To see the full list of formats that it supports, go to www.videolan.org/vlc/features.html. You can use it to stream files over your network and even to re-encode files from one format to another. It can play back media from video capture cards with analogue or digital tuners.
You can also correct problems such as unsynchronised sound or video interlacing artefacts. VLC media player supports play list files including those in M3U format. You can use its play-list manager to open, edit and save new play lists. It's a one-stop shop for your whole media collection.
Other open-source gems
There's a whole world of feature-rich free tools out there…
MusikCube is an audio player that includes a lightning-fast database of your tracks, enabling you to create dynamic play lists according to your previously observed listening habits. It has a simple interface, too. Install and launch the program and then choose File > Music Library > Add Director y to add your music folder. Now use as your main music player to benefit from the dynamic features.
It's frustrating when a music track has loud bits and quiet bit s or when different tracks are recorded at different volumes. No one wants to be fiddling around with the volume controls when listening to music, especially when doing something else at the same time. MP3Gain analyses music tracks and modifies the gain in them so that you don't have to. How handy is that?
World Wind gives you access to the planet and some of its neighbours too. You can view the world from satellite level or zoom into the globe to see stunning 3D maps that use NASA's topographic data to give a high degree of detail. If you're bored with the Earth, why not explore the moon? Choose File > Moon and give it a spin to see the dark side.
Windows has handled zip files from XP onwards, but zip is just one form of compression. You're still stuck if someone ends you a RAR archive or a file in GZip format. 7-zip handles a range of compression formats files, enabling you to open most files. You can also compress files using five different standards.
One of the problems with the digital age is that files can be recovered after deletion. Computer files need to be overwritten several times to ensure that they can't be recovered. Eraser enables you to do this, adding a secure erase option to the right-click menu and an erase option to the Recycle bin.
If you need to generate HTML web pages or simply need to make edits to existing ones, KompoZer will do the job. It isn't as fully functioned as say, FrontPage, but it's adequate for most uses. You can switch between a preview and seeing the full HTML code for precision editing, or paste in code snippets in normal view.
First published in PC Answers, Issue 191
Now read 40 must-have Windows Vista programs