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Gnutella pioneer Gene Kan dies

The 25-year-old rose to prominence as one of the most articulate spokesmen for the Gnutella file-swapping community at the height of the Net's love affair with peer-to-peer software.

Programmer and peer-to-peer pioneer Gene Kan has died in an apparent suicide, California officials said Tuesday.

Kan, 25, rose to prominence online as one of the most articulate spokesmen for the Gnutella file-swapping community at the height of the Internet's love affair with peer-to-peer software.

Kan died June 29. He was cremated Friday, according to friends.

San Mateo County Coroner spokeswoman Sue Turner said Kan was found last week at his Northern California home.

The cause of death was a gunshot wound, Turner said. "It was a suicide," she added.

A soft-spoken man with a talent for coining phrases that cut neatly through technical complexities, Kan fell into the limelight almost accidentally.

Shortly after the release of Gnutella by America Online employee Justin Frankel, Kan and several friends set up a portal site intended to serve as an information hub for Gnutella developers. Kan helped write an early version of Gnutella designed to work on the Unix operating system, and he and his partners wanted to help bring together fragmenting efforts to extend the original technology.

With interest in file swapping running high, the site drew journalists as well as developers, and Kan quickly became an unofficial ambassador between the nontechnical world and peer-to-peer coders.

His own technical interests remained paramount, however. After finishing their own version of Gnutella, he and his partners developed a means of turning the technology's file-trading capabilities into a powerful new kind of search engine, dubbed InfraSearch. The idea was compelling enough to persuade former Netscape Communications executives Marc Andreessen and Mike Homer to invest in a start-up built around the technology.

InfraSearch later was acquired by Sun Microsystems as one of the software giant's first forays into peer-to-peer applications. The technology was added into Sun's own peer-to-peer project, dubbed Jxta (pronounced Jux-ta). Kan became one of the key members of Sun's small Jxta team.

"Gene contributed much to the industry, specifically in the peer-to-peer space," Sun said in a statement Monday. "Gene brought new ideas to the organization and stretched our thinking. Gene was a trusted friend and colleague, and we will miss him greatly."

Kan graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1997, with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.

In moments not dedicated to coding, Kan was an aficionado of fast cars and street racing. He was also working on several new projects, including a peer-to-peer content distribution system dubbed Gnougat and a new technology for streaming MP3s.

A memorial fund is being set up in Kan's name at UC Berkeley. Donations can be sent to the following address: In memory of Gene Kan; Manager, Gift Stewardship; College of Engineering; University of California, Berkeley; 201 McLaughlin Hall; Berkeley, Calif., 94720-1722.

Checks should be made out to "UC Regents" but clearly marked for the Gene Kan fund.

Reuters contributed to this report.