Nullsoft's engineers released a Napster clone without America Online's permission. The media got a peek and then the site was gone.
“Those naughty, naughty geeks. You give them $70 million and what do they do, but stab you right in the back?”
I’m indulging in a bit of conjecture, but I can only imagine that conversations in the executive suites of America Online went somewhat along those lines this week, after the discovery that programmers working at AOL subsidiary Nullsoft had been engaging in some semi-naughty (and very secret) software development. How else to explain the fact that Nullsoft’s little project, Gnutella, an open-source clone of the controversial file-swapping software Napster, was effaced from the Web merely hours after it surfaced?
You may recall that Nullsoft, a geeky and talented group of programmers from Arizona who conceived both the Winamp MP3 player and Shoutcast, was purchased last summer by AOL. Justin Frankel, the wunderkind founder of Nullsoft and reticent icon of the geek world, is now estimated by the Wall Street Journal to be worth $70 million. Since the company disappeared behind the iron curtain of AOL, however, the world has heard not a peep about Frankel and company’s current projects.
The mystery appeared solved Tuesday, however, when the quiet alpha release of Gnutella on a back page of the Nullsoft Web site turned into a full-fledged media storm. Gnutella is apparently a type of file-sharing software, inspired by Napster, which allows users to exchange everything from MP3 files to digital movies to “recipes” (as product manager Tom Pepper speculated in the Wall Street Journal). Apparently, the software was intended to resolve some of the bandwidth-hogging issues that have spurred many universities to ban Napster; much to the delight of the geeks at Slashdot, it’s also an open-source application.
It seems that AOL had no idea that the Nullsoft programmers were working on such a project; according to the Journal, “Gnutella had been a secret until this week.” And no surprise: Napster is currently being sued for billions of dollars by the Recording Industry Association of America, which complains that the software enables music piracy. AOL — which is in the process of acquiring Time Warner, which in turn owns the record label Warner Music, which in turn is a charter member of the Recording Industry Association of America — could hardly be pleased that one of its own was producing a similar software program. No wonder those roguish programmers kept Gnutella hidden from their corporate managers.
The Gnutella software and documentation mysteriously disappeared from Nullsoft’s Web site on Tuesday; Pepper told News.com that the program was removed because the beta program was full (Slashdot fans had apparently deluged the site) and the software wasn’t ready for public consumption. AOL officials are hinting of a different story: “The gnutella software was an unauthorized freelance project and the Web site that allowed access to the software was taken down yesterday,” Josh Felser, general manager for Winamp, said in a statement Wednesday.
Although Nullsoft engineers weren’t available for comment, the statements hint of curious behind-the-scenes shenanigans at AOL. Was the release of Gnutella a pie-in-the-face prank intended to show the world that Nullsoft, despite being acquired by the most corporate of corporations, hadn’t lost its geek credibility? Will Gnutella ever be released as an AOL-endorsed product? Or will AOL choke its wayward programmers into submission?
Too late: The open-source application is already being widely passed around by diligent free-software fans; even if Gnutella never sees the light of day as an AOL-branded program, the sticky software will surely keep circulating (already, Gnutella and its documentation have mysteriously reappeared on a landscaping Web site).
Was this Frankel’s intention in the first place? No one knows, but it’s certainly true that with millions already safe in their pockets, the Nullsoft programmers can afford to give this one away for free.
More Related Stories
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- Stephen Colbert to UVA: "You must always make the path for yourself"
- "Game of Thrones," season 3, episode 8: A salon
- Bieber booed, Miguel falls on fan at Billboard Awards
- "Mad Men" recap: Love, acid and whores. Lots of whores
- Taylor Swift leads Billboard winners
- “Game of Thrones” recap: “We must do our duty”
- "The Unwinding": What's gone wrong with America
- Michael J. Fox wins: The best and worst of the new fall shows
- First look: The Coens' marvelous folk-music odyssey
- New York's most persecuted subway artist?
- James Franco: "I really felt I was in conversation with Faulkner"
- "Jodorowsky's Dune": The sci-fi classic that never was
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11