- By Grant Gross -
For LimeWire founder and CEO Mark Gorton, the decision this week to GPL his Gnutella file-sharing application was an easy call.
LimeWire, the company, was already giving away LimeWire, the application, so the free-as-in-beer debate was a non-starter. All that was left for Gorton to do is make LimeWire free as in speech, and in the competitive, yet immature, Gnutella landscape Open-Sourcing could make LimeWire the reference for file sharing over the loosely organized Gnutella network. By extension, a LimeWire standard could give Gorton's company a competitive advantage in the Gnutella peer-to-peer protocol that he believes has unlimited potential.
"I saw that there's a real need to have a very good common core for the whole network, just kind of code that behaves well," Gorton says. "It's unhealthy for the network if too many of these bad programs are around."
Java-based LimeWire and competitor BearShare already dominate the Gnutella file-sharing market. In fact, LimeWire has been the number one download on both the Linux and Mac sections of CNet's Download.com for weeks, with a combined 75,000-plus downloads for those two operating systems just this week. On the more competitive PC (Windows) section of Download.com, LimeWire is number 10 this week, with more than 200,000 downloads, and it's been in the top 25 for 28 weeks. The Windows-only BearShare is number nine there, with 290,000-plus downloads.
But there are many smaller Gnutella applications out there, too, and with a decentralized file-sharing protocol like Gnutella, when one program doesn't play well with others, it can have a ripple effect through the entire network.
If you remember, Gnutella started as a program being developed by Justin Frankel at NullSoft in early 2000, as his company was being bought by America Online. When the corporate masters at AOL, working on a merger with music giant Time Warner, realized they were sponsoring an in-house music-trading project, they shut down the Gnutella project, but not before the beta version was running free on the Internet.
So Gorton believes the potential for Gnutella remains largely untapped. "At this point, Gnutella is a primitive, beta-level protocol and from a technical point of view, is not that sophisticated," he says. "But it also has the real merit that it's been written by one guy who's trying to do things simply."
LimeWire.com has a whole section on the future of Gnutella and its potential, and Gorton has a vision of many smart file-sharing networks where users can send out requests for all kinds of information and services and can rate those sources of information.
"I really think some of the most interesting problems in computer science are being dealt with on this network," Gorton says. "It has a chance to become a semantic information-routing network that doesn't exist right now. In order to do that, it's a job that's far bigger than one company can do."
LimeWire, the company, has a business model centered around larger Gnutella networks, thus allowing the company to give away the LimeWire product for free. By creating LimeWire as the standard for file-sharing over Gnutella, Gorton hopes both to increase the popularity of his product and spread the gospel of the decentralized Gnutella. Because of large companies' reluctance to step into the legal mess that is music sharing, Gnutella has remained this "pure" network that's a spawning ground for independent development, Gorton says.
"I would very much like to be the guy who could own a significant chunk of the world's networks," he says. "I think that's what Microsoft is trying to do right now. But I'm also enough of a realist to know that Microsoft doesn't have much of a chance in pulling off that strategy, and I know I don't have a chance in hell."
"My strategy here is to be more open than anybody else and use the power of being virtuous to kind of overpower the larger corporate entities who want to own these sorts of things."
Gorton, who calls the GPLing of LimeWire "one of the largest corporate projects ever to go from closed to Open Source," also hopes to remove any fears about LimeWire being owned and controlled by one company that could change its focus somewhere down the line. The site, LimeWire.org is set up to foster outside development of the code.
"We hope that Open-Sourcing will increase the number
of people adding ideas and code to the Gnutella network," he says. "The
functionality of the LimeWire program should improve and speed with which bugs are fixed should improve. We already have someone who is going to ad a full-featured media player to the application."
Gorton hopes to attract a handful of developers who have a vision of what Gnutella could be, beyond simple media file sharing, he says. With everyone sharing bandwidth and computing power, Gnutella doesn't need a home base or even a business plan for users to share information. "I think Gnutella certainly has the potential -- whether it gets there or not is another thing -- to be one of the core components of the Internet, up there almost with the World Wide Web and email."