Winamp’s decline chronicled

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.

Comments closed
    • Cannyone
    • 7 years ago

    I still use Winamp. Even have a Winamp App installed on my phone. Then again I hate all things Apple so iTunes doesn’t even interest me. And yes I’m comfortable with the Winamp UI, and just don’t have the need for something different. Bottom line is that I don’t care what all the ‘cool kids’ use. Winamp works so I’ll keep using it.

    • Chrispy_
    • 7 years ago

    That was a great article.

    TL;DR:
    Yet more evidence of why AOL are douchebags and need to vanish from existence for the good of mankind.

    • kdashjl
    • 7 years ago

    oopss sorry double post

    • kdashjl
    • 7 years ago

    songbird anyone?

      • adisor19
      • 7 years ago

      I like it.

      Adi

        • flip-mode
        • 7 years ago

        Adi?

        Adi.

    • corwin155
    • 7 years ago

    ive used winamp long ways back as it got bloated it got cumbersome
    never liked itunes or win media player
    been using cool player for playing my mp3’s since i first found it
    pretty much a light mp3 player and thats it , and fits what i need .

    • Johnny5
    • 7 years ago

    Hey, no love for MusicBee around here?

    • CityEater
    • 7 years ago

    Is anyone else using J-river? Apart from sounding the best its also pretty tweakable and the audio output is excellent. I use it in conjunction with VLC but I watch things with it more and more and listen to everything through it. I just found Foobar and Winamp to be a mess and was willing to pay for a piece of software which had decent output qualities, good options that I could customize and second to none sound quality output.
    Anyone else with Jriver?
    Oh and it has an android ap which I use constantly. Worth checking out…

    • link626
    • 7 years ago

    i still use winamp lite. Maybe i’m loyal, or I’m just used to the clean easy interface.

    but it looks like they earned their million bucks and just quit.

    whatever though. winamp still works great, and I like it better than other mp3 players

      • Coldfirex
      • 7 years ago

      Same here.

      • Synchromesh
      • 7 years ago

      Totally agree. I’ve been using winamp with MMD3 skin for ages now, since early Win XP days. Why fix something that ain’t broken? Works great!

      P.S. hate iTunes with a passion. One of the worst and most annoying programs ever. Assumes it automatically knows what I want when it doesn’t.

    • jackbomb
    • 7 years ago

    I used Winamp back in the 9x/2k/XP days, but switched to foobar2k for Vista/Win7. Immediately after upgrading to Vista, I noticed that Winamp was coloring my audio. Wasn’t too bad with most music, but certain types (especially piano) seemed to have this “ringing” effect to it. I blamed my sound card’s Vista drivers at first, but then I accidentally opened an audio file with WMP. First thing I noticed was how clear and open it sounded. Piano no longer had that ringing effect. Not being satisfied with the clunkiness of WMP, I discovered foobar2000.

    • burntham77
    • 7 years ago

    I still keep it around in case I occasionally want to do an Overclocked Remix shuffle.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      That really would set the vibe appropriately for an OCRemix marathon.

    • Krogoth
    • 7 years ago

    ITT: Audio players are serious business!

      • Johnny5
      • 7 years ago

      Next to my browser, my audio player is the software I care most about having the features I want and working as I like it to work.

    • hippie69
    • 7 years ago

    Who will really whip the llama’s ass now? 🙁

      • crabjokeman
      • 7 years ago

      The answer probably involves bestiality and sadism…

        • crabjokeman
        • 7 years ago

        “Who’s a bad llama? Who’s a baaad llama?!”

    • chuckula
    • 7 years ago

    I only use [url=http://cmus.sourceforge.net/<]C*mus[/url<], but then again I also use VIM as my text editor. Combine with yakuake in KDE and add some keyboard shortcuts for the basic controls and you are in business with a player that stays out of the way and that supports practically any file format out there.

    • squeeb
    • 7 years ago

    One thing I fondly recall is the shoutcast stations, and the video streaming.

    • jpostel
    • 7 years ago

    Outside of Winamp, the best software to come from Nullsoft was [url=http://nsis.sourceforge.net/Main_Page<]NSIS[/url<]. The main trunk developers have moved on, but it lives on as branch projects like UNSIS, which is used by [url=http://www.scratchpaper.com/home/shameless-promotion<]quite a few[/url<] popular apps. There is an [url=https://bitbucket.org/dgolub/nsis64<]x64 version[/url<] as well.

    • glacius555
    • 7 years ago

    Also foobar2000 here, customized theme:
    Creative ASIO, 5.1 channels with channel mixer, SoX re-sampler, noise sharpening, album art, all my media in 3-4 playlists, can play any files, even gameboy music. Never more than 130 MB of RAM, LOVE IT!

    [url<]http://i629.photobucket.com/albums/uu18/glacius555/foobar2000screen.png[/url<]

      • Crayon Shin Chan
      • 7 years ago

      m-flo, yes!

    • flip-mode
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<] I keep coming back to Winamp's clean interface[/quote<] What? [runs google image search] I say again, what?

      • Prospero424
      • 7 years ago

      The classic skin (without the playlist and the other additions) is pretty clean and simple. Of course, being 15 years old it kinda would be…

      • Wirko
      • 7 years ago

      [runs google img search]
      Do you feel like throwing up? I do.
      [runs Winamp]
      Sweet!

      I mean, it’s 640×17 pixels and shows playback controls, volume control, time, track title, and seek bar. When double clicked, it rolls down to 640×130, adds menu bar, small album art, and small playlist. Those ungodly things that your image search shows are one click away. Customizing it is tricky but nevermind, I wish more apps had a user interface as flexible as this. (v5.581)

      • Ifalna
      • 7 years ago

      [url<]http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/411/76848603.png/[/url<] Well, I like it. (Version 2.95) :< Granted Google has some horrible Images.

    • RtFusion
    • 7 years ago

    As for players, my short history with them:

    -Used the Windows Media Player for everything when I first got my HP desktop back in 2002-ish.
    -Discovered Winamp a few years later and used that as my primary audio player, still used WMP for videos with CCCP as I started to watch anime again (Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny back then)
    -I slowly stopped using Winamp for some reason, I guess it just got too bloated for *me* or maybe I just lost “interest” with it. Saw a mention of Foobar2000, been using it ever since 2006 or so as my primary audio player, love the minimal interface
    -I started to pick up anime again after high school in 2008-2009 (especially when attending BCIT for post secondary), used to swear by VLC (after ditching WMP after high school), had blocky video problems with it, switched to MPC-HC + K-Lite mega codec pack
    -Fast forward to now, MPC-HC (usually the latest beta builds) + K-Lite mega codec pack (for the dual audio .mkv and subtitles) and Foobar2000 are my primary players on my laptop and desktop for their respective filetypes

    • PrincipalSkinner
    • 7 years ago

    Listening to Radio Paradise with Winamp all day long.

    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    I still use Winamp as well… I think this has more to do with how you acquire your music then what is a superior player. Maybe if Winamp had a built in app store where you could legally buy all your MP3s they’d still have a dominant position, but they missed that train.

    • Nutmeg
    • 7 years ago

    I still use Winamp, it does what I want it to. It’s pretty good for subscribing to podcasts as well, I don’t know of any other that really do that any more apart from Itunes which i’m not going to use.

    • Visigoth
    • 7 years ago

    [url<]http://www.aimp.ru/[/url<] Thank me later. Although Winamp will always have a special place in my heart. And iTunes crap doesn't even compare. For that, there's Amarok, Clementine, Songbird and a zillion other BETTER clones out there.

    • Walkintarget
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]Winamp has persisted as my primary music player since 1997[/quote<] Same here, also since '97, and with its default skin as well !!! There just no need for anything extra, as it starts to take away from the simple aspect of music playback as it should be. I do admit to installing the album art plugin for it tho, but that's as far as I've gone.

    • Malphas
    • 7 years ago

    I’ve also been using foobar2000 for a long time now. VLC is awful when it comes to music (and actually isn’t even the best media player for video either, but it’s just less hassle than using several different players for different formats and installing a bunch of codecs). However, I find that I use a dedicated music player with locally stored music less and less now, and use streaming services instead.

    • TheMonkeyKing
    • 7 years ago

    I think there is also a change in perception with computing device users (including phone and tablet).

    2007 was five years ago. The first iPhone comes out in June that year; the first Android two years later. Before the iPhone, users had to rip their CDs to their music players (remember the iRiver?) and phones still had for the most part, crappy ringtones that sounded MIDI. Winamp rocked because you could use a computer as world-reaching radio station that you chose.

    With the invention of iTunes, people didn’t have to rip any more. The newer generation starting using playlists of their own instead of listening to someone else. Last.fm, Pandora not only offered people a different way to listen to their favorites but to also listen to them from a web based application. Laptops and data phones started to take off and with them ushered in a different form of music listening. Instead of searching for Shoutcast radio stations, people began to build their own personal radio stations from playlists, made by themselves or shared from others.

    To these users, now Spotify qualifies as a “radio station.” And Winamp declines because their business model doesn’t have the funds to advertise to the masses that they are hip and shiny.

    Full Disclosure:
    I’m a grumpy old man. Hell, I even still have to “roll down” my windows. So when someone tells me Spotify is their new radio, damn I want to hit them with my cane.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      You kind of skipped over the growth of file-sharing between the late 90s and streaming becoming mainstream during which time local media players like Winamp were very useful (and their user numbers mirror this trend), but yeah good summary and it goes along with what the article says – Winamp didn’t grow and adjust to emerging trends

    • travbrad
    • 7 years ago

    Winamp is a great player, and it’s so much better than iTunes, which is probably the worst music/media player I’ve ever used. iTunes just feels very bloated/slow, and has no customization options whatsoever. It amazes me that a simple music player can feel slow on a 4.5ghz CPU with 8GB of memory. Winamp feels snappier on a single-core Pentium 4 than iTunes does on Sandy Bridge..

    I’ve been using Mediamonkey lately which is a really nice Winamp alternative. It’s totally customizable, and it even supports most Winamp plugins.

    [url<]http://i.imgur.com/r2tuk.jpg[/url<]

      • xeridea
      • 7 years ago

      Yeah, I looked at iTunes when my sister got an iPod. I hate it. To bland (like everything Apple), basic, way to big for what it does, annoying updater, and slow. I still use Winamp. Been using since like 2001. Tons of plugins and support. Many great visualzations. WinBar extention, media key support, and jump to file hotkey. Its still fairly lightweight (compared to other, far more bloated players.

    • not@home
    • 7 years ago

    I have been using Winamp since 1999 (when I first started using PCs). I have tried other players but I always end up back at Winamp for audio. I use VLC for video. When Winamp 3 came out I just used Winamp 2 simply because I could not find a better player.

    • DancinJack
    • 7 years ago

    For the people that use an iPod and think you need to use iTunes…there are quite a few alternatives. I used Foobar2000 for iPod sync back in the day and I know MediaMonkey does it as well. You don’t have to use iTunes.

    • jjj
    • 7 years ago

    Apple is only Apple in the US,outside of the US they don’t get free advertising from the mainstream press,it’s just another company.
    Rather funny to see only iTunes mentioned as competition to Winamp since a lot of folks tend to hate iTunes with a passion.
    IMO what killed Winamp is that it got bloated and started using way too many resources pushing the enthusiasts into Fobar2000’s arms.
    Foobar is lightweight but very capable and it can be pretty much anything you need it to be.

      • Ifalna
      • 7 years ago

      Yeah my friend has to use I-Tunes for his I-Pod… damn I hate that program. (he does too ^^)
      I swore never to buy Apple Hardware as long as they are forcing me to use their bloatware.

        • jss21382
        • 7 years ago

        Your wait is over…no iTunes needed for current apple hardware with wifi capabilities

          • derFunkenstein
          • 7 years ago

          Super misleading as if you don’t use itunes you only get to sync stuff from the itunes store. No amazon mp3 store. No ripped cds. Lame.

            • spuppy
            • 7 years ago

            You can rip CDs and download Amazon MP3s, and sync them to your Apple hardware with Winamp.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 7 years ago

            Is there another plugin besides ml_ipod? It doesn’t support iOS 4 or later.

          • Ifalna
          • 7 years ago

          Heh ok. Now I’ll wait for them to make a mobile player for audiophiles. ^_^

    • NeXus 6
    • 7 years ago

    For music I used Winamp until I discovered MediaMonkey and haven’t looked back. For video it’s still MPC or VLC.

      • NeelyCam
      • 7 years ago

      Yep; MediaMoneky and VLC for me, too

      • kitsura
      • 7 years ago

      MediaMonkey user here as well.

    • Spyder22446688
    • 7 years ago

    WinAMP version 2.91 was the piece of software with the longest tenure of any software I utilized. Just a great application.

      • Ifalna
      • 7 years ago

      I’m still using Winamp 2.95, which eats everything audio I throw at it (Plugins FTW). All that BS that came with the newer versions: do not need, do not want. ^_^

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 7 years ago

    I’ll never turn my back on you, Winamp!

      • Jigar
      • 7 years ago

      X2, i kind of don’t adjust with any other audio player for some reason.

    • Philldoe
    • 7 years ago

    Hahaha. WinAmp. I havn’t used it since.. 2004?

    Come on guys, VLC or bust.

    Fanboy downvote much?

      • squeeb
      • 7 years ago

      VLC for mp3s? Hmm, don’t know about that..too vanilla imo.

      Was using Winamp until just last month when I finally caved and bought an iPod Nano. Now I just use iTunes. Don’t really like the software but at least it forced me to organize my music library which was long overdue.

      • rhysl
      • 7 years ago

      VLC , Winamp has long died .. Long !

      • brucethemoose
      • 7 years ago

      For music? Why?

      For videos, Media Player Classic with MadVR blows VLC out of the water.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 7 years ago

    The founder comes off as whiney when complaining about AOL ownership, even if his points are valid. ‘Boohoo, I chose to sell my startup for multi-millions of dollars during the dotcom bubble.’

      • squeeb
      • 7 years ago

      That’s the vibe I got too.

      • Corrado
      • 7 years ago

      Possible he was promised a lot of stuff in the buy out that was subsequently nixed by the ever changing guard at AOL during those years.

        • Prospero424
        • 7 years ago

        Yeah, I actually remember when this happened. From what I recall, he was promised creative freedom by AOL, but after Gnutella and then when he began work on WASTE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WASTE), there was a bit of a change of heart. They didn’t really want to fund the development of what they saw as another potential Napster, so they basically forbade him from working on the biggest thing he wanted to do.

        So he left. Problem solved.

        I used WASTE for a good long time, actually. It’s too bad the project was abandoned after a short time of goodness.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 7 years ago

          You know, I could see AOL not wanting to be associated with the next Napster. Especially after the TW merger.

            • Prospero424
            • 7 years ago

            The extra layer of irony being that it never would have been another Napster, anyway. For a LOT of reasons…

    • DancinJack
    • 7 years ago

    Visualizations just don’t do anything for me. Foobar2K has been my primary media player for about 6 years now. I just don’t need anything more, but if I did Foobar has the ability to do it with all the plugins and themes you have access to.

      • TheQat
      • 7 years ago

      you can even get milkdrop to work in fb2k, which is what most people who liked visualizations in winamp wanted (at least last time I knew anything about it)

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    I’ve been using foobar2000 since a few years ago, when I first heard of it. Have never touched Winamp since, and easily made my brother switch over as well.

      • rrr
      • 7 years ago

      Yep, Winamp got too heavy for the task it was supposed to do. Foobar is still lightweight.

      • crabjokeman
      • 7 years ago

      I got turned on to foobar2000 in 2005, and even ran it through wine for a while after I switched to Linux. (Nowadays, I use Audacious).
      If you’re a headphone user, check out the Bauer Stereophonic plugin. I also suggest checking out the “Noise Sharpening” plugin (foo_dsp_delta IIRC).

        • chµck
        • 7 years ago

        I had forgotten about the stereophonic plugin. I have no idea how I lost it. Thanks for reminding me.

        • brucethemoose
        • 7 years ago

        +1

      • Prion
      • 7 years ago

      foobar2000 and Winamp are still the only two players which support or have plugins available for handling all of the audio media types I need to deal with.

      I tried iTunes once about 5 years ago just to give it a shot, and I was not impressed with the unnecessarily bloated player application. I can honestly say that not having to keep it installed was one of the major factors that caused me to choose an Android smartphone over an iPhone.

      • Geistbar
      • 7 years ago

      I love foobar2000. It might be a pain to get it just right the first time, but after that, you’ll have exactly the music player that you want.

        • AustinW
        • 7 years ago

        Agreed. You can even use Winamp’s great visualization plugins with FB2k via the Shpeck plugin.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 7 years ago

      My favorite part is that it allows me to route the audio somewhere other than the default outputs. Stupid iTunes.

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        I have two concurrent audio devices myself, so I agree.

      • jss21382
      • 7 years ago

      Spotify and pandora killed winamp for me, 5 bucks a month, available anywhere(in the us) and completely legal…what’s not to love.

      • pedro
      • 7 years ago

      I’d absolutely love to see foobar2000 ported to Linux and Mac. Awesome program.

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 7 years ago

      I quit winamp immediately after v3. foobar is the best.

      PS. Somebody needs to make a foobar plugin thread, and include MPC/madvr/codecs. Basically a list of everything you need for media.

    • ludi
    • 7 years ago

    Similar span of use here — been using WinAmp as my primary PC music player from the late ’90s until upgrading my primary system from XP last fall. But I’m now experimenting with VLC as my all-purpose media player and still haven’t decided if I need to reinstall WinAmp for any reason.

      • Ifalna
      • 7 years ago

      What I dislike about VLC for audio is: when you pause it it goes “krrk” instead of fading out like my ancient winamp does. That and the stupid newly acquired volume lag…

      It’s great for vids though.

        • ludi
        • 7 years ago

        I had not really noticed that. Since you mentioned it, I just checked and…sure enough.

        Now, I will notice it every single time. I hereby award you twenty Evil Points for a job well done.

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