How Winamp Disappeared Into Obscurity

This year marks the 15th birthday of Winamp. During that time it went from being a must-have piece of software to languishing in complete obscurity. But where did it all go wrong?

Ars Technica has a wonderful feature which explores exactly that question. From the piece:

Prior to Winamp, there wasn't much available beyond Windows Media Player or RealPlayer. But none of those players could, in the mid-1990s, do something as basic as playlists, much less visualizations and custom skins, nor were they as tightly and efficiently programmed as Winamp. Even today, the Mac version of the Winamp installer is only 4.2MB; by comparison, the iTunes Mac installer comes in at a whopping 170MB.

The Windows Advanced Multimedia Products (WinAMP) player was released to the world on April 21, 1997. The next year, when its parent company Nullsoft formally incorporated, Winamp became $US10 shareware. But no one pays for shareware, right? Wrong.

"Nothing ever was broken [if you didn't pay], there was no feature that was unlocked," Rob Lord told Ars. "In that year before we were acquired, we were bringing in $US100,000 a month from $US10 checks-paper checks in the mail!"

In fact, Winamp proved to be a huge success, and in many ways was the piece of software that naturalized the use of MP3s, by making it easy to rip, store and manage them, all from one piece of software. So successful was it, in fact, that eventually AOL acquired the company in June 1999 for somewhere in the region of $US80-$100 million.

What followed, however, isn't a pretty story. Through horrendous mismanagement, AOL throttled the creativity of the Winamp team:

"There's no reason that Winamp couldn't be in the position that iTunes is in today if not for a few layers of mismanagement by AOL that started immediately upon acquisition," Rob Lord, the first general manager of Winamp, and its first-ever hire, told Ars.

Justin Frankel, Winamp's primary developer, seems to concur in an interview he gave to BetaNews. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.) "I'm always hoping that they will come around and realise that they're killing [Winamp] and find a better way, but AOL always seems too bogged down with all of their internal politics to get anything done," he said.

Later, of course, came iTunes, at a time when Winamp was already beginning to struggle, to further compound the problem. Over time, Winamp's success dwindled, and its development staff left. Nowadays, Winamp still exists — it just has an incredibly small, stagnated user base.

Of course, the story is complex, and can't be done justice here with simply a few quotes, so you should head over to Ars Technica and take a read for yourself. [Ars Technica]

Image by uzi978 under Creative Commons license


Comments

    Apple killed it. And that kills ME inside..

      AOL killed it, apple just stole the limelight

        i was honestly waiting for winamp for ipod or somthing

          It's out for Android.

    It's recently made a bit of a comeback especially since it could play your computer play lists on your mobile and vice versa.

    i still use winamp today. i love it

    Still use Winamp today, it must have been the main audio player on each one of my computers since 1998. Can it be beat if you just want a small, unobtrusive player that will sit at the top of your screen (even shorter than than status bar or whatever it's called)? Not in my opinion.

      Agreed. The simplicity and compactness makes it an absolute must-have for my machines.

      i'm still using winamp because i absolutely loathe itunes.

      Exactly.. have been using it as long as I can remember, still one of the best and most unobtrusive players out there..

      Agreed, wholeheartedly. Haven't used another software for years, though sometimes use mediamonkey, but that doesn't count, it's almost just a skin for winamp.

      And for most of my time with it had the MooAmp skin. LOL!

      In this thread: software hipsters

    foobar2000 is the ultimate and only choice.

    I was using winamp until I was fed up with the lack of 'folder view'

    I know where my music is and I want to be able to play it in that fashion

    I had stuck with Winamp for 10 years before finding the only thing which can replace it for me: MusicBee
    ASIO and WASAPI support out the box, last.fm scrobbler built in, small memory footprint and fantastic interface somewhat reminiscent of Winamp, well worth checking out if you're looking for a change and cant be bothered with configuring foobar20000.

    Been using Winamp since about 2000 and never had a problem. And honestly, being the audio lover I am, I've found it has MUCH better audio output and much better equalizer than anything else.

    Still one of the first things I install. What do people use that they find better?

      Zune. I have installed WinAMP several times over the years but never really used it much. Back in the day I liked Sonique more but Zune is what inspired me to start ripping my 1000 or so CDs because it was the first software player that organised my whole library without feeling like some spreadsheet application. I think that is because I only listen to albums and most players are oriented towards individual songs. At least Zune allows me to give the albums focus, which makes it feel much better to me.

        I keep my audio in a pretty organised directory structure, so libraries have always been a bit redundant for me in terms of helping me find stuff when I want to play it. Were that otherwise, it's quite possible that WinAMP would get bumped off by MediaMonkey (which I have for tagging/organising/transferring to iPods) and iTunes (for purchasing).

    used to use it for my ipod. if only they could get it work for my iphone i'd go back to using it.

    I m still using winamp and it rocks in many ways.... it doesnt take too much memory unlike the itunes... still winamp is the best player in the market .. try using the winamp with xplugin u will fall in love with it

    OMG! I remember using it on my windows 98 computer, the good old days...

    Yup, still use Winamp now- an earlier version with a nice simple interface skin without all that crap in the screenshot or the mess later versions became. It's small, compact, beautifully simple and functional, yet still very customisable. It blows itunes and Windows Media player into another dimension... a dimension of poo and sadness.

      more to the point, in the days of single core, single thread CPU's it let you play music AND games at the same time unlike media player

    2.95 for life.

    Its was pretty much the VLC of our time. I'm still using it because of its simplicity and its one of the only players that supports FLAC without installing plugins.

    Animal rights activists boycotted it due to all the poor Llama's that had their ass kicked because of it.

    But, yeah ever since you were unable to connect your iPod to it. It was down hill from there.

    You can connect an iPod to it. and any other mp3 player or just manage a usb drive ( very useful for car mp3 players.) plus can do Karaoke with a plugin. and has best playlist management and queuing.

      Actually the queuing is one thing that I do miss. "right click -> play next" iTunes just doesn't cut it for me. Perhaps I will install it again and give it another go. WinAmp was one of the programs that got me into graphic design and programming. I can't name how many hours I spent creating skins and fiddling with the visualiser. . .

    Still using Winamp on my PC and my Android phone - Wireless Syncing Rules! (and was doing it over a year before Apple stole it for iOS 5) - the Android version also plays FLACs!

    Winamp is my favorite media player for Android, although I sync my music from iTunes because it is still better for organizing music for the iPod. The main problem Winamp has is that it doesn't appear to have changed over the years. Although I have it installed and use it from time to time, I find it very cumbersome and complected to use.

    i still use it! its so much better than WMP or itunes

    Still use winamp. I remember back in the day that it was the only thing that could let me play mp3s on my 386... with a little bit of buffering of 2 or 3 minutes, and only a mono low quality bitrate, but mp3 on a 386! Hmm I guess I am old. :(

    I just installed Winamp again. I cannot stand iTunes. Its the most unfriendly software I've ever used.

    So many llama's asses went unwhipped... so sad.

      Hahahah

    Just installed the OSX version hoping it would bring all the wonderful things from the Windows version, such as skins etc, but unfortunately it was a major disappointment. I still have WinAmp installed on my Windows computer, unfortunately still stuck with crappy iTunes on OSX. :(

    Still INSIST on using Winamp.
    Winamp Lite specifically.
    I truly detest the whole managed library method media players seem to insist on using.
    I'm dinosaur enough to prefer to organise my own music into folders which I then select and play as I see fit.
    Winamp does this without fuss.
    I hate media players that think they themselves are the stars of the show. Get the hell out of my way and just play the file already.

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