Old Audio Laid to Rest

The digital music revolution, many believe, was sparked by the MP3 format, and is now transforming into a DRM/paid for download market of iPods, Windows Media, AAC and a whole raft of other things which may or may not be a good thing for artists and home users and their rights.

However, it was interesting to me in the last few days to see 2 old apps from simpler days effectively disappear from active development – Winamp and Audion. Actually, I should qualify that – Winamp will continue, but all of the original team has now left the parent company and it has been in a state of lacklustre development for a while. Audion, on the other hand, has been officially put into retirement and is now officially freeware.

I used Winamp in about 1998 when I was working for a ‘digital media’ company [sic] – with it’s llama themes demo track and it’s different skins Winamp really was a nice way to listen to MP3 and CDs at the time on Windows – add in visualisations and it was a nice little app. Unfortunately, it (Nullsoft) was bought by AOL and it seems the bloat began – the small app added more and more windows and popups. Version 3 wasn’t as good as 2 and as if to admit this, version 4 was skipped and the next one was (to me) the equally disappointing version 5. Added to this that other players in the Windows market such as Microsoft, Real, MusicMatch and even Apple with their iTunes had better apps it was obvious that Winamp had become an add-in to AOL and not much else, as mentioned here as the last Nullsoft person has now left the building.

Audion was around since OS 8 (and still works on 9 I believe), and I used it a lot, and even licensed version 1 – it was a nice app, and the company who made it – Panic – are a great bunch of coders who have released a lot of very cool applications. I bought it, and the N2MP3 encoder and between the two of them, put in as many MP3s from live recordings I made in Japan’s live bars as I could on a Powerbook 190 (68K processor running at 66MHz on a 1GB hard drive). I liked Audion – it’s faces were cool and it did what you wanted – had simple functionality and was nice to look at, but faded into the background when you needed it to. What happened? Well, the long and the short of it was iTunes, the iPod and the Music Store. Panic founder Cabel Sassar has written an amazing page on this situation, and I encourage everyone to read it – and to click on the pop-up links – there’s some great things in there. Ultimately, iTunes and it’s iPod and store were just too big a juggernaut to overcome. I commend Panic for retiring the app though to conserve a small company’s resources to move on and live to fight another day. Another Panic person, Steve Frank has put some more thoughts on his Blog here.

Ultimately it shows how a market place can change and how competition truly works. Winamp I think was the victim of a corporation and a startup just not understanding each other, whereas Audion seems to have been the victim of the market convergence between a player, an encoder, hardware and a music shop.