Microsoft Windows 7 (Professional)

The good: Strong design and Microsoft don't always go together, but they do in Windows 7. Users might take a while to get used to the new taskbar and Aero Peek, but they're a pleasure to use.

The bad: Performance is still hit-or-miss in Windows 7. At the ripe age of seven, Windows XP still performs better in some categories.

The bottom line: Windows 7 is more than what Vista should have been, it's where Microsoft needed to go. How much damage Vista did and whether Windows 7 is enough for people to finally abandon Windows XP are questions that nobody has the answers to right now.

Review: Microsoft Windows 7 (Professional)

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Windows Vista Ultimate

The good: Windows Vista Ultimate does improve some features within Windows XP; fewer system crashes than Windows XP; Windows Vista offers better built-in support options.

The bad: Windows Vista Ultimate does not put Search on the desktop (it's buried within applications, within the Start Menu); optimized only for the Microsoft Windows ecosystem (for example, RSS feeds from Internet Explorer 7 get preferential treatment); there's simply too much and not all of it is implemented properly; no new software yet written exclusively for Windows Vista; and there are too many editions of Windows Vista.

The bottom line: Windows Vista is essentially warmed-over Windows XP. If you're currently happy with Windows XP SP2, we see no compelling reason to upgrade. On the other hand, if you need a new computer right now, Windows Vista is stable enough for everyday use.

Review: Windows Vista Ultimate

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AVG Antivirus 8

The good: AVG Anti-Virus 8 includes anti-drive-by download protection along with antirootkit, antivirus, and anstipyware protection.

The bad: AVG Anti-Virus 8 tested in the middle or even to the slow end for scanning and boot-time performance.

The bottom line: AVG Anti-Virus 8 is solid at finding and removing viruses and spyware as well as blocking Web threats, but could be lighter on system resources and provide more technical support options.

Review AVG Antivirus 8

Download the latest: AVG AntiVirus 9 and AVG AntiVirus Free Edition 9

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Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard

The good: Interface enhancements like Expose in the Dock and better file and folder viewing in Stacks make finding apps and files much easier. A completely overhauled QuickTime X now sports a cleaner interface and recording tools. The much-anticipated Exchange support across Mail, the Address Book, and iCal is huge for those who take their Macs to work.

The bad: Snow Leopard works with Intel Macs only; PowerPC users are out of luck; requires $29 upgrade fee.

The bottom line: Intel Mac users will like Snow Leopard's smartly designed interface enhancements, and its Exchange support is a must-have (especially with Outlook for Mac on the way). With a ton of technological improvements, Snow Leopard is worth the $29 upgrade fee.

Review: Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard

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Norton AntiVirus 2009

The good: Norton AntiVirus 2009 has a leaner footprint, improved speed, white listing, and other technologies to mark clean files as trusted, and free technical support.

The bad: Despite its free telephone support, Norton AntiVirus 2009 lacks adequate online technical support and, intentional or not, it drives users to its paid technical support services.

The bottom line: Norton AntiVirus 2009 hits all the right security notes, and its superior protection technologies might even win back some jaded anti-Symantec folks, though for some, technical support may continue to frustrate.

Review: Norton AntiVirus 2009

Download the latest: Norton AntiVirus 2010

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Norton Internet Security 2009

The good: Internet Security 2009 has a leaner footprint, improved speed, white listing and other technologies to mark clean files as trusted, and free technical support.

The bad: Despite its free telephone support, Norton Internet Security 2009 lacks adequate online technical support and, either intentionally or not, drives users to its paid technical support services.

The bottom line: Norton Internet Security 2009 hits all the right security notes and its superior protection technologies might even win back some jaded anti-Symantec folks, though for some technical support may continue to frustrate.

Review: Norton Internet Security 2009

Download the latest: Norton Internet Security 2009

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Norton 360

The good: Norton 360 is mercifully light on system resources; it's intuitive, covers most of the bases that a comprehensive security-and-performance tool should, and includes free online storage.

The bad: Norton 360 doesn't support Firefox or Opera browsers; doesn't include wireless security tools, doesn't provide an ID vault for passwords or credit card info.

The bottom line: For home and student use, we think Norton 360 represents the best value for ease of use, tools offered, and overall system performance. We recommend it over McAfee Total Protection and Microsoft Windows Live OneCare.

Review: Norton 360

Download the free trial: Norton 360.

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Windows Vista Home Premium

The good: Windows Vista Home Premium does improve some features within Windows XP; fewer system crashes than Windows XP; and Windows Vista offers better built-in support options.

The bad: Windows Vista Home Premium does not put Search on the desktop (it's buried within applications, within the Start Menu); no new software yet written exclusively for Windows Vista; optimized only for the Microsoft Windows ecosystem (for example, RSS feeds from Internet Explorer 7 get preferential treatment); Tablet PC support unnecessary; fax and scan support missing; and there are too many editions of Windows Vista.

The bottom line: Windows Vista Home Premium is essentially warmed-over Windows XP Home Edition. If you're currently happy with Windows XP SP2, we see no compelling reason to upgrade. On the other hand, if you need a new computer right now, Windows Vista Home Premium is stable enough for everyday use.

: Windows Vista Home Premium

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Apple iWork '09

The good: Interface tweaks make commonly used features more accessible. Flashy, eye-catching presentations are even easier to make. iWork apps play well together with added interoperability across the suite.

The bad: Still no business-grade e-mail client. iWork.com Web component doesn't allow for true collaboration. The lack of an auto save feature is a particularly problematic omission we hope to see in future releases.

The bottom line: Intuitive interface design and easy access to useful features make iWork the best office suite choice on the Mac. Though it lacks some of Microsoft Office's advanced options, iWork '09 is an emerging powerhouse in its own right.

Review: Apple iWork '09 review

DownloadiWork '09

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Avast Home Edition

Avast Home Edition is a free antivirus app that guards your network and PC. Though it's not as snappy as other rivals, we're impressed overall with Avast's real-time protection. Avast Professional Edition shares a core malware detection engine, but includes extras, like a scan scheduler.

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