Some people are getting new Windows 8 PCs this year, while other are upgrading older computers to Win8 or staying with Windows 7 or even XP. Under any scenario, though, a new software app can make for a fun and/or useful gift, or a relatively economical special treat for yourself.
Here are ten current software releases that should do the trick, spanning a range of tastes that includes entertainment, photo and video editing, gaming, PC security, and personal productivity.
As their names suggest, a few of these apps -- such as Hulu Plus for Windows 8, for instance -- are designed to run on Windows 8 under Microsoft's new "Modern" interface. Accessible online from Microsoft's Windows Store, these same apps will operate on Windows RT tablets, but not on earlier editions of Windows.
Most of the others on our list, though, work across all generations of Windows PCs from Windows 8 back to XP.
A few of the cloud-enabled apps are available free of charge. So if you're in holiday gift-giving mode, you might look into buying a services subscription for your favorite friend or family member.
Ready? Let's get shopping!
Hulu is a top choice among many folks for getting TV shows and movies streamed to their PCs. Hulu Plus for Windows 8, available since late October from Microsoft's Windows Store, is specifically geared to taking advantage of Windows 8's Modern UI.
Hulu Plus for Windows 8 lets you select a show or a clip by touching an image. You can also "pin" your favorite shows to the Start Menu for one-touch access to those shows. Through another new Windows 8-centric feature, known as "Snap View," you can view TV shows on Hulu Plus in a small screen while working in another app -- to answer emails or write a report, for instance -- in a larger screen.
By the way, Hulu sells gift subscriptions to its services which are deliverable by either e-mail or a printed gift card.
While more and more folks like to get video streamed into their living rooms, many others still prefer to burn movies on to DVDs.
Nero's latest software product is aimed at meeting both types of entertainment inclinations. Nero Kwik Media, a key component in the suite, has now been given a built-in media server, allowing you to stream videos, photos and music to DLNA- and UPnP-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets, XBoxes, and HDTVs.
Other elements of the suite let you import, transcode and edit videos; copy them to DVDs; and back up and recover data. Priced starting at $100, the software runs on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP.
3. Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 & Premiere Elements 11
Long a favorite of serious photo buffs, Adobe Photoshop Elements & Premiere Elements provides copious numbers of tools for editing and enhancing pictures and movies.
Carrying an MSRP of $149.99, version 11 brandishes a new user interface (UI) which is much easier on the eyes. The software is available for Mac OS X, along with Windows editions from Windows 8 back to XP.
Corel presents another alternative for those who'd like to spiff up the photos and videos they've created.
Priced starting at $79.99, the latest edition of Digital PaintShop Pro brings new features such as photo mapping, face recognition and vacation trip sharing, along with enhancements to social media connectivity.
Also new are Retro Lab, for applying effects inspired by vintage-style pocket cameras, and Graduated Filter, for adjusting the color, gradient style, opacity, blend and rotation of selected areas of a photo without affecting other portions of it.
Corel's product, though, is Windows-only, running on Windows 8, 7, Vista, and XP.
5. WordPerfect Office X6
Although the RT edition of Microsoft Office 13, Microsoft's next gen office suite, is now shipping aboard Microsoft's Slate tablets, the Windows 8 version isn't slated for general commercial release until early next year. Nor is Office 365, its cloud-enabled, subscription-based alternative.
Yet if you're looking for a shiny new office suite to place under the tree, WordPerfect Office X6 is one possibility.
Unlike the Windows 8 edition of Office 13, which supports Windows 8 only, WordPerfect Office X6 supports Windows editions from XP through 8. The product comes in four editions, all centering around the WordPerfect word processing program, Quattro Pro spreadsheet application, and Presentations presentatation package, which have been enhanced in version X6 for full compatibility with Microsoft Office 10.
Although most popular now in legal offices, the WordPerfect suite can also do a handy job of meeting a wide range of consumer needs.
WordPerfect Office X6 Professional, priced at $399.99, incorporates the VideoStudio Essentials X4 video editing package, along with the PDF Fusion software program, WinZip 16 and WinZip Courier, for file compression; and Nuance PaperPort 12SE scanning software, for instance. Other editions of Corel's suite include Legal ($379.99), Standard ($249.99), and Home & Student ($99.99).
One choice that's particularly awesome is Dishonored, a single player-only game that takes place in the industrial, steampunk city of Dunwall where the citizens appear to have a bizarre obsession with whales: nearly everything is powered by whale oil, people eat whale meat, etc. But more importantly, you play as Corvo Attano, the bodyguard of Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and her daughter, Emily. Unfortunately, Dunwall is in dire straits as a result of a horrific rat plague.
The sum of Dishonored's parts is what makes it unique. Everything that's done here, we've seen before: first-person stealth, ranged and melee combat, a steampunk world, a spreading plague, and magical powers. But it's safe to say that we've never seen a game which combines all of these elements into a single experience..and mostly seamlessly, at that.
List-priced at $59.99, the game is available for Windows PCs and PS3 and XBox 360 game machines.
If you want to enjoy your other software apps, you need to ward off viruses and spyware. Norton AntiVirus 2013 is one of a number of third-party solutions available for safeguarding Windows PCs. Other top vendors in this space include McAfee and Kapersky.
Carrying an MSRP of $49.99, Norton AV 2013 features a new tile-based user interface (UI), enhanced threat detection technologies, improved installation, and new cloud-based management tools, among other new capabilities.
Although Windows 8 comes with built-in Windows Defender software, the Windows 8 edition of Defender protects Windows 8 only. Norton AV, on the other hand, extends AV support to Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP machines.
The MSRP for VIPRE AV is $39.99. If you get a multi-computer license, though, the price per PC can drop even further. Beyond antivirus and antispyware safeguards, the package also includes extra utilities such as a history cleaner and a secure erase tool, for deleting files permanently.
The AV package doesn't include a firewall or a malicious Website scanner, but if you want those you can get them in another product, VIPRE Internet Security 2013. Like Norton AV, VIPRE AV protects across Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP.
9. Pinnacle Studio 16
For those more interested right now in video editing than photo editing, Pinnacle Studio 16 is designed to meet the needs of everyone from novices to more advanced users.
Users now have a choice of working with an easy-to-use storyboard, or of turning off the storyboard and inserting their video clips directly into a timeline.
Other key improvements in version 16 include extensive ease-of-use enhancements; cloud-based media and project sharing through a new partner, Box.com; and the ability to create "Project Package" folders for easy archive/restore across devices.
Also new are stereoscopic 3D editing with advanced NVIDIA 3D Vision support, plus faster editing through 64-bit optimized/NVIDIA CUDA and Intel Quick Sync Video hardware acceleration.
Priced starting at $49.99 and available in three editiions, Pinnacle Studio 16 runs on Windows 8, 7 and Vista, although not on XP.
10. Netflix for Windows 8
Like Hulu Plus for Windows 8, Netflix for Windows 8 is another app that operates only under the Modern UI of Windows 8 and RT. Both apps are designed to stream both movies and TV, but where Hulu is more TV-oriented, Netflix offers a much larger film library.
In keeping with other "Modern" apps, Netflix for Windows 8 is very touch-friendly. Also, Netflix makes use of the new UI in an exceptionally visually informative way. The app includes a play queue, along with options for top picks and new releases. Individual pages give important details about shows like synopsis, cast, and ratings.
Of course, although the app is free, users require Netflix subscriptions in order to stream the video.
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