Nullsoft leader Justin Frankel, now owned by AOL, released a new program last week, “Waste,” that makes it easy for groups of about 50 people to set up secure and private file-sharing networks – it also includes an instant messaging feature. AOL was not amused:
- Mr. Frankel, 24, went to work for AOL when it bought his four-person company, Nullsoft, in 1999 for stock worth $80 million. The author of Winamp, software that helped popularize the MP3 music format on the Internet, Mr. Frankel has seemed intent on retaining his hacker credibility even while working for one of the world’s largest media conglomerates.
The release of the new program late Wednesday night on the Nullsoft Web site echoed the release in March 2000 of Gnutella, designed by Mr. Frankel and his team, which was available on the Nullsoft site for a few hours in March 2000 before AOL removed it.
….Mr. Frankel, who lists his title as “benevolent dictator” of the Nullsoft team, is a bit of a self-styled rebel, once proclaiming in his public weblog that he needs to continue doing things that are “cool.” But he has been largely silent since the Gnutella episode, which came just as AOL was merging with Time Warner.
The Nullsoft team’s wishful description of themselves online as “legitimate nihilistic media terrorists” (the company name is a jab at Microsoft) also appears to have vanished.
Their new program is called Waste, in an apparent allusion to the underground postal system that allowed people to evade the authorities in the Thomas Pynchon novel “The Crying of Lot 49.” Its release as a free download, complete with the underlying source code, elicited cheers from Mr. Frankel’s Internet fans.
In a message to an Internet discussion list he runs on the convergence of entertainment and technology, John Parres [go John!] suggested that Mr. Frankel’s aim was not to facilitate copyright infringement but free speech. “Justin is a 21st century code warrior freedom fighter,” he wrote.
Whatever Mr. Frankel’s cause, AOL was anything but enthusiastic. Less than 24 hours after the new program was released, the company pulled it from the Nullosft site. On Friday evening, it posted a stern warning informing anyone who had obtained a copy that the release had not been authorized.
….Dozens of Waste networks appeared to be up and running over the weekend, with several sites continuing to distribute the code despite AOL’s warning.
“Whatever Justin releases tends to be of some import,” said Shawn Yeager, a technology consultant in Toronto, who is making Waste available from his site. “Given his history and the personal respect I have for the work he does it seems to me to be important enough to preserve.” [NY Times]