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VNU Net: Napster alternative in the pipeline

May 08, 2000, 21:47 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Geralds)

By John Geralds, VNU Net

A group of programmers has developed a service similar to Napster, the music swapping website.

Created by developers at Nullsoft, the company that built the popular Winamp MP3 player and which is now owned by America Online (AOL), Gnutella creates self-perpetuating networks that spread without the involvement of any one company.

Users that install the software can connect to other 'servant' computers, creating a chain of users. Once connected, users can share files of any kind, including MP3 music files.

In March, Gnutella's creators posted information about the software online. But within 24 hours AOL, fearing lawsuits similar to the one filed against Napster, shut down the website, discontinuing development.

Josh Felser, general manager for AOL's Spinner and Winamp projects, said at the time: "The Gnutella software was an unauthorised freelance project and the website that allowed access to the software has been taken down."

However, several hundred users had downloaded the program before the website was shut down and some set up their own sites to post the software. Since then, more than 250 programmers around the world have continued to work on its development.

The Recording Industry Association of America, which is suing Napster for alleged copyright infringement, is taking a wait-and-see approach on Gnutella. Amy Weiss, the association's senior vice president of communications, said: "We're aware of the technology and are evaluating it. We're keeping our options open."

The Gnutella architecture allows for one-to-one connections which make the software difficult to control and users difficult to trace. Users can connect to create their own virtual private networks that can form and disappear spontaneously. This lack of accountability is seen as both a benefit and a detriment.

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