Music in the free world

No player, no music. Pretty simple. That's why the first step is to download a player program, install it on your machine, and get familiar with its operation. The popularity of MP3 files has spawned a beggar's banquet of player programs. Most, fortunately, are free. The most fashionable is Nullsoft's Winamp. This player lets you customise the look of its interface with literally thousands of "skins" that evoke everything from Pac Man to Pizza Hut.

RealJukebox is our pick for an all-in-one player/ripper/encoder program. It's easy to operate and it works a double shift: not only is it a great player, it also rips tracks from compact discs so you can build custom playlists to play on your PC or transfer to a recordable CD.

It comes in two versions: RealJukebox Basic is free, and RealJukebox Plus - which, as you might guess, includes extras missing in the freebie - costs $US30. Download the Basic player off our cover CD to begin with; then, if you get really hooked on MP3s, you can cough up the dough for the Plus version.

Using RealJukebox is easy. The main controls are recognisable to anyone who's ever used a CD player. You'll feel equally familiar with the program's commands, such as File-Open.

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