This is a list of the software I rate most highly. I always run the latest version of Windows on my computer, so whether these programs are supported on other operating systems is not a question for me to answer. Software mentioned is also free unless otherwise mentioned.
(I swear, whenever I try to work on this page, I just can’t think of any of the software I like. More to come.)
Video Playback: VLC Media Player
The main advantage of VLC Media Player is its ability to handle practically any file type or codec imaginable, to the point where I can’t recall a single video or audio file its been unable to play (with the exception of MIDI formats). While I’ve only recommended it as a video player for reasons you’ll see shortly, it’s still my default audio player when opening files through Windows Explorer. There are some minor playback issues for both video and audio, but they’re only present briefly after skipping so they’re really not an issue. The interface is simple and effective, and there are plenty of options if you ever need to do things beyond basic video playing. It can even play Blu-ray discs if you do a bit of web searching for instructions. (Assuming you have a Blu-ray drive, of course).
Audio Playback: foobar2000
Between the many supported file formats (including MIDI, with a certain additional component), incredible levels of customisation and the amazingly light system requirements there’s really nothing to say about foobar2000 other than “It’s great, try it out” and “Get iTunes off your computer this instant you fool”.
File Archiver: title=”7-Zip” href=”http://www.7-zip.org/” target=”_blank”>7-Zip
Did you know there are still people alive who use WinRAR? I believe these people are called “who don’t know better”. 7-Zip kicks arse. The main reason you’ll want it is of course to unpack archives (compressed files), or to create them. It probably also does other stuff, and it’s certainly hasn’t caused me any problems.
Audio Editing: Audacity
It’s very easy to do a number of basic/common tasks and it’s free, what more could you want? In all seriousness, unless you have more professional, expensive audio editing software because you need the additional features then you really ought to have this on your computer, even if you rarely end up using it. I don’t even know what most of the buttons in this program do!
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation): LMMS
As a musician, I use a DAW to write music. Sadly, most DAWs are really really expensive. LMMS, while naturally inferior in many ways to the “big ones”, is COMPLETELY FREE. And comparatively easy to learn through trial and error! Give it a shot if you feel like making music.
MIDI Visualisation: MIDITrail
A bizarre topic to have a recommendation for, I know, but this program is one of the few things I have to use one of those lovely n-words (nifty, neat) to describe, because nothing else covers it. Sure, it’s not really useful for anything, but maybe it could help you learn to play a piece or transcribe it or something… What I’m saying is it’s really cool to look at, okay? Leave me alone!