iLife for Windows

Apple's iLife is a great suite for managing and editing your movies, music, and photos with an affordable collection of software applications... if you have a Mac. If Apple ported it to Windows, I think they'd sell a million copies overnight because the apps are all incredibly easy to use. While software bundles like Roxio Easy Media Creator and Nero 7 Ultra Edition include everything plus the kitchen sink for media editing and management, they both fail to make the process as elegant as using Apple's iLife. Microsoft hasn't stepped up to the plate to offer all the features, although Windows Vista does include some of the features in the Premium and Ultimate flavors. Here's my list of apps to build your own iLife suite for Windows.

Making Music

Apple's GarageBand makes it so easy to make music on your computer it's been incredibly hard to find anything that competes on Windows. When Acoustica released Mixcraft, I finally found a winner. Mixcraft comes with an integrated loop library with over 6000 loops. Mixcraft supports additional loops from outside vendors, including the Apple Loops loved by GarageBand users. Beat matching and music key matching work llike a dream. You can adjust audio up and down with a rubberband tool inside each track in your composition. If you're inclined to record your own music, Mixcraft supports both instrument and vocal recording. Mixcraft can auto-tune. Mixcraft includes a built-in piano for composition and full MIDI support. In terms of file output, Mixcraft is actually better, because it supports MP3, WMA or OGG output instead of being limited to AAC as the only option. It also supports video editing, though I'd still recommend a separate app for that.

Download Mixcraft

Mixcraft is like GarageBand for Windows

Photo Editing and Management

Picasa (now Google photos), which is part of the free Google Pack, is my favorite choice for photo management and simple photo editing. If you want something that compares to iPhoto, Picasa comes closer than any other app. It provides outstanding sorting features for photos, including keyword tagging, date sorts, and individualized albums. A built-in Web album uploader makes it easy to publish photos to the Web. You can create a number of different specialty picture items, from DVDs, to posters, to picture collages. Basic editing features include red eye removal, resizing, color and contrast correction, and a straighten feature to fix crooked images. Until you get serious about image editing, Picasa will take you a long way.

Download Picasa

Making Movies

I long for the days when Windows Movie Maker from Microsoft was an easy recommendation for getting started editing video. If you still use older versions of Windows, Movie Maker is still your best bet. Currently, the best thing Microsoft offers is Movie Moments, which limits you to 60-second video clips. If you want to edit your videos, a third party solution is required. Pinnacle Studio is probably the easiest one to use, but Adobe Premiere Elements and a handful of others make good choices too.

Making DVDs

Microsoft stripped back their DVD authoring features in more recent versions. In large part this is a response to all the online distribution options available. Third party tools are your best option at this point, giving you the flexibility to create DVD and Blu-ray media or photo slide shows in either 4:3 or widescreen 16:9 display.

If you're still using Windows XP, you'll need some kind of alternative to Windows DVD Maker. MyDVD is the clear winner, with more custom features for making DVDs than any other consumer option. MyDVD does photo slideshow disks with up to 999 images. MyDVD lets you create fully customized menus, including using a video as the menu background. You can create custom chapter points to jump to your favorite parts of any video. If you have more than two hours of footage or old VHS footage, MyDVD does a good job of optimizing disk space for the quality of video you hope to fit on a single disk.

Download MyDVD for DVD authoring

In summary:

The iLife equivalent for Windows XP is:
Google Photos for Photos
Mixcraft for Music
Movie Maker for Movies
MyDVD for DVD authoring

The iLife equivalent for Windows Vista is:
Google Photos for Photos
Mixcraft for Music
Movie Maker for Movies
DVD Maker for DVD authoring

The iLife equivalent for Windows 7 and beyond:
Google Photos
Mixcraft for Music
Pinnacle Studio for Movies
My DVD for DVD authoring