We’ve featured hundreds of free Windows applications over the course of 2009 that we hoped might bolster your productivity, workflow, or your PC usefulness in one form or another. Here’s a look back at the most popular Windows downloads of the year.
As with 2008′s most popular free Windows downloads, keep in mind that the apps featured here are chosen by the popularity of the associated post we published in 2009. Many were new, some were improvements to already loved apps, and others were simply new-to-us. Here’s a quick look back at the 19 or so most popular Windows downloads of 2009:
Windows 7—from Beta to Release Candidate and So On
2009 was a big year for Windows, and Windows 7 was the most important ingredient in Windows’ solid year. (In fact, you’ll notice that several of this year’s most popular downloads are related to Windows 7 in one way or another.) Sure it’s not exactly an application but rather a full-blown operating system, but it only makes sense that a new version of Windows would top the list of Windows downloads for the year. It started with the Windows 7 beta download in January, which had a ton of hiccups. It was released, then pulled, then released again, then extended because of the trouble Microsoft had handling the demand. (Actually, we just think they underestimated the web.) Later, in May, Microsoft released the Windows 7 release candidate. You even jumped on the chance to try Windows 7′s beautiful new themes.
One of our very own readers released his popular desktop configuration as a installable utility that brings a handful of great customization and productivity tools to your desktop. It’s called Enigma 2.0. Then Rainmeter, another very popular desktop customization tool, set Enigma as its default desktop. Fancy pants.
Ever wish you could enjoy some of the finer tools available to Linux but stay comfortably in your Windows desktop? Sure you could run a virtual machine, but Portable Ubuntu for Windows runs an entire Linux OS as a Windows application. Better yet, it’s portable.
The release of Windows 7 left a lot of XP users wishing they could get in on some of that snazzy new eye candy. Seven Remix XP is a free utility that does its best to bring Windows 7′s comely looks to XP.
Another result of the Windows 7 launch: A whole lot of us were rebuilding systems from the ground up, which often means a lot of tedious downloading and installing one app at a time. Ninite makes it easy, streamlining the download and installation processes for tons of the most popular free Windows apps, including most of our 2009 Lifehacker Pack.
Apart from all the new eye candy, Windows 7 really tickled our fancy with tons of incredible new keyboard shortcuts. For folks still chilling out with XP or Vista, we released Windows 7 Shortcuts, a lightweight utility written to bring some of the best new shortcuts of Windows 7 to previous versions of Windows.
By virtue of reading Lifehacker, you’re more likely than not the most schooled person among your friends and family when it comes to fixing a bum PC. It’s a dubious honor, because it also means you generally are the person who gets called when something goes wrong. Computer Repair Utility Kit puts a handful of useful PC repair utilities in one handy, portable suite.
Like to keep items you want to access frequently easily accessible on your desktop but don’t want to deal with the added clutter? Fences arranges your cluttered desktop icons into containers so you can clean up the mess into useful groups of shortcuts—or optionally hide them altogether.
We’re of the mind that Microsoft’s security tools are good enough—including the new and impressive Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus app—but that doesn't mean many of you don't get excited when the AVG 9 Free update is available. It’s still the favorite antivirus app of Lifehacker readers (who doesn’t love free), though we’re sensing a slow but steady sea of change on this one.
Google Chrome—Stable, Beta, and Dev Releases
Google Chrome is just over a year old, but it’s made huge strides among early adopters. Chrome came out with its stable 2.0 release in May, then followed up with a Chrome 3.0 release in September. Early adopters willing to try their luck in the beta and dev channels get more features, which we detailed in our power user’s guide to Google Chrome. Whichever version of Chrome interests you most, it’s clear that it was a pretty good year for Chrome.
Hulu Video Downloader was a fun little app that lasted about as long as you could say Hu… that is, it doesn’t work anymore. But when it did, it grabbed videos from the popular video service for your offline viewing pleasure, and you were eager to try it out.
Safari‘s 4.0 beta release for Windows came with a lot of bugs and some serious eye candy, but despite the interest at release, we can’t imagine many people still stick with Safari on Windows over, say, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.
Google very recently announced a free DNS service they boasted as fast, but rather than take their word for it, we pointed you toward namebench (and several readers also pointed toward the excellent DNS Name Server Benchmark). It tests various popular DNS servers to find what’s really going to be the fastest choice for your system.
We’re sort of junkies for maps and 3D, so when Google Earth 5 was released, we were pleased as punch. The update featured historical imagery, ocean maps, and improved world touring capabilities. Maybe we just like saving ourselves some dough in these tough economic times with a little Google Earth sightseeing.
And Then There Was Firefox
The notorious Firefox memory slow-downs may have some of us down on the reliable old 'fox, but that doesn't mean we aren't all still eager to grab the latest and greatest releases and stick with it as our default browser—whether it's the big Firefox 3.5 release or the Firefox 3.6 beta (1, 2, 3, or 4). We’re looking forward to more great Firefox’ing in 2010.
If your webcam is sitting around collecting dust, try out Motion Detection, a free, motion-detecting security camera application. It’ll snap pics and video when it detects movement, can upload the results via FTP, and more fun at-home security stuffs.
Sure it was two years since Thunderbird‘s 2.0 release, but at least they didn’t disappoint. Thunderbird 3.0 comes with solid new search and filtering tools, better looks, and a great new tabbed interface.
Free, open-source DVD ripping and encoding tool HandBrake released a pretty saucy update last month with a ton of fixes and improvements. It’s no coincidence that it’s always been our reader’s favorite video encoder, and this year’s big-ish (but still not 1.0) update should only help keep it there.
Linux users have a killer desktop management tool called Compiz Fusion that puts multiple desktop management on a 3D cube that we’ve always been jealous of on Windows. Open-source application DeskHedron brings a similar three-dimensional desktop management tool to Windows users.
Now, for fun:
Got a favorite Windows download from 2009 that you’d add to your list of favorites? Let’s hear about it in the comments. If you’re craving still more popular Windows downloads, you can also take a look back at the most popular free Windows downloads of 2008.