J. River Media Center 11 was officially released today. The new release has been in development for more than a year; it’s rock solid, draws from extensive feedback from its user community, and has been significantly improved from previous versions. Here’s the press release, and here’s the page for more information and downloads.

Media Center continues to be the best program on the market for managing and enjoying digital music files on a PC. It’s simple enough to be used by casual folks with a few mp3s, but its features are endless – it supports a wider variety of handheld devices than any other program (including iPods and PSPs); it can stream audio around the house to other computers, UPnP devices and Tivos; it can be the heart of a complete home theater. Media Center keeps my collection tidy, it fills my Creative Zen Touch handheld, it burns my CDs, it prints their labels, it plays the music in my living room and office and garage, it does my laundry, and it vacuums. I use it (and trust it) more than any other program on my computer.

Manufacturers and retailers shovel software at you, more for their benefit than for yours. Many people wind up with seven different programs for working with photos and five different programs for buying, organizing and playing music. In the worst case, the programs store photos or music in different places and ignore the files stored somewhere else, so finding something becomes an exercise in hide & seek.

You can take control of your software. Use iTunes or Napster to purchase music – then close them up and do everything else with Media Center, whether it’s to fill up a handheld or create a playlist or burn a CD. Don’t install any software that comes with a camera; get a $20 memory card reader and use Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 or Microsoft Digital Image Suite 10 for every task related to your photos, including downloading them from the camera. Install the bare minimum of the software supplied with a printer and ignore the poor quality, advertising-laden crap included as a “bonus” on the printer CD.

If you’re new to digital music or want some basic info about Media Center, I’ve got a brief tutorial here.

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