Winamp, the best MP3 player of the 1990s, just got a major update

Enlarge / Winamp. Winamp never changes.

Andrew Cunningham

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before the days of the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, there was an app called Winamp. People over 30 will remember Winamp as the first music player for people using Napster, Limewire and Kazaa to illegally download Aerosmith MP3s onto their Gateway desktop computers. (For younger kids: It was like Spotify, but you had to manually collect every song you wanted to listen to and add it to the app yourself.)

Like many influential PC applications of the Windows 95 era, it was eventually overtaken by new software and business models and forgotten, but it’s technically was never really dead. The original incarnation of Winamp died out in late 2013, shut down by AOL after years of mismanagement. A company called Radionomy bought the remnants of Winamp from AOL in January 2014 and leaked an update to the app in 2016; a revised version of this version was officially released in 2018, and a major update to version 6.0 was planned for 2019.

This plan obviously did not work. But last week, for the first time in four years, Radionomy released a new version of Winamp. The Winamp 5.9 RC1 Build 1999 release notes say the update represents four years of work between two separate development teams, delayed in the meantime by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the work done in this release focuses on the behind-the-scenes work that modernizes the codebase, meaning it still looks and acts like a turn-of-the-millennium Windows app. The whole project has been migrated from Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 to Visual Studio 2019, a wide range of audio codecs have been updated to more modern versions, and support for Windows 11 and https streams has been improved.

The final release will be 5.9, with some features intended to be released in 5.9.1 “and beyond” (6.0 not mentioned). It requires Windows 7 SP1 or newer, dropping support for Windows XP.

That said, in our limited testing, the “new” Winamp is still in many ways an old application, not designed for the era of high-resolution, high-density displays. This can lead to usability issues, depending on what you’re trying to run it on. But hey, for anyone still trying to hold out hope, it’s nice to see something about it’s not a weird NFT project and a promise of future updates.

List image by Winamp

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