The Making of Winamp

Question: Why did you develop Winamp?

\r\nJustin Frankel: Well, when I was in college, I guess that would \r\nhave been 1996, or 1997, I found online some places where you could \r\ndownload music files that were pretty reasonable quality for how big \r\nthey were—and this was something I played with before like in high \r\nschool and never got really... never got that whole sort of CD quality \r\nsound out of a computer before.  But when I found these, it was pretty \r\ninteresting, and so I started playing around with it. And one of my \r\nfriends in college at the time started making a Mac MP3 player, and on \r\nWindows there were a couple pieces of software available, but they were \r\nkind of limited; they didn’t really a good experience when you were \r\nlistening to music with them.  It was sort of very functional in that, \r\n"Hey, it’s playing it back," but there was very little of the sort \r\nenvironment that actually made listening to music on a computer \r\ndifferent from listening to it somewhere else. 
\r\nSo, things like you now, showing visualization, being able to seek \r\nrandomly, being able to build play lists.  All of this sort of stuff \r\nthat’s very commonplace in music-playing software now.  So, my friend \r\nstarted doing a Mac version of this software called  MacAmp, and I \r\nhaven’t really done much programming for Windows and Windows 95 had been\r\n out and it was starting to be used by a lot of people, so I figured, \r\n"Hey, this would be a good way to learn how to program Windows \r\napplication software."  And so I made Winamp.
What was it like going from being an unknown coder to a \r\nfamous one?

\r\nJustin Frankel: Well it was pretty gradual.  There was an IRC \r\nchannel that I was hanging out on and had friends on.  And these were \r\npeople all over the world that would just hang out and talk about random\r\n things. I guess kind of how many online communities are now.  But, and \r\nso, you know, I posted early versions and people would play with them \r\nand go, "Hey, this is good.  And it should do this, it should do that." \r\n And so this gradual thing of people starting to use it and giving \r\nfeedback.  And as that happened, you get like, people get excited by it \r\nand they tell their friends and it grows in its own way that way. Which \r\nis very exciting, but it kind of happens over a long period of time, so \r\nas time goes on and each day isn’t really that much bigger than the \r\nprevious.  So you really don’t notice it that much. 
What do you think of iTunes?

\r\niTunes probably started out very similar to Winamp other than some \r\nobvious differences.  It was acquired from another company.  But I think\r\n since then, it’s probably been... it’s been designed, a.) by people who\r\n actually weren’t the programmers on it.  So, you’d have people making \r\ndecisions who don't even know how those things are decided you have to \r\nbe implemented, which is often a mistake.  And then also I think it’s \r\nbeen very dumbed down, like when working on Winamp, we always tried to \r\nmake things straightforward enough so that someone who wasn’t very \r\ntechnical could use it and not be confused, but also exposed tons of \r\npower so that if someone wanted to just completely customize it to be \r\nexactly their own, and change the behavior to be what they expected, \r\nthey could do that.  Whereas, iTunes is very much... you fit into the \r\niTunes mold.  That’s just how it works.

Recorded on June 21, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

In the era before iTunes, Frankel created one of the first MP3 players. He says that Apple's product has "dumbed down" music sharing software.

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