AOL recently announced that they will be sunsetting Winamp, a once-loved music player, on December 20, 2013. Sunsetting is a normal and healthy part of the product development lifecycle, so what makes this any different?
Think back to 1998 for a moment— there was Real Player and other deceptive media players that tricked users into drive-by installs of adware, aggressive upselling practices and overall, they hurt our computers. We hated it, but we sure loved to download small video clips, audio samples and once Napster crossed the chasm, downloading music.
Winamp was the answer to this problem. They were once admired (before America Online acquired the Nullsoft team and intellectual property) for being the leading junk-free, high-performance extremely-flexible media player on the market. It offered a no-pressure “Pro” upgrade that would unlock a few non-essential features and was very conscious of the user experience.
Sadly after the acquisition in 1999 for $80 million in stock (worth approximately $109M in 2012), AOL deployed a number of advertising features in the software, which led to lesser performance and depleted the interest level among fans of the music player. Winamp 2 was arguably one of the best versions of Winamp before it was forked into AOL’s version. At the same time, new media players hit the market to pick up where Winamp left off — VideoLAN (VLC) Player and foobar 2000 were developed and would address many of the multimedia needs of users, even if they weren’t as good as Winamp.
Ever since, Winamp’s popularity has faded. I mean, it wasn’t until today I read on Lifehacker, it was being sunset. But it’s still a player that many in the tech community support and enjoy, even if just in spirit.The last version they have published is 5.66, and states they will remove the official download links on December 20, 2013.
That said, there is still a passionate community centered around Winamp. AOL hasn’t stated or even hinted that they plan to update the licensing of the software to be GPL or release the source code. But this is where I think turning Winamp open source would be amazing.
WordPress is open source, and as a result, development costs are non-existent as everyone contributes to the output. Its licensing structure is so that anyone can freely do whatever they want on WordPress itself and not have to worry about IP. The WordPress community is the strongest its ever been and so is their ecosystem.
What would be in it for AOL if they open-sourced Winamp? Goodwill. I think everyone on the web today knows that AOL is no longer a product leader,but now a content leader. They can earn goodwill for giving a project away to the development community to maintain. I counter the question with another question, “What’s in it for AOL if they just kill the product?” Nothing.
AOL once was committed to being a leader for software developers. For a brief period, they ran the AOL Developers Network, which allows for new technology to “incubate” long enough to determine market fit and viability. Critically, some suggest that this was merely a talent acquisition ploy, but for those who participated, it was fun to develop and work with the latest, pre-production technologies.
I would love to see Winamp become an open-source solution to show what is truly possible within the development community. At the very least, AOL would be known to listen, care and support the interests of the development community. Long term, if AOL updated and maintained their official Github account and published their past creations, they could attract the right tech talent and perhaps (long shot, here) even take back their spot as a leader of products on the web.