Llamas worldwide have emerged from their safety bunkers upon hearing the news that Winamp and its associated services will be abandoned in December, bringing to an end 15 consecutive years of being a better option than Windows Media Player. If you know what I mean, then you were there with me. Join me in remembering the good times before they heap this beloved brand into a flaming boat and cast it out to sea.
I don’t imagine I’m alone in feeling so attached to Winamp. I wasn’t the most sociable kid, but pretty much everyone I knew used it. Windows Media Player had nasty pixelated corners and buttons and an aesthetic appeal suggesting an origin in the bowels of Microsoft’s Paint division. RealPlayer was a bloated monstrosity with a codec obsession. iTunes was… well, iTunes was iTunes. Winamp was free without any horrendous ads, supported all the usual formats, had a clean and neat interface, and came in a small file at a time when download speeds were (by today’s standards, at least) less than impressive.
Stalwart and Static
There was a time when Winamp didn’t exist because it hadn’t been made yet, but part of my mind rejects that notion as fundamentally ridiculous. Of course Winamp was always around; it just feels right. I can’t even recall it changing in any significant way. It was always there to be installed whenever my computer got overloaded with junk and needed to be formatted. It must have had versions? Updates? It got a more modern skin called Bento at one point, but I never used it so it might as well not have been there. The only time I ever deviated from my routine was when I changed the color scheme from MonoDark to Blues.
No, I did not want excitement or innovation from my Winamp. I’d switch it to bar mode, latch it to the bottom-left hand corner of my desktop, just above the start button, and stretch it three-quarters of the way across the screen so I could navigate tracks with greater accuracy. Then I’d leave it well alone, because what else was there ever to do? It played music for me. It worked. When Windows 7 came along with controls enabled by hovering over the icon, I was unmoved. No thanks, I thought. I’m getting on just fine.
It’s odd that so many of the things that made Winamp great ultimately contributed to its death. It got music so right that it was strange to do anything else with it. Playing videos in Winamp just seemed inappropriate somehow, like cleaning dishes in a microwave. Unfortunately, it was hampered in the long term by a lack of new features to accommodate a developing internet as well as friction stemming from AOL’s persistent attempts to interfere with the program, as detailed in this interview with inventor Justin Frankel.
As Winamp stagnated, it lost ground to its more wide-reaching rivals, before being decisively crushed by a resurgent iTunes carried to victory by Apple’s explosion in popularity. Early versions of Windows Media Player left the door open for Winamp by being extraordinarily terrible, but iTunes, for all its many failings, is too functional to let such a command of the market slip, especially given its core integration with OSX and iOS devices.
There were attempts to spark some life into the brand with an Android version, but, while it worked alright, there are just too many options on that platform to gain much ground. Furthermore, the stock Android music apps have generally been slick and functional, so there hasn’t been much need for anything different.
Dead But Not Gone
Winamp’s time as a contender has gone. The light is draining from its eyes. The giant malevolent blob that is iTunes will soon loom over its corpse, extending thick gooey tentacles to absorb its mass. There will be no necessity in this act, only spite. The world will move on, and so must we all eventually. So long, Winamp. You will be missed.
But wait one second, that’s not quite right… in all this sadness, you see, I let my nostalgia overwhelm me. When I said Winamp worked, I meant to say that it works. It’s not going anywhere on my computer. As long as I can, and have no compelling reason to do otherwise, I will use Winamp. No application ever truly dies on the internet. Perhaps some intrepid amateur developer will take up the reins and steer this venerable statesman into an active retirement.
I’m sorry, Apple, but iTunes must wait to claim my soul.