Over the course of a year, we test a lot of tech products, from laptops through tablets to mobiles, along with a range of other hardware from routers to external hard disks, and of course an abundance of software from office suites to security utilities.
And every year, products make improvements on the previous year’s offerings, both in terms of quality and value. Indeed, many product categories have a number of excellent offerings among their ranks – but sometimes you want things really narrowed down. Sometimes, you want to know the winner among the winners – and that’s what this series of articles is all about.
We’ve already looked at a number of categories thus far, including the best laptops of 2013, the top tablets, the best smartphone and mobile devices, and our favourite security products (for more links, see the Related Articles section underneath the comments at the bottom of this article).
In each category, we’ve highlighted the top product for 2013 across all the main sub-categories within. Today, we’re looking at the best software and Internet products.
Each product mentioned is the top of its class for 2013, and as such comes with an unreserved recommendation.
So, what’s our favourite operating system of the year, or web browser? Read on to find out…
Best cloud storage and sync service: Google Drive (free)
Part office suite and part file-syncing service, Google Drive retains all the best features and core functionality of its predecessor, Google Docs, while also upping the ante on how much collaboration it enables. It easily takes on Dropbox and SkyDrive in terms of syncing files between computers and the cloud, and that’s almost just the icing on the cake. This is one sweet package—Jill Duffy.
Best photography/design software: Adobe Photoshop CC (£17.58 per month)
The gold standard in digital image editing never ceases to amaze us with its ability to top the previous year's release. Not only is 2013's Photoshop CC the first version to be offered in subscription-only format for a reasonable £17 a month, but it offers exciting new imaging possibilities with the impressive Camera Shake Reduction feature, Smart Sharpen, Intelligent Up Sampling, and Camera Raw as a filter. Many of the new features target professional designers with more CSS support, automated asset slicing, and conditional actions. No longer are high-end tools restricted to Photoshop Extended edition; you get every Photoshop tool with the subscription, including 3D, video, and image analysis—Michael Muchmore.
Best operating system: Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks (free)
Microsoft made some impressive strides this year with Windows 8.1, but OS X remains the smoothest, most reliable, most convenient, and most manageable consumer-level desktop operating system on the planet. Top-notch, unobtrusive security is a major plus; and so is tight integration with social media and the ability to run Windows applications through third-party apps. Mavericks is loaded with useful features and, best of all, it's completely free—MM.
Best utility: VMWare Fusion 6 (£46)
There comes a time in every Mac user's life when they just have to access something on Windows. Okay, maybe not every Mac user, but more than enough to account for the proliferation of programs out there that allow you to run a full version of Windows (or Linux) virtually, right on your Mac. The smoothest running and least obtrusive on the market is VMWare Fusion 6. It's compatible with hundreds of operating system "guests," so try them all—Eric Griffith.
Best video software: CyberLink PowerDirector 12 (£63)
CyberLink PowerDirector is a long-time favourite among prosumer video editors. It offers impressive performance, an intuitive interface, and lots of editing goodies. The latest version now has multicam viewing (up to four angles), 3D and 4K editing and output, direct uploading to sharing sites, and can even author a Blu-Ray disc. Considering its price, even serious video editors should look no further—EG.
Best web browser: Google Chrome (free)
This speedy browser made impressive strides in 2013, offering new support for WebRTC which lets the browser act like Skype, using your PC's camera and microphone for real-time communication. Google also added a new set of "app" capabilities, with new desktop widgets that actually run outside of the browser window. All this is added to the ever-increasing lead in HTML5 support, speed, and simplicity that distinguishes Chrome—MM.
Best web app: Ifttt (free)
If This Then That, or Ifttt, is all you need to remember because this amazingly simple yet powerful service can automate just about anything you do with other web-based apps, from backing up your photos on Facebook to sending you text message reminders of upcoming appointments—JD.