Windows comes with a number of default apps, which are handy if you need a quick way to open a file but vexing if you'd rather use your preferred apps. For example, when Windows 8 came out, it had a bad habit of opening full-screen apps every time you wanted to view an image, listen to an MP3, watch a video, or read a PDF, and there wasn't a clear way to exit the app. You probably also want better ways to edit photos and take screenshots, and maybe you're not a big fan of Internet Explorer or OneDrive. Windows 10 has mostly corrected the experience of opening a document or media file (click here for our review of the operating system), but there are still a number of options that are better than Windows' preinstalled apps. Here are nine tasks you might want to outsource to other apps, plus a final tip on making them the new defaults.
1. Managing images
Windows 10's built-in image viewer is not bad, but if you need to resize multiple files, switch them from one image format to another, or rename them, then the image viewer is too basic. IrfanView is practically the gold standard when it comes to these tasks, and it's free (but if you've been using it for a while and like it, consider donating to the developer so that it can stick around).
2. Editing images
Microsoft Paint has seen much-needed improvements in recent years, but it still falls short for tweaking your pictures. You can't have multiple images open at once, and it doesn't use a number of conventional keyboard shortcuts. Enter Paint.Net, a free program that mimics a lot of Adobe Photoshop behavior while not overwhelming you with complex professional tools.
3. Listening to audio files
Most people seem to stream their music and podcasts these days, while those of you with big offline libraries probably already have your audio player set up just the way you like it. But if you don't fall into either camp, WinAmp is arguably your best bet, despite its most recent version dating back to December 2013. Its new owner has said that it hopes to deliver a long-awaited update this year. MediaMonkey is also a solid choice.
4. Reading PDFs
Foxit Reader has been the go-to alternative to both Windows 8's built-in reader and Adobe Reader for a number of years, since Adobe's reader has developed a reputation for occasional security holes and being slow to open. We've heard complaints that Foxit Reader has gotten a bit overloaded with features, in which case you might want to try something more streamlined, like Sumatra PDF.
5. Watching videos
Streaming has largely taken over from playing a file locally. But if you're in the habit of making archival backups of your Blu-rays and DVDs, VLC Media Player (64-bit download, 32-bit download) will handle pretty much everything under the sun, so you don't have to download potentially sketchy codec packs. Since the Windows Media Center is not going to be in Windows 10, we expect to see VLC grow even more in popularity, along with local network streaming software like Plex Media Server.
Like Windows 8, Windows 10 will not have built-in DVD-playing capability, at least not at launch. Microsoft has said it will provide support later this year. In the meantime, VLC will play DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
6. Browsing the Web
For a long time, Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser lagged behind the competition in many ways, and the company is responding by replacing it with Microsoft Edge. IE will still exist as a fallback, but Edge is intended to truly compete with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Of the three, Chrome is arguably the all-around best choice, thanks to snappy performance, easy bookmark syncing, and Google Now integration.
7. Basic word processing
If you just need a basic scratch pad, you can whip up a text document in seconds. But if you want a spell checker, bulleted lists, different fonts, and bold and italicized text, you need to kick it up a notch. It's hard to go wrong with AbiWord, which is light, free, and easy to step into if you use Microsoft Word. If you want a full office suite, the best free choice is LibreOffice, which shares a lot of DNA with OpenOffice, except the latter has a fraction of the maintainers working on it and doesn't get updated as often.
8. Taking screenshots
For decades, the standard way to take a screenshot has been to press the Print Screen key, open Microsoft Paint, paste the image with Ctrl-V, and save it. But we don't have to live in the dark ages anymore. Programs like LightShot and GreenShot can capture your desktop with a touch of a button -- no editing step required.
9. Cloud backups
Microsoft OneDrive's integration into Windows is pretty convenient, and it's a solid service. But if you're already using Google Drive, there isn't a compelling reason to make the switch to OneDrive, especially if you're an Android user. Neither service offers client-side encryption, unfortunately (a system where only you have the encryption keys for your account), but no free cloud backup service does.
Changing the default settings
Once you've installed these alternatives, there are two ways to make them the new defaults for particular file types. One is to right-click on a file, select Properties, click the Change button, and choose your new program from the list.
The other way is to press the Windows key, type "default programs" (without the quotes), and click the Default Programs search result, which opens up a Windows application that will list all installed file opening programs on your PC, in alphabetical order. When you select a program, click "Set this program as default" or click the option below that to choose your desired file types from a list. In the latter case, remember to click the Save button when you're done making your selections.