Winamp

The “Save Winamp” movement raises its voice

Wednesday, December 4, 2013 - 11:00am

The Save Winamp alliance and Change.org are plugging away at AOL, which announced the sunsetting of Winamp and ShoutCast as ongoing products, as of December 20. (See RAIN coverage here.) Yesterday in RAIN, Jennifer Lane commented that the Winamp closure was inevitable. But thousands of Change.org petitioners want Winamp to continue, either as an open-source project or with a new corporate owner (rumored to be Microsoft).

In its latest gambit, Change.org has composed an open letter to AOL, formally addressed to CEO Tim Armstrong. (The letter would be better targeted to Jay Kirsch, head of AOL’s media and service brands.) The letter argues Winamp’s value to its many diehard users, and pleads for continued life by one route or the other. Interestingly, the letter cites radio stations which use Winamp for their music automation. The open letter is supported by a 40,000-signature petition

If you’re not a Winamp user, you might wonder why there’s so much fuss. Here in the RAIN editorial office, Winamp has been installed in all computers since version 1.0 came out 15 years ago. While we can relate to the sad sentiment surrounding Winamp’s demise, we also observe its increasing obsolescence as a music-playing interface. As ownership gives way to access, and local storage yields to cloud storage, Winamp fades in the shadow of music services like Rhapsody and Spotify

Winamp remains a stalwart production assistant not only for some radio stations, but for file conversion tasks -- Winamp was demonized in its early days for the facility with which it rips and burns audio tracks. But for the new generation of always-on mobile listeners, ripping and burning are quaint artifacts of a previous era.

Winamp’s Shut Down Was Inevitable

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:40pm

This article was originally published in Audio4cast.

The announcement that Winamp would shut down before the end of the year didn’t surprise me given that AOL had already abandoned its online radio platform, but it did make me pause. There have been several times this year that I have stopped and thought that surely this event is one of the signals that online audio has left the “niche” stage of its development and entered the reality of being a full blown mass appeal marketplace. One that a product like Winamp, free downloadable software that began as a tool to enable people to play all those songs they downloaded from Napster, couldn’t survive in.

In fact, I’ve wondered a lot over the years, why AOL kept updating it at all – given that the business model – getting users to pay for an improved upgrade to the player – was so weak. In fact, AOL didn’t just continue to update and distribute Winamp when it purchased Nullsoft in 1999 for $400 million, it also kept Shoutcast running all this time as well. And that was an even stranger conundrum, given that many of the biggest stations on Shoutcast were getting free bandwidth (at least a few years back they were). The deal was, at least back in the early 2000s, that you couldn’t run any ads if you wanted the free bandwidth. I never could figure out why that was. Didn’t that hurt AOL’s own Internet radio platform?

In any event, although Winamp and Shoutcast operated independently at AOL for lots of years, it seems that someone has finally noticed the lack of a business model in that department. Winamp will shut down later this month, although there is word that Microsoft may purchase the intellectual property. The end of an era that also signifies the arrival of a new one – the mature online audio marketplace, where you have to have a business model to compete…

Winamp and SHOUTcast likely to expire

Monday, November 25, 2013 - 2:00pm

Venerable music player Winamp is being discontinued by parent company AOL. The announcement marks the end of an era, at least symbolically.

As a follow-up on that news, Internet radio platform SHOUTcast, developed by Winamp and housed under the Nullsoft umbrella brand, will also have its plug pulled. SHOUTcast is an Internet streaming enabler and aggregator. Its slate of about 50,000 pureplay stations is presented as an integrated feature of the Winamp desktop player, and on its own website.

The evolution of any industry has seminal moments. For digital music, one of those moments was the introduction of Winamp in 1997, the venerable desktop audio player. Initially launched as freeware that could play MP3 files, Winamp closed the gap between the existence of compressed music files (MP3) and their usability to most people.

The revolutionary aspect of MP3 was the small size of the files, and consequently their suitability for transmission over the Internet. Peer-to-peer file-sharing was part of the consequence, from Napster to emailing between friends. Another part was streaming audio through the narrow bandwidth pipes of late-1990s home connections.

All well and good, except that an MP3 file by itself did nothing -- to use an old-media analogy, it was like a CD without a CD player. Winamp, built by Justin Frankl (who also unleashed the Gnutella file-sharing protocol ... while he was an AOL employee), was the first popular MP3 desktop player, enabling early adopters to get first listens to music files. It closed a circle, and catalyzed much of what followed: file-sharing, early subscription music services like Rhapsody and eMusic, Internet-delivered music streams generally, portable MP3 players, and even iTunes, which used a different file format and desktop player.

Winamp was acquired by AOL (via Nullsoft) in 1999. That year, Nullsoft created SHOUTcast, a music-streaming protocol and self-serve platform that allowed anyone to webcast from a connected computer. SHOUTcast’s influence was similar to Winamp’s insofar as it introduced a new listening mode to its adopters -- in this case, pureplay streaming audio stations.

Winamp has been rocked by an eventful 15 years. The blockbuster success of iTunes and its proprietary formats shifted attention away from the MP3-oriented desktop player. Even as Winamp adapted to handle emerging file formats, it could not play Apple’s locked-up DRM files during the first five years of the iTunes Music Store’s growth. The smartphone’s rise (thanks again to Apple) migrated listening activity off the desktop, and Winamp adjusted by extending to mobile apps. It also developed a strong European user base in the last few years.

But the rise of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have further skewered Winamp’s core competency of playing locally stored music files. Access is creeping up on ownership as a means of consuming music, and AOL’s decision verifies a growing sense that Winamp’s days are numbered. AOL announced that program development will be discontinued on December 20.

Of course, existing installations of the freeware version will remain functional. The termination of SHOUTcast has more severe implications, as that service furnishes live programming.

TechCrunch reported a rumor that Microsoft might snap up both Winamp and SHOUTcast. If it plays out that way, it will be second time that recently-discarded AOL Music properties found a new home. In June of this year, several AOL Music blogs (The Boombox, Noisecreep, The Boot) were cast out of the mothership and caught in freefall by TownSquare Media, whose EVP Bill Wilson developed them when he was chief of AOL Media.

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