WinAmp and the risk of making Freeware

WinAmp shuts down next month.

Quite a shame, though its retirement won’t affect me as much as that of certain cricketers. I stopped using it what… ten years ago? A little after v3 was released.

When MP3s hit the scene, I quickly realised that whatever Media Player came with Windows – was it called Windows Media Player then? – wasn’t going to cut it for me.  Real Player was horrible even back then (and became worse as time went by). I quickly settled on WinAmp – that lovely equaliser and the ability to queue tracks inside an existing playlist… I still love those features. About this time I was also going through a phase where I was discovering new music, Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater and The Shins and KT Tunstall. It was a time when I would upset my mother a lot by being holed up in a room with headphones on, ignoring escalating shouts for me to do something or the other.

And for the longest time, WinAmp v2.9x was the bee’s knees. I kept version 2 and above as my default player through quite a few system crashes and reinstalls. So when v3 came out, I assumed it would be just as good. Looking back, I can’t recall for the life of me what I didn’t like about it, but I remember that it just felt wrong. I was used to a fast, light, easy-to-use software that had a few nice skins, but whatever v3 was, it wasn’t.

I quickly went to some site that offered old versions of popular freeware and downloaded v2.9, but this impression – I wouldn’t go as far as to call it betrayal! – stuck with me. So when my existing computer broke down and I assembled a new one, I decided to give Windows Media Player another chance. And you know, it was… not bad. I could just about make do with it. So I didn’t bother searching for my old flame and just carried on.

And this is the biggest risk with doing things for free, I believe. One bad impression on your customers – well, end users – and they are just as likely to jump ship without bothering to give you a second chance. All your competitors have to be is not bad enough. A lot of us burnt our hands on Internet Explorer in its v4-v6 days and even though v10 and above are quite good (I’ve tried it out a few times and I like it!) I just can’t get myself to go back to it since an at-least-equally-good replacement is around. WinAmp was still used be loyal users and those who cared for its special features much more than I, but clearly not enough to sustain it.

So goodbye, WinAmp. At least the Llama can rest easy now.

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