Featured Freeware: Winamp | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

Featured Freeware: Winamp

Good, then bad, and now good again, Winamp has had a bit of a roller coaster life. The last few updates have taken some long-needed steps to improve the old-school media player, and now it's a reasonable alternative to iTunes.

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.

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