The Windows desktop is the sole platform without an app store-style software installation process. Smartphones, tablets, Macs, and Linux PCs all allow you to quickly install multiple programs — but this is more complicated on Windows.
Installing your favorite programs doesn’t have to involve downloading installer after installer, clicking through wizards for hours. We’ll cover some ways to get up and running much more quickly.
Install Multiple Programs With Ninite
Ninite is popular for a reason. It allows you to select a variety of popular programs and download a single installer. Run that installer and it will do all the work — downloading the individual programs, installing them in the background with no prompts, and even avoiding toolbars and other junk software during installation. If you’re setting up a new computer, Ninite can save you a lot of time.
Ninite’s only real problem is that it doesn’t support every single application you’d want to install. Ninite does support some of the most popular applications people install: Chrome, Firefox, Skype, Pidgin, iTunes, VLC, Silverlight, Paint.NET, OpenOffice, Microsoft Security Essentials, µTorrent, Dropbox, Steam, 7-Zip, and more. Unfortunately, Ninite no longer installs Flash — Adobe complained and forced Ninite to remove support for Flash. They want users to download Flash from the official website, where they bundle additional software with it.
There’s not much else to say about Ninite. Just select the apps you want to install, download the installer, run it, and wait. Ninite can even automatically update the installed apps to the latest versions in the future if you run it again.
Use Portable Apps
Relying on portable apps can save you setup time as the apps don’t actually have to be installed. You can place them in a cloud storage folder like Dropbox or back them up to a USB drive. When you want to use them on a new computer, just install your favorite cloud storage client or plug in your USB drive. You can then launch the applications and use them without installing them. Properly created portable applications will store their configuration data in the same place, so your settings will follow you from computer to computer.
For more information about portable applications, take a look at our survey of the best portable applications you can download.
Create Custom Windows 8 Recovery Images
If you’re using Windows 8, the Refresh Your PC feature can help you preserve your favorite desktop programs when reinstalling Windows. When setting up a new Windows 8 PC, uninstall the bloatware you don’t want and install your favorite applications. Then, run the recimg tool to create a custom recovery image. When you use the Refresh Your PC option in the future, your PC’s system state will be restored from your custom recovery image. The recovery image doesn’t include any your personal files, but it does include all your installed desktop programs.
If you want to restore your Windows 8 system to a clean state in the future, you can do that too — as long as you have Windows 8 installation media lying around. Consult our complete guide to creating custom recovery image for more information.
Restore From a Full System Backup
If you’re not using Windows 8, you can get the same sort of experience by creating a full system backup. The backup will contain a complete snapshot of your system, from all your Windows system files to installed drivers, desktop programs, and personal files. In other words, the system image backup contains a snapshot of everything on your hard drive. The system image can be restored in the future, restoring your Windows system to the same state it was in when the image was created.
You can’t use this feature to restore system image backups on different computers, as the differences in hardware mean there would be issues with hardware drivers. However, if you want to get your computer back to a clean state with your favorite programs installed in the future, restoring the system image may be faster than reinstalling Windows and every other program from scratch.
Restoring from a recovery image or full system image backup still isn’t the ideal solution. If it has been some time since you created the image, the programs installed on the image will be old and out-of-date. You’ll have to spend some time installing updates for programs instead of installing the programs from scratch.
Sadly, the Windows desktop will probably never get an integrated system for easily installing applications and keeping them updated, even as the Mac App Store and Linux package managers prove it’s possible. Microsoft is more interested in pushing “Modern apps” in the Windows Store on Windows 8.