Saturday, November 23, 2013

No more Winamp: The llama's journey comes to an end

Remember Winamp? The mighty little program originally developed by Nullsoft, that used to be your favorite media player back in the days? If you ever wondered about what happened to Winamp after you ditched your Windows-XP system and bought into i-gadgets then we have news for you - both good and bad. For the good part, Winamp is still with us; you can download it, skin it and take it for a spin - just like the good old days. Bad news is, this could very well be the last spin for this venerable app! A small and inconspicuous looking message on their website tells you that there will be no more whipping the llama's ass after December 20, 2013 as that seems to be the end of line for Winamp.

Honestly, for the relatively new users of windows based computers, this isn't much of a news, for old-timers like us though, the name 'Winamp' sure does bring a lot of memories! In these heydays of cloud-driven smartphones and PMPs, it's very easy to forget about this once king of stand-alone media players but there was a time when even a basic build of personal desktop or laptop computer used to be incomplete without it! Shortly after its release as a freeware back in 1997, Winamp quickly grew in stature and transformed into a very successful commercial software. Part of its popularity can be attributed to its initial streamlined appearance, simple and easy-to-use interface and very low resource footprint. The fact that most of users were not very fond of Microsoft's bundled media application -WMP (Windows Media Player) for obvious reasons of incompatibility, instability and clunky navigation, also helped Winamp gain momentum. Interestingly enough, all these coincided with the inter-web revolution that was about to change the way we perceive, consume and manage digital media contents for ever! MP3 became the format of choice for every music lover around the web (sans the audiophiles) and by the turn of the millennium, Winamp and MP3 file-sharing was almost synonymous.
The unmistakable Winamp

Meanwhile AOL acquired Nullsoft in 1999 but despite the change in ownership Winamp, as a software remained very popular and highly sought-after mainly because of its ever growing suits of strong feature. Around 2003 when I bough my first PC, Winamp was a no-nonsense media player with a skin-able graphical interface, frequency equalizers, manageable playlists and media library, ability to rip and burn and long list of supported file extensions. It even had a video player. But above all, Winamp was a highly customizable application. From size to color, appearance to visualization - the level of control it allowed to the user over every aspect was unprecedented in those days! Also the program had the support of a very active community of dedicated "skinners" and AVS artists.
AVS editor - a powerful creative tool

Here is one personal confession -  AVS/Milkdrop was the main reason I was attracted towards Winamp! So it would only be unfair not to mention those countless hours I wasted playing with particles, superscopes, movement, bumps and dynamov, creating presets full of stupid geometric pulsations! Oh, how I miss those days :(

And then it break apart, like it always does! The hero of the last revolution bites the dust in the next one, isn't that always the case! In the last 10 years or so, the digital media management has reinvented itself, again. The focus has shifted from recorded media towards stored media and finally streamed media from there on. The transformation in form factors has been even more severe! Today, you don't need a PC to listen to your favorite artist/track, neither do you need Windows. As a matter of fact, most of the devices that we use today for listening or streaming digital media, portable or otherwise, are non x86, non Windows device. Even my years-old smartphone is a very capable and efficient media player compared to my PCs! Winamp simply couldn't keep-up with these changes. Although AOL released an Android version of Winamp in 2010, it was too late to survive the i-Tune onslaught! 

And now between all the tabs and pads, drones and droids, it seems like we have reached the point where it's very hard to find a place for this old legend! Needless to say, it's sad seeing Winamp go down this way but it was inevitable. After all if you don't use a software, chances are you don't need it anymore!

Here is a very good article on ArsTechnica that goes into great depth to describe how it came to this. It seems that AOL never realized the true potential of Winamp and couldn't direct it to a more fitting finale under a difficult and testing time! There are also talks about a possible Microsoft buy-out of Nullsoft from AOL. Whatever the case may be, we guess it's safe to say farewell to Winamp for now.

So here it goes - Goodbye Winamp! We surely knew you :)

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