AOL will officially shut down Winamp on Friday, and I’m sad about it.
It’s not just because Winamp (with an assist from Mandy Moore) set me on the path that led me to become head of design at the streaming music service Rdio. It’s also because Winamp was a key part of what it was like to come of age right at the end of the millennium (and first tech bubble).
In 2000, I graduated from high school and used the gift money to buy my first personal computer. I bought my first car, a Honda Civic. My shitty rock band recorded and released its first (and final) studio album. What would become my professional career also began: I wrote my first line of HTML, built my first website, downloaded my first MP3 from Napster, and fell in love for the first time with a software application. That would be Winamp, of course.
From the second you opened it, you knew Winamp was something different. A booming (ironic) voice would say, “Winamp, it really whips the llama’s ass.”
And it really did.
In 2000, most Windows and third-party applications felt impenetrable, but Winamp felt real. It had soul. I remember thinking, “Whoever made this has to be a musician.” More specifically, they had to be a guitar player. It looked like my Rat distortion pedal or Boss DD-3. I wanted to turn every knob, press every button. My digital music collection was a junkyard of random MP3s and ripped CDs, but Winamp whipped it into something that made sense.