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iTunes replacements for Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS

Ecoute offers a simple, attractive alternative for Macs and iPhones to Apple's 800-pound-gorilla media player, while MediaMonkey lets you manage your iTunes tracks and other media files in Windows via an Explorer-like interface.




Recently the subject of people's least-favorite software came up. Instead of the usual suspects -- Microsoft Office, Adobe Reader, Norton Antivirus -- I was surprised by the unanimous response of a mixed group of Mac and Windows users: "iTunes stinks" (or words to that effect).
Apple's media software doesn't earn a spot on my personal list of adventures in bad coding (which is dominated by products from Microsoft and Adobe), but I rely on the program primarily because of ancillary products: the iPhone, iPad, iCloud, and iTunes Match.

As stated in CNET's iTunes 11 review from last October, the program's interface is much improved from previous releases, but it's still too complex and too much of a resource hog. Using iTune…
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How to boot directly to the desktop in Windows 8.1

The Windows 8 Start screen is a good starting point for Windows 8 devices with touch screens, but on PCs with standard screens, you might prefer to boot directly to the desktop. Previously, you could bypass the Windows 8 Start screen with Start8, but Windows 8.1 now lets you do it natively. Here's how:
Step 1: Right-click on the Windows 8.1 taskbar, then choose Properties.
Step 2: Click on the Navigation tab, then under the Start screen section, check the box next to "Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in."



The next time you boot Windows 8.1, you'll go straight to the desktop without ever seeing the Start screen.

Put Feedbin in your Mac's menu bar with FeedbinNotifier

Unless you've been living in a cave with no access to the Internet, you likely know Google Reader is now dead. If this comes as a surprise to you, you still have time to export your Reader data through Google's Takeout service. Be sure to do this before July 15th, when Google will remove Reader from its Takeout offerings.
One of the many Google Reader replacement services that has popped up since Google announced Reader's execution date is Feedbin.
Feedbin is a subscription service, costing $3 a month or $30 a year, with an API for developers to integrate into apps, and a functional Web site to browse through your newsfeed.
Currently Reeder (free) for iPhone has Feedbin support, with plans to add it to the iPad and Mac version in a future update. Press for Android ($2.99) also has Feedbin support. You can see a full list of apps with Feedbin support at Feedbin.me.
As Feedbin and its competitors try to gain traction with new Reader refugees, the app selection might not appeal t…

Quickly fix Dropbox permissions errors in OS X

Dropbox is one of the more popular cloud-based syncing and storage tools, and offers Mac users a convenient way to transfer files from one system to another, or share files with colleagues. Dropbox can sometimes give you errors, saying that it cannot transfer something because it does not have permission to access some of the files being copied. If this happens, then it could be because of an improper permissions setup with the Dropbox configuration files in your account, or with the files currently being copied. If a permissions error such as this occurs, then the first thing that might come to mind is to use Disk Utility's Permissions Fix routine. But this only affects access permissions on system files and installed applications, and will not touch files in your user account. Holding the Option key in the Account section of the preferences will show the "Fix Permissions" option, instead of the standard option to unlink the current computer.) Instead, for Dropbox-spec…

How to open multiple Finder windows at the same location

When using the Finder in OS X, sometimes you may want to have multiple views of the same folder open at once. Usually it's quick to create a new Finder window and navigate to the folder; however, this may be inconvenient if the folder is buried deep in the filesystem, such as may be the case when troubleshooting a problem or two with the system, retrieving a backed-up file, or organizing an extensive tree of work files. If you need a faster approach, there are several, some of which use the Finder and its capabilities, and others that involve secondary programs
Firstly, in Finder, you can quickly create a duplicate folder view by pressing Command-up arrow to reveal the folder highlighted in its parent directory, and then pressing Control-Command-O to open the folder in a new window. You can then switch to the prior window and double-click or press Command-O to open the folder directly. This is convenient for a single duplicate instance, but if you would like more than one duplicat…

Get two free months of Next Issue unlimited digital magazines

Slowly but surely, Next Issue is getting better.
The service slings unlimited digital magazines to your tablet (or Windows 8-powered PC) for a flat monthly rate, and its catalog is closing in on 100 titles (quite a jump from the 40 or so it offered when it first launched about a year ago).
Haven't tried it yet? Now's your chance to double the usual test-drive deal: StackSocial is offering a two-month Next Issue Premium subscription for free. Normally that would run you $30.
Let me get one big caveat out of the way right now: This offer is for new customers only.
Next Issue is available in app form for Android, iPad, and Windows 8. (Alas, it's still not available for Kindle Fire or Nook HD.) I've tried it on all three platforms, though most of my real-world usage happens on my iPad 3. Android users will be glad to know there's now parity with the iOS version, meaning you should be able to get the full catalog of available magazines. As for Windows 8, I must admit I…

Get a Sphero robot ball for $84.99 shipped

Most of the time I focus on practical products, but can't we have a little fun once in a while? Yes, yes we can; today's deal is all about fun.

Today only, and while supplies last, Amazon has the Sphero app-controlled robot ball for $84.99 shipped. That's the lowest price I've ever seen for this way-cool gadget, which normally sells for $129.99.
Note: If Amazon does sell out, don't be surprised to suddenly see a higher price. What usually happens is that the product page flips over to a third-party seller, even though it's still under the Amazon banner.
Still, 85 bucks for a ball? I agree that's a little steep, but I defy you to show me another orb as entertaining as this one. The Sphero is a Bluetooth-connected gizmo controlled by your smartphone or tablet. Using tilt sensors (or onscreen controls), you can "drive" the ball around, which is cool enough by itself.
But Sphero can also play all kinds of games, including some new augmented-reality games …