14 Great Programs You Didn't Even Know You Needed

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Multimedia Fun

Wavosaur

Of all the dumb stuff you can find in Windows--and there's a lot of competition--the dumbest is to have only one volume control for every sound that pours out of a PC. For example, it goes without saying that the music of AC/DC is best listened to at decibel levels known to induce psychosis in neighborhood dogs.

So, after a heavy session of AC/DC MP3s, you return to work until ... Jeez! What was that? That was an ordinary beep indicating an error--only it played at a volume so high that at first you thought you were being shot at.

MP3 music and Windows event sounds simply can't get along on the same PC, unless you have Wavosaur, a free sound editor that includes a batch operation to lower the volume of all the .wav files in a folder by 6dB. Doesn't sound like much at first; you may have to run your event .wav files through it a couple of times. (Be sure to make backups in case you overdo it.) Wavosaur is so simple to use and works so quickly that in minutes you'll have a respectably decorous set of sounds that you could take to a Zamfir concert.

And did I mention that Wavosaur edits, processes, and records sounds, .wav files, and MP3 files? Wavosaur has all you need to edit audio, produce music loops, analyze, record, and batch-convert.

Download Wavosaur

J. River Media Center

Regardless of whether your computerized musical tastes run to AD/DC, to Zamfir, or to Zamfir playing covers of AC/DC on his pan pipes, you want the best possible software to organize and play your tracks. And that's Windows Media Player--uh, no, I mean J. River Media Center. Windows Media Player is the Microsoft program designed first to further the spread of Windows music audio files and their lovely copy protection, and second to play music.

J. River Media Center is the ultimate in not just playing music but also creating music and audio libraries, editing MP3 tags, editing file names, and even editing the music itself.

You won't find a lot of difference in how PC-based music players make your tracks sound; speakers are a lot more important. The things that really differentiate software are the tools a program has for organizing a music collection, plus the player's versatility.

J. River Media Center wins on both counts. The "Media" in its name is significant: It applies the same organization to photo collections, movie collections, and even your TiVo content. It's the only sane way I've found to manage an iPod. I'm not sure why Media Center takes a backseat to Winamp and Microsoft's Windows Media Player; perhaps that's because its name sounds too much like "Media Player." Whatever the reason, give your ears and your sense of organization a treat with this jukebox hero.

This is a $40 shareware program.

Download J. River Media Center

Azureus

An excellent music organizer and player is really nothing without music. I don't know where you get your music tracks from, and I won't ask--the same way you won't ask me why I'm so familiar with Azureus, a program that provides not only music but also movies and software, some of which I'm sure must be perfectly legal.

Azureus is a BitTorrent client, which means that it's your window to the growing world of peer-to-peer file sharing, an ingenious system that sows thousands of little bits of files throughout the Internet so that people can use programs like Azureus to download them and piece them back into songs, movies, or applications.

Azureus is different from most torrent clients in that it's open source, it's intelligently and artfully designed, and it offers gobs of help. Plus, click a button, and out pops Vuzes--not "vu-zes," but "views." It's a sort of slick version of YouTube with videos that have high production values. Some are free, and some, such as reruns of Fat Actress, aren't.

Download Azureus

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