As a lifelong technology geek and Windows power user, I‘m always seeking ways to enhance my Windows experience. The default apps Microsoft includes in Windows 11 lay a solid foundation. But often third-party alternatives unlock more customization, performance and productivity.
After testing countless apps as a data analyst and Windows expert, I‘ve hand-picked the very best replacements for default Windows 11 tools. These options transform how you manage apps, search your system, view detailed system info, explore files and keep your PC optimized.
Let‘s dive in as I walk you through supercharging Windows 11 with these must-have utility apps!
Process Hacker: Task Manager on Steroids
The default Task Manager gives a basic overview of running apps and resource usage. But for nerds like us, it lacks the depth and control we need to truly understand what‘s happening under the hood.
That‘s where the freely available Process Hacker comes in. It‘s an open-source Task Manager alternative that blows the doors off what Windows provides out of the box.
Right away, you‘ll notice Process Hacker uses visual cues like color coding to identify different process types – system apps, regular apps, background services and more. This makes it easy to spot anything out of the ordinary at a glance.
Newly launched and closed processes display in green and red. You can instantly pinpoint any app spikes in the CPU or memory usage graphs.
But it gets even better. Process Hacker has a dedicated tab showing real-time disk I/O activity per process. You can view the full read/write history to identify any process hogging your storage.
As a Windows expert, I often need to troubleshoot issues caused by rogue processes. Process Hacker makes this easy by letting you view all handles and DLLs associated with each process. No more pesky programs surviving a standard "End Task" – you have the insights needed to fully eliminate them.
Beyond the mountain of useful process data, everything in Process Hacker is customizable. You can tweak the look and feel to your liking, and choose exactly which process metrics to display.
According to tech news site How-To Geek, "Process Hacker gives you complete control over all running processes on your system with an intuitive interface that displays useful information you can actually use." I have to agree!
For casual users, Process Explorer from Microsoft provides a streamlined look at process activity with some useful extras like virus scanning. But as a Windows power user, I find the sheer depth of Process Hacker invaluable.
Why Process Hacker is better
- Color coded metrics make analysis easier
- Granular per-process disk I/O insights
- Find handles and DLLs to fully kill processes
- Fully customizable to your needs
- Log running processes to a text file
- Tray icon displays live process data
And if you spend as much time optimizing Windows as I do, Process Hacker will quickly become your must-have process explorer tool.
StartAllBack: Take Back Your Start Menu
One of the biggest changes in Windows 11 is the drastic revamp of the iconic Start menu. Many users (including me!) find the new giant tile-based look a confusing downgrade.
Thankfully, StartAllBack rolls back this controversial change for free. It replaces the Windows 11 Start with a classic Windows 7 style menu complete with pinned apps, frequent folders and settings.
Right away, you‘ll notice the simplified single column layout. Apps are neatly organized and you can access important system locations like Documents or Control Panel in one click.
Even better, StartAllBack is highly customizable. You can tweak the menu‘s color scheme, transparency, icon sizes and much more. Hide or unpin any pre-loaded entries you don‘t need. This level of control is amazing.
But wait, there‘s more! StartAllBack also enhances the Windows 11 taskbar which faced its own controversial changes like the removal of drag & drop.
You can freely move the taskbar to the top or sides of the screen again. Other welcome tweaks include small icons, labels, system tray customization and more.
As a writer at TechRadar put it, "StartAllBack strips away some of Windows 11‘s most controversial changes, giving you a more familiar and personalized OS experience."
For me, it‘s an essential install on any Windows 11 system to fix Microsoft‘s questionable Start menu decisions. Or you can use it solely to replace just the Start menu and leave the Windows 11 taskbar as is – best of both worlds!
Why StartAllBack is better
- Clean, simple interface
- Quick access to important folders/settings
- Customize menu style and contents
- Taskbar enhancement options
- Highly flexible customization
Listary: Swift & Smart Windows Search
The built-in Windows Search has slowly improved over the years, but still falls short in certain areas. It pushes web results and suggestions rather than your own local apps and files. The indexing system hogs resources and lacks transparency.
Listary provides a blazing fast alternative focused entirely on your stuff. It instantly searches and categorizes apps, documents, folders, settings, and more in a tidy customizable interface.
The sheer variety of local results is incredible. No matter what term you enter, Listary serves up every relevant match from your PC in seconds.
You can instantly open, copy or delete files right from the search results. Listary keeps working smoothly in the background using minimal system resources. It makes Windows built-in indexing feel slow and bloated in comparison.
As a privacy-focused Windows user, I also appreciate Listary doesn‘t come coupled with Bing or Microsoft trackers. But you can optionally integrate web search from any provider you choose including Google, Amazon, YouTube etc.
According to MakeUseOf, "Listary takes everything that’s good about Windows Search, strips away everything that’s bad, and adds extra tools for power users." After using it for years across all my Windows devices, I couldn‘t agree more!
Why Listary is better
- Lightning fast indexed search
- Displays all matching local results
- Minimal system resource usage
- Search websites directly
- Create custom quick access commands
- Available actions on results
For me, Listary is a must-have on any Windows PC to rapidly find anything while protecting my privacy. I hope you find it as invaluable as I do!
HWiNFO: Dive Deep into Your PC‘s Hardware
The System Information tool built into Windows nicely summarizes device names, capacity, drivers and other surface details. But it lacks the geek-level hardware insights I crave as a tech enthusiast.
That‘s where HWiNFO comes in – it‘s a legendary tool that exposes every hardware detail imaginable in one powerful app!
At a glance, you can view your full system specs along with granular real-time sensor data from every component. See live CPU clock speeds, memory voltages, fan RPMs, disk temperatures and so much more.
As a hardware nerd, I especially love having full visibility into all the monitors, gauges and probes built into my devices. Watching the sensor telemetry respond in real-time is invaluable when tweaking settings for optimal stability and performance.
HWiNFO also reveals every supported and unsupported feature across your hardware. I routinely use this to check compatibility when upgrading PCs or troubleshooting configuration issues.
Tom‘s Hardware calls HWiNFO the "best system information tool for Windows 11" for good reason – it completely blows away the limited utilities Microsoft includes. The depth of hardware knowledge it unlocks is amazing.
For casual users who just want a quick system overview, CPU-Z provides a simple snapshot of core device details along with benchmarking your PC. But I always reach for HWiNFO first to unlock the full hardware secrets of any Windows machine!
Why HWiNFO is better
- Reveals amazingly extensive hardware details
- Live sensor telemetry from all hardware
- Shows supported and unsupported features
- Save reports in multiple formats
I hope you enjoy using this awesome tool to explore every aspect of your PC‘s hardware as much as I do!
Double Commander: Dual-Pane File Management
The File Explorer built into Windows works decently for basic local file operations. But power users like myself quickly feel limited, especially when transferring data between locations.
That‘s why I love Double Commander – it‘s an open source dual-pane file manager allowing you to easily access multiple folders at once.
The side-by-side explorer windows make dragging files between locations a breeze. You can also open unlimited tabs within each pane for quick access to everything important.
Navigating feels fast and fluid with keyboard shortcuts for most operations. I especially appreciate the built-in file viewer supporting images, text docs, video and more without needing to launch another app.
As MakeUseOf puts it, "Once you try a two-pane file manager, you can never go back to a single-pane explorer."
Beyond seamless file transfer and preview, Double Commander offers a toolbox of advanced capabilities too. You can split files, create and extract archives, join files, rename in bulk, customize metadata, compare files, and much more all within this one utility.
For extra convenience, Double Commander will restore your full session automatically when closed and reopened. This unique resume feature ensures you never lose your place even after rebooting.
Why Double Commander is better
- Dual-pane view makes transfers easy
- Unlimited tabs in both panes
- Built-in cross-format file viewer
- Advanced built-in file management tools
- Auto-saves and restores sessions
As a data analyst constantly managing tons of files across systems, Double Commander is my go-to file management powerhouse. Once you try it, the basic one-pane File Explorer will feel totally limiting!
Avast One: All-in-One Cybersecurity Suite
Windows Defender does a capable job scanning and removing malware. But it falls short on providing broader online security and privacy in today‘s threat-filled digital world.
That‘s why I recommend beefing up protection with Avast One, an all-in-one cybersecurity suite going far beyond malware removal.
Avast One combines real-time anti-virus with advanced web, network and ransomware shields. You get phishing prevention, browser exploit fixes, firewall, WiFi intruder detection and much more. It feels like having an expert IT team monitoring your digital activity 24/7!
Important folders can be protected from ransomware encryption. Your passwords are monitored for any breaches or weak credentials. Online shopping and banking have an added layer of protection against sneaky phishing sites and data theft.
You even get a built-in VPN for securing internet connections and preventing tracking when on public WiFi. According to Avast, their VPN provides unlimited data bandwidth and can reduce ping by up to 300ms for smoother online gaming too!
Rounding things out, useful extras like a password manager, software updater and PC cleanup tools are included for added convenience and optimization.
As noted by TechRadar, Avast One combines "class-leading antivirus with almost everything you‘re likely to need in a security suite." After evaluating countless options, I have to agree Avast One provides the most robust security solution for Windows 11 users like us.
Why Avast One is better
- Real-time protection from web exploits
- Ransomware shield for important folders
- Unlimited VPN with reduced ping
- Integrated password manager
- Auto driver updater
- PC speedup and cleanup tools
With cybercrime exponentially rising every year, I highly recommend fortifying your online presence with the full protection of Avast One. It brings peace of mind knowing your devices and data are safe from the latest digital threats.
IObit Uninstaller: Say Goodbye to Leftover Junk
The uninstaller included in Windows has slowly improved, but often leaves traces of apps behind like registry entries and leftover files. These remnants waste space and can sometimes cause stability issues.
That‘s why I love using IObit Uninstaller to thoroughly purge any unwanted program along with handy utilities to keep PCs running smoothly.
The enhanced uninstaller deletes all associated remnants including registry keys, folders, files and unneeded app data. Those annoying last-chance popups and surveys during uninstall? Gone!
You can easily select multiple apps to remove in bulk with one click. Batch uninstalling tools or bundled software I don‘t need any more is a cinch.
IObit also makes it easy to remove built-in bloatware and system apps safely. Dedicated tools target preinstalled trials, bundleware and stubborn programs Windows struggles removing completely on its own.
After uninstalling a batch of apps, I like to run IObit‘s program deleter utility. It removes any leftover empty folders and paths that clutter up my system.
I routinely use the handy Chrome extension manager too. With just a couple clicks, I can bulk remove any extensions I‘m no longer using directly from my browser toolbar.
Why IObit Uninstaller is better
- Bulk uninstall multiple apps at once
- Delete all residual traces and data
- Removes bundleware and stubborn programs
- Quickly remove unwanted Chrome extensions
- Sort apps by size or install date
As a technophile obsessed with keeping my system optimized, IObit Uninstaller is one of my go-to utilities. I hope you find it as helpful as I do for thoroughly cleaning unwanted apps and junk from your Windows devices!
ShareX: Trick Out Your Screenshot Workflow
The built-in Snipping Tool lets you quickly capture basic screenshots on Windows. But it lacks any options for annotating, editing or sharing them.
That‘s where the free open source ShareX comes in. It takes everything awesome about Snipping Tool and adds a mountain of advanced features tailored to your workflow.
You get tons of options for customized screenshots from fullscreen to region capture to scrolling windows. ShareX makes it easy to add annotations like arrows, text boxes, highlights, obfuscation and more.
Captured screenshots can be instantly auto-saved to a local folder in your preferred format with variables for automatic naming. Or you can configure sharing to an image host, cloud storage, printer and more in seconds.
Of course, you can also bind global hotkeys for starting screenshots or your favorite sharing actions. As How-To Geek says, "You can customize pretty much every aspect of ShareX to suit your needs."
While Snipping Tool nails the basics, the robust flexibility of ShareX lets you build a refined screenshotting workflow that suits your unique needs. The deep customization options blew my mind!
Why ShareX is better
- Highly customizable screenshot types
- Annotate and edit screenshots
- Auto-save with naming formats
- Instant sharing and URL copying
- Bind custom actions like editing
If you take more than just occasional screenshots, I highly recommend leveling up to ShareX. It will transform your daily workflow!
Bonus App – ThisIsWin11
While not a direct replacement for built-in Windows tools, the aptly named ThisIsWin11 delivers tons of handy optimizations to streamline your Windows 11 experience.
It provides a long list of tweaks ranging from debloating unneeded apps to enabling hidden advanced functionality. You can review and toggle each one on or off individually.
With a single click, ThisIsWin11 then automatically applies those selected customizations. It‘s the easiest way ever to unlock power user settings and slim down Windows 11 to your exact needs.
The integrated debloating tool lets you safely remove redundant first-party apps, promote third-party defaults and expand the context menu. You can even strip out telemetry components for enhanced privacy.
Advanced options include color profile fixes, network stack tuning, memory optimizations, touchscreen gestures and much more. After using ThisIsWin11 myself, I was amazed how much faster and responsive my system felt.
- Debloat and remove redundant apps
- Enable hidden advanced functionality
- Set preferred third-party defaults
- Performance optimization presets
- Granular customization options
As a Windows optimization geek, ThisIsWin11 is now one of the first apps I install on any system. I think you too will be amazed by how many impactful tweaks it unlocks!
I hope this guide has opened your eyes to some amazing third-party apps that unlock way more capability and customization from Windows 11.
The default Microsoft tools provide a solid starting point. But power users like us deserve more control and insights under the hood.
The apps covered here help transform how you search your system, monitor hardware, manage files, secure your online presence and capture screenshots. And thanks to the loyal third-party developer community, we can fix and enhance Windows our own way.
While this list covers my personal favorites, there are tons more great utilities out there. Feel free to experiment to build a custom Windows toolkit perfect for your needs. But these are a great starting point to supercharge your Windows 11 experience.
What default Windows 11 tools do you wish had better third-party alternatives? Let me know in the comments!