An appreciation of the long-lost MP3 player skins of yesteryear

Originally published at:


I always found those amusing but annoying when compared to the defaults in actual use.
You can still sort of do that with rockbox on your favorite MP3 player but most of the themes are too much pretty things over the useful data.


One lesson from this era was that most laypeople suck at interface design. (See also: MySpace)


Yea I agree, those were stupid and mostly useless. Back to my spreadsheets and hope my Win95 didn’t crash with 2 apps running at the same time.


The multitude of these skins being available led to a wealth of Photoshop tutorials about how to make realistic looking elements like wires and metallic plates. But yeah, the actual UX/UI design was crap.


My favorite thing about winamp were the visualizations.


It really did whipped the llama’s ass.


Lol, came here to say this.


At my first tech job in the late 90’s. One of my co-workers was not the brightest. The guys sitting near him configured his winamp, we he left his system unlocked, so they could control it remotely.

Then one of the guys told him winamp now understood voice commands. He demonstrated:
Winamp: Play next song.
Winamp: Lower volume.
Winamp: Stop song.

For the rest of the day the guy yelled commands at his mic-less computer. Eventually people were laughing so hard he caught on that something was going on.


C’mon sheeple! Who wouldn’t want your media player interface to be made from pixelated bones and viscera?
You kids, these days.

The top bulbous Bioshock-a-like one could be updated quite nicely, make 90% of it mostly transparent, shockingly blue/teal or if a ‘retro’ look is desired, neon green, sexify the font in a contrast color, throw some reflections and we’ll take back the high ground from Google’s ‘Material’ (ptooooi!)


Ahh, sweet Sonique. I remember how they kept putting off the release of version 2 forever and ever. And then Winamp 3 came out to offer some of the similar skinning functionality, and nobody cared for that at all, so they kind of threw it away for Winamp 5. And those visualizations!

Winamp’s not dead yet, by the way.

I seem to recall there was a brief trend back then where lots of apps tried to offer “skinnable” versions, even when it was completely unnecessary. At the moment all I can really remember is a “joke-of-the-day” thing called Electronic Laughing Out Loud.

I am also reminded of IBM’s brief flirtation with “real-world user interfaces”, handily documented at the Interface Hall of Shame.


Still using Winamp 2.9 with the skin I made for it. Always running. Still the best mp3 player.


Mock skins all you want, but back then it was pretty nifty to be able to control music playback by poking at a little picture of a cat on a rocket-cycle that I’d drawn myself.

Sure, it was hidden most of the time by whatever I was doing. But it made me smile every time I brought it into focus; it was a little toy sitting there on my screen that also happened to serve a useful function, once you figured out where the buttons were concealed. Some skins were pretty, some were ugly, but they were all a little bit playful, and they let you make things a little bit more yours.

Nowadays I just control music via the media keys on my keyboard, with iTunes sitting in the background in all its boring and utilitarian glory. It’s completely faded into the background. I kinda miss having a little desktop toy that also controlled my music.


The default theme for WinAmp violently repelled me into the arms of Itunes. For all it’s annoying quirks, at least Itunes had a usable interface (prior to version 12).


Foobar2000 doesn’t have skinning like winamp did. But it does have extensively modifiable UI that can show as much or as little info as you’d like.

I think it’s really one of the best music players out there.


Show and tell? :wink:

Yep. One of my major reasons for hating Apple is refusing to let me keep iTunes 11 on a later version of OS X.


Indeed! And a couple fun facts:

  • The creator of some of the better AVS presets is none other that the guy behind and MathBox. On that website you can see where he’s coming from.
  • Ryan Geiss, creator of Geiss (arguably the visualiser that started it all) and Milkdrop, went on (after his tour of duty on a nuclear submarine) has been working at Google for the last 8 years on graphics technology for things like Google Glass

I’ve given up on OS X, sad to say, and have resigned myself to putting up with the annoyances of Windows. On the plus side, I can use any version of Itunes that I want (have bought maybe five things from the Itunes store in my life, and no longer ever synch ios devices to my computer)

Over the past decade-ish, Apple switched from being a company where usability experts ruled to a company where designers ruled (no, it wasn’t when Jobs died, I think it was a drawn out process begun under his watch and continued under Cook). The results have been pretty but not very user friendly. And it’s going to come back to bite them eventually, either when Apple’s software degrades enough that MS finally exceeds them in usability, or when enough Apple customers stop being delighted with their purchases.


This is really a forgotten artform.
Still, last thing I need is getting nostalgic for the 1990s.
Then again, looking at our present…