What’s up with Winamp?

Recently I had a friend whom I suggested to listen to my DIY PC speaker system. The first thing he said was not praise for my audio equipment, but rather a question about the software: “Are you still using Winamp?” Slightly surprised, the best I could say was something like “Yes, that’s cool.”

This exchange kept coming back to me later that day. “What else would I use?” I asked.

My interest in music began decades ago, but it didn’t really take off until I got my first computer shortly before the turn of the century. This was around the time the popularity of CD burners and MP3 file sharing was skyrocketing, so it should come as no surprise that one of the first programs I downloaded was Winamp.

Winamp is a media player developed by Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev under the Nullsoft brand in 1997. It supports a wide variety of audio formats, including MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and WMA. Early versions of the player – WinAMP styled as suitcase Windows and AMP (short for the Advanced Multimedia Products MP3 engine it used) offered rudimentary controls, but by the time version 1.006 was released just a few months later, its iconic GUI was really starting to take shape. …

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Renamed Winamp, the program added amenities such as a color-changing volume slider and a spectrum analyzer. Users also had access to an equalizer to change frequency characteristics and a playlist to help you organize your tracks. The graphical interface, reminiscent of a stock stereo headset, seemed correct, but the most interesting thing was to customize the player’s appearance using skins and plugins.

Skins allow you to change the appearance of the Winamp GUI. They also added functionality to the player using scripts. There was a whole community behind the Winamp mods and lots of quality Winamp skins to choose from, although I personally have always preferred the simple Winamp Classic look.

To this day, the only plugin I’ve ever fiddled with is the variety of renderings. Specifically, Geiss for Winamp creates a light show that “lets you fly through the sound waves of the music you listen to.” Try sometime; it’s great fun.

Winamp was an immediate hit with its early adopters. By mid-1998, the program, which debuted as freeware, but switched to shareware after launch, was downloaded. more than 3 million once. This caught the attention of major media brands including AOL, which scooped up Nullsoft in June 1999 for $ 80 million per share and continued to operate as a subsidiary.

Massive success soon followed. By June 2000, Winamp had 25 million registered users, and it was only a year later that it was seen to have surpassed the 60 million user mark. It was pretty clear that MP3s would be the next big thing in music. And they were … at least for a while.

Buying music

One of the major challenges the industry faced was how to monetize digital music. There was no legal opportunity to buy MP3 files at all, and the few that existed at the time were difficult to use, expensive, and limited. Many gravitated towards file sharing platforms such as Napster and Kazaa to create your digital music collections, stolen or not. Winamp has often been the player of choice.

Realizing that the market was empty, Apple CEO Steve Jobs commissioned his team to create a portable music player called the iPod. The following year, he reached an agreement with major record companies to sell music through iTunes for $ 0.99 a song. It was far less income than what buying the full album would have brought, but in the end it was a win-win for both parties.

Consumers loved the flexibility of manually selecting only the tracks they wanted without having to spend hours looking for questionable P2P sites that were overrun with viruses. At less than $ 1, each purchase quickly fell into the impulse category.

Meanwhile, the recording industry and artists have finally found a way to make money from digital music. It might not have been as lucrative as the good old days, but it was better than nothing.

However, in the world of technology, nothing remains the same, and the pattern of buying individual tracks in the music industry is no exception. Over the next few years, as smartphones and wireless networking technologies developed, on-demand music streaming services such as Spotify became popular. Seemingly the holy grail of music, today’s streaming services provide unlimited access to over 40 million tracks for a low monthly fee.


As listening more and more moved away from traditional computers, the popularity of programs such as Winamp has predictably declined.

In early 2014, AOL handed over Winamp to the Belgian radio aggregator Radionomy. In October 2018, the CEO of Radionomy, Alexander Sabundjyan, promised that a new version of the program – Winamp 6 – would appear in 2019, but at the time of writing there was no such version. In fact, Radionomy no longer exists and has been renamed to Shoutcast

The link on the Shoutcast website points to Winamp.comwhere a leaked version of Winamp 5.8 is currently offered. Many purists, myself included, prefer earlier versions of Winamp because of their simplicity and lack of bells and whistles. I personally use v5.03a, released on March 26, 2004. You can download it from TechSpot Downloads.

So why are you still using Winamp? Don’t get me wrong – streaming is great and I use it on a daily basis. But even with 40 million songs on the way, there is a significant gap between what I want to listen to and what is available to stream at any given time.

Streaming rights are volatile, which means what’s available today may not be tomorrow. To make matters worse, most of the obscure things I love are early content from the local music scene, recordings from local concerts, albums created by family and friends in bands, and even some great artists who never had a record contract but that they put out an album or two – not for streaming.

Even some of the world’s most famous artists haven’t fully jumped on the streaming bandwagon. For example, Garth Brooks kept on streaming for many years before finally sign a deal with Amazon in 2016. When I want something different that I can’t stream, I fire up Winamp and leave the good times behind.

TechSpot Series “What Ever Happened to …”

A history of software applications and companies that at one point went mainstream and were widely used, but are now gone. We highlight the most important areas of their history, innovation, success and controversy.

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