Winamp Logo
Winamp Logo

One by one, the bygone technology greats are dying off. There was an impressive string of die-offs in 2009, with the Encarta encyclopedia, CompuServe service provider, and GeoCities free web hosting all shutting down. More recently we lost Palm, and it looks like we might be on the verge of losing BlackBerry too. These services, and others, were the tech titans of their time—either because they were really great, or at least because they were pioneers that laid the groundwork for better things to come. With better vision, better management, and better luck, they could have become the Wikipedias, Googles, Facebooks, and Apples of today . . . but instead they foundered, languished, and died.

And now we say farewell to the Winamp media player—one of the earliest MP3 jukeboxes to hit the Windows PC and a real pioneer in digital music. AOL, née America OnLine, officially shut Winamp down on December 20, although they might have fired their web site managers too early because Winamp.com and the players’ download links are all still live today. Grab it while you still can.

Winamp’s real glory days ended about the same time that the U.S. government shut down the Napster file sharing service [on tenuous legal grounds]. The player lived on with occasional updates . . . and I would argue that it was still one of the best media players on the Windows platform right up until the end. It was Apple that really revolutionized digital music with the iPod and iTunes, even though that honor could just as easily gone to Winamp if AOL had managed it properly after taking over in 1999.

With iTunes preloaded on every Mac, and an improved Windows Media Player preloaded on every Windows PC, most computer users didn’t see the need for Winamp anymore . . . but I liked it, and many other music lovers with expansive MP3 collections did too. I used iTunes for a good long time, but as my collection got bigger (and Apple’s software quality took a depressing nose-dive) I made the switch to Winamp. It served me very well right up until the day that AOL announced its demise, at which point I moved to MediaMonkey—a similarly no-frills, down-to-earth, powerful music management application that chews through thousands and thousands of tracks without a hitch.

Life goes on, but Winamp is another one of those products that will continue to bring back fond memories, even long after it’s gone to the great bit-bucket in the sky.