Windows 7's top 10 must-have downloads

The tools you need to help migrate to, and settle in with, Microsoft's newest operating system.

Windows 7 may be brand spanking new, but that doesn't mean you can't find free or cheap tools to tweak its settings, add features, or smooth an upgrade from XP or Vista. We've compiled a list of ten valuable software tools -- many of them free -- that can make your Win7 experience a lot more rewarding.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Windows 7, like its predecessors, doesn't provide built-in protection against malware such as viruses and spyware. (It does have a firewall, however.) You could pay McAfee or Symantec for this service, but why bother with their protection racket when Redmond's does the same thing for free? Microsoft Security Essentials provides solid protection for home PCs, and it's gratis. If you prefer third-party security, check out AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition instead.

Ninite

Brave souls upgrading to Windows 7 from XP must do a clean install, a tedious process that includes, among other things, reinstalling all of your apps. Why not load most of your free and open source programs all at once? Ninite does just that. First, go to the Ninite site and pick the programs you want (e.g., Firefox, iTunes, and Skype). Next, download Ninite, which installs the apps on your PC without additional crapware. Ninite is free for personal use.

Windows Live Photo Gallery

To keep Windows 7 slim and trim -- and avoid the code bloat that slowed Vista -- Microsoft left a few utilities out of its new OS.

One such app, Photo Gallery, is a free, easy to use photo manager/editor that's worth a download, particularly if you're not already using Google Picasa to organize your pics and videos.

Windows Easy Transfer

Anyone moving to Windows 7 from XP and Vista should check out this free download, which helps you copy files and settings from one PC to another. (Windows 7 comes with Easy Transfer.)

The new version of Easy Transfer adds a file explorer, which simplifies the task of selecting the exact files you want to copy. Easy Transfer won't hang if it comes across a file or setting it can't move. Rather, it'll complete the transfer and provide a report of everything it couldn't copy. The bad news: Easy Transfer won't copy your programs. For a PC-to-PC connection, you'll need an Easy Transfer Cable (about $20). Other transfer options include a USB flash drive, external hard disk, or network connection.

Ultimate Windows Tweaker v2

This free customization tool detects whether you're running Windows 7 or Vista, and offers only those tweaks that are relevant to your OS. "Ultimate" is a fitting description for this mega-tweaker, which provide dozens of configuration options for UI, network, security, and system settings. If you're all about personalizing Windows 7, this app's for you.

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