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Essential free software for your PC

For example, draw a triangle in a raster graphics program and when you zoom into it you'll see that the sloping sides are stepped. This is a result of the pixels that make up the triangle's side, which produce a noticeable jagged edge. In contrast, a vector program would preserve the triangle shape no matter how big you made it.

Of course, there are times when each approach is appropriate for a particular project, but if you want to create clean lines and shapes then vector graphics is the way to go. Inkscape is a vector graphics program, and a very good one at that.

The walkthrough below gives you some idea of the advantage of vector graphics. You can use one of a number of preset shapes to draw part of an image. You can then select this shape, change its colour, size and orientation and add other shapes to it.

It's possible to group several shapes together and move or resize them at the same time, thus keeping them all in proportion and saving you time in the process. If one shape overlaps another one then you can change the order they appear by choosing Object > Raise or Lower. It's much like using layers in standard photo- editing programs.

You can also copy and paste groups to quickly produce multiples of any object that you create. Inkscape's object-based approach enables you to reposition any part of your picture without damaging other elements.

Master audio editing with Audacity

Now that you've used Juice to receive and store podcasts, you may have caught the bug and want to record your own. Audacity gives you the equivalent of a multi- track studio so all you need is a decent microphone.

The program offers a range of sound-editing features, but a standout one is Noise Removal. Launch the program and open a file that you've recorded before. Select a section of the track that should be silent, but contains some background noise. Choose Effect > Noise Removal > Get Noise Profile.

Now select the whole track that's affected by this noise and choose Effect > Noise Removal > Remove Noise. Play the track back to see if you've corrected the problem. If you haven't or other aspects of the sound were lost, choose Edit > Undo Noise Removal. Now repeat the removal but adjust the degree of noise removal using the slide control. You may need to use a little trial and error here.

3D modelling in Blender

Even animation giant Pixar uses this incredible free tool.

Where Inkscape dealt with objects in two dimensions to create pictures, Blender works in three dimensions to produce models and scenes, complete with lighting and texture. It's one of the applications used to create CGI (Computer- Generated Imagery) effects and animation and so it takes some learning, but the results speak for themselves. For a full guide to help you learn Blender from scratch check out the WikiBook Blender 3D: Noob to Pro at http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Blender_3D:_Noob_to_Pro.

The annotation shows some of the features available in this powerful application, but tackling CGI isn't for the faint hearted. Like any art form it takes time to learn. What's remarkable is that a powerful professional tool such as this is available to anyone to download for free.

Watch movies with VLC

Why rely on any other media player when VLC handles any format?

There are plenty of free media players about, so why should you bother with VLC? Quite simply it's the most flexible and useful media player that you can find. VLC plays pretty much any format you care to throw at it, from flash video to DVDs and most video or audio files in between.