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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Software Issues in PC Specification ]

Essential PC Software

Obviously, every PC must have an operating system, to allow you to interact with the hardware and run your application software. After the operating system, however, what you choose to use for software is entirely up to you. No two PCs are the same in terms of the software they run (except maybe in large corporations, but even there "personal touches" are quite common).

What some people consider essential software, others would never use. Therefore, it's difficult to create a list of software that everyone would agree is essential to every PC. However, there are some software programs that in this day and age, pretty much any personal computer must be equipped with. Most of these are related to the basic operation and maintenance of the machine, which is an important job that is incumbent on every PC owner.

At one time PCs came with almost nothing in terms of software. The operating system was DOS, and early versions were fairly crude, including little in the way of support utilities. Over time, Microsoft began incorporating more and more functions and utilities into its operating systems, starting with late versions of DOS and continuing through current versions of the Windows operating systems.

Today, most systems that come with Windows pre-installed already have on them a few programs that I consider essential for basic PC use:

  • Text Editor: A basic editor is required on any PC, if for no other reason than for changing system files. In Windows two are provided: EDIT on the DOS command line, and Notepad within the graphical shell.
  • Backup Software: Windows comes with backup software. It is fairly rudimentary and does not support all the features of after-market backup utilities, but it will do the job for some people.
  • Basic File System Utilities: You will need a program for checking your hard disk's file system for errors, and another for defragmenting the file system. These once required the purchase of external software, but basic versions (SCANDISK and DEFRAG) are now built into Windows. Similar third-party software is also available that is either faster or has more features or both.
  • File Manager: Windows Explorer allows you to view and manage your files. Again, more advanced programs are available from third parties.
  • Communications: Basic communications tools include networking software, a browser and a terminal program. These are all now built into modern versions of Windows, though in some circumstances you may wish to get third-party versions.

Many people choose to either download freeware software that improves upon the above built-in software, or to pay for third-party commercial software. In addition to those programs, there is other software that you are almost certain to need at one point or another as you use your PC. If you are shopping for a pre-packaged PC, look to see if any of these programs are included; if they are, you may save yourself money if you get them bundled with the PC:

  • Anti-Virus Software: This is the "big one". With viruses running rampant and causing data loss to thousands every year, you must protect yourself with a quality anti-virus program. Make sure you have one.
  • Backup Software: If Microsoft Backup doesn't do the job for you, you will need more advanced backup software. (Sometimes backup devices such as CD-RW or tape drives will come with a version of good backup software.)
  • Compression Utility: Many software and data products are distributed today in compressed format, using "zip files". You will eventually need to license a copy of compression software such as WinZip if you download software frequently, or work a great deal with others and need to move data efficiently.

As you can see, the list is pretty short: that's a testament to how differently various PC users use their machines. There just isn't all that much software that absolutely everyone needs. I would recommend you make sure you have at least the basics above though!

Next: Bundled Software With New PCs

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