Software isn't exactly the sexiest of all gifts, but it can actually be a great thing to give. There are a lot of apps out there that can make your friends' life easier or more enjoyable, that they might not pay for themself -- and that's where you come in. Here are some of our favourite paid Windows apps that fit the bill.
Apps Under $30
Trillian is one of our favorite IM clients for Windows, and the Pro version is where it really shines. Not only does it remove all those annoying ads, but all its cross-platform majesty really starts to click: you can view all your chat logs in the cloud, continue a conversation on one machine from another machine instantly, and more. Not to mention you get priority email support from the Trillian team if something ever goes wrong, which is great to have on hand. If you know an IM fiend who's all over a number of platforms -- whether it's Windows, Mac, Android, or iPhone -- Trillian Pro is an inexpensive but great piece of software to give.
Buy Trillian Pro ($US12 per year)
Think of your friends. Now think of their desktops. I bet you can think of at least one that is cluttered with icons all over the place, making you cringe every time you see it. First, direct your friend to our feature on designing a clean, organised desktop, and then buy them Fences Pro. Fences is a great app that lets you organise your icons in little boxes on your desktop, but the inexpensive full version kicks it up a notch by letting you choose a default fence for new icons, automatically organise and sort icons into fences by name, file type, and other factors, have your fences appear faded until moused over, and lots of customisation features. If that won't keep them organised, nothing will.
Buy Fences Pro ($US19.95)
Windows Explorer is fine, but when it comes to dealing with mountains of files, it's far from perfect. There are a load of alternative file browsers on Windows, but Xplorer2 is our favorite. It's incredibly customisable, has a great interface, can replace Windows Explorer as your file manager, and do a heap more. The pro version makes this great program even better, by letting you assign specific view modes to certain folders, compare and synchronise two folders, search through any type of file (even in ZIP folders), and search the content of files instead of just the file names. In short, it's the best darn file manager you'll find on Windows, and anyone that's tired of sifting through files in Explorer will be happy to use it. If it doesn't seem like the perfect gift to you, though, check out the alternatives, too.
Buy Xplorer2 ($US29.95)
Apps Between $30 and $60
If you haven't realised it already, we're obsessed with text expansion. After all, it can save you hours of typing every day. Windows has a few good free options, but Breevy is the best of the bunch -- except for its cost. That makes it the perfect gift: anyone who loves text expansion will love Breevy, but might not be willing to pay for it themselves. It's easily the most stable option on Windows (as text expansion can be pretty finicky), and it can do a heck of a lot more than just simple text expansion. It can launch applications, visit web sites, and even open files with simple text snippets. Plus, if your recipient is a Mac user, they'll be able to sync their TextExpander snippets with Breevy, which is just icing on the cake.
Buy Breevy ($34.95)
MediaMonkey is the perfect player for the music junkie in your life. If they aren't using it already, this gift will give them a nudge in the right direction -- not to mention add some awesome advanced features to sweeten the deal. On its own, the free version of MediaMonkey is the ultimate music tagger and organiser, but the Gold version adds the ability to split up music into different collections (which is useful when managing multiple libraries), automatically organise and rename files, create automatic Genius-like playlists, auto-convert files, and rip CDs like a professional. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. We all have that friend who hoards music like its their job -- and this app is for them. You can grab a gold licence for this version of MediaMonkey, or a lifetime licence that will give them free upgrades to gold for every version to come.
Buy MediaMonkey Gold ($US24.95 for this version, $US49.95 for a lifetime licence)
WinX DVD Ripper Platinum
Handbrake has long been our favourite DVD ripper and encoder, but it can't decode copy protection on Windows very easily -- nor is it very beginner-friendly. If you have a friend that wants to watch movies on their computer, iPad, smartphone, or any other device, a premium DVD ripper like WinX's offering can be a nice gift. It turns the entire process into two simple steps: insert disc, press the rip button. It'll rip it to the format of their choosing, for the device of their choosing, and they can get on with watching their movie. Of course, it still has some advanced settings for those that want it, but it can be as simple as they want too. Right now, WinX DVD Ripper Platinum is on sale, and includes a licence for its Blu-Ray ripper, for all the HD enthusiasts that you know. If WinX DVD Ripper isn't doing it for you, though, you can always go for something a bit more traditional, like DVDFab.
Buy WinX DVD Ripper Platinum (Currently on sale for $US35.95)
If you know anyone that uses multiple monitors, they need DisplayFusion. The Pro version lets them add a taskbar to every monitor, customise their multi-monitor wallpapers, move windows and change wallpapers with a hotkey, save and load monitor profiles, snap window edges together, change the windows logon background, put different screensavers on each monitor, and much more. Frankly, it's a little shocking that a lot of these features aren't in Windows already, but for such a powerful program, it's easily worth the cash. It turns a computer with two monitors into a computer for two monitors, and it's an essential tool for anyone that needs that big digital workspace.
Buy DisplayFusion Pro ($US25 for one computer, $US35 for multiple computers)
Apps For Gift-Givers With Money To Burn (Over $50)
We love free office suites around here, but the fact of life is that sometimes you just need Microsoft Office. If you know someone that's trying to suffer through Google Docs or LibreOffice in situations where they just won't do, give the gift of relief with a licence for the real deal. It isn't cheap, but if you've got the money to blow -- or, if you can snag them a student discounted copy (it's cheating, I know) -- they'll be pretty thankful.
Buy Microsoft Office ($279 for one licence, $379 for two)
Whether your friend is running ol' Windows XP or Vista, or whether they're just dealing with the annoyances of an illegally downloaded copy, you can bring them into the future with a full, legal copy of Microsoft's latest and greatest operating system. Like Office, we all know how costly Windows can be, but once again, if you have access to a discounted version of Windows for students, it's an inexpensive gift that they'll really appreciate. While you're at it, it might be a good time to set their computer on the track to self-maintenance, so they don't need to keep asking you for help.
Buy Windows 7 ($299 for Home, $449 for Professional, $469 for Ultimate)
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
For the photography nut in your life, you might consider upgrading them to a better photo editor and manager. Picasa can only do so much, and while it isn't cheap, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a huge step up. It's perfect for editing and organising large collections, handling many adjustments without the hassle that many professional programs might include. It's especially great for those just starting out with photography, as they'll be able to see what more advanced editing programs include.
Buy Adobe Photoshop Lightroom ($136.40)