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Winamp: 15yr Slide from Media Player Dominance to Obscurity

Winamp: 15yr Slide from Media Player Dominance to Obscurity

The formerly must-have media player software quietly celebrates its 15th anniversary with a new mobile version of Winamp for Android while users reflect on how AOL mismanagement squandered its potential.

Winamp recently passed the 15-year mark, and since most people, Winamp included, seem unwilling to celebrate the milestone with even just a few words, it seems important to reflect back on just how much of an impact the once-dominant media player had.

Winamp (Winamp (Windows Audio MPEG Player) was first released back on June 7th, 1997 as a renamed version 1.006 of WinAMP, and featured a basic look with spectrum analyzer, color changing volume slider, but no waveform display.

The Winamp Modern Skin we all recognize today was released in 2006 with Winamp 5.

What’s curious though, is how the media player that used to be one of the few must-have pieces of installed software is now mired in obscurity.  When it was first released, Winamp, with its dazzling equalizer, playlist features, and cool visualizations, beat every other MP3 player out there.

Soon after releasing Winamp, Justin Frankel, Winamp’s developer and later creator of the Gnutella file-sharing network, also launched a Shoutcast plug-in for Winamp that allowed anybody to be an Internet DJ and stream their own audio online.

By 1999 AOL took notice and scooped up the company for a cool $100 million, and that’s where the apparent mismanagement and slow decline of the once-dominant MP3 player began (Ars Technica, the first to mark Winamp’s 15th year, says tongue-in-cheek that AOL “blunted its llama-whipping,” the “llama whipping,” of course referring to the Winamp’s famous initial startup greeting: “Winamp, it really whips the llama’s ass”).

“Winamp would have a larger US audience today were it not the fact that AOL tried to get people to install Netscape or AOL or something else when they installed Winamp,” former Winamp employee Fred McIntyre told Ars.

AOL kept trying to convert Winamp’s userbase toward  what employees dubbed the “Service,” but most Winamp users, myself included, were typified by what Frankel said he told AOL when they insisted that an AOL icon appear on a user’s desktop during a Winamp installation: “They think AOL sucks!”

What really hurt Winamp, McIntyre adds, is that “Between 2002 and 2007, Winamp was an asset that AOL knew was valuable but didn’t know what the fuck to do with.”

Some say it could’ve become the Pandora, Spotify, or Last.fm of our time. The userbase was there (15 million in 1999, 60 million in 2001, and a peak of 90 million in 2007), and  the features were there (shoutcast, playlists, visualizations).

Now Winamp is just another media player in a sea of hefty alternatives like iTunes, VLC Media Player, BSPlayer, Media Monkey, and others.

In the meantime, Winamp quietly celebrated its 15th-year anniversary by releasing a new mobile version for Android – Winamp for Android 1.3.

What media player do you use for playing music these days? Are you a former or current Winamp user? Let us know in the comments section below.

Stay tuned.

[email protected] | @jaredmoya

Jared Moya
I've been interested in P2P since the early, high-flying days of Napster and KaZaA. I believe that analog copyright laws are ill-suited to the digital age, and that art and culture shouldn't be subject to the whims of international entertainment industry conglomerates. Twitter | Google Plus
Jackson the Pollock
Jackson the Pollock

Winamp FTW, baby!  Been using it since Musicmatch Jukebox turned into a pile of turds.  It's a good player, keeps track of the library, doesn't crash, has lots of great features if you explore and know what you're doing.  Could care less about visualization crap (don't do acid anymore and I'm not two years old, either--"Oooo! SHINY FLASHY THING!)--so that's lost on people like me.  I like its replay gain system, can burn CDs from it (yeah, I still need them for the car), love that it looks up song titles and artists with a great degree of reliability, and the plugin system is so-so, but it's there, nonetheless.

 

The article seems like a non-story though, since no strong alternatives are offered as anything that passed Winamp on their way to dominance. True, there's a crapload of players out there, but there's not more than a small handful of decent ones that aren't going to do nasty things to your system in other ways.  For example, AIMP destroyed all my file extension associations (and not just the music and video ones, either) when I uninstalled cuz it kept calling home to Russia.  That was a shame, too, cuz I really liked it (though it reminded me strongly of Winamp).  Using VLC to play audio? Really?  Do people really do that?  Sounds unusual in my circle of Winders and 'nix friends.

 

Nobody uses iCrapTunez save for those few who haven't figured an alternative,  there's Foobar which is an outstanding program, but its default interface is just way too clunky to bother with.  Media Monkey is a good cataloguer and indexer, but apart from that. you'd be a bit daft to use it for serious media indulgence.  BSPlayer, Zoom player, Windows Media Player, or a gazillion other hack programs, they're all out there and have their devotees, but no one else really put it together like the Winamp team did.  The idea and the execution are timeless--and precisely why they need to leave it alone and not try to beautify it with baffling bullcrap.

Erik
Erik

VLC is, in my opinion based on years of usage, the best multimedia player available - and freeware!  But I still use WinAmp a lot because it offers a kick-ass plugin system that VLC still lacks.  I can play all sorts of obscure audio formats on WinAmp with the right plugins installed.  I can also install custom visualization and audio tuning plugins, too.  Funny, I don't remember WinAmp ever trying to install AOL...

Dennis Nilsson
Dennis Nilsson

Winamp is the best. I use it since it started, up to version 5.05. Newer versions are bad like Real Player.

notbob
notbob

I never upgraded to 5.  i stayed with 2.6 until i went to linux exclusively, and went to vlc (i don't think there is a linux winamp)

Lee
Lee

MusicBee or Jaangle.

Nucka
Nucka

Still use Winamp almost exclusively. Occasionally it won't play a video file that Real alt. will, but otherwise, it is my go-to media device.

kblo
kblo

Winamp user here too :) since my first pc ! it's just as simple as it needs to be.

Fingers
Fingers

The 'today' skin you show is also out of date

Tom
Tom

Still using Winamp it's bloody awesome. Stuff iTunes.

Michael
Michael

Winamp is still the best media player in existence. iTunes really is a mass of RAM eating mess.

e1m0
e1m0

I've been a winamp user for 12 years now and it's the only tool that can make my Alienware do more than it's supposed to, while playing my fav music. Winamp rocks!!

PaulThompsonLdn
PaulThompsonLdn

The problem with winamp was the lack of agility and market understanding by AOL.  The real leap isn't just about the playback or interface, it's about the content - that's what iTunes does so well - and it's where the real money is.

Fingers
Fingers

Using Winamp right now. Easily the best tool for the job

jaredmoya
jaredmoya moderator

? Reinstall it and observe what skin u see. Its the same. 

lvxvria666
lvxvria666

 @PaulThompsonLdn it isn't about the "content" you dumbass it is about interoperability and interactivity. users want a system that is logical and simplistic with regard to the management of their media library. winamp accomplishes this by consuming minimal system resources while presenting a dynamically appealing user interface. please stop focusing on the problem and start focusing on the solution. the solution is not about corporate bullshit it is about the relationship of the user to the software

Fingers
Fingers

 @PaulThompsonLdn iTunes is a trainwreck - bloody awful software. Winamp may be a failure from a business point of view, but as a program for organising, searching & playing a music library of more than 15,000 tracks - it rocks

Fingers
Fingers

 @jaredmoya Really? Thats odd... Years ago, the default skin changed to the Bento skin - this was offered as default in the installer/updater. A nice 'all in one' skin more akin to other players - http://imgur.com/7z3nO



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