Winamp Is Coming Back in 2019

One of the apps that helped define the 90s is getting a reboot. Winamp, perhaps the most popular way to listen to music on the computer before iTunes, is getting relaunched as an app.

“There will be a completely new version next year, with the legacy of Winamp but a more complete listening experience,” says Alexandre Saboundjian, CEO of Radionomy, the company that bought Winamp in 2014, in an interview with TechCrunch. “You can listen to the MP3s you may have at home, but also to the cloud, to podcasts, to streaming radio stations, to a playlist you perhaps have built.”

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Started by software house Nullsoft in 1997, Winamp was built by Justin Frankel while he was attending the University of Utah. Everything about Winamp screamed 90s. Nullsoft was a sarcastic and grunge-y play on Microsoft, and “Winamp” and its llama logo came from outsider musician Wesley Willis’ nonsensical declaration that “Winamp really whips the llama’s ass!” The program made money on voluntary shareware prompts asking for ten bucks upon opening, which Frankel only put in at the insistence of his parents.

Winamp offered more to its listeners than many competitors at the time. There was an equalizer for getting sound just right, easy to use playlists, visualizers which offered psychedelic images loosely in sync with the music, and heavy customization. Winamp skins became a valuable commodity online. Within a year and a half, the program had 15 million downloads.

AOL bought Nullsoft for $100 million in 1999, and Frankel found selling out as uncomfortable as many of the musicians he admired. His clashes with AOL brass became legendary, with Rolling Stone calling him “the Internet’s greatest punk — and hero” in 2004. Fighting to keep the program nimble amidst growing competition from RealPlayer on one hand and Napster on the other, Winamp struggled with the introduction of video. And as iPods became a generation’s music device of choice, iTunes surged.

In 2013, AOL shut down Winamp.com and said that the software would no longer be available to download. Stuck in Winamp 5.8 since then, what was left of the product was sold to the Belgian Radionomy, which is mostly owned by Vivendi. But old habits die hard—the software maintained a small but passionate fanbase through it all.

“Winamp users really are everywhere. It’s a huge number,” says Saboundjian. “We have a really strong and important community. But everybody ‘knows’ that Winamp is dead, that we don’t work on it any more. This is not the case.”

The company will be releasing a few updates to 5.8, but Saboundjian is also promising a Winamp 6 by 2019.

“What I see today is you have to jump from one player to another player or aggregator if you want to listen to a radio station, to a podcast player if you want to listen to a podcast — this, to me, is not the final experience,” Saboundjian says. The app will be on iOS and Android.

What this will look like in the end is hard to say, considering Saboundjian isn’t giving many details. But at least for hardcore users, they will know that there’s a dedicated team out there making sure the llama’s ass stays whipped.

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