The best free open source software for Windows

If you run Microsoft Windows, you owe it to yourself to try these 10 killer open source apps -- InfoWorld's top picks

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Go back to the future with Media Player Classic

Media Player Classic is a tool that always causes me to do a double-take. After all, it appears to be almost identical to the original Media Player accessory that shipped with Windows 9x all those years ago. However, looks can be deceiving, and under the hood, MPC is a completely different animal, with built-in support for a wide variety of audio and video formats, an extensible architecture, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of nifty hidden features.

All nostalgia aside, it’s the integrated playback support that makes MPC so popular. Simply download MPC from its Web site and run the program (no installer is required). You are immediately able to play a variety of formats, including MPEG/MPEG-2/MPEG-4, DivX, Xvid, and CD/VCD/DVD media -- all without installing any external codecs. In fact, many users rely on MPC as a kind of litmus test for media files: If MPC can’t play it, there’s probably something wrong with the file.

Of course, the preceding statement is a bit of a generalization. There are instances where MPC doesn’t provide complete support (Ogg Vorbis files are known to have issues), in which case MPC -- designed around Microsoft’s DirectShow media streaming architecture -- can employ any number of external codecs in order to render the media. MPC can even double as a DVR, tapping into most Windows-supported TV tuner devices and recording to disk.

Bottom line: MPC is a must-have tool for anyone serious about their media. Even if you don’t use it regularly, just having a copy available to test/verify compatibility is a good idea.

Don’t let Media Player Classic’s unassuming looks fool you. This is not your father’s media player, as evidenced by the wealth of internally supported media formats.
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