AOL axes Nullsoft - whither Winamp, Shoutcast?

The little MP3 player that could

AOL split itself into four this week, and one of the casualties is the team that provided its musical credibility. And of course, we don't mean Spinner.com. After hemorrhaging employees for months, only three Nullsoft employees are left after the shake-up.

The team, which AOL acquired in 1999 for $100m - two years after the then 18-year old Justin Frankel - first released his Winamp MP3 player for Windows. Nullsoft also founded the streaming community Shoutcast, which has provided an arena for small webcasters for several years, providing 70m hours of radio a month. Nullsoft can also take the credit for AOL-disapproved projects such as P2P software Gnutella, which was released for one day only in source code form and WASTE, a decentralized encrypted file system named after Thomas Pynchon's secret postal service.

(Beta News' Nate Mook, who broke the news, has a nice recap of Nullsoft's turbulent relationship with its parent here). Frankel himself left in January.

Writing on his homepage, departing developer Steve Gedikian concluded, "At this point, I feel like I no longer have the power to make any positive impact on Winamp." He speculates that with only a skeleton staff, further development of Winamp is unlikely. The team rescued a buggy version 3.0 with version 5.0 recently, adding the ability to play Windows media files, burn discs, and organizer your porn collection: so there's really no excuse for Windows users to persist with the bundled Media Player.

"AOL's really whipped the Llama's ass on this one," wrote volunteer Mike Darrah in a posting to the Pho mailing list. Which gives us another reason to thank Nullsoft's attention to detail, and its wit. Who else could put a lyric from a much loved 350lb schizophrenic onto 100m PCs?

"Please take a moment of your day to bow your head down in thanks to the efforts and innovation given to the entire digital music revolution by the Nullsoft crew through out the years," says Darrah. We will. Politics always ends in failure, it's said, but the Nullsoft team used the channels AOL allowed them (and sometimes didn't) to maintain an important community, and valued quality to the very end - for which we're grateful. ®

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