Music History

Hey, Whatever Happened to Winamp?

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.

Keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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9 thoughts on “Hey, Whatever Happened to Winamp?

  • Huh, thought this was someone rediscovering my piece from February!

    Quickly assembled in an hour ‘cos it occurred to me, second-most popular thing I ever posted on the site … Winamp still has a ton of goodwill. Also works just fine, and on a 2017 computer is the most lightweight program ever.

    • Did you ever check out Foobar2000?

      That’s what I switched from Winamp to and I’ve never looked back. Lightweight, infinitely customisable, and can handle playlists that are tens of thousands of tracks long without a hiccup.

      • nah – I switched to FreeBSD then Linux, which had a ton of terrible music players that looked like Winamp but didn’t work like it; eventually I discovered VLC and stuck to it.

        Winamp still works on Linux under Wine though, and I use it for my favourite Internet radio.

        • Have you tried Qmmp? I was using Clementine on Linux, because I didn’t like the experience of Winamp on Wine, but I’ve switched to Qmmp and I haven’t looked back.

  • Sorry to say it, but the source article is amazingly uninformed. AOL sold Winamp to Radionomy in January 2014. The article refers to AOL as the current owner. It refers to Geno Yoham as the current business leader of Winamp within AOL — Yoham left AOL in January 2014, when Winamp was sold. Yoham now works for StraightLine, an education service for students. This appears to be such incredibly poor journalism, that I suspect a timestamp error on the article. Perhaps it was originally published pre-2014?

    • “This piece originally ran July 24, 2012”

      Yep, quite a bit older than Radionomy’s acquisition 😉

  • PS — confirmed on the timestamp issue. The article’s comments are from 2012!


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