Month: February 2016

Ashampoo ZIP Pro Software Review

Ashampoo ZIP Pro Software Review

Today, in the year 2016, we still need archive files for electronic communication. It seems amazing that this is still needed, but considering the bottlenecks in server limits for attachments, as well as the technical limitations between O/S’s, hardware platforms, and the still emerging spread of high-speed internet rollouts; it is still very much needed. While the aforementioned operating systems have been more inclusive of select archive formats, in their latest versions, (primarily the .zip format) the limited tools built in, means that a more comprehensive, robust program is needed. As in cases before, I have used freeware alternatives, but I have been underwhelmed by the self-extracting features included especially the options, security protocols, and presentation modes available. I have looked into various flagship archive programs, but felt the price points and their associated capabilities did not warrant the purchase. Fortunately, I discovered Ashampoo, recently (I first reviewed their Burning Studio 16, last week), and they had the answer to my archive needs.

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My usage of archive files has lessened some, as drive storage sizes have exponentially increased, but when I need to compress a file, ZIP Pro has made my life more concise and secure. Unlike the competition, especially on the freeware side, this program makes any file I need compressed smaller, encryptable, and generally secure. You can not only add the files and respective paths to the archive, but also verify the MD5 hashes, repair archives, and create self-extracting files. This is just scratching the surface of what this program can do. My main usage of archive tools, resolves around sending files, via e-mail or cloud storage services.

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In delving into these waters, of using said channels, I have found a newly discovered issue that this program can aid one with, regarding secured archives. As many of my readers are all-too aware of, in the second decade of the 21st. Century, web security and privacy have risen to the forefront of the public consciousness. With the exposure of how various government agencies collect data, in both mobile and computer platforms, people are more concerned and focused on keeping their lives away from prying eyes. Movements starting in the mid-to-late 1990’s have pushed for public key encryption, so that data can be exchanged, between parties, without being easily eavesdropped on by others. This has garnered support from various platforms, including e-mail clients and now archive programs. Ashampoo ZIP Pro fully backs and supports this usage, and allows you to create public keys, sign and encrypt/decrypt files, so they can be safely shared.

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I want to emphasize that using such key encryption, (is and should only be) allowed to be used for legal, lawful purposes. This technology is not 100% hack proof, but is nearly that secure. However, the powers that be can trace your movements, files, and communications, via other methods and techniques. Also of note, such encryption practices may banned/outlawed, country to country, territory to territory, so be aware of the regulations that apply to you. While this is a feature set that I have decided to implement, to protect vital and sensitive information, this is just one feature that you will find useful.

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One feature that I find very handy is the ability to transcode an archive from one file format to another. If you have the need to make an archive file that is readable, natively, on a different platform, it is very nice to change the file, rather than have to recompile the archive all over again. I know that when I have sent files to someone, say for instance, a Linux distribution, having an archive format that uses .tar for them, versus .zip may be more preferable.

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I have had my share of broken files, and an archive that will not unpack that last file is very frustrating. Now, being able to use a wizard to fix the broken pieces of my archives is a nice saving grace. Just knowing that I might be able to rectify a failed download or messed up file, via e-mail gives me a tool that I have not had, until now.

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I could bore you with the overflowing features that is great program provides, but let me cut to the chase. You will be hard pressed to find a better, more robust, well-rounded archive program for the money. For the price of $39.99 USD, you can get this great software, with top-tier tech support (of which I try and highlight for you), and a solid, stable product. Just as last week, they offer a free version, with basic features (sans OpenPGP and batch archive support) or a trial version, if you want to test out the features. Either way you go, I know that you will be very happy with this prospective purchase. As always, catch you later, folks!

(Note: I hope that you can get excited, as I have a prospective contest connected with my next review. Stay tuned . . .)

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Ashampoo Burning Studio 16 Review

You, my avid readers, know that I am still in full support of disc media, particularly high-capacity and archive formats. The newer players, such as Ultra 4K Blu-ray for HDR video, and the new storage archive format, M-DISC, hold many promises for high quality and long-term preservation. While the ability to create the super high-capacity, 4K video discs is a ways off, the routine of making HQ DVD and BD-R discs still requires top-tier creation and production software.  In answering this call, the fine folks at Ashampoo have taken the best of the field, and created the best, feature-rich disc burning suite on the market, today.

 

In the last twenty years, burning software had come and gone, with formats, audio tools, and disc structures, moving in and out of vogue. Learning from the ups and downs of these changes, and bringing their own innovation into the mix, Ashampoo’s Burning Studio 16 icon_burning_studio_16_256x256takes their policy of intuitive GUI development, and their sense of features their customer’s deserve; publishing the new standard of disc creation to be beat. They have incorporated the ability to create multi-volume disc archives, without fear of corrupted backups, discs that support AutoStart menus (as seen on commercial pressed discs, put out by major publishers), and the ability to import and embed subtitles and themes for your video disc projects, among others. These are just a few of the tools in the toolbox, with many, more at easy reach.logo_w10_comp_blue

I am the first to concede that freeware burning software can be found on the web, and many of these programs I have used. However, they have always felt lacking in tools, which would allow me the nuanced and customized projects that I have always wanted to make. Fortunately, I discovered Burning Studio 16, and I have not looked back. In discovering the ability to pull metadata tags for my audio files, so I can include this polished feature, along with sound normalization, makes making custom mixes for friends and family; excellent for gift giving. I also love the ability to create slideshow discs, which my wife can use to share her artwork and projects, in both promoting her work, and bringing awareness for children’s illustration. These, are just two slivers of the numerous features that this suite contains.

scr_ashampoo_burning_studio_16_welcomebox_ashampoo_burning_studio_16_110x110If you do not have such a narrow-focused outlook, you will find that Ashampoo has you covered. For the bulk of my disabled audience, you will find that their burning software will make solid, reliable discs. If you have come to embrace the clean UI, present in Canonical Ubuntu, Microsoft Windows 8/8.1/1, and Apple Mac OS X, the ability jump right in making your discs will come very naturally. You are presented with a clean window, which has categories/tools on the left, with sub-category pop-ups on the right. Each option is very easy to comprehend, follow systematically, and implement without hassle. As someone, who has severe arthritis, being able to make discs with minimal steps, via Burning Studio 16, makes the whole process worthwhile.scr_ashampoo_burning_studio_16_presentation_skin

 

I could bombard you with the bursting at the seams feature sets, but I will cut to the chase. Right now, you can purchase Burning Studio 16 for $59.99 USD. If you are already an Ashampoo customer, the cost is $29.99 USD. If you have owned a prior version, the upgrade is $17.99 USD. If you are still unsure if you need the full suite features, they have a free version, which will give you a taste of what the program can do for you. Of note, within the next day, they have a software bundle, that includes several pieces of software (Burning Studio 16 is not included, but it is a good value of other tools), for $31.99 USD. Check out their homepage, and you might want to jump on this sale. No matter what you choose on this time-limited deal, I know that you want to get Burning Studio 16 for all of your disc creation projects, going forward. Until next time, stay warm/stay dry. . .

IRCommand2 Software Review

As my readership knows, I am disabled, and I deal with that, daily. My use of technology and computers to augment this set of limitations takes me to various places and the discovery of various software titles. In my virtual travels on the web, I ran across WDPS Software, and their flagship product, IRCommand2. This software (which is adaptable to use with IR emitters from several manufactures) allows you to control programs, and computer hardware on your PC, wirelessly. This software has learning capabilities that you can program various functions, so you can be away from your system, and use a remote. I have a TV tuner card, inside my machine, so watching and recording programming, live or time-shifted, by my DVR recording capabilities it something I love to partake in. Watching disc-based media though lacks a viable way for me to control this “from the couch” setting, until now. So, now I can use my TV Tuner remote to control my Blu-ray playback software, and enjoy the movie, with nominal hassle.

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You may be asking, that is nice for you, but would I get any value out of this program. The answer is a resounding yes. No matter, whether or not you have a disability, being able to sit back and manipulate the functions of your PC, with the press of a button makes such convenience something you will not want to live without. This is just a drop in the bucket, as this software also supports select home automation and home theater systems, as well.

The first order of business is to select a compatible IR emitter hardware, from manufactures, such as Snapstream, My.TV, Actisys, and others (many of these are listed on the WDPS, with links to their distributors, too). These hardware platforms are reasonable priced, versatile, and made to fit various needs. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, and really come down to price point and personal preference for the brands.  Once you have done this, you can then begin the setup process for IRCommand2.

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Once you have the hardware installed, start up IRCommand2, and proceed to the Learn Mode, where you can program whatever functions you need. The process is straightforward, fairly intuitive, and systematic in its approach. If you have any problems in getting this setup, you can watch tutorial videos, that go slowly, in nice detail, and very repeatable, if needs be. One problem that I ran into with this process, was trying to use my internal IR emitters for the learning process. On further study, it was recommended that I move over to a dedicated IR emitter, from the above list of makers. I have been told that will alleviate my progress with this feature. However, once you can establish communication, you can set the appearance, text, function, and programs that run, per button activation or press. No matter what you want to accomplish with this piece of software, it is scalable to meet the needs you require.

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That scalability, that I mentioned is available in the Full Registration
version
, which has unlimited buttons, unlimited panels, and numerous features that are unavailable in both the Demo version and the Lite Registration. It is worth the cost of $34.95 USD, as you add devices, with complex button layouts, linked actions, and the potentiality of home automation becoming a reality. If that is not in your price range, the Lite Registration version, which offers a single panel and a maximum forty buttons, can be had for $9.95 USD. If that is still too much to pay, you can cover the cost of the Lite Registration version with a tweet, for a limited time
. As always, if you are not certain that either version is for you, they offer a 60-day trial version to get a feel for your potential needs.

Take my word for it, once you discover the power of IRCommand2, you will want to jump in with both feet. A clean, configurable interface, with numerous ways to control your digital life cannot be had for a better price. Just try it out, and I know that you will be a believer. Check back soon for my next article, same channel, same time!

IcoFX Software Review

Coming from a background of IT, technology, and software installations as a Tier-II support, coupled with a background in graphic design, I have some familiarity with design software. Being tasked with setting up and configuring customer’s software, and laying out the desktop(s) with the icons that will be most used was a part of my day. Many times, I wanted to give my customers icons that were distinct and unique from the default ones. Up until recent times, I just tried to clumsily try to use Microsoft Paint or PAINT.net to make a .BMP into an .ICO file, with meddling results. Many times it would not have the correct transparency or background, the size would be off, and the aspect ratio would be skewed. Such poor results made me mothball this practice, and just use default the icons for software. I have good news for you, folks, those days are behind us, with the advent of IcoFX from IcoFX Software. This fine software allows you to create your custom icon(s) from an image, from image objects, make icon libraries, change an application’s icon, extract icons from files, and much more.

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I know that having to make any art project from scratch is trying and daunting (not unlike trying to stare at a blank page to write article for a blog), so believe me when I say that having a tool-set that allows you to construct your icons from pre-made art assets is a great aid. As their stellar online tutorials show you, you can take circles, squares, gradients, and other shapes and layer them into a new, cohesive whole. This fine software has numerous built-in assets, (and more for purchase from their great partners) so the process is painless, intuitive, and excellent workflow. This program shares many tool-kits, seen in GIMP, Inkscape, and even in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, so using it in conjunction with these software titles is a no-brainer; not to mention that this program is an excellent pipeline for starting or finishing the process. You choose a basic shape, shadow, color fill, and so forth, and before you know it, you have an icon. Trust me, once you try it, you will be making icons all the time.

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If you want to just make an icon from scratch, the process is straightforward and concise. Just set your icon size and background parameters, and then just draw your icon. If you have an image already drawn, just bring that into IcoFX, and use the Create from Windows/Macintosh Icon from Image, and set the size and compression settings, dependent on the O/S restrictions and color palette limitations. If the image has areas or things you want to add or exclude from any icon that you want to make, you can mask or select that information, and presto, professional icon. Any skill with art programs, you will wonder why it has taken so long to get such a quality icon production model software, until now.

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Once you have made several icons, before long you will have a group that you might want to place them in an icon group. Just use the Icon Resource Editor, add each icon, and name them, to what want, and save them in a combined file, that is easy to distribute and share online. I know that I have seen numerous icon libraries on stock image websites, which people can use for their projects. Being able to do this, easily, is an excellent way to archive your art projects, in a concise manner. When I have modified or created icon sets for computer themes, I have always wanted a way to make an icon set for the theme file; now this dream has become a reality.

 

 

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As alluded to earlier in this article, people have asked me to create a catchy icon for a program that they use regularly. With IcoFX, you can modify a program’s application (.exe) file or Dynamic Link Library (.dll) or shortcut to extract/modify within the Resource Editor. In the dialogue box, choose the file, and then you are presented with a browse window to choose a new logo for the program. This is as simple as it sounds, but be careful. As stated in their tutorial, changing an application file, directly, should be left to software-trained professionals or those with experience with the O/S environment, lest you cause non-operational bugs or glitches. These can have nasty side effects, and lead to stability errors. This should be stressed to a higher priority, if you try this with built-in applications or programs. However, doing this to a shortcut is much less dangerous, and an excellent training module to practice with, to get familiar with this process.

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One, last feature I want to highlight is the ability to create a custom icon that will show in a browser window or tab, that reflects your website’s identity. This file type is known as a favicon, and can be created in the same fashion as any other icons in the software. As outlined in the tutorial, you will need to set specified icon sizes and parameters, as well as some skill in laying out code or web pages in the header, so one can embed the icon, so it shows up, when someone visits the site. I do not do any coding in web languages, personally, but in talking to others, who do code, making a nice, clean image/icon is the hard part, and this software will ensure you get professional results.

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You may wonder what a professional icon creation suite will cost you. In terms of graphic design creation programs, the costs are very reasonable. A single-user license will cost you $29.99 USD. This tier of license will allow you to create, edit, and import/export icons. If you want these features, plus the ability to create icon toolbar strips, batch processing, mobile icon creation, and the ability to use your icons in a commercial/corporate setting, you will need to go up to the Business License, which runs $49.99 USD. Well worth the cost, and as someone who is using this version, it is the way to go. If you have multiple workstations, at one location or multiple work sites, they have license tiers to cover these needs, too. Considering that programs, such as Corel CorelDRAW, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and many others require a large, upfront license cost or subscription, IcoFX is a phenomenal value to behold. I know that if you need quality icon work done, you will be hard pressed to find a better, robust software on the market, today. Nevertheless, do not take my word for it, try it out today, and I know you will agree with me. Until next time, adios amigos!

 

AudioLabel 6.0 Review

It has become a twilight era for disc-base media, but such media is still needed for large file-size projects such as the upcoming UHD video (4K Video) and for the foreseeable future, console games will still be available on discs. Be that as it may, identifying and marking such media is vital, and graphic design has only been growing since the mid-1990’s decade. One sector of the marketplace that is still growing is the burgeoning area of personal media creation and disc production. While major O/S’s ship with basic video editing tools, such as Windows DVD Creator, their ability to create nice, clean labels for discs and storage cases is very lacking. You can try and use Windows Paint or a software plugin for the office suite, but the results will be less than stellar or hard to format for the end product. A nice, clean saving grace for this pipeline development problem comes in the form of AudioLabel from CDCoverSoft.

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This excellent software presents itself with a clean, GUI; instantly familiar to anyone who has used any Windows-based program. Once you open the program, you have a screen layout that combines the best of Windows Paint and GIMP. You have text panel on the left side, color swatches and buttons, up top, and an image browser (akin to a slideshow/clip art strip) on the right side of the screen. From here, you can setup your disc, layout the case inserts, and finalize the project. The process is straight forward, easy to use, and very intuitive. It is as easy as that, to do.

When you go to undertake making an insert for your projects, as a custom replacement for a commercial disc, or if you have submitted metadata to the software, AudioLabel has you covered. This great tool can both retrieve a disc’s metadata from the web or by reading the CD-TEXT off of the disc. The creator of a disc could also go the trouble of \having it listed in Internet databases (though there could be added charges and licensing agreements to undertake). Being able to just drop your disc in the optical drive, read the info, and populate your labels can quickly speed up making labels. My regular readers know how I love software to aid me in adding tag data to my files, rather than depending on manual insert. I have been a huge proponent of putting CD-TEXT on any recorded discs since the late 1990’s, and it is nice to know that AudioLabel has my back and yours too!

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I have always used various paper stocks for my printing projects, and my labels are no exception. Whether cost, product availability, texture, and the like, having the flexibility to have a graphic layout program accommodate these variances is a big plus. Baked into this great program are templates for the top major brands of label manufactures, so choosing the right one is at your fingertips, and ready to put into place. Going from an Avery label to a Neato format works, flawlessly, and helps me get done anything, in a quick fashion.

 

While printing on discs is a new phenomena that has come to the forefront of media print technology, spearheaded by HP with its LightScribe technology. New players have come forward since HP hit the scene, including Canon, EPSON, and others, nevertheless, AudioLabel has you covered. Using an inkjet-capable disc, and a supported printer, you can print your layout right on the disc, without needing a separate label or paper. As is noted on their website, using an inkjet-capable disc does cost more; I can attest that the results are far superior to any label that I have used, for durability and longevity. In fact, the results are even crisper, when dealing with grayscale images, which can be accented by being etched on the top surface, such as seen in LightScribe discs that I have burned. Also, they are not susceptible to having a label peel off in one’s optical drive.

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No matter what projects you may have to make discs for, AudioLabel is the easiest way to complete things done. If you are unsure, they have a 15-day limited trial that allows you try out the software, and print some samples. After that time period passes, $29.95 USD will give you the full version that will not have any time or printing restrictions. Check out this software, and you will see that making labels and inserts will not get any easier than this. I hope you love this software, as much as I. Until next time, folks!

MediaMonkey 4.1 Gold In-Depth Review:

Our world has dramatically changed in the last sixteen years, as it relates to media consumption and portability. Pre-2000, we watched movies on VHS or DVD, listened to music on CD, and watched TV shows on what else, TV. Now days, we watch movies and TV on Blu-ray, online, on our computers, not to mention on our electronic devices in our pockets and backpacks. The same can be said for enjoying our music and other entertainment pursuits. Such a dramatic shift means the old rules no longer apply. Sensing the trend change in the wind, pioneers, such as Apple, Creative, and Microsoft laid a groundwork for personal consumption and taking our fun with us, wherever we go (in the car, on the bus, walking to and from school/work, etc.). While their contributions cannot be undersold or downplayed, the numerous companies, technologies, and platforms on the tech landscape, today, necessitate flexibility and usability. That in mind, being trapped into one ecosystem or software suite or program is far too limiting in scope and functionality.

This is especially true of the advent of the divergence between Apple devices (closed-loop proprietary O/S) and the emergence of the Android operating system (a fork of Linux; an open-source kernel O/S). Trying to take your media (music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc) back and forth between these two presents incompatibility issues, in terms of file format, DRM, and sync profiles. Addressing these has been frustrating and infuriating, especially as my household is now both iOS and Android; needing this key interoperability. Thankfully, I recently discovered a turn-key solution for cataloging, tagging metadata, and syncing my media files between my iPhone/iPad devices, and my wife’s iPhone and her Amazon Kindle Fire. This saving grace is called MediaMonkey from Ventis Media.

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Once you open this media organizer software, you are presented with a multi-pane window, which is in the vein of a hybrid of Windows File Explorer and Winamp. You have the directory tree on the left, with your media files (showing artwork, details, or a combo of each) in the center, and on the far right you have a Now Playing List and an Art and Details sub-panel. From here, you can choose which category of media you want to browse (music, movies, podcasts, etc.) and you can select individual tracks and files, play them, and see the upcoming files to be played next.

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These tasks will take place, after you have imported your media into your MediaMonkey’s internal library. The nice feature of this is that you can manage/sync your files, separate from iTunes, which is very handy if you need to do so, on non-Apple devices. This media import function is easy to setup, as you set a directory/hard drive to monitor for changes, and it will do so, automatically, so any additions or subtractions of you files will match up with its iTunes counterpart (contingent on using the same directory or drive used for the iTunes library). The wizard takes several minutes, but worth the wait, as it speeds up bringing your files into MediaMonkey, in a streamlined manner. One thing of note, if you have iTunes FairPlay DRMBased video files (such as copyrighted TV shows and movies), these do not usually work, as playback of these files requires iTunes decryption algorithms. I have read that if you have Apple QuickTime 7 or later installed, they might playback, but I did not have this result. To play these back, you might have to use alternative means to transcode these files for non-Apple playback.

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Getting my media files and library organized, so I could use them across my wife and I’s Apple and Android devices, and I feel that this is MediaMonkey’s greatest asset and reason to buy the Gold Edition. My wife uses both an iPhone 5C and an Android Kindle Fire tablet, so syncing our movies, podcasts, and music, without having to buy two copies (Amazon Store version and an iTunes Music store version), and having to manually adding said files to each device, in a clunky fashion is not for us. Rest assured, MediaMonkey has the plugins built-in, so you can just connect your Android or Apple devices, via USB, open the software, and choose a one-time sync or auto-sync list, so your device has your files you want it to have.

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Whether or not you have all of your media files metadata tagged, MediaMonkey can come to the rescue. Since I was trying to find an Android solution for our iTunes Media Library, I wanted a better way to make sure the data was correct and up-to-date, over iTunes. Last thing I wanted was to keep propagating errors on my portable devices; bad enough on my computer. Just choose a file, right-click it, and choose from the Web, and presto, it will bring up the internet database page for that file, and you can add that info, easily. I concede that Apple iTunes will do this, too, but not nearly as good or accurately. I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten bad metadata or missing fields or artwork. Best experience I have ever had getting the correct tag info, hands down.

I could go on and on about the elegant and simple media library client that MediaMonkey is, but I will cut to the chase as to why you should elect to buy the Gold Edition of this fine piece of software. The price tier comes in two flavors, Gold Edition (4.x only) $24.95 USD, and Gold Edition (Lifetime) – $49.95 USD. While the Basic version works well, the premium features for Gold Edition are well worth the price of admission. There is a fairly long list of added features that comes with Gold Edition, but I want to highlight a couple of them, which are worth going gold for. The first feature set that is well worth it is the Auto Artwork and tag lookup from the Web, which I have mentioned, previously. If you have spent any time, trying to find artwork and info on your files, the lost productivity, alone is worth the cost, not to mention that ease that comes with just a right-click. The second feature set worth the cost is cross-check/sort/catalog of your media files. This really comes into play, if you have a large library, and want to dig deep and easily find what you are looking for. Having the option of selecting the Composer, Conductor, Original Year (published), cross-fade tracks, by genre, etc. makes it much better and nuanced way to file your media, and create playlists and custom Collections (both additional features of Gold Edition).

Either way, try out MediaMonkey from Ventis Media, and see what you think. After all, once you see the potential, I know that you will want to go for the Gold. Until next time, Happy Belated New Year 2016, and I hope you have a nice Valentine’s Day, too!