When it comes to software media players, computer users understandably follow what I'll call the "path of least resistance" rule of life: they use what's available on their computer out of the box. If you're a Windows user, that means Windows Media Player. Mac users have iTunes. Once Windows users take the step of adding their iPod (if that's their chosen player) into the fray, they will likely download iTunes to make it easy. But what if you don't like iTunes or Windows Media Player?
Before companies tied their portable players to their software, there was a lot more MP3 software on the market. Though many have disappeared over the years with the big names taking up the spotlight, there are still a few great choices available if you're looking for a change. These alternative media players have upped the ante by making their software compatible with popular portable players and adding cool features to entice people away from the big name apps.
There are both paid and free software options here at Download.com, but in the interest of not spending your (or my) money, I decided to pick some great free alternatives.
Media Jukebox has a somewhat generic name, but its feature list is anything but generic. iTunes users will immediately notice the layout of Media Jukebox is extremely similar to Apple's player, but it's the extra features that make Media Jukebox shine. You'll be able to burn and rip CDs, watch DVDs, sync with just about any portable (including iPod), tag your tracks, and convert your files to several popular formats. It has browser support letting you buy music from Amazon and plug-ins for several services including Last.fm so you can find new music based on your taste. You also have your choice of skins you can download to give your player a new look.
Winamp was once the king of Windows music players and continues to be an excellent all-in-one jukebox. It has support for multiple popular players including the iPod. Old-school Winamp users will like the Bento layout that joins the old modular interface together, and there are thousands of skins to choose from should you want a new look. Playlist creation with Winamp remains as one of the best in this category of software and when you're sick of your own music, you can always sample streaming audio and video content for something new. Though there have been a few bugs reported with video playback, Winamp still stands as one of the best in this category. You'll need to go pro ($19.95) to get high-speed CD burning, but overall Winamp is worthy of a look.
JetAudio Basic is a long-time favorite for many here at Download.com. This free all-in-one player is completely skinnable, plays and coverts audio and video to most major file formats, lets you burn and rip CDs, watch video, and much more. Like the others, you'll be able to listen to streaming music to find new stuff you like, and JetAudio Basic's tagging features help you whip your music library into shape. You can also enhance your music using included effects like reverb and wide sound, and make your transitions smooth as silk with the included cross-fader. You can even sing along using JetAudio's synchronized lyric tools or import lyrics using the supported MIDI-Karaoke (.kar format). One big missing feature: JetAudio won't sync with your iPod, but as a desktop or laptop player, this app is tough to beat.
If you're looking for a new way to organize and listen to your music, or if you're just tired of certain features in iTunes or Windows Media Player, check out one of these programs. As always, if you have a better alternative than the ones listed here, let us know in the comments!