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I’ve seen some people bitching about new WinAmp 3 but I like it. Free-form skins are awesome. Check out Timepiece skin. I’ll probably settle for something clean and functional in the end but it’s so much fun checking out all those crazy, beautifully designed skins.

WinAmp might not look like much but in my opinion it teaches a few important lesson in software developement and marketing.

WinAmp is a platform. WinAmp isn’t just a music (and now video) player, it’s a platform. All the user-contributed skins, visualization components help WinAmp fend off competition, even from those who can include competing player in the OS itself.

WinAmp is not only useful, it’s also desireable. When designing stuff, including software, the first step is to design something that is useful and functional. But when your competition’s stuff is as functional as yours, you have to do better, you have to compete in desirability. Apple is a good example: their iPod doesn’t play mp3 better than other players but it does look cool and that allows Apple charge for it more. WinAmp also does a lot of things that don’t contribute much to functionality but a lot to desirability: tasteful splash screen with a reference to a recent boxoffice hit, visualizations, skins, animated “about box”.

WinAmp is masterfully marketed. Take a careful look at WinAmp website. It has it’s own, distinctive voice. You won’t find there cliched market speak (“our product is leading blah, blah…“). Web site is well designed (it’s both tasteful and functional).

It has forums so that people can talk about their products. It has plenty of documentation. While this exact style might not be appropriate for every software company, many could learn a lot from guys at WinAmp.

Watch and learn.