More than 15 years have passed since Winamp was first released. The media player software was incredibly popular in its heyday and still receives periodic updates. However, there hasn’t been a major release since Winamp 5 came out way back in 2003. Ars Technica has posted a great article exploring the history of Winamp and its downfall, which as one might expect, began after parent company Nullsoft was acquired by AOL.
A year after the acquisition, Winamp had more users than AOL had subscribers. As AOL faltered, Winamp’s popularity continued to grow, reportedly peaking at 90 million users in 2007. The numbers are down to around 30 million now, the article says, and only a small fraction of those users are in North America. Despite the strangling popularity of iTunes stateside, it seems an awful lot of Europeans still prefer Winamp.
The Ars piece has some interesting tidbits from various people involved with Winamp over the years. Unfortunately, lead developer Justin Frankel declined to be interviewed. He became somewhat infamous for releasing a couple of file-sharing programs after Nullsoft was acquired. Naturally, AOL was not impressed. Frankel left Nullsoft after Winamp 5 was released, and it seems much of the mojo went with him.
Amazingly, Winamp has persisted as my primary music player since 1997. Despite trying several alternatives over the years, I keep coming back to Winamp’s clean interface and fantastic visualization plugins. In my opinion, it’s still the best music player around.