Here is a list of programs that I can highly recommend. I use them all, most of them daily, and I hope you will be able to use them too. They all deserve more users.
Back in days yonder, I used first Norton Commander and later Volkov Commander. When I started using Windows, I needed a similar file manager. I tried a few, but the one that really stood out was Total Commander from Ghisler Software (then called "Windows Commander").
Total Commander uses the traditional two-pane display, the only way I can manage files efficiently. You can change colors, e.g., to make it resemble Norton Commander. You can configure editors and viewers, and I use it as my primary FTP-client. Plug-ins allows it to also, e.g., copy files using SCP or read Linux EXT-2 file systems. It can treat archives as directories (many different formats). The feature list on the web site is impressive, so see it there. It is shareware, with 30 days free trial. The price is manageable ($30, was only $20 when I bought it), and worth every penny.
My rating: Can't live without, use every day.
Back when Internet Explorer had won the browser war and the Mozilla Project was barely able to compile, Opera was the only Unix alternative to the (already then) outdated Netscape 4. I was just starting to learn about Cascading Style Sheets, Netscape 4 was simply not adequate, and I never liked Internet Explorer, so I bought Opera (version 5 at the time) for Unix and Windows with a student discount. I have been using it as my primary browser ever since, and I doubt it will change any time soon.
Opera is a browser with a small foot print. It can no longer be run from a floppy disc, but it still runs adequately on computers that does not have the horsepower to run Netscape 7 or Internet Explorer 6. On faster machines, it is lightning fast. Its standard compliance is rivaling Mozilla while the newest version also includes a "Quirks Mode" for compatability with pages written for the old and byggy Internet Explorer 4.
Opera has two guiding principles: Standards compliance and putting the power into the hands of the user. If you want to be in control of your browsing experience, you should use Opera. It is highly configurable! This includes skinning, total control over tool bars, configurable menues (although you still have to edit a file for that), and configurable keyboard shortcuts and mouse gestures. You can even add user stylesheets to change how pages are displayed, and you can toggle alternate user stylesheets when you need them. Multiple Document Interface (in Opera since version 4, at least) keeps all your open pages in one browser window, similar to the inferior tabbing interface of other browsers. Address bar shortcuts like "g foo" to search Google for "foo" and many other shorthands. The features goes on and on, but it is really the details that wins you over completely, and they just have to be tried.
Rendering is great on standards compliant pages. As with other non-IE browsers, there are pages that doesn't render as the author intended. These are simply too badly coded to work in any other browser than the one the author used for testing. Quirks mode does a decent job of most of these, but there are pages that cannot be salvaged. Still, it is my primary browser, and a joy to use. I will much rather sacrifice the rare bad page than live with Internet Explorer (which really has very bad standard compliance and an interface that feels like dancing with an elephant).
Opera version 7 comes with a completely rewritten Mail/News-program which should be revolutionary in its way of handling mail "folders". I haven't tried it, but some people love it and others hate it. You be the judge.
Opera can operate either in paid mode or in sponsored mode (i.e., as ad-ware). Unlike some ad-ware out there, Opera does not snoop on you while showing advertisements, but it still takes up screen real estate, and I haven't regretted paying. When other people give their browsers away for free, it is impressive that Opera Software can live from selling their browser. Maybe because it's addictive. Once you get used to Opera, you won't use anything else.
My Rating: Rocks! Do yourself a favor and try it!
Alternativs: Mozilla Firebird (a low foot-print browser based on the Gecko engine, and with many plug-ins), MyIE2 (an impressive facelift for the Internet Explorer rendering engine, however broken it may be — I use it when developing web pages for testing in IE).
To most people, there is only one archiver: WinZip (and that are the ones who know that there is anything except Windows' Zip-folders). Most people are mistaken. Power Archiver is a dedicated archiver, supporting more formats than WinZip (e.g., RAR-format), having all the features one can expect, and it is even cheaper.
There is not much more to say. It does its job, and it does it well. I have not examined the competition recently. Originally, I was looking for a cheaper alternative to WinZip, and when I found Power Archiver, I stopped looking and soon bought it.
My rating: Necessary, use almost every day.
CloneCD from Elaborate Bytes copies CDs. That is all it does, but it does it well. It has no way of composing your own CDs, and it doesn't even write standard ISO9660 images. What it does is to copy CDs as verbatim as possible. Many anti-piracy schemes are simply copied directly, both for software and music. A companion program, CloneyXXL can detect most protection schemes and set the settings of CloneCD for optimal copying.
While CloneCD can only burn from images in its own format, not from generic ISO9660 images, this shortcomming is easily avoided using virtual CDs like those of Daemon Tools and CloneCD's Disk-to-disk copy. CloneCD has its own virtual CD driver, but I prefer Daemon Tools.
Registration costs approx. 40 Euro, but if you often make copies of game CDs or protected music CDs, then it is money well spent. You will need a CD-writer that allows access to sub-channel data. My Plextor works fine, and the web site lists how many features works with most known drives.
My rating: Very specialized, but when you need it, it is the best at what it does.
I am lazy. When I want to play a game, I don't want to first find the CD. Instead, I use CloneCD to copy the play disc to an image on the hard disk, and then I mount it as a virtual CD using Daemon Tools. On top of this, Daemon Tools can also emulate some copy-protections (Safedisc, Securom, Laserloc, and RMPS). Securom is used by, e.g., Diablo II, and the emulation works fine.
Daemon Tools is free, and it does all I need. The only problem I have is that it only allows up to four simultaneous virtual CDs.
My rating: Not vital, but useful and free.
I rarely need to do a screen capture, but when I do, I turn to the freeware program MWSnap. It has all the features I have ever needed: Snap rectangle of fixed size or of variable size or snap a window or interface element. It can also add a cursor to the captured image or a border around it. It can save in BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG or TIFF format. Apart from grabbing the screen, it can also show a ruler, a magnifying glass, a color-picker and information about a window. I used it to capture all images on this page, then reduced their size with IrfanView.
My rating: Usefull, nifty, free.
When you want to view a stack of pictures, you don't want to open each in a picture editor or in a browser. You want a program like xv for X or ACDSee for Windows that lets you walk through the pictures by pressing space. I tried and liked ACDSee, but it is very expensive. Then I came upon IrfanView. It is just as good (or better) as ACDSee at showing images (no camera connection though, but I don't have a digital camera anyway). There are som simple image manipulation options (all images on this page was captured with MWSnap and reduced to half size and 8bit by IrfanView). Plug-ins add extra features and formats (including video and audio), and you can even make slide shows. Lots of different languages available (What? English is not good enough for you?) And it is free.
My main grudge against IrfanView is that the icon associated to image files is so ugly. Apart from that, it is a must-have for anyone who ever clicks on an image file.
My rating: Fantastic, free, but ugly icons.