Thoughts on Winamp3

According to Joel Spolsky (, the “single worst strategic mistake that any software company can make” is deciding to rewrite their code from scratch.

Joel was talking about Netscape/Mozilla. Now another of AOL/Timewarner’s children has shot themselves in the foot.

Winamp used to be small, tight, fast, and nimble. It used to whip the llamas ass. Now, in the latest release, version 3.0, which was completely re-written from scratch, it is awkward and unrefined.

Winamp3 doesn’t use standard Windows controls. You can’t Tab through form fields. Over a year ago, I ranted about non-standard user-interface elements, skins, and how these decisions to build proprietary cross-platform interface controls make sense for programmers, but not for users. I could go on and on about this (look at this skin – what the hell is that!?).

Click for full window viewWinamp, the program that pioneered the “Stop bugging me!” checkbox in their installation/registration wizard now puts AOL icons all over the place.

They also win my Most Meaningless Icon of the Week award for their ‘shuffle’ control button. The button looks at times exactly like a ‘volume’ control, and at times exactly like an ‘equalizer’ control. What was wrong with the word shuffle.

shuffle: before and after

I realize that Winamp is owned by AOL/Timewarner, but if their parent company fails to realize what it was that made Winamp popular in the first place, they will have wasted their $400 million.

The real winner here is Microsoft. Their Windows Media Player has always been bulky and slow. Winamp used to be the light alternative. The other alternatives aren’t looking good either. QuickTime on Windows is a bad port from the Mac version and RealPlayer fell prey to the worst advertising saturation of any application in the history of software to the point where many refuse to even install it.

Having said all of this, it has been pointed out to me that Winamp2 was not very refined when it was initially released either. I’m sure Winamp3 will improve over time as well, but that’s the whole point – they shouldn’t have to improve.


17 thoughts on “Thoughts on Winamp3

  1. I rant-blogged about skins at 2am last night, but I concluded that winamp (winamp 2 that is) is the only program that skinning actually worked for…

    Haven’t they been working on Winamp3 for at least a year (maybe two?) now?

  2. Yeah, jevon, I think winamp3 has been in development for years (another parallel with Netscape). You have to give them credit though – these guys do have a sense of humour – the title of right now is “WINAMP.COM | Winamp3 would have happened two years ago, but we had the munchies”. I hope a lot of that $400 million AOL buyout went into their pockets.

  3. My favorite thing about WA3 has nothing to do with the program, but instead with the website. I love the cartoonish upper-right-corner graphics for switching between WA2 and WA3.

    There’s only one problem. They make 2 look like a little guy, sad and alone in a smashed-up world. He’s still there, but he’s not really doing much. But 3, oh, now 3 is just busting through everything with action! He’s big, he’s buff, and he’s gonna kick your music’s ass hardcore. The problem is that, while WA3 may be the new and ‘explosive’ software Nullsoft always wanted to create, WA2 is still sitting there, compact, fast and efficient. It’s not gonna bust your music’s balls, it’s not gonna make you sweat. It’s going to work, pretty much perfectly, all the time. And it’s not gonna eat up RAM, and it’s not going to waste your time.

    And as an aside, I’m also against WA3 because I will have to rewrite my WA2 plugin, CurrentlyHearing, for it to work. I don’t really want to do that.

  4. Garrett: You are borderline skinning your website. 😉 Actually, I appreciate how you went about it, nice color schemes, but nothing that adds much real work for you. Kudos.

  5. Winamp 3 is nice, but I hate the playlist manager. In Winamp 2 you could dubble click add to bring up the file browsing window, now you have to click add once and select add files. The same goes for removing files.

    Only little nitpicks I know, but things that will make me stay with Winamp 2.

  6. Jevon: Thanks. I’m a big fan of blue, but I always get complaints when I roll out a new design of my site featuring a blue colour. So I figured this time, if you don’t like blue, have it another way. Glad you like it.

  7. My personal opinion on starting from scratch

    If it’s not broken, why fix it?

    When it comes to writing code, every book/resource will tell you to research built in functions of the language before reinventing the wheel. When a program is built well it’s usually because the proper planning and research was done up front and complete to the point where the programmer knows what is already available with in the language. Unless a company wants to switch from COBAL to a more modern language for a specific reason there shouldn’t really be a huge need to start over. Most development tools allow you to plan for the future and with OO programming now, it is easy to update a block of code within the program preventing the need to go through line by line of the entire project.

    From that article I like this paragraph best:
    “It’s important to remember that when you start from scratch there is absolutely no reason to believe that you are going to do a better job than you did the first time. First of all, you….”

    “It’s harder to read code than to write it” I guess this all depends on how organized it is. How much you already know of what the program is intended to do. And how many comments and descriptions the author has placed to help others understand the concept they were thinking at the time of development.

  8. Actually, the playlist manager worked far better in beta 2. It had more bugs than now, for example it was very picky about playlists you opened, and you couldn’t drag and drop – but it would remember all previous playlists you opened, and if you wanted to listen to a saved playlist that you had listened to a week ago, you didn’t have to reopen it. Now this appears not to work at all. It was the best part of winamp3 for me – as i use playlists to listen to my collection more than anything else.

    The nullsoft guys have always been highly respected in my eyes, some of the funniest title bars in history (“Winamp – Easier to use than a virgin on prom night” – honestly), and a good screw you attitude to AOL (early versions of gnutella). But it appears they were pushed to get winamp3 out the door by their owners.

  9. Take a look at Zinf (formerly FreeAmp). It’s a small, fast, open source media player that is available on a variety of platforms.

    It’s a great alternative to WinAmp.

  10. WinAmp probably started the skinning trend, but I’ve never liked its UI. Too many fiddly buttons which aren’t obvious, and hundreds of ugly skins to choose from. I’d rather it just stuck to OS controls (unfortunately Windows Media Player has also gone partly down the skinning route).

    As for rewriting from scratch, I’m a big fan of it. I don’t care what any software development ‘gurus’ say, it’s often the best thing you can do, clearing away years of mistakes, bolt-ons and incompetence, whilst also offering the opportunity to apply new tools and techniques.
    If something is well-built the code will have a much longer life, but often it’ll still reach a point where a (partially or completely) clean slate is a good thing, particularly if the purpose of the application has changed beyond all recognition.

    By criticising Netscape for scrapping their v4 code Joel Spolsky simply showed his complete ignorance of the whole project. It wasn’t possible to adapt v4 to get to v6, a ground-up XML-based rewrite was essential.
    Netscape can be criticised for many things, but the v4 code had already been pushed beyond its limits and could go no further.

  11. I have a hatred for winamp 3.I installed on my system and found a few things i do not approve of

  12. eats up sys resources like a motherfarker on me so it then crashed itself constantley
  13. they took out the ablity to edit the id3 tags
  14. bulky,too graphical [sounds like netscape]

    The one thing i did like about it though is now the skins for winamp3 take it to a whole new level,you are able to manuipulate the design even more so then you ever could in 2

    All in all im going to stick with winamp 2.8 until i can no longer use it..

  15. When I first used winamp 3 my brother had applied a strange alien looking skin to it (or for all I know that may have been the default.)

    First thing I asked my brother after starting it up was… “where’s the open button?” Then “where’s the volume control?” And then after much fiddling and clicking “Where’s the close button!?!? I want out!!!”

    Allowing skin designers to alter the interface / button locations was not a good idea. And what’s with that “thinger” that they use for the components? Such a hassle.

    And that AOL spam it comes with… totally unacceptable.

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