glary Utilities as well. It seems to find a few things that CCleaner misses (but I need a little more time on this one :)
It's important to note that unless you know what you're doing (for lack of a better way of putting it), stick to the 1-click (non-auto) maintenance on Glary and/or just the Clean-up on CCleaner.
Finally, the biggie. Web Browsers.
Right now, I'll stand by Firefox 3 in a Windows envionment any day. Best in class on a properly configured XP or Vista box ... hands down. It's not just for bloggers anymore and the adoption rate is increasing every day. A few extensions and your on your way to creating a fast, customizable internet experience .... 'that just works'.