Part of the Internet applications glossary:

Gnutella is a system in which individuals can exchange files over the Internet directly without going through a Web site in an arrangement sometimes described as peer-to-peer (here meaning "person-to-person"). Like Napster and similar Web sites, Gnutella is often used as a way to download music files from or share them with other Internet users and has been an object of great concern for the music publishing industry. Unlike Napster, Gnutella is not a Web site, but an arrangement in which you can see the files of a small number of other Gnutella users at a time, and they in turn can see the files of others, in a kind of daisy-chain effect. Gnutella also allows you to download any file type, whereas Napster is limited to MP3 music files.

After installing and launching Gnutella, a user's computer (node) becomes both a client and a server in the network (which is called GnutellaNet) and is able to share files that other Gnutella users have set up to make available. Gnutella, whose name pays homage to both the hazelnut/chocolate spread "Nutella" and the GNU project of the Free Software Foundation, was originally developed by Nullsoft (creators of MP3 and WinAMP). It was never publicly released because Nullsoft's parent corporation (AOL) declared the work an "unauthorized publication". However, the beta version that was made available for preview was an open source program, which resulted in any number of clone variations becoming available that AOL does not own.

Although Gnutella and its variants have incurred the wrath of some musicians and the music industry, the defenders of the peer-to-peer approach view it as a new movement that frees individuals to exchange information with each other directly without the supervision and restrictions of brokering Web sites or other third-parties. Sadly, the 25-year old developer of Gnutella, Gen Kan, who suffered from depression, took his own life in July, 2002.

This was last updated in September 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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