Win Amp

Funky media player for Windows by Nullsoft (now AOL). Getting upstaged by the considerably chunkier WindowsMediaPlayer nowadays. Is this the new Explorer / Netscape battle for the new millennium? (ahem... Gamut2000 is another cool player too!)

The creators of WinAmp also did Gnutella before AOL slapped them. Not like it mattered.

Purely on end-user interface and functionality, I prefer either RealJukebox? or WindowsMediaPlayer 7. Compare the exotic skins of RealJukebox? (and to a lesser extent, WindowsMediaPlayer 7) to the comparatively bland skins of WinAmp. Am I comparing the players purely on fluff? Sure, but I'm a casual user, so there... -- JasonYip

MultipleSkins are bad.

I don't know what version of WindowsMediaPlayer (WMP) I have, but I hate anything from Real (I wish WMP could take over for playing Real streams). I prefer WinAmp for playing MP3s and CDs though (when I'm on a Windows machine, which isn't often). WinAmp is more flexible (for music that is), and has some cool plugins. I mean, how many solutions have you seen to allow you to control WMP with a remote control or a joystick? Also, there are numerous other control systems and processing plugins. OK, the processing plugins are that great usually. Of course, with the exception of 3d hardware support, you can do most of the same things better with BeOs. Linux has some cool stuff too for MP3s in the XMMS system, although not as cool as BeOs and WinAmp.

Who doesn't like the visualization plugins? With a sufficiently powerful computer, and the right hardware and associated plugins, you can do some amazing things with WinAmp.

WindowsMediaPlayer 7 has visualization now. I find it to be a useless feature though since I tend not to have time to stare at them. WinAmp seems to be more GeekFocused? while RealJukebox? and WindowsMediaPlayer is more CasualUserFocused?. -- JasonYip

Visualization can be amusing at times. One fun thing to do is in a room with 15 people playing quake, have the lights turned off, and one computer running WinAmp hooked up to a projector aimed at a white wall so that the room lighting is driven by the music. Special bonus for having the music playing being the Quake sound track. I'm told that WinAmp is rather popular at smaller raves (due to it's ability to take feeds from non digital sources).

The AVS (AdvancedVisualizationStudio?, nothing to do with SGI's Application Visualization System) feature is great. -- DavidEscala

WinAmp plays tunes. I have it grooving on Jazz at as we type. RealAudio?, by contrast, is a Spam Client with dozens of cloying, annoying and fragile "features" that represent blatant gold-plating. I enjoy uninstalling it. -- PCP

Anyone tried Sonique? -- PierrePhaneuf

Hated it. -- KyleJerviss

Has anyone else noticed shuffle mode playing the same few hundred songs and ignoring the rest? -- KyleJerviss

I had the same problem. Just get it to randomize your playlist and then sequentially play all the tracks. You get all the benefits of randomness plus the ability to go back or skip tracks.

Sounds to me like the random number resolution phenomenon. Some random number generators have really poor resolution, resulting in only a subset of a large pool being selected over and over again. This is my personal explanation for why the same people get selected for jury duty over and over again when the process is handled by the lowest-bidder MicrosoftWindows software that it is (at least in my county). (Yes, yes, I know, AmericanCulturalAssumption. Well, SodOff?.) -- MattBehrens
Well, here's one true MicroSoft guy who still prefers WinAmp. -- sg

Beware of WinAmp 3! Far more of a ResourceSlob? and generally slower/non-user friendly. Stick with 2.81! -- MikaelNordfelth

Winamp has a really tiny set of valid interactions. Play, stop (by which we mean pause), forward, backward, and seek. That is it. There are no other valid interactions, operations, mechanisms or features,.

The whole playlist editor is itself completely superfluous. The filesystem performs the function of organizing files, and it's not legitimate for winamp to maintain playlists independently from filesystem directories.

So what's left for winamp? Not a whole lot, not even volume control. As previously stated, exactly 4 discrete and 1 continuous operations. That amounts to 3 buttons (backwards, pause/start, forwards) and one long seek bar. Not much huh? Well, they've managed to screw that up!!

The seek bar in winamp is something like 2 millemeters in height. And it's linear instead of being logarithmic, so if you want to start playing at exactly 4 minutes and 10 seconds into a 60 minute megamix, you've got a target of about 4 millemeters square!

And that's the lesser of the problems since you can't start playing at an arbitrary location. A bit of experimentation tells me that 7 seconds is the finest resolution available on a song just 24 minutes long. And at 60 minutes the resolution is ~16 seconds. Which is greatly annoying when even just 3 seconds before the desired 4:10 you get to hear a blast of sound that hurts your ears.

I used to like Jethro, I still enjoy them on occasion and I even wasted money for a concert that was wasted due to poor technical conditions (don't go to county fair concerts ever, even if it's Jethro Tull). But Ian Anderson, by his own admission plays the flute rather badly. If you want to listen to real flute try Emmanuel Pahud's rendition of Bach works together with Berliner Barocque Soloists. Absolutely nothing beats that level of music, it leaves you speechless.

Okay, what else? You've got 3 buttons, can't possibly screw that up, right?

So how do you design it correctly? Easy. Instead of displaying a useless thumbnail in the filesystem, you display a giant seek bar with a height > 2 centimeters, and using a logarithmic (or at least two-level) input map, so that you can always control down to the second without needing to use targets smaller than 4 cm^2. There are no buttons since ButtonsAreEvil. Instead, there is a context menu that you can bring up using the ALT key which contains exactly three actions: start/stop, previous and next, at the 12 o'clock (W), 9 o'clock (A) and 3 o'clock positions (D).

-- RichardKulisz

Personally, I think WinAmp is one of the best MP3 players out there as far as interaction design goes, second only to Amarok. Granted, that's because iTunes/WMP/MusicMatch? absolutely suck - as you say, they go too far with the "media library" stuff when I just want to use the filesystem and play a whole directory. Winamp at least doesn't take up my whole screen with its playlist/media library (and I use old versions of WinAmp, which default to hiding the playlist anyway).

I consider both the logarithmic search and the context WheelMenu to be stupendously bad ideas, and here's why:

When I use the slider bar to navigate through a song, it's for one of these positions: Note that these are all outtros. If you think hitting a target 10 second target 4 minutes in is hard, try hitting a 10 second target 10 seconds before the end. If anything, I'd rather have it map exponentially, so that later targets are easier to hit - but averaged across all users, every area is probably equally likely.

The way I'd design it is to make the timer displays - which show you how far in you are - editable. If you want to go to 12:06, you type in 12:06 and it picks up from there. You always get second accuracy, and it's easy to post spots of interest on the Internet and jump to them, or go back by exactly 5 seconds.

As for the context menu - I use buttons on my Walkman. I use buttons on my discman. I use buttons on my VCR. Why should I not use buttons on my MP3 player? They instantly present me with a familiar interface, so I can figure out how to work the damn thing without learning a whole new concept.

I need to mention Amarok here, because they do something that's absolutely great. They eliminate the UI entirely (except when you're setting things up - playlists and preferences and such). Each time a song pops up, it displays a little label on the screen with the title for about 5 seconds. You can customize the duration, drag the label to a different spot if you want it elsewhere, or tell it not to pop up at all. You can also optionally display how far into the song you are, with another small draggable display. You control the player through KDE's global keyboard shortcuts, which are all configurable (so you could hotkey the commands to Alt W/A/D as RK suggests, or something else for us DvorakKeyboardUsers), and can switch tracks or pause without leaving your current application. -- JonathanTang

Huh, you thought up a more usable feature than I did, nice job! I really shouldn't have been mesmerized by the giant seek bar. Just reading it now, it would be horribly space consuming to have more than one seek bar viewable on the screen but it would be easy to have 20 little boxes with editable time slots in them. Although editable time slots are not browsable and people do browse music and movies.

But to answer your question of why not use buttons, that one's easy. What essential feature a walkman, a discman and a VCR share together? They're all physical objects. And neither software nor song objects are physical. Plus, there already are buttons on the computer, on the keyboard and on the mouse, both of which just happen to be physical. Having virtual buttons up on the screen is about as stupid as having a virtual keyboard up on the screen. It's much better, more rational, and massively less ugly to simply have keyboard keys mapped directly into software controls. -- RK

Of course, it should be mentioned that the best physical user-interface component for navigating through songs, video clips, or other linear media, is the shuttle/jog control found on high-end tape recorders and such. I'm not aware of any really successful attempts to virtualize such a thing, as a good shuttle/jog control has several different motions, all of which are continuous parameters. Far nicer than the "seek" controls on low-end VCRs/DVDs/CDs, which are horrendously cumbersome to use. The shuttle control (a free-turning differential rotary encoder) can be emulated easily enough with mouse motions; but it probably would be very disconcerting for the user for mouse motions to be repurposed for anything other than moving the mouse pointer. The physical computer device which comes closest to the jog control would be a self-centering, position sensitive joystick; but unless you're a serious gamer, you probably don't have a joystick. The Sony BetaMax? used one... we have one at home. It's the wheel to the right in the photo:

The wheel was mostly continuous, but you could feel distinct "stop" positions as you moved it. Turn it slowly and you got frame-by-frame replay, each frame corresponding to one stop position. Turn it quickly and it worked like a fast-forward. And yes, it was much more convenient than the slow motion/fast forward buttons that replaced it on most VHS machines.

BTW, I believe that's the interaction mechanism Apple chose for the (non-Nano) Ipods. -- JonathanTang

Mouse motions can be repurposed for shuttle/jog control in a non-disconcerting way IF you have some form of zoomable interface and you treat 'zoomed into an object' as a mouse QuasiMode. So when you're zoomed into an object, the normal 3D camera motions which the mouse controls are suspended and the mouse is reduced to controlling a 2D pointer + providing some other continuous input. In the case of a document, the mouse would control cursor insertion and scrolling. In the case of music, well you only need shuttle/jog really though you might want to use the scroll wheel to skip through songs. This is completely feasible. -- RK

CategoryUserInterface CategorySoftwareTool

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