Latest Gnotella File-Sharing Browser Hits the Net

Just as Napster readied itself for the court fight of its life, Gnotella 0.9.8 hit the servers Friday morning.

Gnotella is a browser that provides the interface for peer-to-peer file transfers on GnutellaNet, and has the potential to make the popular Napster music-swapping software a thing of the past.

Using peer-to-peer file sharing, people are able to exchange files without fear of identification because information is swapped between two PCs, making oversight nearly impossible.

To use Napster, a person needs to log onto its server, which keeps tabs on every user.

Gnotella’s scope goes far beyond the Napster service. With the browser, people are able to download any file format, whether its .mp3, .exe or .doc.

So it’s not just music now, its software applications like desktop publishing and games.

Gnotella is the brainchild of Shaun Sidwall, a former student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He dreamed up the first version of Gnotella and worked on the program in his spare time until he was lured away by Jonathan Levinson, director of 3838421 Canada Inc., who offered him a job to develop and flesh out the program.

Levinson said the goal of Gnotella is not to give people a foolproof method for sharing copyright material, but to aid in the free flow of information.

“The fact is that transferring files between computers has been the whole goal of computers from the start,” Levinson said. “At first, it was (people) putting information on a floppy disk, then a compact disc and then emailing attachments to another person. Eventually, when emailing attachments became easy to use, people stopped buying disks because they could just mail the software files to each other.”

The next logical step in that evolution, Levinson said, is to make that information available for anyone to access.

For Microsoft Windows users, that might sound a little familiar. In a network environment, many IT staffs put common-use software in a hard drive and make the files available for anyone on the network to use.

Levinson said that while no computer is ever 100 percent protected, opening your hard drive for universal sharing won’t lead to a wave of zombied PCs in the control of malicious hackers. And it won’t let crackers into files marked off limits.

“I have a lot of legal documents on my hard drive, so that was one of my first concerns,” Levinson said. “But I can just place those documents out of the file sharing purview and nobody will be able to get at them.”

It’s a technology that surely has organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America nervous. After all, Pandora has already opened the box and there is no way to put back all the copies of GnutellaNet browsers percolating the Internet.

What’s worse, there’s no way to monitor or police the people using the service.

Levinson expects to hear from RIAA lawyers, regardless of the decision being made in U.S. District Court in San Fransisco Friday. At the hearing, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel will determine how best to implement her injunction against Napster Friday afternoon. Napster lawyers hope to have some input on how the injunction is implemented.

“They certainly have deep pockets despite all the damage Napster supposedly caused them,” Levinson said. “I could easily see them file and send a few bailiff’s our way, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the end of the world for them.”

Levinson himself crafted the wording of the terms of service for Gnotella, and he doesn’t see much wiggle room for lawyers to take advantage.

“I’m a lawyer by training myself, and looking at our terms of use and our license and what it is we’re trying to accomplish, they’re probably asking themselves whether they can win or not,” he said. “W

e’re not Napster, we’re trying very hard not to be, we’re trying to promote a very legitimate use for computing.

“We’re not looking to replace Napster,” Levinson continued. “Napster is a program that can do a lot of different things, but it would appear the main thing that the vast majority of users were using it for was to transfer copyrighted music. We’re not trying to encourage that, we don’t want to sell ourselves to a user base of music pirates. We know there was a fair bit of volume going through Napster that wasn’t inappropriate: that’s the kind of user we want.”

It’s interesting to note that Gnotella is not the protocol by which the file sharing is done. Gnotella is, in laymen’s terms, a browser similar in function and scope to Netscape or Internet Explorer.

It’s going to be very hard to use the browser as the subject of a lawsuit for the transfer of files like illegal pornography. “It would be like holding Microsoft accountable for people using IE to visit illegal pornography Web sites.”

Gnotella, while not the only GnutellaNet browser on the market, is certainly one of the most popular ones. Since August, 2000, between 750,000 and one million copies of the software have been downloaded for use.

Levinson said that when the original ruling came down from the courts against Napster late last year, people were downloading the file at a rate of one download per second, an overload that caused his connection to shut down for a day. He has since moved to a backbone that provides backbone-on-demand.

While Levinson said the Gnotella browser isn’t making any money right now, and is available as a free download, 3838421 Canada is by no means experiencing financial difficulties.

EBUX Inc., bought an exclusive license to the software Feb. 23 in exchange for $1 million dollars and 20 percent of future revenues.

Levinson expects to make money on Gnotella by offering special features that users would want to purchase.

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