101 Fantastic Freebies
Music, Photos, and Video
Winner: VLC Media Player
If you play a lot of video and use Windows Media Player, you've probably come across a number of files that you can't play -- you're told you need to have a codec to handle them. Good luck finding that codec. Instead, try the VLC media player. This software plays pretty much every media type you can think of -- and likely a few you haven't imagined. Not only will it play audio and video formats, but it will also play DVDs, VCDs, and many streaming protocols.
Winamp barely edged out iTunes as the favorite media player of surveyed PC World readers. Says one reader about the Apple program: "Exemplary audio organization and custom playlist creation."
This straightforward audio player won't take up much RAM or system resources, and plays a wide variety of audio formats.
Winner and People's Choice Award: Google Picasa
Why spend several hundred dollars for graphics software when you can use the top-notch free app Google Picasa? This photo editing and sharing program from Google is a big hit with PC World editors and polled readers alike. Says one reader: "Beautiful interface. Excellent for organizing or anything else -- touching up, slide show, screen saver, and wallpaper." Other respondents, like Erich Tucker, of Woodbridge, Virginia, gave Google Picasa kudos for making it a breeze to find and edit pictures. We agree.
Snapfire juggles all your image editing, management, and sharing tasks with ease.
Yes, we know this one has been around a while. But it's still one of the best free image viewers for just about any file type, showing detailed information about images, helping you create slide shows, and performing tasks like eliminating red-eye.
StudioLine Photo Basic
Here's a great program for archiving photos and for organizing your collection. We were sold on the app when we found its handy "Web galleries," which are HTML-coded Web pages, complete with navigation links to your photos.
Microsoft Photo Info
This useful freebie, which integrates directly into Windows Explorer, lets you preview an image and embed metadata into it by right-clicking it.
This petite (1.3MB) image editor is small enough to store on an old floppy disk. Don't let its size fool you, though: FastStone MaxView sports lots of photo manipulation tools, such as those for rotating, flipping, resizing, and blurring.
If you have gigabytes of stored media -- including music, images, and videos -- in need of some taming, this free program is for you. Not only does Media Purveyor edit images, but it also organizes and sorts your multimedia library. Plus, the app indexes your library for searching and plays back video and audio, to boot.
GIMP -- GNU Image Manipulation Program
This program is a favorite of open-source software fans everywhere. No, it isn't the easiest to use, but it's nearly as powerful as Photoshop.
This surprisingly powerful image editing and manipulation program includes unlimited undos and special effects, and even provides the ability to work in layers.
Web Video Site
Winner and People's Choice Award: YouTube
No need for a drum roll here: YouTube wins this one, hands down. It has the biggest collection of videos, it's easy to search, it's well organized, the video streams quickly and smoothly, uploading your own videos is easy...what else do you want?
One surveyed PC World reader explains his vote for YouTube succinctly: "Billions of videos. Loads fast." Another cites the service's sizable storage space. And yet another reader speaks directly about why people like video sites in general -- it's a "decent source of diversions," he says. We couldn't agree more.
Rather than being a video site, Blinkx is a search engine that trolls selected sites for videos. It has partnerships with more than 100 content and media companies, so you'll find lots of video from leading news sites.
Here's another ideal site for your serious video-watching habit. The stripped-down interface will please fans of simplicity.
Even though Google bought YouTube, it continues to run this site too, offering plenty of videos. Oddly enough, when we last checked, videos from Comedy Central shows were still here, even though they had been removed from YouTube. That may not be the case by the time you read this.
Multimedia Tools and Toys
If you want to create media, not just consume it, try this program, which includes audio recording tools and sophisticated editing functions. You can even create audio soundscapes from scratch. You can add any of several dozen effects, use a sound mixer...in short, the app has everything you need. While you don't have to be well-versed in sound editing to use it, people with some experience will particularly enjoy its power.
Free iPod Video Converter
This tool does precisely what its name says: It converts videos from a variety of formats so that you can watch them on your iPod's screen.
PSP Video 9
Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld makes a terrific video player. The PSP Video 9 program converts PC video files (.avi, .mpg, DivX, etc.) into the PSP video format for playback.
If you have ever attempted to make a backup copy of a DVD movie to a DVD-R, you've probably discovered that you can't do it because DVD movie discs are dual-layer and have more data than can fit on a recordable disc. DVD Shrink solves the problem by compressing the DVD data, letting you make the copy fit on a DVD.