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article imageDigital Journal's Holiday Gift Guide: Software

By Digital Journal Staff     Dec 10, 2007 in Technology
Back by popular demand, we're happy to introduce a four-part series featuring gift ideas for the holidays.
Published each day this week, we'll shed insight into the world of technology and entertainment, giving you our picks for the top-rated and newest gadgets.
DigitalJournal.com’s gift guide is published every year, and this year, we also want your tips; if you have a gift idea, drop a comment and share your views with others!
Today’s coverage: Software. Whether you're on a Mac or a PC, there is a plethora of software available. These are DigitalJournal.com's picks for new software, essential software and, in many cases, free software. These are gift ideas for friends or family, or stuff your own PC stocking this year with free tools:
AVG Anti-Virus Free
Price: Free
Computer viruses are just about as common as emails these days, and nothing drives us more crazy than an anti-virus program that is so full of bloated features that your computer takes five hours to boot up, and requires constant babysitting because the program (which is supposed to work on its own) blinks every three seconds indicating your PC might be at risk.
From the department of Cool Free Products comes AVG Anti-Virus Free, which as the name suggests, costs nothing to keep you safe. The program includes a tool for scanning your hard disk and email as well as real-time protection to keep you safe while browsing all those illegal movie download sites news sites. The best part about this software (in addition to being free) is the fact it doesn’t lag your PC to the point of frustration, the interface is clean and easy to use and many tests indicate it proves effective against viruses.
A paid upgrade is available for more advanced features such as scheduling, spam and spyware protection, but the free version will more than suffice for most users looking to protect themselves from viruses. According to an October press release posted on the company’s website, AVG Anti-Virus Free was the No. 1 downloaded program on all of CNET Download.com in October. (Click here to download the software)
Adobe s Creative Suite 3 comes in six different versions.
Adobe's Creative Suite 3 comes in six different versions.
Adobe Creative Suite 3
Price: Varies
This software suite is a must-have for any designer or video and photo enthusiast. Adobe's Creative Suite package is best known for print design, as it includes PhotoShop, Illustrator and InDesign. But with CS3, Adobe combines tools for print, web design, multimedia, video and audio.
And big changes to the user interface and feature list make this release a pretty sweet advancement from CS2, and cross-program integration between Adobe and Macromedia products is seamless.
Some notables of this software suite include PhotoShop's use of artificial intelligence: Gone is the old magic wand that lets you select areas of an image — the new "smart filter" can learn colours you are trying to select and find edges with incredible ease.
And in Illustrator, you can now group a few colour swatches together and it will remap and suggest other colours that work with a particular theme or style.
The software suite is great, but be prepared to pay for it. Depending on the suite you get, the prices range quite a bit, and it also depends if you are a first-time buyer or are upgrading. To check pricing, visit Adobe's website in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom or select another country.
If you are looking for a consumer version of similar software that won't break the bank, consider PhotoShop Elements 6.0 for photo editing and Premiere Elements 4.0 for video editing.
(See our full coverage of the software suite here)
Apple Leopard Mac OS X
Apple Leopard Mac OS X
Apple's Mac OS X Leopard
Price: $129
Apple's newest operating system, Mac OS X Leopard, boasts 300 new features, a sleek design and a price point that seems almost too good to be true.
Some of our favourite features include Time Machine, which lets you back up data from any point in history; Cover Flow in Finder lets you preview files without having to open applications; and Spaces, which let you customize multiple desktops to stay organized.
There's been no shortage of comparisons to Windows Vista, either. In a previous Digital Journal TV segment, we give out the five reasons why Leopard is better than Windows Vista.
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FireFox 2 Internet Browser
Price: Free
If you haven't ditched the slow and annoying Internet Explorer browser yet, you truly don't know what you're missing.
Firefox has been on DigitalJournal.com's list of must-haves for quite some time and now is a perfect time to make the switch and join 125 million other people who have found Internet browsing freedom.
Firefox is one piece of software that truly lives up to its marketing buzz, as the Internet browser is filled with countless useful features including: a built-in spell checker; tabbed browsing so that you don't need 15 annoying windows open at once; session restore, which allows you to re-open any windows or tabs you were previously using and it remembers text you typed into forms, and in-progress downloads you had running; great pop-up blocking, anti-phishing and anti-spyware technology; and the browsing experience is faster and less painful compared to Internet exploder. For a list of features, including thousands of plug-ins with awesome tools, check out this list.
Once you go Firefox, you never go back. You can download Firefox here.
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Google's Gmail
Price: Free
Dealing with email can be incredible easy, or a big pain in the neck depending on how you get your daily dose. Whether you're looking for a new email provider, or you simply want to move your current email service to a reliable and powerful service, Gmail is hard to beat.
Currently offering more than 5.6 Gb of storage space (increasing by approximately 1.12 MB every hour), our favourite feature in Gmail is spam protection. Unless you still enjoy learning about erectile pleasurables, deals on watches and Nigerian pyramid schemes, we challenge you to find a better free spam protection than Gmail's. More on how Google's spam protection works here.
Gmail is also powerful because of its Google-like searching to find "archived" emails (with so much storage space you really don't need to delete anything); Gtalk is built-in, allowing you to send instant messages to people in your address book without having to launch another application; and you can use Gmail to send messages from other accounts -- add an email address to Gmail and use it as a central hub to collect email for multiple accounts, with the ability to reply from user-defined addresses. No more logging in to four different service providers just to check your email.
Wikipedia has a great in-depth entry on Gmail's various features and you can sign-up for a free Gmail account here.
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Bloglines
Price: Free
With the abundance of sites online, the average news junkie needs to visit countless websites just to get his or her daily fix. If you still haven't found Bloglines, it makes getting that fix a whole lot easier.
Bloglines is an Internet-based news aggregator that allows you to search, subscribe to, create and share news feeds, blogs and rich Web content.
The site lets you personalize your own news page and tailor it to your own interests from a database of tens of millions of Internet news feeds including articles, blogs, images and audio.
You don't need to download or install any software -- simply sign-up for a free account and the whole shebang is Web-based.
The site is available in 10 languages, it runs a mobile version for handhelds and cellphones (including one specifically designed for the iPhone) and unique bells and whistles such as package tracking. For a feature list, check out their site here.
If you are a more advanced user, or someone like a researcher or journalist who wants to track a lot of data, we recommend using Feed Demon 2, a paid service ($29) that can manage hundreds of feeds at once.
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Simplify Media
Price: Free
This is a necessary tool for any music fan. Using Simplify Media, you can give up to 30 other computers access to your digital music library to remotely stream music to other computers while your PC is connected to the Net.
So if you are having a party at a friend's house: No needs to pack the car with 400 CDs -- just download this free application and stream your iTunes or Winamp library over the Internet to your friend's computer.
Rather than using a laggy browser-based player, Simplify Media sorts, searches and plays remote music libraries right inside iTunes.
You don't need to upload files anywhere, you don't need to be a technical genius who needs to port-forward or tinker with firewall settings, and it works on both Mac and PC.
The company is also currently working on an Alpha release of the program that allows you to stream your music collection right to your iPhone so you can access your music library from your phone from anywhere you have Wi-Fi access. How cool is that?
To download Simplify Media free, click here.
Final Cut Express 4
Final Cut Express 4
Final Cut Express 4
Price: $199
There are countless video editing programs on the market, but Final Cut Express stands out for both function, ease of use and because it won't devour your wallet.
High-end video-editing programs cost much more than $1,000, but you can achieve virtually all of the same features using Final Cut Express 4.
The software lets you work with DV, HDV or AVCHD footage, and using a single timeline you can quickly trim and edit. The tiresome rendering process of old versions is long gone, as you don't need to re-render clips every time you make a simple movement along the timeline.
Final Cut Express 4 is a bit more advanced than Apple's iMovie, but it's practically as simple to use. The great thing about this software is that it includes enough advanced features to grow with you as your editing skills improve.
Final Cut Express 4 will do real-time special effects and transitions; the software provides colour and video correction tools; you can import iMovie ’08 projects for more advanced editing; and the included LiveType 2.1 software is a great bonus for titling.
You can buy Final Cut Express 4 from Apple's online store. If you live in the U.S. click here, if you're looking for the Canadian store, click here, if you're in the U.K., click here.
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- To see DigitalJournal.com's Books & DVDs Gift Guide, click here
- To see DigitalJournal.com's Gadget Gift Guide, click here
- To see DigitalJournal.com's Video Game Gift Guide, click here
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