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VLC will play just about any non-encrypted video type, including Windows and Apple formats - will also play MP3 audio with no need to install extra codecs etc... easiest all-in-one, simple solution, IMHO...
I agree with the above post: VLC is really great! However, if you want to use something else, don't forget the Win32 package (for video) and Lame (for mp3). Automatix will handle all that for you, but it's easily done without. Remember: Synaptic is your friend!
Well for all the suggestions in this thread, you're going to need to get the extra software people are suggesting, from somewhere.
Is there any way you can use internet on your laptop, even temporarily? i.e. take it to a friend's or an internet cafe and plug it in? Then, all you have to do is go to the menu System > Administration and run Synaptic Package Manager. In this program, click 'Search', search for 'VLC', click 'Mark for installation', then 'Apply', and it will do it all for you.
Just a shot in the dark here, but with some distributions (including Debian) it's possible to get all the packages you'd find in Synaptic pre-installed on several DVDs. I don't know if this is available with Ubuntu - I imagine it is, but you'd have to look for it. I often see magazines for sale with these DVDs attached.
Sounds like you have installed Ubuntu Dapper, right?
Gutsy should ask you if you want to install the codecs once you try to play a video that requires them. Dapper is perfectly fine though - just take a look at the link above.
If you have installed Feisty and you want the cutting-edge features, you might want to update to Gutsy.