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Winamp’s woes: how the greatest MP3 player undid itself (2012) (arstechnica.com)
87 points by shawndumas 1635 days ago | hide | past | web | 86 comments | favorite

Ahh Winamp and the summer of '97. The first MP3 player I found that could play in real time on my AMD 486DX4-100, allowing me to put an MP3 player in my car. A great big joyride of inverters, regulators, monochrome 16 shade plasma screen and trackball.

And girls, looking away from their jock boyfriends and saying "You just choose it on the screen and it plays!? There's hundreds of them, they're all on here?!"". It was like driving around a time machine from the future.

Nullsoft, the leading edge of the shockwave that turned geeky cool.

I remember finding out the story of WinAmp's creator (Justin Frankel) making a winamp plugin that basically "blocks" AOL AIM advertisements after his company had been acquired by AOL. Just hilarious.

Frankel has programmed a Winamp plugin that blocks out the advertisements in AOL's AIM instant messaging program. The ad areas are currently used to advertise AOL features; install Frankel's plugin and they're replaced by plain white boxes. Start playing a tune in Winamp and the boxes turn into a graphical display that changes with the music.

Even better, Frankel released the software on a hidden page on a server belonging to Nullsoft, and thus to AOL. The description of the software made no mention of its AIM-modifying effects, though the name of the plugin is AIMazing.


Yes! I remember this happening but wasn't able to find any reference to it.

I remember that I was already impressed he'd taken someone else's MP3 player, put a GUI in front of it, and sold it to AOL for hundreds of millions of dollars. But when I saw Nullsoft immediately release the AIM adblocker after being acquired by AOL, I knew they were truly amazing.

$86 million.

Every promising technology/company that gets gobbled up by the bureaucratic mega fauna enviably end up being re-chewed and strewn about as piles of dung (to be burned to repel mosquitoes).

AOL's problem is that it's a corporation first, a product/service creating, maintaining and selling entity second. Oh sure, the execs may think they're "creating and maintaining" a product/service, but their mindset is "how do we make money out of X"; not "how can we provide the best X we can and make money out of it".

Once any entity defines its existence by finding means of validation for said existence rather than innovation and inspiration, it's doomed to mediocrity and, later, collapse.

"AOL's problem is that it's a corporation first"

Isn't its main problem today that it's a content farm operated by new-age antivax no-signal-to-noise peddler Arianna Huffington?

Ha! Yes, that too.

Of which I'm sure they were thinking how to make money off of first, not how the hell to increase quality afterwards. Kinda like what happened to Java after being inherited by Oracle when they bought Sun.

Another anecdote: ICQ was the very, or at least one of the first instant messaging applications, and acquired by AOL in the late 90s "for US$287 million in cash up front and $120 million in additional payments over three years"[1]. It was a huge story in Israel at the time. The company is still there, but I don't know a single person who still uses it today.


A couple years ago, AOL sold ICQ to the Russian firm Digital Sky Technologies for around $187.6 mil. I believe it's still popular in Eastern Europe, Russia and a few other areas.

I've literally only met "one" person who still uses ICQ and I have no idea who he talks to on it. He's much older than I am, someone I look up to, but he's also a bit weird.

For those on Linux or Windows, Audacious is a beautiful audio player heavily inspired by Winamp 2.x, both visually and mechanically. It supports Winamp Classic skins out of the box, and comes with quite a nice one as stock.

Screenshot: http://community.linuxmint.com/img/screenshots/audacious.png Homepage: http://audacious-media-player.org/

I might be willing to switch if it can do a minimal interface[1] like Winamp does (depending on the skin). That's what keeps me on Winamp the most.

edit: Awesome, it does[2] (if you switch to the winamp classic skin). Just need to find how to minimize it to the tray so it doesn't show in the taskbar and get switching between tracks with the mouse scroll wheel working.

[1] http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/901/winampm.png

[2] http://img211.imageshack.us/img211/6972/audacious.png

If you go to preferences, and look at the plugins tab (I believe in the general plugins section) you'll see there's a plugin for a system tray icon. After enabling, you can hide to the system tray by clicking the system tray icon. Most useful plugin IMO.

Oh thanks. I was hoping it would just remove the app from the taskbar and keep the player still on the screen (like winamp). Not quite the same, but it can probably be tweaked in the source.

How can you recommend Audacious for Windows users? At this point it's nothing more than a half-working port. It can't seek files, render non-latin characters or even follow OS Cleartype settings (it renders text with no AA at all).

I've made my switch away from Winamp since they use Bento as their default UI. now I use AIMP, come with Media Library and Tag Editor :) http://www.aimp.ru/index.php

This is the best discovery I've made all week! Winamp was always my go-to application because it was so compact and less clunky compared to Ttunes. Now that I use linux, Its like i have winamp again. Thanks for sharing!

Personally, I've settled on DeaDBeeF in Linux, because almost nothing else can do gapless playback. Or, if you prefer console players, I recommend cmus.

I've had no problem with gapless playback on moc, cmus, and mpd. Or are you talking mainly about GUI players?

I haven't tried moc, but mpd never did gapless playback for me.

That's too bad. I would have noticed if it didn't support it because I specifically check for this feature with Pink Floyd albums.

Out of curiousity, what format did you use? I keep my files in FLAC format.

Of you can use xmms on Linux. It's not dead yet!


I guess I am the only person in the world still using Winamp. Just feels odd when I listen to mp3s and can't look up the ID3 tags with alt-3. And I never felt the need for a 'library', 'database' or huge spaceship cockpit UIs either.

>And I never felt the need for a 'library', 'database' or huge spaceship cockpit UIs either.

Probably because you never experienced them.

There are things "you feel the need for" (e.g water in a desert) and things you have to use for a while to say "fuck, how did I do without those?".

Winamp also has a library built into it. Whether one chooses to use it is another thing entirely though.

I've experienced all types, never needed anything fancier than Winamp's playlist support + searchbar.

No really, there's actually people who prefer more basic players.

I tried iTunes over the years it was was far too annoying.

My primary reason for staying on Winamp is that most of the plugins for playing video game console music formats (NSF, PSF, GSF, 2SF, USF, VGZ, KSS, SPC, and others) are written for Winamp. I've found a few programs that play a few of the formats, but Winamp is the only one that plays them all.

(Any player that fully supports Winamp plugins would be an adequate replacement, but I'm also happy with Winamp in general)

True, that's another good point. Talking of plugins for other music formats, the Oldsk00l MOD Player Plugin for Winamp provides much more accurate playback of Amiga MOD files than the built-in Winamp MOD player. Absolutely recommended and essential if you like Amiga (crack intro) chiptunes. Hasn't been updated in ages but still works fine for me.

It also supports some other Amiga formats, you can find it at http://www.rift.dk/page.php?1

"Most of my plugins for playing video game console music"


ChipAmp. http://www.chipamp.org/

I still use it for the fact I can reduce its size down to about 1/8" of my screen[1] (on a 23" 1920x1200 monitor) and scroll through my playlist with my mouse scroll wheel while docked on the taskbar of my screen. No other player (windows, linux or otherwise) can do that as far as I know.

[1] http://img16.imageshack.us/img16/901/winampm.png

*edit: added link

Drag and drop music into it and I am all set. I know where my music is and if I don't a quick search finds it.

Winamp still kicks the crap out of every current music player.

I personally think foobar2000's fairly excellent. Flexible as hell, both in UI and in functionality. Quick and doesn't feel bulky at all. It's honestly the piece of software I miss most when I'm on my Linux install.

Yeah, I miss foobar2k too in Linux. I usually use Exaile.

I just run foobar2k under Wine. It works pretty well.

It has been named in this thread before, but you might not have seen it. I used to run foobar under wine, but honestly, deadbeef[1] works better from an integration point of view (global shortcuts, GTK etc.).

[1] http://deadbeef.sourceforge.net/

Never heard of deadbeef, but it looks promising. I'll have to give it a shot.

This looks interesting. I'll have to check it out, thanks.

How is it better than iTunes? I'm seriously asking. I'm always hearing people bitch about iTunes, but they never explain why.

P.S. Yes. It has been getting bloated, but people have been complaining about iTunes since day 1.

I tried iTunes back in 2009 when I was trying to get some music off of an iPod. Worst user experience ever. When you have to watch 5 minute video tutorials on Youtube to figure out how to do something, your user interface probably sucks.

Also, yes, the bloat and the constant updates to support the bloat.

You put music on your iPod or your remove it. It's not meant to bring around to your friends house and take all the music off of it and onto his computer. This is by design.

It lacks separation between the concept of a library and a playlist. Winamp has its Media Library which you use to browse and search your media. You then play what you want by putting it in the Playlist Editor. Whereas iTunes and every other media player just plays everything in your library starting with the file you clicked on.

[EDIT] Others have covered bloat, install issues, and its updater.

Full screen, slow clashing interface on windows and yes it is bloated. It is also an ecosystem that I would rather not be a part of.

It also installs multiple services even if you don't use the devices they are there for.

Apple tends to make crappy software for windows.

If there was something akin to the (very well curated, if still missing most of my tracks) Smart Playlist option, I'd switch in a heartbeat.

For one, it failed to even install on my Windows 7 x64. I could never figure what was wrong after trying for an hour.

one might say, even, that it really whips the llama's ass.

mocp and pianobar is what I use for music :D

Amarok 1 was better, but it's harder to get hold of than winamp :(

Amarok used to be my favorite music player by far. I still can't believe how much good stuff in the Linux world was destroyed by the transition to Qt4/KDE4. It's been like a five year development setback.


Doesn't have all the functionality - it can't play TTA properly, there are limitations in its cue support, playlist/queue/search don't interact the same way they did in amarok.

Fwiw, the music library functionality in winamp (IMHO) remains the fastest and best I've seen and used in any media player. And I've used pretty much all of them.

The reason why I use Winamp (and can't stand almost every other music playing program I've found) is because Winamp has the Nullsoft Signal Processing Studio DSP plugin. Being able to adjust the playback speed (affecting pitch and tempo), among other things, is a killer feature for me.

> I guess I am the only person in the world still using Winamp.

Well, one of the 30 million people still using Winamp.

Same here. It does playlists well and that's all I need.

I personally switched to foobar2000[1] years ago and never looked back. Some of the big reasons back then were gapless playback and proper unicode support (I have quite a bit of Japanese music in my collection), and the fact that it doesn't do anything unnecessary (like try to be a video player at the same time) - it plays (and manages) music, and does it very well. It has served my music player needs ever since - it's really rock-solid and still actively developed to date (and it's very customizable).

[1] http://www.foobar2000.org/

If anyone is interested, see deadbeef for the linux equivalent of foobar2000: http://deadbeef.sourceforge.net/

(But personally, I use MOC: http://moc.daper.net/)

On Linux, I prefer the MPD/ncmpc for music. I love the idea of decoupling the player and the interface.

On Windows, it's Foobar2000 all the way.

How do these compare to VLC? Is VLC not actually a good audio player?

It does the job just fine for just about any format, but playlist management in VLC is pretty awful, IMO.

edit: I'm using WinAmp for my MP3s, but I might take a look at foobar2000 as well

Too often, bigcorps acquire successful smaller companies, then try to micromanage them in ways that negate the attributes that make them successful.

If you've bought a goose that lays golden eggs, why would you mess with it? Just collect the gold every day and shut up.

You'd think they'd learn to act like a shareholder and keep their hands off day-to-day operations, just stepping in to support the acquiree when its management asks for help that the parent's in a good position to provide, like expansion capital or coordinated marketing.

Of course, all of this is predicated on the acquisition's actually laying eggs consistently -- the parent corp needs to make it clear that they'll come in with a heavy hand of micromanagement, or disband the acquired business unit altogether, if its financial performance is bad enough.

All of what I've said so far only applies when the acquirer's primary target is the revenue the acquiree is generating; it doesn't necessarily apply to companies that are acquired for specific assets such as talent, branding, or technology.

I've never understood why media players in particular feel they have carte blanche to completely ignore any attempt at integrating with the system look and feel. I never really got along with WinAMP due in no small part to that.

Back in WinAmp's rise, the "system look and feel" was stagnant and stale.

WinAmp (and other media players) tend to be small on-screen; they are rarely full screen apps. They should play my music and get out of my way. System styles and UI are rarely designed for "small form" applications that need to pack a lot of features into a very small, non-descript space.

WinAmp's themes went above and beyond, of course, but those were at the user's discretion.

On the contrary, when Winamp came, I found it full of innovations that could not have been there if they were to follow the system look and feel. It was great to see the old ways broken to make an interface well-suited to the application at hand. I still admire and use Winamp to this day.

Excuse me?

Winamp was one of the the better programs at integrating with the OS that I had know.

it had this thing called skins that made the player look whatever you wanted it to be, including the system look and feel, if you wished.

In fact , if you used a Windows OS theme, you will soon discover that Winamp native interface was much much better at what it did than Windows native(native Windows Media witch Winnamp outlook could emulate was atrocious and super bloated).

I usually agree with you. I can't stand most programs that don't use a native Windows interface. Even GTK ones can annoy me. However, Winamp is the one exception I actually like. Perhaps partly because you aren't forced to use a horrible, brightly-coloured, sparse interface that many of them get. Utilities that get forced upon you with device drivers are usually the worst at this.

I'm happy with my winamp...2.95

I never needed more from a mp3-player. I have a small streamrip plugin installed for years now. This is the only "special" feature in it.

For everything else, I use a different programm and it was never a problem.

I absolutely love Winamp and have been using it since it came out. All of my upgrades / new installs are always the minimal package without any bloatware crap. I love the small UI footprint that I can minimize at the top of my screen and not block anything else I'm viewing. I think I've been using this skin for about 8 years now: http://customize.org/winamp2/skins/6307

Don't forget AVS (Advanced Visualization Studio). Good old software rendering, and programmable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tka07_LC534

I kept using Winamp for long after it got rubbish because it was the only thing you could use http://www.milkdrop.co.uk/ on.

After reading this, I am getting a bit nostalgic thinking about winamp and napster back in the day. I can't believe 15 years has passed. IMHO winamp was one of the best pieces of software developed over that timespan.

On a sidenote - timely piece as AOL Music just shut its doors - http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlny/aol-music-shuttered-st...

I was using WinAmp in its 1.x and 2.x days. When WinAmp started to bloat, I switched to Billy [0], an ultra-fast and minimal player. Nowadays, I stick to VLC as I no longer have Windows on my personal laptop.

[0] http://www.sheepfriends.com/?page=billy&subpage=billy_co...

Anyone remembers MusicMatch Jukebox? The first versions where quite good. Specially the capability of ripping to MP3.

Today, two media players I like in Windows is: MusicBee ( http://getmusicbee.com/ , quite fast last time I tried) and MediaMonkey (previous versions where good, current versions became bloated).

I use Winamp now but only because of its support for FLAC. I hate its UI, its far too messy and complicated with all kinds of windows that can be docked, undocked etc.

Its unfortunate the developers have never understood the concept of "less is more".

Well, I don't want to sound like an evangelist, but foobar2000 plays FLAC just fine, with gapless playback and whatnot and the interface is quite the opposite of Winamp's.

Ok well an initial install I like that its a lot simpler than WinAmp, but one major problem is an initial scan of my local music library and it only found 784 songs when in fact I have 4733 showing in winamp. Now they are a mixture of mostly FLAC but some MP3 and WMA, also a lot of in sub-folders. Does it not handle sub-folders do you know?

It definitely handles subfolders. I'm not sure what the problem is, to be honest. All I can think of is wrong settings in the "Media Library" preferences.

Hmm, thanks will check it out, I'd not seen that one before!

Turn off all those extra windows. Go to the classic skin.

You can default it to a less is more interface.

you remember the geiss plugin? awesome memories! http://www.geisswerks.com/geiss/

I use VLC. It has a playlist, that's enough for it to satisfy my mp3 needs.

I still use it with classic skin.

Same here. Just want a simple drag and drop play list.

I still use winamp.

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