• Incumbent: Apple iTunes. The heavyweight music organizer is free and capable, and it makes syncing tunes to iOS and Windows Phone 7 devices a breeze. But its interface can drive non-Apple users crazy, and it has no easy way to sync to Android devices.
• Up-and-comer: Songbird. If you don't use an iOS device, consider moving to Songbird. This attractive organizer's navigation largely mimics that of iTunes. The free program can sync with Android and other devices without proprietary operating systems. Songbird lets you edit track information and use various add-ons written by independent developers for such things as social media communication, lyrics and guitar tab music for your songs, and access to Last.fm and the 7digital music store.
• Web app: Google Music. You can transfer up to 20,000 of your songs to Google Music (free), from which you can access and stream them over any Internet connection, anywhere in the world. The online interface permits you to categorize tracks by title, artist, album, and genre, and create your own playlists. Google Music even lets you divide your music between tunes that you've uploaded and tunes that you've purchased from the Android Market.
• Incumbent: Citrix GoToMyPC. Install this program and then let it sit quietly in the background, waiting for you to log on from another system via the company's online portal. GoToMyPC works well and is available for subscription prices as low as $10 per month, or $99 per year.
• Up-and-comer: TeamViewer. Very fast, and free for noncommercial use, TeamViewer can be configured to sit ready in the background for an always-available connection to your desktop; or you can simply run it as needed. The program uses a simple connection ID and password for security. You can provide those credentials to a colleague if you want to allow that person to view or take over your screen. TeamViewer also has a feature for moving files onto and off the host machine, and it supports multiple connections and users. For high-volume professional use, lifetime licenses start at $750. Considering the quality of the service, that's a bargain.
• Web app: Join.me. For occasional use within a browser, Join.me is an even simpler option than TeamViewer, since using it doesn't even involve downloading software. Simply browse to the URL join.me, click share, send the generated code to the person that you want to share your screen with, and have that person enter it at join.me after clicking join. You can also invite multiple users to attend ad hoc Web presentations. Join.me is part of LogMeIn's family of services.
• Incumbent: Piriform CCleaner. A longtime standard for optimizing PCs, the lightweight CCleaner helps you remove unnecessary programs, clear cookies from your browsers, tidy your system's Windows Registry, and perform similar tasks. This utility is free, solid, and time-tested.
• Up-and-comer: SlimWare SlimCleaner. SlimWare Utilities just released version 2.0 of SlimCleaner (free) last fall, and the app is looking better than ever. It provides color-coded and graphic descriptions of what's on your computer, all the way down to CPU and RAM dials that tell you how much of each you're using. Tabs on the left side toggle between different SlimCleaner functions--the desktop cleaner, the optimization tool, the uninstaller, and so forth. SlimCleaner also assigns ratings (ranging from Unnecessary to Good) to most of the programs, apps, and files on your computer. It draws these ratings from reviews that other users have posted, and from SlimCleaner's own proprietary antivirus scanner. In our tests, the ratings were fairly accurate, and they certainly simplified decisions about which files to keep and which ones to delete--no Google searches necessary. If you want to delete files permanently, SlimCleaner offers the same levels of overwriting--or "shredding"--that CCleaner does, though in slightly snazzier fashion.
• Incumbent: Acronis True Image. Although this $40 mainstay among consumer PC backup programs has many worthy competitors, it combines drive imaging, file and folder backup, and disaster recovery in a very professional package.
• Up-and-comer: Easeus Todo Backup Free. Honestly, you don't need to pay a dime to get a capable backup program. Easeus Todo Backup Free is a sterling backup suite that provides 90 percent of what you'd get with pay software--drive imaging, file and folder backup, mounting of backup images as virtual drives, scheduling, and a lot more. Todo Backup's interface is a tad obtuse at times, but even the least technical user should be able to set up a backup without much fuss. The software provides full disaster-recovery features, including a Windows PE-based recovery boot disc. And unlike many for-pay competitors, it also supports Windows Dynamic disks and RAID.
• Web app: CrashPlan. Graced with an elegant interface, this program backs up to a local destination as well as online, and it carries an extremely competitive price--$50 a year for unlimited backup. You can even let friends back up to your account. Combine that flexibility with clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, and even iOS and Android mobile devices, and you have a winning service. You'll like its style.