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Open source Napster-like product disappears after release


March 15, 2000
Web posted at: 6:41 p.m. EST (2341 GMT)

(CNN) -- America Online on Wednesday pulled the plug on Gnutella, an enhanced Napster clone that barely got out of the gate Tuesday.

When America Online-owned Nullsoft, the development house that created the software MP3 player WinAmp, announced that their new spinoff Gnullsoft would create an open-source Napster-like utility, music fans and open-source proponents went wild.

On Tuesday, the company began to offer Gnutella through its Web site in an open beta. In this pre-release format, users were encouraged to download the program and use it to share their MP3 files.


Napster has been the target of both harsh words and threats of legal action from music industry executives, who allege that the primary purpose of the program is to promote piracy. University system administrators, too, aren't fans of Napster. They have been banning the software after findings that up to 50 percent of total university network bandwidth is hogged by the transfer of MP3s.

Gnutella was the inevitable next step in this technology. It's open source, which means that its source code is visible by anyone. Open source promotes development by many hands and is touted by its fans as being a quicker, safer and more secure way of developing software because it's always tweaked to be made a little bit better.

It's also considered safer by system administrators, who would rather see the guts of a program than blindly place it on computers without being able to analyze its strengths and weaknesses.

Slashdot, a site dedicated to high-tech news and open source evangelism, was abuzz with Gnutella's release Tuesday. With so many going to the Gnutella site, what's known as the "Slashdot effect" occurred, jamming up servers so that no one else could get in. Nullsoft quickly announced that enough people had visited and the open beta was closed.

But Slashdot readers weren't the only people hearing about Gnutella for the first time. AOL also just found out about Gnutella, and closed down the project.

AOL has announced a merger with Time Warner, the parent company of both Warner Music and The record company has been one of the loudest critics of Napster and MP3 piracy as a whole.

Anne Bentley, a spokesperson for AOL, called Gnutella an "unauthorized freelance project" and said the Web site had been taken down. She refused to answer any other questions and wouldn't forward questions on to Nullsoft.

A Nullsoft product manager contacted independently declined to comment on Gnutella and referred all questions to AOL public relations.

Gnutella was designed, according to a features list on the now-defunct site, to be immune to the efforts of system administrators to curb its use. To do this, it was decentralized. Napster works off one central computer and can therefore be more easily blocked.

This portion of the advertised features was copied from the site by Slashdot users before it was taken down:

  • Distributed nature of servant makes it pretty damned tough for college administrators to block access to the gnutella service
  • Ability to change the port you listen on makes it even harder for those college administrators to block access
  • Ability to define your own internal network with a single exit point to the rest of the internet makes it almost (expletive) impossible for college sysadmins to block the free uninhibited transfer of information
  • Am I making myself painfully clear? I thought so.

Nullsoft may not be able to bring this product to market, but look for a remarkably Gnutella-like device in the future. Now that it has been downloaded, it's bound to be redesigned and enhanced by enterprising programmers. There are also other open-source projects under way, including Gnap, a Napster client program for Linux.

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Gnap: a napster client
America Online
  • Nullsoft's Winamp
Recording Industry Association of America

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