What happened to WinAmp

The end of our story begins with a buyout, like many other tech stories from the 90s. In June 1999, AOL acquired Nullsoft (the company behind Winamp) for $ 80 million. That's quite a payoff for a team of four, but AOL never really knew what to do with it. While the pageviews on the Winamp website brought in a large chunk of ad revenue, and thousands of people paid $ 10 for the Pro version of the software, it was about revenue-wise.

Meanwhile, AOL was still making ridiculous sums of money with its endlessly sand-strewn dial-up service. This huge source of income made it difficult to prioritize other projects - even those for which AOL had paid millions. Eventually, AOL decided that software like Winamp was an advertising opportunity for dial-up service, and installing Winamp meant that offers for "free" AOL subscriptions were turned down.

This was a big turn off for Winamp users. Here is Cyrus Farivar, who writes for Ars Technica in a very good article about Winamp's descent:

The main users of Winamp were music fans, geeks, and people who worried about what bitrate their MP3s were encoded in - in other words, the main users of Winamp in the early 2000s were allergic to AOL as a company.

By bundling AOL software and offers with Winamp, the software is cheaper in the eyes of the users. Then something new came.

In 2001 Apple launched the iPod. In 2003 iTunes came out for the PC and that was the beginning of the end for Winamp. Everyone who bought an iPod switched to iTunes to listen to music because iTunes was more or less required to load an iPod with music - and a lot of people bought iPods.

Even if you didn't own an iPod, iTunes was attractive. It could identify and rip your CDs with just a few clicks. The search was basically instant. And while Winamp's interface was a bit cluttered, the iTunes UI was clean and easy to use (at least at the time). Winamp consisted of several windows; iTunes only had one. Winamp offered thousands of fan-made themes and plugins. iTunes wasn't customizable at all.

Many geeks preferred Winamp, but iTunes appealed to a much larger audience that just wanted to rip a few CDs and listen to them. Winamp tried to combat this by offering unofficial support for transferring music to an iPod, but that wasn't enough. Apple took the music player market with it and agreed to it (and then for 15 years turned iTunes into the jumbled mess we all hate today.)

Winamps Userbase turned it down, and in 2013 AOL decided to shut it down completely. That plan was changed at the last second when Nullsoft was sold to Radionomy. Since then, the Winamp website has stated that a new version will be released "soon," but five years later we haven't seen anything. There is occasional developer noise about new builds, but nothing significant so far.

Can you use it today

You may be wondering: can you install and use Winamp now? The answer: somehow. The WinAMP website, unchanged for five years, links to a forum thread when you request a download. This thread points to a simplified website where you can find Winamp 5.666 for Windows. This software is from 2013 but works.

I installed Winamp on a modern Windows 10 computer and quickly noticed a problem: Nothing is scaled properly on high-resolution displays. You can solve this problem in any modern skin by adjusting the scaling settings as follows:

If you're using a classic design, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + D to double the size of the main window.

Winamp once offered an extensive directory of skins and plugins, but it passed away in 2013. Fortunately, Winamp has a large collection. So see if you want to try everything that you remembered from back then.

I don't think Winamp has aged well. But it works, and when nothing else is worth for the nostalgic factor. Sure, it's a bit of a bug and the UI looks pixelated on modern displays after you've adjusted the scaling. But it's Winamp, and it's worth something. Turn to the early 2000s. Who knows? You might even use it all day.

Photo credit: Al Pavangkanan