Many of you might already be familiar with WinAmp, for those who are not, here’s a little background:
In the late 90’s there was this whole new concept of having a digital form of music that was a good reproduction of its analogue counterpart. Before that, digital music was all blips and blops, the kind you hear in the old console games. There was a technology developed that transferred the audio into bits, 1’s and 0’s, but it took a lot of space. One song could take up several megabytes. Today you might laugh at that, but this was a time where the latest, most impressive hard drive had about 50 megabytes of storage, and a lot of that was taken up by the operating system. You really didn’t want the rest of the storage to be taken up by a single song, right?
So, several people around the world came up with a way to “compress” these bits, take away some of the audio to make it take less space without distorting the sound too much. This technique mostly aimed to take away the inaudible sounds, but more often than not in its youth, you could clearly hear a difference between compressed and uncompressed sound.
One of these techniques was the Ogg Vorbis compression, that is still used today in many games due to it’s liberal licensing. Another is the MPEG 3, shortened to MP3, that requires a license for programmers that wants to use it, but is more widely used in all areas of entertainment.
However, at that time, the standard media players of most operating systems were very limited and many consumers had several types of compressed songs, sometimes mixed with uncompressed songs when the harddrives became bigger, so there was a need to have a universal player, so you didn’t have to switch player just because you wanted to listen to another song. At this time, you could have as many as 25 songs on your computer after all (huge number, I know *wink wink*).
Enter: WinAmp! This light-weight program took up less space than Windows Audio Player (today called Windows Media Player) but could still play all the common formats of audio, and even some video. The second version kept the light weight but introduced a concept that is still with us today: appearance customization. You could make your own shell for WinAmp, make it look like YOU wanted it to look, without needing to know much more than how to edit images on your computer. There was a HUGE community around “theme creation”, where people made a wide variety of themes that you could download.
Then the Web Radio came. Who else would step to the front line, but WinAmp, once again? WinAmp didn’t just let you play the file needed for the radio station, but it also kept a library of ALL the station that used the most popular broadcasting system, ShoutCast.
WinAmp had a bit of a dark age once the portable music players became affordable and when web radio was becoming available directly in the browsers, however, there is still a field where web radio cannot be played like that: Mobile phones.
In todays age, you have this portable music player in your mobile phone and you have internet at all times, but how do you get to listen to these radio stations?
WinAmp still has the archive of ALL ShoutCast stations and have even added some more broadcasting systems, like IceCast, to the mix. It is available on Android and iPhone for free and is extremely easy to use.
I was sitting on the bus today, wanting to listen to my favourite station, Audio Nation, and picked up the phone, tapped on the WinAmp widget (yes, it comes with a widget, in either 4×1 size without images or 4×2 size with images) and wrote “Audio Nation”. I was really surprised how easy it was to find this station on my home screen, on my phone, on the bus, in Sweden, more than an hour away from my WiFi at home.
WinAmp still has the customizability it had in the late 90’s and you can change it to fit your own personal style and the widget makes it really easy to handle ALL media on your phone. I can’t speak for the iPhone version, since I don’t own one, but I will bet you anything that it will be as easy to use there too.
And as a last piece of nostalgia, for all of you who, like me, grew up with this awesome little program: