Winamp died! And then it came back! Then it died again! And now it’s back once again, as the first release candidate of the re-resurrected Winamp 5.9 has been made available for download to a new generation who years ago transitioned away from MP3 files to streaming services.
The transition from buying music on physical mediums like compact discs to distributing it digitally directly to computers and mobile devices was a bumpy one. Copying CDs, or ripping the digital files they contained to a PC, was always relatively easy, but the small file sizes of MP3s made digital music files portable and easy to share on the internet, sparking uproars over piracy. Music sharing apps like Napster, Bearshare, and Limewire came and went, but through it all, one app remained a loyal companion to those who’d amassed massive collections of MP3s: Winamp, a lightweight but fully-featured media player that worked without the bloat of other offerings like Apple’s iTunes or Microsoft’s Windows Media Player.
As the music industry finally figured out ways to securely sell music files online, and eventually transitioned to streaming services where users never actually ended up with thousands of media files stored on a device, the need for a standalone media player like Winamp faded away, and after the app changed owners a few times, active development ended with version 5.666, released in late 2013.
Four years later, in 2018, Winamp 5.8 found its way online, with the developers behind it promising major updates enroute that would add more modern features like cloud streaming, but it would be another four years before Winamp 5.9 RC1 Build 9999 would finally be made available for download through the Winamp forums. Nostalgia seekers will be happy to see that not much has changed visually with Winamp—you even get the option to use the classic skins during installation—but under the hood, the code base has been upgraded from Visual Studio 2008 to Visual Studio 2019. That’s an upgrade that will benefit the development team as it begins to introduce new features, but it also means the new Winamp will require Windows 7 SP1 or later to run. Those of you still holding onto Windows XP and Vista will need to seek out older versions of the llama’s ass-whiping media player.
Computers have changed a lot since Winamp’s heyday, and while the media player mostly looks the same as it did when we all paired it with file-sharing services decades ago, on a modern desktop with loads of screen resolution, Winamp’s playback controls look laughably tiny. But the development team knows there’s lots of work to be done to modernize Winamp, and with the successful transition to VS2019, it can get to work on adding support for modern digital audio formats and streaming services, and maybe even a couple of new trippy visualizers once they work through the release candidate’s bug list and work towards a more finalized initial release.