After serving music lovers for around 16 years, AOL confirmed on Wednesday that the Winamp website and associated web services will no longer be available past December 20, 2013, and the Winamp Media Player will no longer be available for download. Winamp was originally developed by Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev, and first released as freeware back on April 21, 1997.
"Such a bummer. [AOL] had been trying to sell it for months. I even looked at it. Spinner was shut down first. It's the end of Music 1.0,” stated Venture capitalist Josh Felser, who founded Spinner.com, another online music property acquired by AOL at the same time as Winamp. He said that he seriously considered buying Winamp from AOL, but didn’t state why the purchase was never made.
Winamp version 1 arrived on June 7, 1997 adding a spectrum analyzer and color changing volume slider. Winamp 2 then landed in September 1998, and by then, the app had become one of the most downloaded pieces of software for Windows to date. By June 1999, AOL purchased the developers, formally called Nullsoft, for $80 million in stock, and as of June 22, 2000, Winamp reportedly surpassed 25 million registrants.
The downhill slide seemingly began with Winamp3. The update was released on August 9, 2002, and was a complete rewrite of version 2. But users found that it consumed way too much of the system resources, and was reported to be somewhat unstable. Thus, many users simply reverted back to Winamp 2. To make matters worse, Winamp3 wasn’t backwards compatible with Winamp 2 plugins and skins, thus giving users another reason to revert back to the older, more popular version.
Using the Winamp 2 codebase and integrating several Winamp3 features, Winamp 5 was released in December 2003, followed by Winamp 5.5 in October 2007, and finally the more recent Winamp 5.6. The latest release, Winamp 5.66, was launched on November 20, 2013, and would be the last installment of the long-time mp3 player. A Mac version was released in 2011 and an Android version in 2010.
“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 hire and first general manager of Winamp, told Ars Technica last year.
“I'm always hoping that they will come around and realize that they're killing [Winamp] and find a better way, but AOL always seems too bogged down with all of their internal politics to get anything done,” said Justin Frankel, Winamp's primary developer, in an interview last year.
Ars Technica said on Wednesday that former employees who worked on Winamp estimate its current revenue at around $6 million USD annually. Winamp also still has an estimated user base of millions worldwide, so there’s a question as to why the service is shutting down. Is Winamp costing more than what it’s bringing in each year? That’s a question we’ll probably never get answered.
Ars Technica has an extremely detailed story about the rise and fall of Winamp here, which was posted last year. So long, Winamp, and thanks for the tunes.