Winamp is due to celebrate its 15th anniversary this year. Some may be surprised to hear that it’s still around – I for one don’t know anyone who still uses it. But rewind a few years, and it was one of the most popular media players on Windows – even I used it as my main player around 2004.
But then I bought an iPod, and ended up using iTunes. I imagine a similar story applies to others.
There’s an interesting article on Ars Technica looking back at Winamp, and what went wrong. The short version is that AOL bought it, and tried to assimilate it into its ISP service, rather than let it flourish. It also failed to compete against the iTunes Store, the iPod and, more recently, streaming services like Spotify.
The tale of small startup being gobbled up and suffocated by big corporate entities is a familiar one. The Ars article draws parallels with Flickr, but recent history also provides other victims such as Dodgeball – acquired by Google, left to stagnate and then shut down, with its founders later starting Foursquare. There’s also Delicious, which stagnated under Yahoo but has found new life independently, and FriendFeed, to which very little has happened since its purchase by Facebook.
But Winamp is not dead. 15 years on and it is still in active development, although none of the original developers are there anymore. It’s quite popular in Turkey and Brazil, with a few million users in each. The focus has moved to offering an iTunes-like experience on Android, so there’s a Android client and wireless sync between desktop and mobile. There’s even a Mac client, although it’s called ‘Winamp for Mac’ rather than Macamp, which is a shame.
I doubt Winamp will become much more popular. Windows Media Player is good enough for a lot of people, and comes with their computers – ditto iTunes on the Mac – and it’s not open source so a Linux client is unlikely to be in high demand. It has missed the boat when it comes to streaming music and is unlikely to catch up with Spotify. But, it has its niche – a profitable niche as well – and the management of the Winamp unit finally seem to understand this, after all of the past mistakes.