There’s a new IR Toy/WinLIRC tutorial that shows how to decode remote controls on your computer. WinLIRC doesn’t control things alone, but it works as a plugin with automation programs like EventGhost to control your computer using a remote control with almost any protocol.
For instant satisfaction, try the WinLIRC irGraph tool. It shows a continuously updated graph of the infrared signal from a remote control.
The USB IR Toy is $20, including worldwide shipping.