The Start Menu is one of the most iconic parts of Windows, and it received a pretty major overhaul with Windows 11. There are some nice features hidden in the settings that you might not know about. Let's unearth them.
You shouldn’t need to spend Adobe money to edit images and photos.
Fortunately, free alternatives exist that can help you complete basic
image editing operations, process RAW photos, and more.
The GNU Image Manipulation Program better known as GIMP has long been the go-to Photoshop alternative for Linux users. But you don’t need to use Linux to take advantage of GIMP since the software is available for macOS and Windows too. You can grab GIMP from the Downloads page or use a package manager like Flatpak for Linux or Mac equivalent Homebrew. GIMP is even available on the Windows Store.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to GIMP if you’re coming from Photoshop, and things don’t always “just work” as you’d expect them to. Thankfully you can resort to GIMP’s plentiful help documentation and tutorials to get up to speed. The app includes a familiar set of tools and a UI to match so that you can use layers, masks, brushes, tools, and even filters to edit your images.
GIMP is a great replacement for older versions of Photoshop, though it lacks many of the generative, content-aware, and AI-powered tools of the latest releases. If you put the time into learning how it works, it’s an excellent Photoshop alternative.
Paint.NET is a solid free image and photo editor for Windows that makes a great alternative to Photoshop. You can think of Paint.NET as a turbocharged version of the default Paint app that’s included with Windows. The app is powered by the Microsoft .NET 7 framework, dependencies that are taken care of with a single app install.
The app features an intuitive and customizable interface, layers (but no masks), a familiar array of tools, and tabs for quickly switching between files. There’s support for pressure-sensitive pens and drawing tablets (touchscreen too), an array of effects (like Photoshop’s filters), and all the basic tools you need. Paint.NET is highly optimized so you won’t be waiting around for things to happen.
Core to the Paint.NET experience is an active community and busy forum. This is where you can browse through hundreds of plugins and tutorials, get help with a specific problem, share your creations, and stay up to date with app development.
Paint.NET is a fast and easy-to-use image editor that all Windows users should have installed. The app is free to download from the Paint.NET website but be aware that the version featured in the Microsoft store is a premium app.
Apple Photos is a photo editor and organizer that comes installed on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Though the interface differs between these versions, the base feature set is the same. Unlike Photoshop, which is great for creating artwork, using brushes, adding layers, drawing with a tablet, and other creative art tasks, Apple Photos is limited to photo editing.
Fortunately, there’s a rich suite of photo editing options available. You can use Apple Photos to edit both RAW and standard lossy images, and the app can be used on a local library or be used to sync your photos across devices with iCloud Photo Library.
Basic editing tools are divided into two categories: Light (including Exposure, Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, and so on) and Color (Saturation, Vibrance, and Cast). You can also use the app to edit monochrome images, touch-up blemishes with the Retouch tool, remove red-eye, adjust the white balance, add sharpening, fix or add vignetting, and more.
You can also use a set of advanced editing tools to adjust the curves of an image, view the histogram of a photo, reduce noise, and perform selective color edits. All of these operations are non-destructive, which means you can hit the “Reset Adjustments” button at any time to get back to your original image. You can also copy the edits from one photo and apply them to another (or multiple), and see before and after previews of any changes you make.
On top of this there are the sort of instant filters and auto enhancement tools you’d expect from a (primarily) mobile photo editor, plus a cropping tool that includes a variety of aspect ratios, perspective correction, and straightening tools.
Windows 11 Photos
Just like Apple Photos, Windows Photos is another pack-in photo editor that foregoes some of the more creative aspects of Photoshop (like art creation) but includes everything you’d need for basic photo editing. Windows Photos integrates with OneDrive and even iCloud Photos so that you can edit photos from connected devices right within Microsoft’s desktop OS.
The app can be used to open standard lossy image files and RAW photos with the aid of the Raw Image Extension from the Microsoft Store. Edits are divided by Light (Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, and so on) and Color (Saturation, Warmth, and Tint) for basic edits. Images can be cropped, mirrored, rotated, and straightened too.
There’s also a selection of instant filters designed to give you specific looks and an auto-enhance option that attempts to fix your images for you. You can use the Spot Fix tool to repair blemishes, but there’s no red-eye removal. On top of this, there are a few markup options like a highlighter and drawing pen for scribbling your thoughts.
Non-destructive edits let you reset your changes at any point, and you can easily save your image as a copy or overwrite the original.
Pixlr is available in two versions: Pixlr X which is designed for quick creative design projects (like posters, flyers, and social posts), and Pixlr E which is a fully-fledged image editor that lives in your browser. If you’re looking for something with which to replace Photoshop, you’re probably looking for Pixlr E. Pixlr offers a decent free option (hence its inclusion on this list), but you’ll need to pay for a subscription starting at $1.99 per month to unlock its full functionality.
Pixlr E looks just like Photoshop when starting a new project or opening an existing image. You’ll see a full list of tools down the left-hand side of the screen (including favorites like rectangular and lasso selection, dodge/burn, and clone), and Photoshop mainstays like an image overview, layer selection, and history overlay to the right of the screen. You can work with layers and masks just like you can in Photoshop.
There’s even a menu bar that works much in the same way as Photoshop at the top of the screen, with filters, layer operations, image adjustments, selection tools, and a workflow designed specifically for making animations. Pixlr includes a huge range of templates to get you started, and some new AI-powered tools for removing backgrounds, and image generation.
The free version of Pixlr includes limited access to some tools, only three saves, no mobile support, limits on canvas size, and is supported by advertisements. Despite this, it’s still a feature-rich tool and for quick edits you might not bump into too many restrictions. It’s also a very cheap alternative to Photoshop if you like what’s on offer and want to pay to unlock more.
Sumopaint and Sumophoto
Like Pixlr, Sumopaint and Sumophoto have compelling free options but are ultimately paid products. The apps are available as part of the Sumo Creative Suite. The apps are free to use, and paying for a subscription comes with access to the whole package (including a video editor called Sumovideo, development environment Sumocode, and many more).
Though they are two separate apps, Sumopaint and Sumphoto together make a fairly feature-complete Photoshop alternative. Sumopaint is a creative tool that includes support for layers, brushes (and custom brushes), shapes, text, and some image manipulation tools like smudge and adjustment brushes.
Sumophoto is a photo editor with a decent number of adjustment parameters that work similarly to Apple Photos. You can adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, and so on though more powerful features like curves and a histogram are missing. There are some one-click filters included, and you can resize, crop, straighten, and mirror or rotate your photo too.
You can use the free versions of Sumopaint and Sumophoto in your browser, with access to most app features. Paying for a Pro upgrade at $4 per month lets you download apps for offline use though these are effectively web apps that run locally, rather than native software like Photoshop or GIMP.
Consider Investing in a Paid Alternative
If these tools come up short but you don’t fancy shelling out for a pricey Photoshop subscription, you might want to consider a cheaper paid Photoshop alternative.
These tools are often available for a modest investment, with many available under a standard lifetime license rather than a subscription model.
The best part is these tools won’t stop you from using the Windows Start menu. Using most of these tools, you will have two Start menus (including the Windows Start menu) and two Start buttons that can be used separately. Apart from that, these Start menu alternatives work for as long as you are running a particular tool. When you exit or close a tool, you can continue using the native Start menu as usual. So, the control will remain in your hands.
Start Menu Alternatives for Windows 11/10
In this post, we have covered 5 free tools that can be used as a replacement for Windows 11/10 Start menu. The tools are:Start Menu X
Start Menu Reviver
Before you try any of these tools, we suggest you create a system restore point. Also, some tools are added to the Windows Startup list automatically which you might not like or find annoying. So, you need to remove such options from their Settings or manually remove them if you don’t want those tools to run automatically after every startup.
Now let’s check these Start menu alternative tools one by one.
1] Start Menu X
Start Menu X (free version) supports different languages and has some really interesting features or options that easily catch the attention and make it a better replacement for Windows 11/10 Start menu. You just need to access the Options box of this tool to set and use the available features present in different categories. Some of those features are:Different skins or themes (including a Space X theme with animation) can be applied to the Start menu
Change the Windows Start button with any one of the pre-added buttons (such as angry bird, Pikachu, etc.). You can also add an image of your choice for the Start button
Add buttons that you want to see in the Start menu such as Log Off, Hibernate, User Account, Switch User, etc.
Change Start menu layout. Available layouts or styles are:Switch between Start Menu X
Classic Start Menu, and
Start Menu 10.
You can grab its setup file from startmenux.com. During the installation, select the free version option, and complete the installation. Launch the tool and it will start running in the system tray.
Now when you will click on the Start button of Windows 11/10, it will show its Start menu, and pressing the Shift+Win hotkey will show the native Start menu. You can also reverse this action from the Settings of this tool.
The Start menu layout of this tool is user-friendly where you can access installed apps and programs in separate sections, use power options, and access This PC, Desktop, and other items easily.
While the default layout and settings are good enough, you can do the customization by accessing the Options box of this tool. To open that box, right-click its tray icon and select the Options. Set the options as per your needs and enjoy a customized Start menu on your Windows 11/10 computer.
2] Start Menu Reviver
Start Menu Reviver is another interesting tool on this list. Like Start Menu X, this tool can also be used separately. This tool also comes with some useful features. It lets you:Add up to 64 tiles in the Start menu to add and access favorite or frequently used items
Change the Start button: 11 different Start buttons are available to choose from
Set Start menu size to medium, large, or small
Change the Start menu theme to day or night mode. You can also set a custom color for background, background text, tile text, empty tiles, Start screen tile, etc.
To use this Start menu tool, download its setup file from reviversoft.com. After installation, launch the tool and its Start button will be visible on the bottom left corner of your Windows 11/10 taskbar. Clicking on the Start button will show its Start menu with the default layout and options.
The Start menu of this tool has three sections that cover everything:Left section: It helps to access user accounts, This PC, Settings app, Task Manager, Run Command box, user folder, etc.
Middle section: It contains a tiles menu to use pre-added tiles, add more tiles, edit and reset a tile, etc.
Right section: This section shows an expanded menu to access all programs, only programs, or apps separately. By default, the expanded menu is set to expand automatically to view programs and apps, but you can change its view mode from the Settings of this tool.
If you want to change the style and set other options of this Start menu tool, then simply access Settings of this tool (using right-click menu of its Start button) and use the available options. Once changes are made, press the tick mark icon to save them.
Also read: Start menu does not open or Start button not working.
3] Open Shell
Open Shell (originally known as Classic Shell) is one of the best Start menu alternatives for Windows 11/10 OS. This tool came into existence when the developer of the very famous tool named Classic Shell discontinued its development a long time ago. The tool became open-source and that Classic Shell tool was forked and updated by volunteer developers. Most of the options, Start menu style, etc., are the same as the original, only the name is changed.
Using this Open Shell tool, you can use a Windows 7 style Start menu, a classic with two columns style or a classic style Start menu where you will access all the programs, Microsoft Store apps, etc. For each Start menu type, you can also select a skin type (or theme), show/hide the user account picture, use small icons, and set items that you want to display on the Start menu. Thus, you can customize the Start menu as per your requirements.
There are many other useful features provided by this tool. These are:Replace the Start button with Aero, Classic, or a custom image
Set actions for the left mouse click, Win key, Shift+Win key, Shift+left mouse button, etc. For example, you can set the Win key to open the Start menu of this tool, Windows Start menu, Start menu in desktop and Start screen in Metro, or do nothing
Customize the taskbar to set taskbar opacity, taskbar look, color, text color, etc.
Enable/disable right-click context menu of this tool for Start menu items
Show/hide the Search box in the Start menu
Change language for the user interface. 40+ languages are supported by this tool.
All such features or options can be accessed from the Settings window of this tool. You can also save or backup all the changes or settings as an XML file so that you can load or restore them later whenever needed.
For using this Start menu alternative tool, install it, and then press the Win key. Its Start button and Start menu will visible on the bottom left part of your computer screen. Like other Start menu alternatives present on this list, it doesn’t interfere with the Windows Start menu and you can use both the Start menus separately.
If you are satisfied with the default Start menu and options, then there is no need to do anything. Or else, launch Open-Shell Menu Settings using the Windows Start menu or from the installation folder of this tool, customize the options, and use the OK button to save the changes.
Spencer is a portable and the simplest tool on this list. It lets you quickly access and launch installed programs, Windows Tools, File Explorer, Settings app, System Tools (Command Prompt, Task Manager, Run Command box, etc.), Accessories (Quick Assist, Steps Recorder, etc.), and more.
This tool doesn’t come with any interface or let you customize any type of settings. It only lets you access those items that are stored in the Programs folder (under the Start Menu folder) available in two different locations of your Windows 11/10 computer. The path or location of those folders are:C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
So, if you want to access more items, say Desktop, some folder containing your favorite videos, or important documents, then all you need to do is copy and paste those items to the Programs folder and access them quickly using this tool.
The benefit of this tool is you can launch it from any location say desktop, a particular folder, taskbar, etc. If you want to use it from the taskbar, then simply pin its application file there and click that file to use it.
To use this simple Start menu alternative, get its ZIP file from the-sz.com. Extract that ZIP archive and execute its application file to open its menu or launcher. The launcher of this tool is a bit similar to the Windows XP style Start menu where you can expand folders and launch a particular item from that folder.
5] Start Everywhere
Another Start menu alternative on this list to quickly access Store apps, installed programs, Desktop items, user profile files and folders, power options, recent items, most used items, Microsoft Store apps, system tools, etc., is Start Everywhere. It provides a launcher that lets you expand available menus by just mouse hovering so that you can see the available items and use or launch them.
By default, this tool runs in the system tray, and clicking its icon lets you access and expand available menus. But you can also place its icon or launcher anywhere on your desktop screen.
You can also access the Settings of this tool to use options like:Set Active corner size
Maximum files and folders to show
Change theme color for background, text, image border, etc. 8 different theme colors are available to choose from. You can also create a custom theme
Show/hide Application Data, User Profile, My Documents, Programs, and other menus.
To access its settings, click on the launcher icon or system tray icon of this tool, access the Others menu, then expand Settings, and click on the Open option. There are different tabs for the available options that you can access and then adjust the options. Finally, press the Save button and use this tool.
Related: How to lock Start menu layout in Windows 11/10.
How do I get the Windows 10 Start menu back on Windows 11?
Earlier, it was possible to switch back to the classic Windows 10 Start menu in Windows 11 using a Registry tweak. But that tweak doesn’t work with the latest version of Windows 11. Still, those who want to use a different Start menu on Windows 11 can try a free Start menu tool. There exist some best free Start menu alternatives for Windows 11/10 that let you use Windows 7 style Start menu, classic Start menu, or come with different Start menu layouts and interesting options. We have created a list of such tools in this post above. Try these tools and see if they fit your needs.
Can you change the Windows 11 Start menu?
Yes, it is possible to change or customize Windows 11 Start menu. Customizations like moving the Start menu from center to left, changing its color, removing apps from the recommended list, showing/hiding most-used apps, recently added apps in Start, showing/hiding Settings, Documents, Pictures, File Explorer, and other supported icons next to the power button, etc., can be done easily. For this, you can open the Personalization category available under the Settings app of Windows 11 and access the associated section or page like the taskbar, Start, and folders and use the given options.
A new Windows 10 theme gives your computer a fresh look for free. Here are the best Windows themes and how to apply them.
A surprising number of Windows users don't change their desktop background. Don't believe us? Just peek over a couple of people's shoulders next time you're in a coffee shop or airport.
And of the people that do change their desktop, far too many stick with one of the operating system's stock images. It's boring.
Why not jazz up your computer with a cool system-wide Windows theme instead? Here are the best Windows 10 themes for every desktop.
1. Windows 10 Dark Theme: GreyEve Theme
We think it's fair to say that dark themes for Windows 10 look the coolest. And, as an extra benefit, dark themes can help to reduce eye strain.
There are so many dark themes out there that it's hard to choose a winner, but we like GreyEve. You can grab the ZIP file off DeviantArt. Place the file into %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\Themes then go to Settings > Personalization > Themes and select it from the list.
We covered lots of other dark themes for Windows 10 if you don't like GreyEve Theme.
Downloads: GreyEve Theme (Free)
If you are like me you most probably do not enjoy complicating your software. Then you'd probably also want a Windows theme should be similar and offer a few simple wallpapers.
If so, Simple is exactly what you are looking for. The theme adds a light gray background to desktop with simple wallpapers designed to be soothing to the eyes.
To get started, simply download and install the app. From there, head to Personalization in Settings and change your theme from there.
Downloads: Simple (Free)
3. HD Theme for Windows 10: 3D Theme
3D Theme, which is available on ThemePack, contains 17 high-definition wallpapers. The wallpapers all give the illusion of a 3D graphic.
The images are all abstract; though several of them draw inspiration from spheres and cubes.
To use 3D Theme, put the files in %windir%/Resources/Themes. You can use all 17 images at once; right-click on your desktop and choose Next Desktop Background to cycle through the options.
Downloads: 3D Theme (Free)
4. Simplify 10
If you think the Windows layout is too cluttered, take a look at the Simplify 10 theme. It is one of the best Windows 10 themes. The theme strips away a lot of the unnecessary design elements, leaving you with a minimalist theme that looks impressively sleek.
Simplify 10 comes in four different versions—a colorful theme, a light theme, a dark theme, and a third option called Maverick. The Maverick theme is designed to have a resemblance to the Linux distro, Ubuntu.
Downloads: Simplify 10 (Free)
5. Windows XP Theme for Windows 10: XP Themes
Windows XP lives long in the memory.
Of course, you shouldn't still be using the operating system for your day-to-day computing. Support ended a long time ago, and it's a security nightmare. However, you can still make Windows 10 look like XP—it's the best of both worlds for XP diehards.
The best option is XP Themes on DeviantArt. Just make sure you install the latest version of UxStyle before you proceed with setup; you'll be using one of the top Windows 10 themes in no time.
Downloads: XP Themes (Free)
6. Mac Theme for Windows 10: macOS Transformation Pack 5.0
The most well-known aspect of the macOS operating system is the dock. It provides quick access to all your frequently used apps. The Windows taskbar works similarly, but if you're craving the Mac feel, perhaps you should try using macOS Transformation Pack 5.0
As the name suggests, it adds a Mac-like theme to your computer. It will replace the existing taskbar, and you can customize the dock to display the apps you want to see. Download and install the app, and you will be ready your new Mac-based theme will be set up in no time.
You might have to restart your PC to complete the installation.
Downloads: macOS Transformation Pack 5.0 (Free)
7. Windows 10 Anime Theme: Various
Anime, in all its forms, seems to become more popular with every passing day; Netflix has made a slew of Anime originals, you can stream it on Amazon Prime, and there are near-endless resources that'll teach you how to draw in the anime style.
Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn that you can find a glut of anime themes for Windows 10. On ThemePack you can grab themes for all your favorite stars and shows, including Gintama, Vegeta, Evangelion, and Haikyuu.
Downloads: Various (Free)
8. Best Microsoft Store Theme: Meteor Showers
You can find some of the best Windows 10 themes with a free download in the Microsoft Store. There are dozens to choose from (including a few paid options).
One of our favorite free themes in the store is Meteor Showers. It features 18 images of shooting stars for you to choose from, or you can get Windows to cycle through all 18 at predefined intervals.
Some of the other subject matter in the images include forests, cityscapes, lakes, and animals.
Downloads: Meteor Showers (Free)
9. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse 4K
As the name suggests, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse 4K is a Spider-Man-based theme that brings you a host of wallpaper based on its theme.
In total, the app comes with 15 different wallpapers, all designed to help you get the feel of the Spider-Man universe. While the theme doesn't bring many changes to the interface, we think the wallpapers and resulting background color themselves leave your PC with a sleek look.
Downloads: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse 4K (Free)
10. Ubuntu Theme
We've looked at how to make Windows look like macOS, but what about making Windows look like Linux? If you want Windows' functionality with Linux's looks, check out the Ubuntu Theme. Again, while the theme pack won't make any tweaks to your taskbar, icons, etc., it will radically change how your Windows looks with its wallpapers and new background color.
In addition to Windows 11 and 10, the Ubuntu Theme also supports Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Downloads: Ubuntu Theme (Free)
Use the Best Windows 10 Themes for Your PC
Whenever you change your Windows 10 theme, you should always make sure you make Windows' accent colors match your desktop background. It'll make your theme appear more cohesive. Luckily, this process can be automated.
Moreover, apart from using automated apps, you can also create a custom Windows theme of your own. All you'll need are a few templates and some creativity. That's it—you'll be done in no time.
The Windows 11 taskbar has been the subject of much discussion. It’s a drastic change from Windows 10, and lacks many older features. Still, there’s a lot it can do, and you should know about the best tips and tricks.
Move the Icons to the Left Side
One of the biggest visual changes in Windows 11 is the centered taskbar icons. By default, the Start Menu and all the apps pinned to the taskbar sit in the center of the taskbar—more like macOS than past versions of Windows.
If you prefer the classic left-aligned Start Menu and taskbar icons, it’s simple to change it back. You’ll want to go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > Taskbar Behaviors. Choose “Left” for the “Taskbar Alignment” option.
Hide the Taskbar
Maybe you don’t want to see the taskbar at all unless you actually need it. This gives you a little extra screen real estate when the taskbar isn’t in use. When you need it, simply move your mouse to the edge of the screen, and the taskbar will slide up.
To do this, go to Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > Taskbar Behaviors. Check the box for “Automatically Hide the Taskbar.” You can also hide the taskbar on secondary monitors.
Ctrl + Click to Go to Last Active Window
Windows 11 groups windows from the same app together in the taskbar. When you mouse over or click the icon, it shows a preview of the windows, which you can then click the one you want to open. This can be pretty annoying if you’re switching windows a lot.
There’s a handy little keyboard shortcut that makes this easier. Hold the Ctrl key while you click the icon in the taskbar and the last active window from the app will open immediately. It’s a very handy shortcut to know.
Drag and Drop Files
When Windows 11 was first released, the taskbar was missing one of the handiest features from previous versions. Thankfully, it’s now possible to drag and drop files to apps in the taskbar again as of Windows 11’s 2022 Update, and you should use this feature.
It works exactly like you would think. Let’s say you’ve downloaded an image in Google Chrome and you want to use it in Photoshop. You can simply drag the file from Chrome’s Downloads page and hover over the Photoshop icon in the taskbar. Photoshop will open and you can drop the image in the app. It works the same way for other apps.
Make the Taskbar Bigger or Smaller
Unlike Windows 10, the Windows 11 taskbar can’t be easily resized right from the taskbar. The good news is there is technically still a way to resize it, but you’ll need to use the registry editor to do it.
We actually have our own One-Click Registry Hack file that will accomplish the same thing a lot easier. The file includes three taskbar sizes to choose from. Here’s how to make the taskbar larger or smaller on Windows 11.
Change Audio Devices from the Taskbar
If you want to switch between headphones, speakers, or other sound devices on Windows 11, there’s a way to do it that isn’t super obvious, but it’s a much faster way to switch audio devices.
All you have to do is click the sound icon in the taskbar and then click the little arrow next to the volume slider. Now you’ll see a list of audio devices you can switch between. It’s much easier than opening Settings.
Change the Taskbar Color
To get a colorful taskbar, you’ll need to select an accent color and toggle the switch to “Show Accent Color on Start and Taskbar.” This can be found in Settings > Personalization > Colors.
See Weather in the Taskbar
When Windows 11 was first released, there was a “Widgets” button on the taskbar to the right of the Start button. If you were like us, you probably disabled the Widgets button.
The widget button now shows the current weather on your taskbar, which is much more useful than the original implementation. It shows a weather icon, the temperature, and a short description of the conditions.
Move the Taskbar to the Top
One of the most disappointing things about the Windows 11 taskbar is the inability to move it to any side of the screen. At the time of writing, it’s still not officially possible, but there’s a hacky method that works to put it at the top of the screen.
We’ve got a one-click registry hack you can download to move the taskbar to the top of your screen easily. Keep in mind the taskbar was not intended to be at the top, so it may not work as smoothly as the bottom. Still, it’s a solution.
Restore Taskbar Labels
Windows 11 doesn’t have the option to see app labels on the taskbar. It only shows the icon and nothing else. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, there’s not an official way to change this, but you can use Stardock’s software to get taskbar labels back.
Stardock is a company that has been making customization software for
Windows going all the way back to the XP days. The ability to ungroup
taskbar icons and see labels was introduced in Start11 Beta v1.2, which
was released in March 2022.
Windows 11 was released with an unfinished taskbar, and Microsoft continues to slowly add more features to it. Hopefully, with these tips in your pocket, you’ll be able to make the most of it.
Many of the big names in antivirus offer a free version of their security suites. Here are our top five choices for free AV.
We spend a lot of time looking at the best paid antivirus suites, but we don’t talk much about free antivirus solutions. Part of the reason is that the free versions are based on their paid counterparts.
If you see a paid version you like that offers a free alternative, you can safely assume the antivirus protection level is similar, save for any specific malware types the free version doesn’t cover.
To create this list of the top free AV programs we looked at the top mainstream antivirus suites for Windows 10 and selected the ones that offer a free version, as not all of them do. After that, we looked at how well these suites performed in third-party detection tests. We also made sure they weren’t resource hogs, because the last thing you want is a piece of free software slowing down your PC while running in the background.
In the end, our selection came down to these five antivirus suites.
1. Avast Free Antivirus
- Convenient Smart Scan
- Great basic protection
- Flexible features
- Frequent pop-ups & notifications
Avast One is a very highly rated antivirus program. With the free version of this suite you can run all the various virus scans. Most of the key Avast protections are also available, such as scanning new files added to your system, watching for malicious behavior from installed programs, a web browsing shield, and an email shield.
Avast Free even allows you to inspect your network and see the devices currently connected to your home router.
Avast Free uses a so-called smart scan to look for a variety of problems including browser threats, outdated apps, viruses and malware, and “Advanced issues” such as whether your webcam is protected from hijacking and the status of your firewall. The trick with those advanced issues, however, is that to supposedly fix them you need to start paying for the Avast One suite, which costs about about $50 per year for new subscribers.
What you don’t get for free is the phishing protection, the sandbox to separate suspicious files from your system, the Avast firewall, webcam shield, password protection, and a sensitive data shield. It does, however, provide basic ransomware protection.
Avast is surprisingly useful in its free version and is one of the most flexible options around. Yes, it can be a little annoying during installation—like trying to sneak a Google Chrome install on you, for instance—but that’s the kind of minor annoyance free software often comes with.
2. Kaspersky Security Cloud Free
- Excellent antivirus & ransomware protection
- Desktop & mobile apps available
- VPN is limited
- Lacking iOS features
Kaspersky is another highly rated antivirus with a good amount to offer in its free service. This free AV suite doesn’t try to install any extra software on the sly like Avast does. It will, however, ask you to create a Kaspersky account during installation and remind you to try a 30-day free trial of its premium services.
We had some issues installing Kaspersky with Microsoft’s Edge browser in late May 2021. Defender’s Smartscreen kicked in, flagging Kaspersky Free as dangerous. It’s not clear why this happened.
Kaspersky Free supports the various scanning options you’d expect from paid suites, including full scans, scans of external devices, and the ability to schedule scans. Also part of the free package are Kaspersky’s password manager and Secure Connection VPN with a 300MB data usage limit per day.
What you don’t get are the privacy-protection features for preventing unauthorized use of your webcam; Safe Money, the sandboxed browser for financial transactions; PC Cleaner for clearing out old files; and any of the extra tools such as the software updater or network monitor.
Overall, however, Kaspersky offers solid protection for free, plus a few extras.
3. Avira Free Security
- Easy to use and install
Avira Free includes antivirus protection, a basic password manager, file shredder, and a free VPN with an allowance of 500MB per month. It’s not as full featured as Avira Prime, but it’ll do for a free suite.
The free version scans your PC, and offers real-time protection for your desktop. But it lacks protection from web threats and email threats. It also lacks the improved PC cleanup feature for clearing out old files in the Pro version.
The free version scans your PC, and offers real-time protection for your desktop. But it lacks protection from web threats and email threats. It also lacks the improved PC cleanup feature for clearing out old files in the Pro version.
Installation with Avira is easy, with no attempts to sneak in other software, and no requirement for creating an account. Avira used to install multiple applications by default, but now it’s much simpler with many features operating out of a single window. Plus, you only have to uninstall one application instead of the multiple uninstalls required with something like Kaspersky.
4. Bitdefender Antivirus Free
- Minimalist design
- Solid antivirus and malware scanning
Most antivirus suites use the same desktop interface as their pro versions. The difference being that all the premium features have some kind of lock icon over them to indicate that you can’t use them. This approach lets you see all the fun stuff the full suites offers, in the hopes you’ll subscribe to unlock the paid features.
Bitdefender doesn’t take that approach. Instead, it offers a stripped-down antivirus program with minimal options instead of the full interface of Bitdefender Total Security.
Bitdefender’s free antivirus scans your PC only. You can click the System Scan button to initiate a scan, or you can drag-and-drop particular files in need of scanning. If you like, you can exclude certain files or folders to speed up scan times.
That’s about it for extra features. There are no password managers, PC tools, or VPN. It’s malware scanning and that’s it. Well, almost it. Bitdefender’s free edition includes anti-phishing, and anti-fraud protection.
5. Windows Security
- Excellent protection for a free security suite
- Works out of the box
Finally, we come to Microsoft’s built-in security solution. There was a time when we wouldn’t even consider Windows Security (also known as Windows Defender) for an article like this. Times have changed, however, and Windows Security is equaling the competition in terms of results from third-party testing houses.
Windows Security is very good. There are third-party options that have better detection capabilities based on independent tests, but the improved performance is often marginal. If you want reasonable security without the bother of installing a third-party suite, then you’re all set. Windows Security is active by default in Windows 10, and it works in the background ensuring you’re protected from threats.
What you sacrifice with a free AV program
As you can see, there are several capable free AV programs for you to choose from. Still, we feel it’s important to point out what you don’t get when you opt for a free solution. Email protection, for example, is typically a paid feature—and something that people who are extremely active in a desktop email program might care about.
The same goes for phishing protection and other web threats. While some free antivirus suites offer minimal protection, the best protection against malware online comes from the paid versions of each suite. You can, however, minimize web threats with ad blockers and other security-minded browser add-ons.
Ransomware protection used to be exclusive to paid tiers, but these days many programs are offering some type of ransomware protection for free. It’s usually not as extensive and detailed as in the paid suites, but it does exist.
Also missing from the free suites are enhanced security features such as a sandboxed area for opening suspicious files, a sandboxed browser for shopping protection, an enhanced firewall, monitoring for malicious behavior from installed programs, and webcam monitors.
If, however, you’re only looking for basic antivirus protection that
scans your PC and alerts you when there’s a problem, then one of these
suites will do the job without costing you a cent.