Essential Free Windows Software for Raspberry Pi Owners

These essential programs will help you work on your Pi from Windows

Owning and using a Raspberry Pi requires a set of software packages to set it up, maintain it, and write code for your projects. Tasks such as writing an image to an SD card, formatting an SD card, transferring files over a network, or logging in to your Pi remotely require some form of a program. Even writing a Python script for a project can involve feature-rich text editors if you prefer a visually appealing canvas for your code.

Let's go through each software package and show why you might want to use these apps.

01
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RealVNC Viewer

RealVNC Window
What We Like
  • Adding connections requires only an IP address.

  • Expert options to customize RealVNC sessions.

  • RealVNC Viewer is free.

  • Available for several platforms.

What We Don't Like
  • A slight lag while remotely controlling your Pi.

  • Your version of Raspberry Pi must have a built-in VNC server.

  • Need expert-level skills to configure a Pi VNC server.

If you don't want to buy an extra screen, keyboard, or mouse for your Raspberry Pi, log in to a VNC session from your PC, and use your existing peripherals instead.

VNC stands for Virtual Network Computing and allows you to view your entire Pi desktop from another computer, in this case, a Windows PC.

You can use RealVNC Viewer on your PC to view your Raspberry Pi (formerly Raspbian) desktop. Using RealVNC is easy. Start a VNC server on your Raspberry Pi (by using vncserver in the terminal) and then log in to it from your PC using the IP details on the terminal and your Pi's username and password.

02
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PuTTY

PuTTY Terminal Emulator
What We Like
  • Works well for remote terminal sessions.

  • Easy to set up with only an IP address.

  • A free utility that doesn't require installation.

  • Save sessions, making future connections fast.

What We Don't Like
  • Requires an expert-level understanding of configuring SSH on a Pi.

  • Advanced settings require a steep learning curve.

  • Troubleshooting connection problems can be difficult.

Similar to RealVNC, if you don't have a separate screen and peripherals for your Raspberry Pi, how can you run scripts and write code?

SSH is another good option, using PuTTY. PuTTY is a simple terminal emulator that runs a terminal window on any PC connected to the same network.

All you need is your Pi's IP address, and you can create a terminal window on your Windows desktop to write code, run scripts, execute commands, and more.

The only limitation is when running Python programs that have any type of GUI element. These GUI windows won't open through the PuTTY SSH session. You'll need something like VNC (above in this list) for that.

03
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Notepad++

NotePad++
What We Like
  • Can be configured to save changes to the Pi automatically.

  • More functional than only using the Pi terminal.

  • Simple to use after the initial setup.

What We Don't Like
  • Requires an extra plug-in.

  • May require enabling DHCP on your home network router.

  • SSH connection requires you to install PuTTY.

  • The initial setup may require advanced knowledge.

You can write your Python scripts into your Raspberry Pi using a terminal text editor such as nano. However, it doesn't give you much visual feedback in terms of code layout, spacing, and syntax highlighting.

Notepad++ is like a supercharged version of Windows Notepad, offering several features to help you write your code. A favorite feature is syntax highlighting, showing your Python indentation nice and clear.

Notepad++ also offers plug-ins to enhance its functionality. For example, the NppFTP plug-in gives you basic SFTP functionality for moving code to your Pi once you've written it.

04
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FileZilla

FileZilla
What We Like
  • Offers a simple file explorer feel that's easy to use.

  • File transfers are simple point-and-click.

  • Easy connections after the initial setup.

  • You can use any text editor.

What We Don't Like
  • SSH requires the installation of PuTTY.

  • The initial setup may require advanced knowledge.

  • Has a steeper learning curve than other options.

If you would rather write your scripts in a text editor with good syntax highlighting (like Notepad++ above), move your code from your PC to your Pi. There are a few options, including using USB sticks or online hosting. Another method is to use SFTP via an application called FileZilla.

SFTP stands for SSH File Transfer Protocol. SFTP allows you to view your Pi's directories from your PC to upload and download files.

Like other applications here, FileZilla needs your Pi's IP address and username and password.

05
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Win32DiskImager

Win32DiskImager
What We Like
  • Free software.

  • Easy to use.

  • An informative Readme file.

What We Don't Like
  • Limited functionality for advanced users.

Every Raspberry Pi needs an SD card, and that SD card needs an operating system written to the card. Raspberry Pi OSn (and other options) are usually written to an SD card using a disk image for which you need specific software.

One popular option for Windows is Win32DiskImager. It's a straightforward application that gets the job done. Attention is required to ensure the right drive is selected for writing, which is the only part of the process that needs much attention.

06
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SD Formatter

SDFormatter
What We Like
  • Very simple to use.

  • Doesn't format protected areas on an SD card.

  • Works on SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.

  • Free to download and install.

What We Don't Like
  • Not available for Linux.

  • Can't format protected areas.

  • Requires a manual refresh if a card is attached after the app launches.

Before you can write a disk image to an SD card, you should ensure it's properly formatted.

Windows has built-in formatting capabilities. However, you may prefer to use the SD Foundation's official SD Formatter tool for wiping cards clean. This application experiences fewer problems dealing with different card types and formats and includes a few more options than Microsoft's offering.

07
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H2testw

H2TestW
What We Like
  • Simple to use.

  • Allows for testing genuine media without any data loss.

  • Very portable utility (no installation required).

  • Testing is thorough.

What We Don't Like
  • May cause data loss for nongenuine media.

  • Runs slower than other, similar tools.

H2TestW is another free software package for SD cards. It checks the card's speed and integrity before you use it.

We live in a world full of counterfeit SD cards, so it's a good idea to check if you get the advertised speeds before you use one. This may seem slightly excessive, but considering Pi projects, such as media centers, see noticeable differences between card speeds, it's a worthwhile process.

The tool writes the card before commencing the test, so make sure you select the right drive number.

08
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Angry IP Scanner

Angry IP Scanner
What We Like
  • A simple, lightweight utility.

  • Results are available in multiple file formats.

  • Available for all major platforms.

  • Free to download and use.

What We Don't Like
  • Less thorough than other, similar options.

  • Fewer options are available than more advanced utilities.

Most of the tools listed here require you to know your Raspberry Pi's IP address. That's fine if you set up static addresses. What if the router assigns a random address each time a device connects to your network? Angry IP Scanner can help you by scanning your network within a defined range of IP​ addresses and returning a list of all active hosts (devices).

It's not quite as useful as the Fing Android app in that it doesn't always show the name of each device. So, there can be a bit of trial and error in finding the right IP address.