Featured Freeware: VLC media player

Forget about needing to hunt down new video codecs with VLC media player, which is compatible with everything from the standard AVIs and MPEGs to RealMedia, MP3s, and more.

When it comes to video files, nothing is ever as easy as it should be. Thankfully, VLC media player offers a one-stop solution to the file-format and codec problem for Windows, Mac, and thumbdrives with a portable version. The open-source program supports playback of OGG, MP2, MP3, MP4, DivX, DVD, and what seems like thousands of other file types. In addition, it also can function as a streaming media server.

Though the interface varies from platform to platform, the sparseness of the standard version leaves plenty to be desired. Some skins perks things up slightly, but the program seems to suffer from unpredictable behavior when under new facades. Also, the basic task of opening a file is far more confusing than it should be. The program gives you several options, including the head-scratching Quick Open File. We prefer the straightforward, good ol' drag-and-drop. Overall, though, VLC Media Player is a must-have application for its capability to open just about any type of video file you give it.