If you're an Internet regular you'll know how much multimedia content is out there. Most of it plays nice with Quicktime or Windows Media Player, but often you'll find stubborn files that refuse to play with either. That's where VLC from VideoLan comes in.
VLC (available from http://www.videolan.org/vlc/) is a cross-platform media player and streaming server designed to play various audio and video formats, as well as DVDs, VCDs, and other streaming protocols. Because it's cross platform you can download a copy for Windows, Mac and Linux. VLC started as a student project at the French École Centrale Paris but is now a worldwide project with developers from 20 countries contributing to the code.
Using VLC is easy. Simply download and install it as you would any other program. When you are ready to play a media file click on the File menu and select 'Quick Open File' instead of 'Open File'. This gives you direct access to your hard disk where you can point to the file you want VLC to open. Once VLC has opened the file you can fast forward , rewind, play and pause like any other media player. VLC also lets you open multiple files at the same time, and presents you with a 'Playlist' in the Playlist window (select the Window menu and 'Playlist' to access this.)
VLC also supports 'skinning' - the process of changing the graphics interface to the program so you can customise it to suit your style. Skinning is supported in Linux and Windows but not Mac OS X at the moment.
I've been using VLC for a few years now and have generally been impressed with its performance. Its ability to open all the files I find on the Internet always astounds me. This sort of compatibility however comes with stability issues and VLC does suffer from the occasional crash. However, you can't argue with the price, and having the program ready to use when needed makes it an essential tool for any Internet surfer.