Replace Windows 7 Professional features with freeware

I'm not a Windows fanboy or general enthusiast of any real operating system, but I know my freeware when I see it

If you're a general computer user, and you buy Windows 7 Professional, you are a sucker.

There, I said it.

I'm not a Windows fanboy or general enthusiast of any real operating system, but I know my freeware when I see it. And the features you get from dishing out an extra US$100 between the full versions of Windows 7 Home Premium and Windows 7 Professional are easily replicated by software that costs you nothing.

A Google search doesn't cost any money--and I'm even going to relieve you of that burden by listing the best ways to boost the functionality of your $200 Windows 7 Home Premium OS to match the pricier $300 Windows 7 Professional. Ready? The differences between the two versions include:

Encrypting File System

Admittedly, Windows 7 simplifies the process of keeping your files out of the hands of other uses on your machine. To encrypt files so that only those with the proper encryption key can read them--which doesn't automatically include a user with super-level access to the system, like an administrator--all you have to do is right-click on a file or folder, hit properties, click the "advanced" button on the general tab, select "encrypt contents to secure data," and mash the "ok" button a number of times. Easy.

While it doesn't natively build this action into the operating system, the freeware application TrueCrypt is an excellent program for concealing your contents with a wide variety of powerful encryption algorithms. The program uses containers--seemingly innocent files that can be made to look like any other file on your OS--as the basis for its protection.

When you mount a container file, TrueCrypt pulls up the file's associated virtual hard drives, which function like network-mapped storage. They'll appear as disks in your Windows Explorer menu, where you can access your encrypted area to drag-and-drop files or decrypt media files on-the-fly. But that's just a taste of what this program offers: It's free functionality surpasses anything offered by Windows, and is far more customizable than its file-properties-based alternative.

Backup and Restore Center

To its credit, Microsoft offers up a pretty solid (yet admittedly average) backup routine with the Windows 7 Backup and Restore Center. Not only can you save your files to locations on the physical drives of your current PC, but you can even target your backups to network destinations as well. Once you set the automated schedule, Windows 7 uses the spirit of iterative backups to only copy over files that have changed since the last backup run. This saves you time; the software's shadow copy feature archives previous editions of your files in case you need to reference previous backups.

Still, these are all features that can be found in freeware backup applications. In fact, it's tough to pin down just one application that's the best-of example of the freeware class. There are just that many options.

Want to create a full one-to-one clone of your hard drive? Check out Clonezilla. To back up your files to local, networked, or remote locations, CrashPlan is a solid, easy-to-use option that comes in both freeware and premium versions. If you're interested in the incremental backup option to save some time on your massive data transfers, Backup Maker is the ticket.

Me? I use SyncBackSE--instead of scheduled backups, I run scheduled synchronizations. I can set files and folders to include and exclude based on extensions or names, and the program will automatically copy new files to a target destination and erase files that exist in the destination but not in the source. In short, my "backups" are perfect, clean replications of my source files that don't waste a lot of time or space in their creation.

Remote Desktop Host

This one's easy. Windows 7 Professional gives you the ability to take control of another PC's desktop. You can pull up programs and access the contents of a machine-perfect for connecting to your work PC from home, for example.

A similar freeware program called UltraVNC accomplishes the same task. Not only do you get a wider batch of connective options, including numerous forms of compression for enhancing the quality of your PC-takeover experience, but you can also encrypt the data passing between the two PCs and transfer files back and forth with the touch of a button. There's even a built-in text chat, just in case you want to mess with... er... communicate with the person whose desktop you just latched onto.

Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode

A neat feature of Windows 7's fancier versions is the ability to have shortcuts to Windows XP-based programs in your start menu, which subsequently launch in an emulated environment. Best of all, this XP operating system doesn't require you to have a copy of the OS for installation. Unlike most virtual environments, which require you to actually own and subsequently install the operating system, you can download a copy of Microsoft's Windows XP OS straight from Microsoft itself. Plug this into the new Virtual PC program for Windows 7 and you have a working, virtualized version of the OS running right on your Windows 7 desktop.

That said, you can mimic this functionality by grabbing the open-source program VirtualBox. After that, you need a previous copy of the operating system you plan to install.

Yes, that's right.

Since you opted for the Home Premium route, you don't get Windows XP for free. You can nevertheless install previous copies of Windows operating systems (or, really, any operating systems) into virtual environments using VirtualBox. This gives you new access to legacy programs in a sandbox environment--perfect for running apps that just don't work right in Windows 7, as well as testing out new programs or settings without mucking up your PC's current OS. Heck, install Linux. Give it a whirl. I won't tell anybody.

Geek Tech's David Murphy (@acererak) has installed more freeware on his machine than Windows has help files. Seriously.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Windows 7

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Murphy

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?