Exploring the Software That Makes Audio Happen
The following programs interpret the numbers and instructions that are present in the digital file formats and do one of three things: play the music, download the music, or edit the music.
If you have Windows XP, you already have a media player on your system (specifically, Windows Media Player). Many other commercial or free players are available. They all handle basically the same thing: They play music or videos. Most can also handle some sort of organizational function (they can keep track of your files) and even play some sort of light show to go along with it. These players can also change how they look and interact with your computer, depending on what you want them to do.
A Web browser can usually handle all your download needs. Using Internet Explorer, you can bring all manner of files (digital or otherwise) into your home. However, some stores require the use of specialized download programs to bring their files onto your computer. This isn't because Internet Explorer (or your preferred Web browser) can't handle the process of downloading. It's because these stores want to control how their music leaves their servers (by using a central computer that sends out the information requested by computers like yours) and where it goes. If you want to use a particular store, you use its download software. Many companies also combine a media player or organizational function with these download programs.
You probably won't have to use this type of program very often unless you're creating music. Music-editing programs are just like word processors for text. They allow you to record, edit, or delete sections of a recording and make it closer to what you want. Some of these functions are also built into a media player. For example, Winamp can eliminate silence between songs and create automatic cross-fades with the push of a button, just like on the radio.