July 11, 2005

LimeWire: Open source brings commercial success

Author: Paul Virijevich

LimeWire, the popular cross-platform P2P client for the Gnutella network, has been growing in popularity thanks to its promise that it contains no adware or spyware -- a fact anyone can verify because the application's source code is open.

The first client for the decentralized peer-to-peer Gnutella network was released by AOL's Nullsoft division in 2001. It was quickly withdrawn a couple of days later when AOL realized that it could be used to facilitate piracy. That did not stop others from reverse-engineering Nullsoft's client and releasing their own commercial and open source versions with added features. It was not long before a number of clients, such as LimeWire, BearShare, Shareaza, Gnucleus, and others, were unleashed upon the world.

According to its open source resource site, LimeWire.org, going open source later in 2001 allowed LimeWire to provide core message passing and file sharing code that all Guntella clients could interact with, allowing LimeWire and other Gnutella developers to focus on adding new features instead of constantly re-inventing the wheel.

LimeWire makes its source code easily accessible with nightly snapshots, command-line CVS access, and the ability to browse the CVS tree online. It also offers an online mailing list and a request/bug reporting tool.

I asked LimeWire LLC's CTO Greg Bildson how well going open source has worked for both development and business.

On the development side, LimeWire LLC engages open source developers by paying bounties for features. Small bounties, listed as being "good for beginners," pay $50; medium bounties, "good for learning the intricacies of the code," pay $200; and large bounties, for projects that are "difficult, but very useful," pay $500. Bildson says, "Our offer of bounties... has attracted high-quality contributions from around the world."

In addition to offering a free Basic version, LimeWire also offer a Pro version for $18.88 that advertises better search results and six months of support. While Bildson would not release specific numbers on the success of the Pro version, he did say, "Our user base of both versions has close to tripled [in the last year]. LimeWire Pro's success has put us in the black and allowed us to ramp up our development efforts with more developers."

Without drawing too much attention to itself, LimeWire has become one of the most widely downloaded open source programs in the world. Currently, it is download.com's second most popular download, with more than 1,000,000 downloads per week and over 61,000,000 total downloads. LimeWire LLC appears to be taking a practical approach to open source: It makes the code available and rewards developers who make the product better.

Paul Virijevich is working to eliminate the "Linux consultants cost more" TCO myth. He recently started a consultancy, providing cost-effective open source solutions to small businesses.

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