So I’m trying to streamline my software life today and one of my pass-times is to fish around and listen to new music before it "graduates" into the hyper-organized world of iTunes. My need was simple: a lean, low-overhead MP3 player that can load in a snap and not be in my way or slow my system down. I fished around a lot and couldn’t really find anything to my liking.
Then I thought about Winamp. For those old enough to remember, Winamp set the bar years ago for media players way back when MP3 had come into our lives. It was small, fast and completely badass. It did what it was designed to do beautifully. Here’s a snapshot of what Winamp looked like for years:
Nothing crazy. A media player. Shuffle. Playlist support. Worked just fine. So I decide to go to Winamp.com to grab it. Well, it turns out Winamp has grown up a lot since version 2.0 (pictured above). The new version has all kinds of features and a "Pro" edition with even more features. But in looking for something lean, Winamp’s svelte physique was no more. In fact, he’d gained a lot of weight:
The above is a chart of Winamp’s installer file size as it has evolved from version 1.0 through today’s version 5.5. The bars represent kilobytes. Version 1.5 of Winamp comes in around 350kb in size. The current version nears 9MB (or 9000kb) nearly twenty five times the size.
Now I know, there are all sorts of new features in Winamp 5.5 that are missing in 1.5. And some of them may be worth a boost in size. Let’s say version 5.5 is, oh I dunno, five times better (a tall order if you ask me). That still doesn’t warrant a 25X increase in installer size…which will translate into a larger memory footprint, a greater demand for CPU cycles, and so on.
The unmitigated piling on of features is an evil thing. It’s like a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet. Yeh, its great to be able to eat as much as you want for one low price. The problem is your stomach is only so large and you start feeling gross after awhile. When I wear my product manager hat, I like to follow one particular rule: before adding a new feature, weigh its benefit against its cost. It’s cost in terms of complexity, dilution of the broader value of your product, its performance impact on your product and…is it adding to the overwhelmed (gross?) feeling of using unnecessarily bloated software.
Digging around, I was able to find a huge list of all the old versions of Winamp on oldversions.com. I grabbed version 2.0. It has the one feature the newer versions don’t: it’s slim and fast and loads in a split second. And yes, it actually feels good to use something so lean and efficient.