Back in the pre-iTunes era (and for quite some time after), the go-to CD ripper and MP3 playback player was Winamp. With its introduction in the late 90s, the free software was downloaded tens of millions of times and was used to digital many a music library, not to mention as a player for songs grabbed through Napster and other file-sharing programs.
Winamp was huge, universal, even. But what happened to it? First of all, it officially died in 2013. But it didn’t have to be that way. Ars Technica takes a look.
MP3s are so natural to the Internet now that it’s almost hard to imagine a time before high-quality compressed music. But there was such a time—and even after “MP3” entered the mainstream, organizing, ripping, and playing back one’s music collection remained a clunky and frustrating experience.
Enter Winamp, the skin-able, customizable MP3 player that “really whips the llama’s ass.” In the late 1990s, every music geek had a copy; llama-whipping had gone global, and the big-money acquisition offers quickly followed. AOL famously acquired the company in June 1999 for $80-$100 million—and Winamp almost immediately lost its innovative edge.
Winamp’s 15-year anniversary is now upon us, with little fanfare. It’s almost as if the Internet has forgotten about the upstart with the odd slogan that looked at one time like it would be the company to revolutionize digital music. It certainly had the opportunity.
“There’s no reason that Winamp couldn’t be in the position that iTunes is in today if not for a few layers of mismanagement by AOL that started immediately upon acquisition,” Rob Lord, the first general manager of Winamp, and its first-ever hire, told Ars.