Our Top Tech Treats: 10 Definitive Guides to Holiday Shopping

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A Downloader's Gift Guide

PC World has been going nuts, putting together gift guides for the holidays. "Buy this!" "Consume that!" Or just "Look at how crazy-cool (and crazy-expensive) some of this tech is!" Hey, I'm all for helping the economy along. Problem is, I can't afford to buy everyone on my list a gold-plated, jewel-encrusted cell phone this year. Sorry, Mom. So, I'm making some people PC mixtapes.

A PC Mixtape?

You heard me. Maybe I'm dating myself, but back in the day I'd load up olde-tyme magnetic tapes with songs from my collection, samples, and sound bites from the radio; it was a lot of work, but something I put a lot of thought into. Computers killed the art of making mixtapes ages ago--damn you, MP3s!-- but I'm bringing it back to life. (Okay, I'll give Muxtape props for trying.)

The good old days of mixtapes.
Here's the concept: Create a custom pile of legitimate applications, free music, and whatever else you want to bundle, pop everything onto a USB flash drive (or flash memory card), and--bam--gift given.

You can apply the idea to a lot of things (smart phones that take memory cards, for example), but for the sake of this story, I'm going to focus on a bunch of applications for general PC use. Feel free to start with these links and go crazy from there. Have fun mixing and mashing up--and be sure to send me links to your own creations when you're done.

(You're more than welcome to read through the whole story, but if you're in a hurry, here's a quick link to our Downloader's Gift Guide collection.)

Antivirus and Security

People have varying degrees of success, and wildly differing preferences, when it comes to antivirus and security software. Here are my picks.

Avira AntiVir Personal antivirus software is a solid program that can keep you protected reasonably well without charging you for the privilege.

Wherever Ad-Aware falls short in its scans, Spybot Search & Destroy picks up the slack. And maybe I'm going a little overboard in this respect, but I also like to make sure that Javacool SpywareBlaster is up-to-date and watching my back as well.

McAfee Site Advisor is handy because it monitors and rates safe Web sites--and it's especially handy if you accidentally stumble into the red-light district of the Intarnets.

Want to surf securely regardless of what computer you're on? Try installing ArmorSurf onto a flash drive.

Utilities

Whether you want to optimize your PC's interface, tidy up the Registry, or find out what the heck lurks inside your machine, here are a couple of useful starting points.

Don't like the look and feel of Windows Vista? Yeah, don't get me started on that one. Tweak UI did the job for XP, but for the newer OS you need to download Ultimate Windows Tweaker for Vista or Fresh UI.

Using CCleaner is like putting Lysol scrubbing bubbles to work on the insides of your computer--without having to put on rubber gloves or deal with funky fumes. In that same vein, I also recommend you check out Secunia PSI. Secunia keeps your system up-to-date by searching for any patches for whatever you have installed in your system.

And with CPU-Z you're a double-click away from learning in detail everything you need to know about the guts of your computer. It's particularly convenient for when you're trying to figure out which parts you can upgrade.

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