Winamp, that staple of media players, will soon turn 10! And its not letting it pass without a bang. On the 10th of October at 10:10am, Winamp 5.5 (PC-only) will be released sporting two new and potentially controversial features: support for mp3 blogs and the ability to stream your music collection over the Internet (a Beta version is available here).
Cashing in on the growing popularity of mp3 blogs, and the lack of tools to take advantage of them, Winamp’s Media Monitor can be used in conjunction with the software’s built-in browser to access any mp3s linked to on a blog page, presented as a playlist or even downloaded to your library. Winamp also includes handy links to a dozen or so music blogs to get you started.
The second major new feature is the Winamp Remote. This acts like a local media server, cataloging your tracks and videos and then enabling you to access them from another device, including other PCs running Winamp or via a web browser, various mobile devices, and game consoles (Playstation 3, XBox 360 or Nintendo Wii).
However, unlike iTunes, sharing isn’t restricted to devices on the local network, and instead you can also share your music over the Internet. To make this relatively simple, Winamp prompts you to send an email (or SMS text message) to a friend to let them access your playlists from their computer (they’ll need to create a free account to verify their identity, but only once). In this regard, Winamp Remote makes iTunes’ network sharing features seem rather puny and inflexible.
Also new to version 5.5 is the “Bento” skin. This is a move away from Winamp’s traditional multi-windowed interface (the default skin), which can be confusing and cluttered at times. Instead, the new skin only has one window which is more in keeping with other media management software.
The rest of Winamp performs as you’d expect it. It is still a very good media player; responsive, highly customisable, able to cope with many formats and yet still has a low demand on system resources. It will synchronise with a number of portable media players, including iPods*, making it a potential replacement for iTunes or Windows Media Player. Obviously, its still a beta version so there are some niggles with the program — it locked the interface for the duration of one track, although it had worked fine previously, and there are a couple of error messages when you close the program.
Winamp continues to evolve, and the new and bold features are a worthy update in which to mark the application’s tenth anniversary.
* Reports on the web suggest that Apple’s latest iPods (the Nano Video, Classic and Touch) break the ability to manage the device’s music library using software other than iTunes, including Winamp. Update: hackers have unlocked the DB, so it may be just a matter of time.