Good, then bad, and now good again, Winamp
has had a bit of a roller coaster life. The last few updates, starting
about version 5.3, took some long-needed steps to improve the
old-school media player, with support for AAC encoding, CD burning, and
a robust file-management system. The latest, 5.51, ups the ante with
strong support for portable devices, including iPods, the capability to
sync non-DRMed files to your PC from your device, an optional new
interface layout, and a built-in browser for media discovery.
Clicking on an artist's name will get you related headlines and Web
sites in a separate pane. There's podcast-catching support, device
synchronization that lets you tweak the sync list while in progress,
and continued support for AOL's excellent Shoutcast. The new Bento
layout is worth mentioning, too, because it gets the venerable llama
away from the old modular format. The joined panes for the browser,
media player, artist list, album list, and more make Winamp instantly
more visually appealing. There's also an Auto-Tag feature, which will
download metatags from the Gracenote database.
If you want MP3 encoding and full-speed CD burning, you have to
shell out $19.95 for the Pro version. However, there are other
problems. Automatic album art download support is spotty at best. More
importantly, there are some stability issues when playing videos, and
occasional program crashes were far more common than they should be.
Winamp 5.51 is no iTunes killer–not yet. It has become, however, a
strong alternative and should be of interest to those looking for
something with more meat on its bones.
Llama meat, that is.